I heard a song over the weekend that I hadn’t heard in an incredibly long time. It got me to thinking about the first time I ever heard that song and the short piece I’d written as a result of the experience. I’d never really liked what I’d written, but the bit at the end was lovely and exactly what I wanted to say. It was a bit of a rough weekend for me, so I sat down and wrote it out. This might sound familiar to some of you, but I like what I’ve got much more this time around.
It’s dark when I leave the theatre, clothes heavy with sweat and dust. Your car waiting in the parking lot, ready to take us away for late night drinks with our friends. Another night like so many that summer. Phone rings, my father’s voice aching at the end of the line. Hey, kiddo, sorry, you got a sec? And I know. Just like that. Like Don and Lupe and our tortoiseshell cat. Just like every other time. I wonder if I’ll always know.
My mother now, voice betraying her worry. She’s trying to sound light but it never works. I’m too calm, too rational, asking for details that I know are useless, but what am I supposed to do? I listen and nod. You stand patient against the driver’s side. I close my eyes. How long do I have until I must make these calls? Less than a year will pass before it’s my turn: a friend’s mother, cancer, too young, not fair. I don’t know that yet, of course. The last vestiges of my sloppy, shattered childhood are unravelling on the beaten pavement of the parking lot. And I don’t even blink. It’s all so remarkably simple.
You take my hand and lead me to the car, open the door and help me in. The engine crackles and you start driving us nowhere. Just turn off the music and watch me talk on the phone. Okay. I’m okay. No, really, I’m okay. There’s nothing more to say. There’s never anything to say.
Too careful putting my phone away, close my eyes as tears trace ancient patterns down my sooty face. Your hand finds mine and you bring it to your lips, and suddenly I can’t breathe anymore. Eyes off the road, you touch my face. You smile. And you begin to sing.
John Darnielle. Scratchy and low, a hair off-key. It’s everything I’ll ever need. A memory that floats up on lonely nights a hundred years later.
The tears are coming quicker now, but your fingers rub them away. Your eyes clear and calm and full of a lifetime of promises you’ll end up breaking. You pull the car into a space outside the liquor store and unbuckle just to hold me. Not saying a word, not pressing for more. Breath coming steady and keeping me close. You wipe my eyes and I stutter.
There’s snot on your jacket.
I really don’t care.
I can’t believe she’s gone.
Looking back, I know it doesn’t end well. Anger and tears, words we both regret. Missed opportunities and embarrassing displays. We might laugh about them someday. But for now, it’s just us and your car. McDonald’s wrappers in the backseat and my tattered bag up front, the weight of future calls and funerals on my mind. I’m wondering who’s next. Your arms pull me back to Earth. In our secluded cavern you are the epitome of life: calloused hands and cleansing heat, your smile like being born again, rescuing me from the darkness in my mind. Newly baptized, I look into your shining eyes.
I have never loved anyone more in my entire life.