Remember how the crowd had seemed extra excited, extra loud, extra into it, the first show we did after the explosion? This was like that.
Our usual entry to the stage had Remo come out last. The rhythm section would start first, and gradually each of us would kick in, me last with a recognizable riff that would make the crowd roar, and then Remo would come bounding onto the stage and start the song for real. That night we did it a little differently. I hung back with him, and at the point where the riff would usually kick in, he strode out onto the stage with his guitar held high, both hands in the air, soaking in the cheers. And then he vamped a little at his mic, as if checking his pedals and such, letting the thought sink into the audience’s minds that maybe I wasn’t coming out.
And then I came out. The roar was almost enough to knock me back off the stage. So much for keeping excitement to a minimum. The pot helped keep me from having a big adrenaline spike, but I felt the energy. I raised the guitar in my left hand and the roar got louder.
It was nice to be appreciated. I didn’t know how many of them were hometown fans who had seen me play around Boston and Providence since time immemorial, or how many of them just knew I called Boston home and so felt connected to me for that, or how many of them had read the reviews that had said I’d revitalized the show and the band, or how many of them knew about the accident, but it was enough to create a moment.
The show went well. I sat down a couple of times and didn’t jump around. I had to let the guitar do all the emoting. Maybe that was kind of good in a way. I liked how I played.
So did everyone else. Which, you know, is important, too.
My people took me home after that. Something of a party formed at our house, as expected, but I didn’t socialize long. Ziggy and I disappeared upstairs at the first opportunity.
I put on a CD–can’t remember which one, but it felt really good to pick something out of my own CD collection and play it in my own room. That probably sounds a bit…juvenile. I don’t care. I picked something steady enough to mask some of the noise from downstairs but not loud or interesting enough to pique my attention.
We got in bed and cuddled. Actual cuddling. Just to make sure I said, “I wonder how many weeks it’ll be before I can try sex again.”
“Try not to think about that,” Ziggy said, one hand at the back of my neck, loosening the muscles there. “One day at a time right now.”
“Okay. Speaking of one day at a time, though. Ziggy. God. I have so many things I want to talk to you about but I’m so exhausted.”
“Want to pick just one and I promise I won’t get mad if you fall asleep in the middle of talking about it or something like that?”
“Can you actually promise that?”
“To not get mad? No, but I can promise to wait until tomorrow to tell you I got mad.”
“That’s kind of terrifying, but kind of useful, I guess.” My ceiling was beige and the plaster cracks were visible despite the recent-ish repainting.
“So pick one.”
I mulled over the growing list of things I felt like I should have talked about with him but hadn’t yet. “You know, some of these are things we just haven’t gotten around to, and some are potential time bombs I’ve avoiding because I’m afraid.”
He kissed me behind the ear. “That sounds like what I expect from you as a relationship partner,” he said. “If it helps, I get scared to tell you things, too. But you get upset when I don’t, so I’m trying to be good about cluing you in.”
Wow, when he put it that way I felt like even more of a heel for not telling him various things. “Okay. Let’s pick one.” Jam seemed insignificant suddenly when compared to the space being taken up in the back of my brain about Roger. “The other night at Jordan’s. The gaggle who came in at the end.”
“The disco queens? What about them?”
“Did you know them?”
“Surely you’re not jealous–”
“Shush. Don’t jump to conclusions. Just answer. Please?”
“I don’t really know any of them. They’ve been trying to ingratiate themselves to Jordan’s inner circle for a while but he treats them like the charity cases they are.”
“Uh, literally. The record they did’s a fundraiser for an AIDS group.”
“Well, I meant it metaphorically. There’s no talent there, Daron, and Jordan knows it. He likes them as part of the club crowd but that’s all. So, no, I don’t know them because he’s never gone out of his way to introduce us. You know how he does when he wants to play matchmaker with kindred spirits? He’s let them orbit around the fringe. I’ve seen them at the club a few times but you know, I’ve cut down on my partying a lot.” He tucked himself against my left shoulder–my good arm. “Now, why? If it’s not that you’re worried I’ve been having them over for orgies while you’re on the road?”
“You know they’re all HIV positive, right?”
“That does seem to be part of the point of their musical exercise, yes.”
“I knew the lead singer at music school.” I started with that to see how it sounded. Weak. It sounded weak. “We roomed together for a while.”
That sounded even weaker.
“He was the singer in the early early incarnation of Moondog Three,” I said.
Ziggy, as usual, was two steps ahead of me. Which was kind of a blessing when he was right. “Ah. And were you sleeping with him before or after you started the band?” Bullseye.
“I…” I found myself paralyzed by the question. I wasn’t really sure why but obviously it touched a nerve if it tied me in such a knot. “Why does that matter? It was a long long time ago.”
