The surgery went on for far longer than it should have. We’d left Memphis at lunch time, right? It seemed impossible it was already time for dinner, but the staff wanted to know if we wanted to eat. I wasn’t hungry, and neither was Remo. I gave my leftover steak to Courtney. That was when I learned that the other thing Ziggy had in the bag, the thing he’d asked the waiter for, was a tub of chocolate mousse for Claire.
I didn’t envy the medical professionals who had to make judgment calls like these: what measures were considered extraordinary and which were par for the course?
There’s a peculiar kind of agony that comes with wondering if you already had your last-ever conversation with a person or if you’ll get another chance. Even if you don’t have anything particular to say. Did the surgeons take that kind of thing into account, I wondered? Or was that pretty far from their realm of worries?
What would I say to her if I got another chance? Or if I knew it was the last time we’d speak?
Would I tell her I was having writers block? I really shouldn’t. What if she blamed herself? The last thing I wanted to do was make her feel bad about wanting something. I mean, shit, the poor woman wanted all kinds of things in her life that she didn’t get. When she was on her deathbed was not the time to pull the football away from her–even if she was much more of a Lucy in so many ways than a Charlie Brown.
I went so far as to borrow a pen and a pad of paper from the nurse’s station, as if now that a real deadline might be looming, inspiration might strike. Any stray thought could turn into a song, after all. It was like I was getting ready with my net and spear in case an unexpected flow of water might wash a fish in my direction, despite the creekbed being dry.
“Do you think about it?” I asked Remo, at one point while we were sitting there, minutes ticking slowly by.
“Think about what?”
“What the last thing you’ll say to her might be.”
He grunted. “Of course I do.”
He didn’t say anything else, though, like what that might be. Maybe that was kind of a private question, depending on what he was going to tell her. Or maybe he’d already told her. All he would say was, “These big passages in life always make you, you know, think. About your emotions. Births, marriages, deaths. Don’t you think?”
Yeah, I think.
My last conversation with her had been one of the fake ones, one of the ones where she pretended she was eating and I pretended she wasn’t dying. My heart hurt, thinking about it. I’d seen the real Claire, I thought, several times in the past few months. I don’t just mean when she was on drugs or when she was stuck in a puddle of her own vomit or whatever. I just mean there were some actual moments where it didn’t feel like an act.
I found myself staring at Ziggy. He was reading that bestseller he’d gotten when he and Court had gone to a bookstore. He had the book in one hand, resting on his lap, his chin against his chest and his lips slightly parted as he read.
Remo went for a walk to pass the time. I’m not sure where Court was. Ziggy and I were alone. He blinked as his eyes scanned the page, his lashes thick and lush without his eyeliner.
“Do you remember what it was like?” I asked, before I realized I was interrupting him from reading.
“Remember what?” He looked up, slipping the book closed, which made me think interrupting him might be okay.
“What it was like before we knew each other?”
“You mean before we met?”
“I mean before I knew the real you. When I only knew the front you put on.”
He set the book aside. “And I only knew the front you put on, though I had strong suspicions about what you were really like.”
Huh. “Were you right? About what I’m like?”
“Pretty close, anyway.” He put one elbow in his hand, the other hand against his cheek. “What about me. Am I anything like what you suspected I’d be like under my veneer?”
That startled a laugh out of me. “You are absolutely nothing like what I thought you would be. I had no idea what to expect.”
He tipped his head curiously. “But you fell in love with me anyway.”
I thought about that before I answered. “I think, maybe, I’ve fallen for you three times now. The first time was when I didn’t know you at all, but I had a strong sense that you were something I desperately needed. You remember what I was like.”
“I was like a plant that had never been watered. Mostly dead, but then once some rain starts to fall all of a sudden, you need that water more and more.” He waited for me to go on, so I just kept going with that analogy. “The second time was after I’d gotten to know you, after we’d been through some shit, and I realized–holy shit, I really am head over heels. Like, can’t-live-without-you levels of holy shit. I think I said it at the time, you’re the sun. You’re my sun and I can’t blossom without you.”
He smiled. “And the third time?”
“And the third time was when… this.” I held up my hand with the ring on it. Damn but having a visible symbol of commitment was useful sometimes. “When it was time to put down roots. You can flourish for a little while in a vase with water and light, but only for a while. Does that make sense?”
He came over to my chair, put his hands on the armrests, and leaned over to give me a hunger-filled kiss. “It makes perfect sense. Do you know I think it’s rare for people to actually get all three things fulfilled by one relationship? I think a lot of marriages settle for just one, or two out of the three.”
“Now you’re starting to sound like a Meatloaf song.”
“Just proves it’s true,” he said, pecking me on the mouth then and pulling away, leaving me wanting more. “You ever wonder if Digger and your mom ever had anything good or if it was all rotten?”
“I think what I think doesn’t really matter. What she thinks does.” And I was pretty sure that Claire had long since decided that there was nothing good between them, ever. Even if that was revisionist history. Who was I to judge?
(Confession: this song was huge in 1992 and I always found it really really boring. It had a really boring video, too. But this live acoustic version is pretty good. -d)