Title: Being Toby Ziegler
Being Toby Ziegler
I have CJ's voice in my head and as you might expect, it's not the most comfortable of co-existences. I'm pretty sure I'm going mad, or I've already gone mad - because she's been kicking around in there for two days now; providing an almost constant running commentary, telling me with an amused sarcasm what it is I've been doing wrong. You'll be unsurprised to hear that's almost everything. It's impressive, I have to say that much, she's found a sure-fire way of getting me to listen to her, I'd never let her get away with half this stuff if she were here.
But she isn't here and instead I have this voice and the guilt. Guilt I can't escape from, just as I can't shut off the sound of her voice; because one of the most vilified woman in this great nation of ours got sick - and not one of her so called friends noticed.
In fact, her so-called friends assumed she was dealing with the press attention, the Senate appearances, the constant scrutiny of her words and actions in every imaginable forum, the endless discussions about whether she lied or dissembled. They assumed this because they didn't want to think about what might happen if she wasn't dealing with it.
And she wasn't. She got sick and none of us noticed, she kept on coming to work and got more sick, more frail and fragile and all we cared about was that she was holding it together on TV. We didn't see how pale and thin she'd become, or that there were dark circles permanently etched under her eyes and we didn't hear her cough. We stopped defining her as our friend and instead she became part of our strategy for saving our necks. And the thing that I hate most about this is that the voice in my head isn't angry with me, doesn't blame me, it simply mocks me with a graceful humour and never brings up the consequences of my failure.
The last time I saw her... the last time I saw her I mentioned that I thought the black suit she was wearing looked a little too stark and it never occurred to me that it looked stark against her pale and drawn face. I can remember the way she tilted her head just before she told me that I wouldn't know sartorial elegance if it sat up and punched me on the nose. She had a point.
We've had to send Carol home; she got upset when she realised that she hadn't realised. I envy her the ability to be upset, to cry even and I understand why she feels that she should have noticed that there was something wrong. She's another of the many people blaming themselves; we have a nice line in collective guilt going here - although I think I'm leading the way. I mean it wasn't just her assistant who didn't see someone disintegrating before their very eyes, neither did one of her oldest friends, a man who teeters on the brink of being in love with her whenever he has had too much to drink or is feeling particularly sentimental.
Scotch makes me sentimental if I drink enough of it, scotch and Sinatra and CJ in a black dress with a splash of white across the chest. And its ironic because for all my words I have never found a way of talking to her that isn't about what we do, I still can't talk to her, but she's inside my head, unravelling my consciousness with her refusal to get angry with me. What should I say to her now? Should I apologise? Should I tell her that she scares me because she's so far out of my league? Or that sometimes I feel as though she branded me the first time she met me?
I roll my eyes skyward and this barrage of clichés and Leo is standing at my door, his poker face suddenly so transparent that when he says,
'What's up?' I reply with
'Certainly not our job approval ratings,' just to make him feel better.
'You're still here,' he observes, edging further into my office. 'Toby, it's been two days now, don't you think...?'
'No,' I say firmly, my carefully controlled impassivity slipping just a little, or perhaps completely.
'Who exactly are you punishing here?'
'Leo,' the warning note in my voice fails to dissuade him from pursuing this discussion. I recognise this mood and I know that when he is like this Leo can just about bulldozer anyone, including the President. But I've already headed off this conversation with Sam today; I'm not about to enter into it once more.
'She's not dead Toby, she's not even in hospital.'
'And aren't we relived about that? Aren't we sighing with relief that there are no pictures of her being carted away in an ambulance? Aren't with just giddy as schoolgirls at the fact that we drove her to the point of pneumonia.'
'She asked for you - every time someone speaks to her she says, "is Toby OK?" I've just sat on her couch and told her that you're snowed under, moody as hell but essentially all right. I know she didn't believe me, and I think the one thing she's sick to death of is lies.' I carefully don't wince at Leo's terminology; CJ being sick to death is an image that is a little too close to the truth to be palatable.
'Why is that? Because the feelings are too complicated, because the time isn't right, because the two of you have this thing going on where you pretend not to be as close as you are? You're both so used to acting this way that you can't allow yourselves to realise that it might be now or never.'
