I borrowed the phone at the host stand and then we said hasty goodbyes to Patty with many apologies for having to rush back to the hospital. She gave us back just as many apologies for having pulled us away, thanked us again for coming, etc etc.
I practically ran to the car, though I knew that probably wouldn’t make any difference given that we had at least an hour’s drive ahead of us. I was sweating bullets mostly from the summer heat, I think. Ziggy carried the doggy bag with my left over steak frite in it and didn’t say much until we got to the car.
“Do you want me to drive?” he asked.
“No. I’m fine.” I unlocked the driver side door.
“But do you want me to drive,” he asked again.
“No, it’s better that I have something to do.” I got in and he didn’t argue the point.
He did wait until we were on the highway to ask, “What did they say on the phone?”
Right. “Remember the last scare, with the bowel perforation? This is probably that again, except worse, because her condition’s so deteriorated.”
“That’s all they would tell me on the phone other than, well, hurry back. In case.”
I was probably not in the best frame of mind to rehash the discussion we’d just had with Patty, but it was kind of hard not to. “I can’t tell if I like her or not.”
“I like her,” Ziggy said. “But I don’t know if I can trust her.”
“Yeah, same. But I can’t tell if that’s something about her or if I’m just never going to trust someone from BNC again.”
“I think she was trying to get you excited about Mutt Lange.”
“Ha.” Wasn’t Mutt Lange in the UK? Or Switzerland? Maybe he’d go wherever. It wasn’t like it mattered. “If she wants us to catch the grunge wave or whatever she should be hooking us up with Steve Albini.”
“Nah, too indie. Too alternative.”
“I guess. I get the feeling the rules on what’s alternative and what’s mainstream are turning upside down right now.” Even the radio stations in Tennessee made that clear to me.
“Yeah, but does the BNC hierarchy know that?” Ziggy asked with a shrug.
The industry talk kept my mind from spinning around and around with what might or might not be happening at the hospital, but I couldn’t keep from thinking about Claire entirely. “You know, this is so much like her.”
“What, the second we leave town for more than an hour, she crashes?” He hugged his knees in the front seat. “I feel like we should’ve expected it.”
“I think I kind of did. It was like my anxiety spiked before the page came. Like I knew.”
“Maybe you did.” He shrugged and did not elaborate on that.
“Well, I mean, some things are inevitable.” I gripped the steering wheel tightly then and felt a twinge of my old-old-old thumb injury. I hadn’t meant to make a commentary on Ziggy’s album situation or BNC, but I suddenly felt like I had, unintentionally. “Um, I mean, shit.”
He stayed quiet, waiting to see if I’d brush it off or what. Shit shit shit. Now was not the time–and I should have known better given the argument we had in the car on the way to the airport that time in the winter–but now that I’d opened my big mouth I felt I had to try to express my feelings. “She–Patty, I mean–doesn’t know she’s getting right in the middle of a thing between you and me.”
“A thing,” he said soberly.
“I don’t know what else to call it.” Disagreement? Rift? Major point of contention?
He was silent again, and I could feel sweat trickle down the back of my neck even though the car AC was blasting. I was silent, too, this time, and I outlasted him. “You’re right; she doesn’t. She just thinks you’re the missing ingredient.”
“I guess. I mean, I’m on the album in some measure, because of Jordan layering in tracks and samples of me.”
“You know what he was trying to do, right?”
“He was literally trying to patch things up between us. Musically as well as personally.”
“You think so? I mean, you know he’d do anything necessary to get the musical results he wanted.”
“I think he hoped one thing would lead to another. Which, I suppose, it did.” He looked down at the ring on his finger. “I was so out of control without you. Did I tell you?”
“You might have mentioned.”
“Here I’d gained all this wisdom and self-knowledge and meditative calm in India, and then I got sick, and when I got home it was like I had no defenses. I was literally physically weak, and I get home to discover my mother’s gone… ” He paused, maybe to reflect on the fact that here we were, going 80 in a 65 mile an hour zone, because my own mother was possibly living her last day-hour-moments. Or maybe that’s what I was thinking. Anyway. He went on: “And I just lost it. I tried to fill that hole any way I could. I mean, I already had this you-shaped void to fill and then that on top of it… it was bad.”
I felt a little twinge of guilt about not being there for him, but in retrospect, knowing how solid I felt our relationship was, the twinge was really small.
“I was a terror.” He gnawed the edge of one fingernail and then stuck his hand under his thigh. “Gaslighting people if I didn’t get my way, making unreasonable demands just to see how far I could push people, and also sex and drugs and what have you, but that’s the least of it. And Digger and Mills just encouraged it. They fed the whole superstar ego trip because they know on the important stuff, they were in control, not me.”
I wondered what had put him in such a confessional mood. “You would have figured it out eventually.”
“Maybe after I’d lost everything and was selling my ass out of the back of a video rental shop or something,” he said. “But maybe not even then. When you obsess over what you’ve lost, what you can never get back, you can’t heal. You can’t get over it. I’m not over my mother dying. Not yet. And I probably never would have gotten over fucking up my career.”
I tried to keep my eyes on the road, because if I started looking at him and trying to read his facial expressions, then the potential wreck of our relationship might become literal. So I just listened to every nuance of his voice and nodded when I felt I understood what he was saying. “Then you know why I was having so much trouble getting over… the whole way the deal went down.”
“I do. Haven’t I said that?”
“I felt it was worth saying again.”
“Yes.” He cleared his throat. That golden throat. “Anyway. I agree with Patty. You’re the missing ingredient. We tried it without you, and we even tried putting back in canned-you, but only fresh you will do. And I think you kind of feel the same, and I guess I’m just trying to find our common ground before anything can happen.”
“You mean before I might lose it over Claire dying as much as you lost it over your mom?”
“I mean before she changes her mind and decides to pit us against each other or something.”
“You think–?” I had to let go of the steering wheel with one hand and shake it out. “I thought you liked her.”
“I do like her, but I also said I don’t trust her. We’re nowhere near as important to her as she is to us. That’s the lesson I learned dealing with Mills.” He sighed. “This is the thing. The way to get through this in one piece is for you and me to be on the same page when we deal with her.”
“Which means you have to tell me if you have a lot of built up resentment about going in the studio with me or what.”
“Oh.” I took a breath and tried to figure out what I was feeling, but all I could tell was what I already knew. That this was the wrong time to talk about this because all I felt was so anxious I almost wanted to pull over and puke. “First of all… did we actually agree to re-record ‘Into the Night’? I felt it was more open-ended than that. Barrett needs to get involved before we actually do anything.”
“True. I think she was vague at the end there exactly because of that. But she made her intentions clear enough. That’s what she wants us to do. The rest is details. So that’s why I’m asking how you feel about it.”
“I can’t feel anything right now other than freaking out over Claire. I’m sorry, Zig.” I shook out my other hand. “I mean, really. My entire emotional processing center is on overload and I have no idea what I’m actually feeling right now.”
He sighed again: this one sounded more like chagrin than fatigue or regret. “That makes perfect sense, dear one. Perfect sense.”
That was typical of us, I suppose. When I made perfect sense to him was when I felt like I was out of my mind.