Of course they were all sitting there in the van, waiting for me.
Colin and Kevin stayed to supervise the load out with the truck but the rest of us could go back to the hotel. Everyone stared at me as I climbed, still in my damp stage clothes, into the seat closest to the sliding door and shut the door wearily. If Ziggy and I had ignored each other all those months, now everyone was ignoring me, studiously playacting that nothing was wrong.
Carynne drove, and kept looking in the rear view mirror at me, but said nothing. I felt defeated. I’d gone out there to do battle with my demon and barely survived. The drive to the office park area outside the city where our hotel blazed brightly was a silent one. As Carynne pulled the van into a space she said, as if it had been her idea, “Meeting at eleven, okay guys?”
In the lobby bar Digger started bantering with the cocktail waitress. Bart and Chris got into the elevator. I hung back and they waved to me as the doors closed.
Carynne closed her hand over my arm. “Do you want to go upstairs?”
She pushed the up button and leaned her head on my shoulder, which was kind of tough because in her heels she was so much taller than me, and said in a soft, mellifluous voice, “Don’t give me any shit Daron, just say yes.”
The doors opened, and we stepped in, and as we turned around to choose our floor, I saw Digger give a little wave from the overstuffed chair he had parked himself in with a bowl of nuts. Ick.
The elevator was permeated by the sounds of genuine elevator music, an orchestral arrangement, with saxophone solo, of a Neil Diamond song. No, Barry Manilow–“I Write The Songs.” As if I wasn’t nauseated enough.
“Can you believe him?” I said when the doors had closed, relieved somehow to be able to talk about someone other than myself. “Earlier today he said all my problems would be solved if I would just sleep with you.”
She shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Your father is a character.”
“A sexist pig, you mean.”
“I was trying to be polite.”
“Well, I’m sure he thinks we’re going off to do that thing right now.” I sighed.
“Let him think what he wants. I thought he already thought we were…?”
“Apparently not. Or, I don’t know. He thinks maybe I gave it up for the tour, for professionalism, maybe?”
“It would have been sweet of you if you had.” She kissed me on the cheek and the doors opened.
In her room she produced a bottle of rum and a two liter bottle of Coke, sat me down with them, went to get ice from the machine, and then came back and sat herself at the little desk table across from me and began pouring like a chemist, one glass for each of us. She sipped hers with a smile that spread like a warm glow and I almost smiled myself. She sipped and sipped until the glass was empty and poured herself a glass of unadulterated Coke.
“So, what’s the update on you and Ziggy? What’s going on?”
“Nothing, nothing’s going on.”
She hiccupped slightly and I noticed how red her cheeks were under her pale skin. “Oh, don’t tell me that. After all the arranging I did to get the two of you together so no one would notice? Oh Daron, don’t tell me you’re squandering this golden opportunity for decadence.”
“Ziggy must be heartbroken.”
“Maybe he is. Car, I don’t know what the fuck to do.” The Coke was sweet and the rum was sweet and I felt like my stomach was on fire. “Jeezus, do you really want to hear this?”
“Daron, sweetie, do we have to go through this again? Hello? This is me you’re talking to.” She waved to me, the fourth person in a row to do so tonight, as if I were at a distance.
“Yeah, yeah, okay.” I proceeded to finish the rum and Coke and tell her the basic gist of how, at this point, Ziggy seemed basically to want to get back together or to start sleeping together again or whatever way of saying that you want, but that when we’d tried, I’d had a panic attack. More or less just like I had tonight. I summed up the whole bit about how I used to lose myself when we had sex, and now I couldn’t–not only that but I couldn’t lose myself in performance, either. “Holy fuck,” I said then, finishing another rum and Coke, “I just made it sound so simple.”
She was massaging her temples and staring at the bubbles floating up out of her drink. “Simple, maybe, but still a doozy. I can’t even begin to tell you how to solve this one, kiddo.”
“Please don’t call me ‘kiddo.'”