“If it was such a long time ago that it didn’t matter, you wouldn’t be bringing it up now.”
“True. I guess I’m trying to figure out why he matters to me at all. The other night..kind of threw me for a loop. I’ve tried to forget him.”
“Really? Why? Was he that bad a singer?”
That was an obvious ploy–the real question wasn’t Roger’s singing but everything else. But I found myself answering it at face value. “He was a gorgeous singer. A prodigious voice. It’s what attracted me to him.”
“Mm-hm. It is a little curious you never told me about my predecessor.”
“You have nothing in common. That incarnation of the band doesn’t have anything in common with what we did, either, other than me and Bart. Roger wrote most of the lyrics. That band was a completely different animal.”
“Uh huh.” Ziggy nodded like he was waiting for me to go on.
“But yeah, he and I had a…very unhealthy sexual relationship. And…and I’m not sure it matters which thing came first, sex or music. It was…kind of like…for me, wishing for a thing and the thing being real were kind of indistinguishable.”
“You mean…” He paused, and I held my breath while waiting to hear what judgment or pronouncement was about to come out of his mouth. But none did. “I give up. What do you mean by that?”
“I mean…you know…where’s the line between having an actual thing going on and not? Is it when someone’s dick actually makes contact? I don’t think so, really.”
“Ah. So you kind of wished for something with this guy and then eventually…”
“He forced himself on me, yeah.”
He sat up sharply, making me protest because that jostled my head. “I did not force myself on you.”
“Wait, no, that’s not–”
“I was dishonest and went about it the wrong way, but I did not force you into anything.”
“No, you didn’t.” My head was spinning now but not from the concussion. “Please, can we take this slow? You promised you wouldn’t get mad at me until tomorrow.”
He seemed to be seething but he closed his eyes and calmed down immediately. I wondered if he’d learned that trick in India or what. And if he could teach it to me. “Okay. Go on. One step at a time.”
“Okay.” I took a deep breath and looked at the ceiling. “Remember how deep I was in the closet. I was desperate and in my desperation I was doing damage to myself without even knowing it.”
His expression softened. “Right.”
“I had run out of money. I was attracted to Roger physically, both his voice and his type. He was on his way to gay clonehood at the time, trying to keep his head down and finish school but also trying to figure out what he was going to do artistically with his life. He was phobic about cliches and about AIDS.”
“He apparently contracted both, though.”
“I know, and I’m bothered by both.” I really was, shallow as that might seem. “Anyway. Yeah. Someone who was an ex of mine and who I didn’t really part with on great terms just orbited past and he’s HIV positive to boot and I basically want to run screaming for the hills.”
Ziggy was still sitting up. He put a hand on my chest in a comforting way. “Understandable. That’s a good place to start processing it.”
“Start processing it?” I sounded a little alarmed.
“Yeah, of course. Just because you’ve got the diagnosis doesn’t mean you’ve gone through the cure,” he said. “What was the breakup like?”
“Bart announced he was leaving the band to move to Boston. I announced I was going with him. And we skipped town.” Had I ever asked Bart if he had decided to skip town partly for my benefit? If I hadn’t announced I was going with him I wondered if he would have tried to convince me. I had a strong inkling that he would have.
“And that was how you broke up the relationship, too?”
“Well, it was one of those unspoken relationships which made me question my sanity all the time.”
“Ah. Yeah. I seem to recall one of those.”
Ha, yeah. “I was desperate for love, sex, and affection and I settled for a roommate who would occasionally force himself on me,” I finally said. Ziggy acknowledged that with a nod. I felt strangely good for having said it out loud. Knowing it was proof of how much I had grown and changed, I guess. I didn’t even feel queasy about it.
I went on. “At first it was a relief to have all the responsibility, all the blame, if you will, on him. But it got old pretty fast. He was germ-phobic so a lot of the time it was pseudosex, just rubbing off on me, or our hands or whatever. So there was always this feeling it wasn’t a ‘real’ relationship because we weren’t having ‘real’ sex. Except once or twice when we did, but you know, disavowed quickly as drunk or a mistake or…”
“Or after you’d been songwriting?”
“No.” I felt another wave of relief. “We never wrote together.”
Ziggy’s eyebrow arched. “You didn’t bond with him over music?”
“And you were in a band together?” He sounded incredulous.
“I know. But he and I didn’t ever…bond. Not even after we played gigs. We never clicked. And the longer we knew each other, the longer we tried to make the band work, the longer I slept on his floor, the more obvious it became to me that I was missing something. Pointing out exactly what I was missing.”
I reached up with my good arm and pulled Ziggy down into the crook of my shoulder again. “And then you came along.”
Ziggy snuggled against me. “You can stop there. That’s a good place to stop this processing session, I think.”
That made me smile. That was so Ziggy and yet so true.