Years ago, walking home from work in the middle of the night, I had to stroll through the industrial part of the city I lived in. As I wandered through the dark arteries of the city after-hours, I noticed a single light pouring out of a warehouse window, before I could look inside, I heard strings. I almost thought I was hearing things, only weariness playing tricks after another double shift, but when I looked into the window as I passed, I saw four people practicing cello. Even though my ears only enjoyed a sliver of their music, it was so perfectly unexpected and beautiful I couldn’t imagine a more impeccable performance.
It was the saddest music in the world.
I would soon return home to my shabby apartment. Trains would chug by and rattle the walls. He’d be asleep when I got there, or at least pretend to be, it was easier than talking about it. Easier than talking at all.
The only thing that kept me from being completely alone that night and many that followed was the sound of those cellos that wept for me.
What it Means to Me to Know You
Mostly, you hadn’t slept for days and you’d call really late at night and even though I had to work early the next morning, I’d pick up. “Hey!” you’d say or sometimes you’d be singing before you’d say hello and you driving around all aimless, smoking cigarettes with the roof of your car down and I was just kicking back at home with cheap beer, listening to CDs and trying to write or paint or keep from going crazy. “C’mon over” I’d say, and within the hour you were there, unwinding from being wound up. You might have had a bottle of Boone’s or cheap bourbon under your arm when you walked in and some CDs. Sonic Youth, I think. If my roommate wasn’t home, we’d drink and blare the music until the walls began to fracture.
You never used while you were at my house. You never got handsy or inappropriate or violent or fiendish. I’d make you a bed in the spare room and when the sun came up you’d go to sleep and I’d go to my room and contend with insomnia.
One evening, Thanksgiving night, my roommate was in Hawaii and I’d already been to a parade of family gatherings from the time I woke up until I returned home to an empty house that still smelled like new paint, a place I couldn’t settle into. That night, you ripped up the 15 N and brought your most prized albums and photos and paper scraps and a bottle of bourbon and we drank and smoked and laughed until well after midnight. Then the work began. You were in an incorrigible mood. Those other people, the ones you’d been using with, they were bad for you. You left a greeting on your cell phone message that said,”If I wanted to talk to you, I’d fucking call!” You pissed off your mom and your dad and probably your sister. You were in love with a girl that was all caught up in themes of dope and her psychotic boyfriend. You were floundering everywhere else, but when you were at my house, nothing was different. Just like when we met. It was all good talks and booze and music and laughing and crying and being human beings together. The projects took off, hours passing in content silence. You had your box of magazines and I’d have my boxes of clippings and flyers from shows and ticket stubs and glue sticks and paint and Sharpies and three different pairs of scissors. And we cut and sawed and scribbled and glued and tore and ripped and pieced it into two different, heavy handed works.
I met you outside of my first apartment. I was twenty-one and had broken up with my boyfriend, you know, the one who spit in my face? Anyway, he was still crashing at my place and had become friends with the neighbors, your friends. It was springtime and the heat in San Diego already knocked us over, so there we were having a patio party of sorts, grilling a hodgepodge of things on Jacky’s barbeque. What were we talking about? I don’t remember it exactly, but you’d mentioned being at a show the night before, Blonde Redhead, the same show I went to and we were probably standing about five feet apart. Anyway, I decided you were pretty much alright, even though I don’t usually take to people instantly. Maybe it was the way that no conversation was ever off limits, or we’d both been so thrashed by people, places and things, there was an unspoken rule of camaraderie. Even so, our friendship sprouted effortlessly.
Pretty soon we’d exchanged numbers, much to the distaste of my live-in ex-boyfriend, you know, the one who would say, “Do you like that guy or something?”
Pretty soon, we’d meet up outside of movie theaters and coffee shops and walk through Balboa Park or you’d come over and we’d smoke cigarettes in my bathroom or on the stoop of my apartment and talk about movies and bands and parties and stuff we wanted to do.
Pretty soon, I came to realize that we’d always have something so pure, it could never bridge into anything else… You were my friend and we needed each other. Me with a short string of loveless ties that only led to the dead end of shame, you with your drug habit… No matter how we dice it up, we were young and bold, and fighting to rebuild our universe and we held each other up when the scaffolding collapsed.
We were both working so intently, we didn’t realize it was already 4AM. “We might as well watch the sunrise.” I’d suggested and you were game. I remember sitting on the patio with you for hours, sipping warm beer and smoking through our packs of cigarettes, my Camel Lights and your Pall Malls. When the inkiness of night broke up and the sky went pale, all we could think about was breakfast. It was only six, the day after Thanksgiving. We hopped in my truck and we drove to South Park and waited for Big Kitchen to open. We were out of cigarettes and I was feeling rank from all the drinking. After a long while, we determined no one was showing up to open so we moved on, found a playground that overlooked the golf course and watched the sun singe the crisp ranks of predawn; magenta, hot pink, tangerine and butter degradation. It was so cold that morning and we were happy on the swings and those little animal seats on springs that really worked under our weight when we jostled around on them.
“Let’s go to Hillcrest.” I suggested. I wanted to take you to a café where the bread is made every morning and the coffee is French pressed. They were closed too. In fact, it began to appear that the entire city slept in late after the American turkey bacchanal. We resigned and opted for burritos which we ordered in a drive-thru taco stand back in my neighborhood.
At home I threw together a makeshift bed for you in the spare room. I couldn’t eat. We were both spent. Our weird, creepy collages and the refuse of their becoming and the piles of CDs, and the empty bourbon bottle and beer cans and the white noise from the stereo left on all night was the testament of our all-nighter. We retreated to our separate rooms and slept until evening.
Mazara’s. You know, the window seat in the alcove? It’s pouring outside and we just ran through it. Soaked to teeth, we sit in the nearly empty room. What did we order? A caprese salad? The soup? Besides us, there’s only a couple in the restaurant. They are in their late forties and appear to be on an awkward first date. We eavesdrop in and out of their staggering conversation. An elderly man with a long white beard enters the room from another century. He lumbers around the tables hunched over and eases into his seat along the wall, groping his hand-carved walking stick, his knuckles white against his red woolen coat.
It smells like grease and marinara. It’s silent for a long while and we just stare out the window watching people duck under newspapers and umbrellas. Then a cell phone rings “doot doot doot doot doot doo da doo”
The absurd volume and tune sparks an upset in the otherwise complacent dining room. The phone continues to ring for an insufferable period and I turn to the couple and glare at them with fire coming out of my nostrils, as if telepathically able to put an end to it. Then, we hear the old man say in the sweetest, most geriatric manner, “Hello?”
Driving past this apple orchard evokes a strange happiness.