Sometimes no words is the safest choice. I should tell you about my first conversation with Ziggy after the post-Barrett rock-throwing incident.
I called him from the efficiency apartment/extended-stay hotel Remo had found down the road from the care facility. It was newly built, everything squarishly modern, and still smelled like fresh paint.
He picked up on the first ring. “Hello?”
“Hey, it’s Daron.”
“I was hoping it would be you. Caller ID showed me a Tennessee phone number but not one I recognized.”
“Get excited. I’m calling you from the new place I’m staying where there’s an actual phone.”
“Praise the Lord!”
“I know. I’m looking forward to not having to walk forty-five minutes to answer a page. It’s kind of like that place where you were staying in LA. The place where you exploded the microwave by accident?”
“Oh, God. That place. When I’d flown out just to rendezvous with you.”
Right. The time he’d let me think he was in town for other work or meeting or something when all he was doing was having a date with me and then flying back to New York. Because that was Ziggy’s way. I wondered what he thought about on a six hour flight each way. Me? “Yeah. This place is so new it’s like I’m living in a diorama in a furniture catalog.”
“How’s Claire’s new place?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean they at least give the impression that they care more about the person than the disease, if that makes sense?”
“That makes total sense. How are you holding up?”
I didn’t want to lie. So I didn’t. “Shakey. My head’s a complete wreck.” It suddenly occurred to me I hadn’t talked to him since I’d seen Barrett. “Did your manager ever make it back to New York?”
“Earlier today. He said he saw you briefly while passing through Nashville.”
“Um, yeah.” I felt my anxiety spike, like I’d been caught doing something. That’s ridiculous, I told myself. Of course Ziggy knew Barrett had been there. And he undoubtedly knew everything we talked about, including the resurrection of Moondog Three. I went on autopilot while I tried hard to keep a lid on whatever it was that had boiled over and sent me to heaving rocks into the lake. “We had breakfast. Moons over My Hammy.”
“You never get tired of saying that.”
“Or eating it. Should I?”
“No. Don’t change, dear one.” He chuckled. “So, are you coming back next week?”
I’d promised I would, hadn’t I? But Remo had just left and Janine hadn’t committed to picking up the slack yet. “Um, it might be one more week. I’m trying to time it so we can be in Boston for Court’s graduation. Is that okay?”
“Well, it’s not like I can force you to be here.” He sounded like he was trying not to be peeved. But he wasn’t succeeding.
“Yes, you can. Blackmail always works with me. You know that.”
“And it always backfires later. Or are you saying you want me to force you to come back?”
“What? No. I’m no saying anything like that. I’m just… I’m just talking. I don’t know. I don’t know what the hell I’m saying.” I was trying desperately to avoid talking about anything too painful, and it wasn’t working.
“Is that what you mean by your head’s a complete wreck? How are you feeling?”
“Like I want to take a baseball bat and destroy a sports car, that’s how.”
“What, is something wrong with that?” I felt angry and helpless about Claire and I felt angry and helpless about my career, and I felt like I was justified in feeling that way.
“No, no, of course not,” he said, but it sounded empty, like he didn’t really mean it.
“I mean, don’t you think it’s better for me to let my destructive urges out on something other than myself or our relationship?”
“Did you actually take a baseball bat to a sports car?”
“I don’t have a baseball bat.” My fists were clenched and I made myself open my hands and look at my palms. “Look, I think I’m not in the best frame of mind.”
“So you said.”
“I mean, I can feel it. This conversation went off the rails a while ago. But it’s probably only in my head so I am trying not to take it to heart, you know?”
“You’re really worrying me, dear one.”
“I know. I’m just… I’m just saying. I don’t know what I’m saying exactly, just that I’m trying to say something. Oh, never mind.” I almost hung up right then.
“No, no, no,” he said quickly. “That’s okay. I just want to hear your voice. You’re right. Everything you say doesn’t have to be life or death, or if that’s what you need to say, say it. Tell me whatever you want. I’m listening.”
“Jeez, Zig, you sound like one of those suicide hotline people trying to keep a jumper on the phone.”
Now he really sounded worried. “Have you ever called a suicide hotline?”
“No! I mean, you know what I mean. Wait, have you?”
“Back when I was a teenager, yeah, a couple of times. But just because I was being emo. I wasn’t serious about it.”
“Wait, you never told me that before.” Now I was the worried one. “You had suicidal thoughts as a teenager?”
“Of course I did. Doesn’t everybody?”
“No. Not everybody. I never did. The closest I ever came was maybe that night in Brazil, but that was different. My therapist says there’s a difference between being crazy enough to do something that might kill you and a suicidal urge.”
“Yeah, she’s right. Big difference.” He cleared his throat and I suddenly got the feeling he was hyperventilating.
“Zig, are you okay?”
“I was about to ask you that.”
“I’m okay. I mean, it sucks, and this is the most emotionally painful thing I’ve ever been through, but I can take it. I’ll get through it. I have to. I’m going to survive, literally. She’s going to die and I’m not. That’s what that means.”
“I know what survivor means.” We were still talking past each other. “The question isn’t whether you’ll live, but how much damage you’ll take in the process.”
“I can take it,” I said. Of course I did.
“Okay, sure you can. But can our relationship take it?”
“Are you saying it can’t? I thought we were solid, Zig. I thought we were solid as a rock.” But if we were, why couldn’t I ask him about what Barrett had asked me? I felt like such a liar.
“Let me know when you’re coming back,” he said. “Okay?” And then he hung up the phone.