'Crap!' He spits back my pathetic attempt at justification with the vehemence it deserves. 'It's the White House Toby, we only do complicated, so don't suddenly start telling me you're pitching out of your league.' I try again, searching for an excuse that he might find more acceptable.
'It's CJ.' I say as though that explains everything, and in fact, a little of his anger and frustration does fade away.
'Indeed it is my friend, so don't screw up.'
The voice in my head provides a discourse on Sinatra as I cross town. I'd like to say I wasn't the one who stored away the memory of every late night drinking session CJ and I have shared over the last three years that had his greatest hits for background noise - but it wouldn't be true. Just as it wouldn't be true to deny the hurried and startling dance to "New York New York" at the inaugural ball a lifetime or two ago. A dance that in many ways answered all of the questions I'd spent years carefully not asking.
"One for my baby" slips through my mind and I think about a bar and one more for the road, but I keep driving because I don't want this to be one of the many nights when my courage fails me.
Josh found her... he doesn't talk about it much, or at least he doesn't to me. But I know he went into her office and found her on the couch and I know that when he found her she was having problems breathing. He didn't lose his cool, something for which I'm profoundly grateful, he called Lilly to see where the First Lady was, and when she proved to be out of town he called the President's personal physician and asked his advice. It was all handled with the speed and minimum of fuss that this administration is sometimes capable of and within half an hour CJ was in a car, going home with a bundle of medication and strict instructions not to come back until she was completely well. It wasn't until she was safely out of the door that the rest of us decided to fall apart.
It's the silence more than anything - its as though we're all suddenly too scared to say anything to each other in case we all start shouting. We know it wasn't deliberate, that we didn't set out to make her ill, but it's the fact that it happened almost in front of us that has us the most scared. I don't think any of us intended to let running the country cost us our humanity.
As I park outside her building the voice in my head is singing along to "The Lady is a Tramp" it's a little off key, a little husky, and as the song gets to the line about "she never bothers with people she'd hate" she stops singing and starts laughing. Its good to know I've gone mad without losing my sense of irony, or is that I've gone mad and found CJ's sense of irony.
I carefully don't think about what I'm going to say, because I think this is one of the moments in my life that ought to be unscripted. But as I climb the stairs to her apartment each step becomes harder, as though I am scaling a mountain without additional oxygen. I know the man I was two days ago would be turning around and walking away from this just about now. Or going back to his car and using his cell phone to have a conversation with CJ about nothing in particular. I don't know if it is the voice in my head that has me set on a different path or the fear that I realised belatedly I was growing too accustomed to, but I do know that the voice is quiet now, for the first time in days and I'm not sure that I like the idea of being so suddenly alone.
When I reach the third floor landing I realise that the door to CJ's apartment is open and she is leaning against it, watching me. I don't know if someone tipped her off, or if she saw me out of her window, and I don't think this is exactly the moment to ask. I duck her gaze as I wander towards her, trying to invest in this moment a casualness it is impossible for me to feel. I stop in front of her, hands pushed deep into my pockets, fighting the urge to fidget like a schoolboy under her scrutiny.
'Well,' she says at last, 'you took you time getting here.' I flick my eyes in her direction, and catch the beginning of a smile curving across her mouth.
'The traffic was lousy,' I growl back, feeling my shoulders drop as though I have been carrying a huge weight on them for the past two days.
'OK.' She is still looking at me with what is frankly, a smug grin, and although she looks more rested, and certainly less haunted than of late, I am extremely aware of how weak she must still be.
'I've been watching tapes,' I say quietly and see the movement of her head as she tries to work out what I'm getting at. 'I had Ginger pull the tapes of your briefings for the last two months, you were getting more and more ill - and we didn't notice - and yet when I watched the video it was right there.'
'You know they say hindsight is 20/20 vision,' she comments and I wonder if she is talking about more than her illness, 'Toby, you took your time getting here - but you are here. Do you really want to stand on my doorstep talking about my illness and wallowing in guilt?'
I don't - and we both know this and although the voice in my head is gone, I catch the distinct strains of "Accentuate the Positive" as I follow her inside.