“Sorry.” She grabbed my hand then and squeezed my fingers with hers. “But, man, how to get the magic back. How to quit worrying and love the bomb, as it were. Like if you could somehow get back together with him, it would be alright.”
We drank in silence for a while. I don’t think I’d ever had rum & Coke before and I liked it. At least, by the fourth one or so I liked it. I was feeling drunk but much less unglued when I asked, “Well, if you had to take a wild guess, what would you say I should do?”
She shook her head slowly from side to side. “You gotta relax.”
It seemed to take me a long time to blink. “I think this is as relaxed as I get.”
“No, I mean, let your guard down. If he wants to fuck you,” she put her hand to her mouth suddenly and said almost to herself “oh man, I use the word fuck all the time but when you use it to actually mean sex! It just sounds so rude…” and then went on “…but anyway, I say let him. Quit holding it in, Daron, just let it all hang out.”
“But what? If it can’t get worse than it is, what do you have to lose? You may as well get laid…?”
My glass was empty again and I decided maybe just Coke was a good idea from here on out. “That’s just it. I’m afraid it can get worse.”
The answer to that was nasty and ugly and I didn’t want to say it. The downside of opening up to Ziggy was that I was afraid he would rip me to shreds from the inside. He could hurt me like no one else. So I said something else and changed the subject. “Digger is not going to understand.”
“Oh.” She took a swig of Coke right from the bottle. “Oh yeah.”
“I… wow.” A wave of buzzy dizziness passed over me. “Did I tell you I told Bart?”
“No! What did he say?”
“I think he kind of knew already. I told Remo, too.”
“Didn’t you tell me that already?”
“I don’t remember.”
“So who knows, then, you, me, Bart, Remo…”
“Omigod, were you sleeping with Matthew on that tour?” She started laughing, this high-pitched drunken screech, as if it was the most hilarious thing.
“Yes,” I said, sure that I was drunk now, if I was just telling her this kind of thing. Inexplicably, I started laughing, too.
“Oh man, I was so nai-eeve,” she said, between laughs and gulps of Coke from the bottle. She passed the bottle to me and I gulped, too. Nothing like a big caffeine and sugar rush to go with the giddy drunk Carynne was building, I guess. “How embarrassing! Gawd, and I chased you…”
When our laughs slowed down to say, the pace of microwave popcorn when it’s almost ready, she poured herself a trickle of water from the bottom of the ice bucket and drank it. “Oh man,” she said. “My sides hurt.”
“My brain hurts, but I’m used to that.”
She stretched in her chair, her flowery print dress clinging to her. “So, you remember last time we had one of these head to head meetings, you told me about you and Ziggy, and now I know about Matthew, too. But did you ever figure out if you’re gay or bi?”
I shrugged. “Does it matter?”
“Only in two respects. One, would Digger understand it any better if, you know, it was just like some weird sexual fetish of yours, this thing for men, do you get what I’m saying? As opposed to if it were a lifestyle–a Yes I Am Gay kind of thing? Do you understand what I mean?”
“Digger strikes me as a guy who has been around the block plenty of times, seen it all, you know? So, I’m sure he’s not a prude, you know what I mean? So if this thing with Ziggy was just some ‘kink’ I think he’d get over it. That’s not the same thing as the, oh my god my son is a faggot, kind of scene.”
“You know that makes a sick amount of sense.” I couldn’t quite parse why, but it did.
“So, there’s two things you have to think about. One is, well, is it just some kink for you? Some kind of special thrill? Or are you just plain gay and have to accept it? Because, well, I know Digger might be cool with one but not the other, but, you know, I have to say, I think it’d be kind of twisted of you if that was the way it was, I mean, am I making sense? If you were just some kind of pervert.”
“Hang on, hang on.” I don’t know which made it harder to think, the rum or the Coke. “So why isn’t just being gay perverted?”
