It was halfway through the US tour when disaster struck. Joey had either managed to catch the flu or it was the worst cold he had ever had in his life, and it soon seemed ominously certain that the singer was going to lose his voice.
Spirits among the Ramones dipped ever lower as Joey sat shivering in the van beneath a woolen blanket, hunched over and miserable, trying even harder than usual to hide behind his ever-present sunglasses and his long, thick hair. Joey frequently got sick while touring but it had never been this bad before. The tension radiating from the others in the van was fairly palpable, with the obviously unspoken question hovering like a dark cloud over them all the way to their destination - would Joey recover enough to do that night's show, or would it and all the upcoming Ramones concerts have to be cancelled?
Marky, however, was even more concerned about Joey's health and well-being than with any shows. He sat close to the man he loved, occasionally laying his hand against Joey's forehead to check his temperature, or even cracking a really silly joke or two to try and lighten the lead singer's mood. He didn't give a damn if the other guys thought he was being stupid, he just wanted to show Joey that he was there for him, that he cared and wanted to help. And his efforts seemed to be paying off - every now and then Joey was able to look in Marky’s direction with a small smile playing about his lips.
Dee Dee actually seemed to think that some of the cheesy wisecracks were mildly amusing, but the only reaction from Johnny was the odd contemptuous snort and finally a sharp, "Knock it the hell OFF, Mark!" when, wickedly encouraged by Dee Dee, Marky started up with the “knock, knock” jokes. Marky fell silent for a spell, wondering for a few seconds what on earth was eating John. The guitarist seemed even more uptight than he usually was, and Marky speculated that it might have something to do with all the attention Marky was giving to Joey.
Marky wasn’t ashamed of the fact that he and Joey were lovers – far from it. He considered himself the luckiest man in the world to have someone as wonderful as Joey in his life. But Joey was an intensely private person and there were things he wasn’t ready or willing to talk about with anyone else – not yet, anyway – this new dimension of himself in loving another man and his obsessive-compulsive disorder being obvious examples. The conservative Johnny would certainly not approve if he knew what was going on between his bandmates, but Marky couldn’t help idly thinking that perhaps Johnny was jealous.
John’s grumpy demeanor was soon forgotten, however, as Joey began to shake and cough, and a frown creased Marky’s forehead as he started to form the words in his head that he intended to speak aloud, the words about how they should call off the show because Joey was in no state to perform. But Joey mouthed, “I’ll make it,” and actually slid his hand beneath the blanket to grab and squeeze the drummer’s stronger one, as if to say, “Don’t worry about me…”
Worry, however, was all Marky did for the rest of that evening. Especially after the show, which Joey got through after all. The singer gave everything he had, and more than he had, to his performance on stage. He pushed himself beyond his every limit, his stance in front of the crowd powerful and confident and his voice a full-throated roar. He did it for the Ramones, and for the fans, of course – but also to prove to Johnny, the tough-minded leader of the band, that he was no weakling. Joey was intensity itself, and the audience went even more wild than usual. He was absolutely mind-blowing to watch; many a music reviewer would later call it the best Ramones show yet. But Joey collapsed soon after he came backstage; he had to be half-carried, half-dragged to the dressing room, and back at the hotel he seemed even more feverish than before.
Joey’s hands were shaking so badly that Marky had to help steady them while Joey sipped from the cup of steaming, hot soup that Marky had brought him. The drummer watched Joey carefully, feeling even more fretful than he had earlier. He started to think that maybe this was no mere cold Joey was suffering from, and that Joey would be better off letting Monte drive him in the van to the hospital. Or maybe Marky should even call an ambulance… Joey, however, shook his head vehemently when Marky voiced those ideas.
The singer did, however, let Marky rub Vicks VapoRub on his chest, the drummer’s hard hands calming and gentle as he stroked the medicated gel across his frail lover’s flushed skin. Marky deftly avoided stimulating his beloved’s exquisite little nipples, however – such caresses would swiftly arouse the other Ramone, and if Marky gave even the slightest hint of desire, his generous, tender-hearted Joey would offer himself then and there, and Marky knew that at that moment Joey simply couldn’t take it.
Murmuring soft, almost incoherent words of reassurance and caring, Marky helped Joey into warm pajamas and gently tucked his lover into bed, cautiously sliding between the sheets beside Joey and holding him close under the covers. “Sleep now – I’m here. I’ll stay with you,” Marky whispered soothingly. Joey looked at Marky with wide eyes that seemed so vulnerable without the shades that always shielded them in the outside world, eyes brimming with woeful tears, gratitude and love.
“Mark…” Joey croaked, reaching out to touch his beloved’s face, but Marky laid a finger softly against Joey’s lips. Normally by now the two men would be drinking together, sending out for pizza or entwined in a heated sexual embrace, and Marky could sense how sorrowful Joey was feeling, how much Joey must be missing it all.
“Ssh, baby. Don’t talk, I know that’s gotta hurt. You just try and sleep a while, I want you to get well,” Marky told him. It was the first time he’d used such endearments with Joey outside of lovemaking, but it seemed so natural to do so all of a sudden. The significance of the moment was not lost on Joey, who kissed the tip of Marky’s finger and then took the drummer’s hand tenderly, moving it downwards so that it was laid above Joey’s heart. Joey was ever the romantic, even at his lowest ebb. The sweet and simple gesture showed Marky how deeply the Ramones frontman adored him, even more than words ever could, and Marky was starting to feel a little choked up and tearful himself, even after Joey had finally drifted off to sleep.
I could do this for the rest of my life. Yeah, I could do it all right…Take care of him like this, for always… I don’t mind it. I could be there for him, through the sickness and the OCD and all of it… he’s worth it… Marky found himself thinking as he held the slumbering Joey close against him. He himself did not fall asleep until several hours later, even though he was extremely tired. His only thoughts were of Joey, and how desperately he wanted him to heal, to feel strong again.
Luck was on the Ramones’s side, thankfully; by morning Joey was indeed feeling a little better. And by the time the band drove to the next city and were able to snag themselves a couple of days’ rest, Joey was himself, or nearly so, once again. Smiling shyly as he and Marky entered through the doorway of their new shared hotel room, Joey pulled a crumpled piece of paper from the pocket of his leather jacket, scrawled all over with his own handwriting, and showed it to Marky.
The scribbled words were the lyrics to a new song, the sweetest, most poetic words Joey had ever written. Of course, the song appeared to be written about some girl, but Marky realized immediately that it had been written especially for him.
And as the two Ramones moved close to one another and kissed, Marky knew that Joey wanted him to be there for always too.