“Are you doing all right?”
That was what he wanted to know. The one thing I really wasn’t sure I could answer. “I was going to ask you that.”
“I’m lonely,” he said. “But you knew that.”
“I’m sorry. I know it’s my fault.”
“It’s not your ‘fault’ but it is you who could do something about it.”
“Or you could come here.” I was in the kitchenette of the showroom clean extended-stay hotel, feeling rather like I was the grungiest thing in the place. It was night and I was thinking about death.
“I could,” he conceded. “Tell me what it’s like.”
“I’ve told you.”
“Tell me again.”
“It’s fairly nice other than the specter of mortality hanging over everyone.” I started making myself a Pop Tart just to have something to do with my hands and to break up the sterility of the countertop. “You too could spend your afternoons playing hearts with the aged and the infirm.”
“Oh stop with the metaphors. You’re kidding, right?”
“No, really. They taught me to play. If you were here we’d always have a foursome, though. It’s better with four.”
“Everything is everything.”
“It would have been really helpful to have you here when we were picking out a dress for Courtney’s graduation.”
“Which is next week?”
“Yes.” My heart started to hammer without warning. “Wait, why don’t you come up for that? You know she’d love you to be there. And, you know, we need to get our stuff out of the sublet.”
“I know. But next week is… I don’t know, Daron.”
He said my name and it sent a chill across my skin. He said my name instead of an endearment, like we were roommates instead of lovers. “I wanted to come through New York on my way back to Tennessee with Claire, but they don’t want her to travel by herself.”
“I might be in Australia next week.”
I hadn’t felt so crushed by words in a long time. “When will you know? I can’t make plans to come there to see you if I don’t know when you’ll be there.”
“And I can’t hang around here just hoping maybe you’ll finally make a break for it.” He sounded more tired than annoyed. Maybe he was tired of having this argument. Again. “Do you mean it this time?”
“Do I mean what…?”
“That you’ll come back to the city after you get Claire back to Tennessee? That you’ll let your sisters do some of the work?”
“Court’s just graduated. She deserves a break.”
“You deserve a break. And I deserve to see my life partner in the flesh once in a while.”
Life partner. He said life partner. “You do. We both do.”
“Did you promise Court a trip to Disney for graduation?”
“I did, but she can’t schedule it right now so she’s just going to Provincetown with some friends for a long weekend.”
“We should all go. To Disney, I mean. You and me and her and whoever else she wants. Or… Euro Disney?” He was sounding forcefully cheerful now instead of whiny and I appreciated that. It was like he was trying to work with me.
But I hated that feeling like we were having two different conversations, one on the level of words and one on a level where we didn’t connect at all, where we were guessing what each other was thinking and really not being sure. It was the way we used to be, in the bad old days. It was how we were in South America, until he found me in the water tower.
I mean, I know we are two different people and we’ll never mind meld so that we really know each other inside and out, but when the partnership is really working, it feels like we’re in sync— it feels like there’s no communication gap or emotional gap. And that feeling, really, I don’t know what to call it. It’s not love because I’ve been in love and still been a million miles from him. It’s the thing that makes me believe that I’m not going to be existentially alone forever.
I know. That seems like a weird thing to want for someone who also likes to spend time sitting alone on a rock in the woods.
The toaster dinged and gave me a heart attack. “Jeezus. I forgot I was toasting something.”
He laughed gently. “Let me guess. Strawberry Frosted Pop Tarts.”
“Blueberry, but good guess. They were out of strawberry.” I speared it with a fork and lifted it out of the toaster onto a plate. “Zig, I had a thought. Just now.”
“I figured it was that or you fell asleep. What was the thought?”
“The thought was that I didn’t expect our relationship to relieve the feeling that existentially I’m alone in the universe.”
“No man is an island?”
“So, did it?”
“Did our relationship relieve your feeling of alienation?”
“Yes, yes it did. Or it does. Most of the time. And I guess what I’m saying is I realize feeling alone and isolated now is my own fault. Which leads me back to my universal state of being isolated…?” My head hurt and I burned my fingers on the Pop Tart trying to break it in half.
“Are you trying to say you miss me?”
“Yes. I guess. I’m trying to say that when we’re not communicating my head has a tendency to get stuck up my ass.” That was what I was saying, wasn’t I? “Tell me something.”
“About being a goth. You were going on about this to someone, I don’t remember who, but about living with mortality in your front seat or something like that?”
“Oh, that.” He chuckled softly. I tried to picture him in his apartment, sitting on the edge of the bed, or lying back in the nest of satin sheets. “What makes a goth a goth? It isn’t the clothes or the symbols or the hair per se. It’s about the goth’s relationship to death. Most society turns its eyes away from death. People fear it, they fear ghosts and disease, and they fear the whole idea they are going to die, too. Which is silly when you think about it, because it’s the one thing you’re guaranteed to do, so being afraid of it doesn’t help you to live.”
“Well, unless a healthy fear of death keeps you from accidentally dying?”
“But it’s usually an irrational fear. It’s a general fear and it makes people freak out if you mention someone died, or funerals, or whatever. They whisper it. They don’t consider it polite to talk about. Just like sex. Basic human things that are universal in our experience—even if you don’t want sex yourself, the act of sex created you. It’s just a part of human existence. Life and death. Goths embrace that. Goths have a personal relationship with mortality when most people shun all thought of it.”
“So the whole looking like a corpse or like the undead is a part of that.”
“Yes. So is the recognition that this makes us different from the rest of the tribe so we have to form our own tribe. Don’t tell me you found a bunch of goths at your mother’s hospice?”
“No no, I just got thinking about it. Because, you know, I’m thinking about death a lot.”
“And you want to know if that makes you a goth now?”
“Ha, no. I’m just thinking about my thinking. As usual.”
“You are spending too much time in your head.”
“Probably, yeah. I don’t know what else to do with myself, though. You know, since I am not drinking, there’s nothing to shut up that voice talking to itself in my skull.”
There was what felt like a long silence. I guess he was trying to decide what to say. What he decided on was, “I really should send Colin on a long weekend to see you.”
“I’ll see him in Boston.”
“Good, because I know his techniques for shutting off your brain are foolproof. How was the Pop Tart?”
“Oh, I’m waiting for it to cool.” I had forgotten about it, actually. I broke a piece off carefully and ate it. Blueberry was not a good as strawberry. It’s funny. Talking about being isolated made me feel less isolated. But only a little. “I miss you.”
“I miss you, too. So, should I ask again? When are you coming back?”
“At the earliest, week after next, after I get Claire back here and after Court gets back from the Cape. Assuming Claire doesn’t take a sudden turn for the worse.”
Which was a big assumption to make. I know.
Up! Things were supposed go up again! Stop making me feel vaguely dreadful!
On the upside, I love this song and it’s connected to some awesome memories of spontaneous early nineties road trips in Great Britain with my brother and his friends.
It’s only fair. Zig makes me feel vaguely dreadful, everyone should share. I’m gonna push through it, though.
Daron isn’t the only one who misses you, Ziggy.
Oh, hey, I caught up! If your story could stop hitting so close to home, D, that would be great…