“Oh come on, Daron, this is the 1980s for gods sake. Gays have been around forever, but now, you know, there are guys who are like having commitment ceremonies and adopting kids and stuff. It’s totally not just like some back alley sex thing, like a peep show or prostitution or something.”
I fell silent. I didn’t know how to answer the question, or where to fit myself on this line she drew. For me, all sex was a back alley thing–Digger had taught me that from our earliest outings. And what I knew of gay men, I couldn’t see myself doing interior decoration and sipping Perrier at art galleries. That seemed to put me pretty squarely on the fuck-addict pervert side, didn’t it? But that was exactly the image I was running from when I pulled away from Ziggy in public, when I felt paranoid that people would have one look at us on the stage and think: oh, cocksuckers for sure. Would becoming the opposite help? Could we be like committed partners, could love redeem perversion? I tried to picture me proposing to him and I think my brain exploded. “Oh, my head hurts…”
“Lie down.” She exhorted me toward one of the double beds and while I made my way to it, she filled a glass with water at the sink. She added ice cubes and said “Quick, Watson, some water. The flames of the mother of all hangovers are beginning to burn.”
“What?” I sat up and wished I hadn’t, the empty rum and Coke glass on my stomach rolling onto the bedspread. There’s something weird about lying on top of a made bed that’s not like lying down anywhere else.
Carynne sat down next to me. Some previous occupant of the room had bounced too hard on the bed and the springs sagged dangerously. She gulped water.
I smacked my lips. “OK, yeah, maybe I’m a little thirsty.”
I reached for the glass next to me on the bed but as I reached, C. stood up and sent a kind of ripple through the ravaged box spring, and the glass rolled away from me and over the edge, “oh oh.”
There was a smashing sound as the glass connected with the hard edge of Carynne’s Anvil briefcase. “Cheap fucking glasses.” I lay back down, sagely deciding I was too impaired to pick up pieces of broken glass without severe blood being shed. “Thirsty,” I said.
Carynne flopped down again, bed bouncing ominously, and waved the ice water over my head, melting ice cubes tinkling musically in it. There was a little of her lipstick on the glass.
“Here.” She put a hand behind my head and tipped the glass toward my lips. The water was shockingly cold. I gulped and tasted wax and wondered when my heart started beating so hard. I gasped. Carynne’s hair hung like an orange love-bead curtain between us and the window. She leaned forward and pressed her unnaturally soft lips against mine. I tasted wax and gasped.
“Is this a bad idea?” she whispered behind the conspiratorial curtain of hair.
“Is what a bad idea?”
She kissed me again and I had a fainting, out-of-body, my-head-exploded kind of blackout moment during it. “Holy shit.”
“Do that again.”
This time she explored my mouth with a rum-and-Coke-flavored tongue and it was like lightbulbs were being shot out behind my eyes. “That makes my head explode,” I said, when I could.
“Is that good or bad?”
“Good, I think, but I’m too drunk to tell.”
“That probably means that any sane or well-balanced person would stop right about now.”
“I’m sure I’ll be upset about it in the morning. After all, I’m the… what did you call me before?”
“I can’t remember. I’m sure I meant it, though. Can’t we blame it on booze?” Carynne was still, magically, holding the glass of ice. She sucked a cube into her mouth. “Ziggy. We can blame it on Ziggy,” she said, around the cube.
“That might even be true.” My arms felt like they were on strings being pulled upward as they reached for her. She leaned down again and we passed the ice cube back and forth and I was starting to get used to how soft she was. Her dress came open and she put my hands on her breasts, hanging above me like volume knobs on an old-style control board. I ran my callused fingers over her nipples and she really fucking liked it.
As she was helping me get my jeans down she looked up, serious for a second, and said “As friends, right?”
The only other relevant things to say at this point are that she made me wear a condom, which I did not protest, the lights-exploding feeling went on even when my eyes were open, and I put off any potential hand-wringing or re-evaluations regarding my actual sexuality until a later date.