Pop

Magic

I look up at the dark ceiling yet to be illuminated by the rising sun. Everyone told me the first few weeks would be the hardest, but didn’t speak for the months that followed. Save for the occasional meal and bathroom trips, I haven’t moved much. Or slept, for that matter. I’ve just lay here, staring up at the ceiling, watching it change from light to dark to light again.

The artist in me wants to draw from this transformation. Turn it into a metaphor. But the rest of me is too tired. The rest of me just wants to watch it go from black to white and black again.

I’m supposed to go to the studio today to pick up a few of his things. They told me I could take as long as I needed, but those kinds of invitations always seem to have an unwritten time limit. Theirs, apparently, was 4 months.

The ceiling changes from black to grey to white and the world outside wakes up. I hear cars start and planes take off and people walk down the street. I start counting, promising myself that the double digits will act as my cue to get up.  I make it to 32 before I move.

In the bathroom I brush my teeth and splash some water on my face. I don’t look at myself in the mirror, as I have no interest in seeing the physical embodiment of how I feel. I simply pull my hair back into a high ponytail, just as I’ve done most mornings of my adult life, and I pull on a dress I used to love.

I expect they want me to at least look put together. We saw this coming after all. One doctor said the knowing makes it easier, another said it makes it worse. Ray had been sick for almost a year and lived 6 months longer than they thought he would. Up until the last few weeks, he lived well. His body, while it fought inward battles, still found a way to thrive. His mind stayed sharp and his voice stayed smooth. When someone at the funeral made a passing remark that he “could have been great,” Tyler, Ray’s best friend and producer, assured them, “he already was.”

When I walk into the studio, Tyler is sitting in his chair, like always. He’s nodding his head, hovering his hand over the soundboard, listening closely to a song playing in his headphones. I tap him on the shoulder and he holds up his index finger without looking back at me. A small smile forms on my lips, I always respected the focus he maintained, no matter who entered the room. He slides his headphones off and lays them on the soundboard, then turns around.

“Sorry about that, Mill, I didn’t know it was you.”

I shrug my shoulders. “It’s okay, don’t worry about it.”

There is a moment of silence that lingers between us and we let it simmer before continuing.

“The office called a few months back, said that Ray left a few things here.”

Tyler nods. “Right. They’re in the back room. I’ll go grab them for you.” Tyler squats down to look at his computer and sifts through his music library. In coming to see Ray record, I’d seen Tyler do this hundreds of times. He hates the quiet, can’t stand it for more than a few minutes. So whenever there is no one in the booth and he isn’t mixing, he shuffles other music.

“Have a seat,” he says, and then he clicks enter and walks away.

I sit down in a black leather chair and anxiously swivel the seat back and forth. When the music starts, I’m grateful for its slice into the silence. I nod my head, familiar with the beat and my mind begins to race. Ray, Tyler and I used to compete to see who could name the artist first. But even though I recognize the rhythm, I can’t place the artist. Suddenly a familiar voice comes through the speakers and it sends goosebumps down my arms. I sit dead still.

The door behind me opens and Tyler steps in and leans against the frame. Hopeful tears have already started to form in my eyes, and when I see the glassy surface of his, I know they are warranted.

“He finished it,” Tyler says with a sad smile. “Took him long enough, but he finished it.”

The song moves into the chorus and all at once I remember. Ray had hummed this song nonstop for months. First it was just a few beats. He would nod his head and pat his hands on any surface he could find. Then he had a melody. Before long, he had everyone humming it.

“You need to rest,” I would tell him on the nights he was up too late writing down lyrics.

“I need to finish,” he would reply.

Now I was here, sitting in the chair I’d sat in for countless hours on countless nights, listening to him sing again. Tyler puts his hand on my shoulder.

“Listen,” he says, “he wrote this song for you.”

The song unfolds and each lyric hits me like a breeze on a hot day. It’s as if he’s alive again. When I close my eyes, I can see him standing in the booth reading lyrics off a restaurant napkin. I hum along with the melody, all too familiar with its curves and edges, eager to learn the words that are now sung alongside them.

At the start of the third verse, Ray’s voice becomes almost insistent.

“And if you were to ask me,” he says, “after all that we’ve been through.”

I swallow a lump in my throat, feeling as though he’s standing right in front of me now. The music behind him is slowing down and panic begins to bubble inside me. I don’t want to the song to end. I don’t want to shift back into the reality that exists without him. It’s dark. It’s terrifying. It’s…unfair.

“Still believe in magic?” he says, and suddenly I’m lying next to him, looking up at the stars. He’d driven us up to the park at the top of the hill and lay a blanket on the grass. “What are we doing out here?” I’d asked over and over and all he’d said was “just wait.” He kept looking at his watch and then at me until finally he took my hand and looked up at the sky. “Do you believe in magic?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Do you?”

Back in the studio, I hang on the question he’s proposed.

“Still believe in magic?” he asks in a pause of the melody. “Yes, I do,” he says.” Yes, I do. Yes, I do. Yes, I do. Of course, I do.”

Tears well in my eyes as I take seemingly my first breath in months. I close my eyes and I can see him there, lying next to me. “Of course, I do,” he said all those years ago. “How can you be so sure?” I asked, and suddenly a shooting star ran across the sky with a trail of white fire. A few seconds later, there was another one and then another and then another.

“You can always find magic in the world,” Ray said, “even when everything else is pitch black. You just gotta look for it.”

I nodded my head then and I nod it now. “Okay,” I say, “I’ll keep my eyes open.”

Listen to the song here

Advertisements
Pop

How to be a Heartbreaker

It always happens the same. From beginning to end it’s constant, with almost no irregularities.

She meets them, she likes them, they like her, but not for the same reason. She plays it cool and so do they, but not for the same reason. She invites them in and they take the invitation, never once considering to provide her with an offer of their own. By the time she figures this out, she’s alone. Broken, confused and ashamed. She asks me to sit next to her on the couch and we wait for the sun to come up, bringing new hope and new possibilities. When it does, she starts all over again.

This is my mom. Always has been, always will be.

For a long time, I hoped she would change. Or that a man she brought home would prove to be different. Better.  I hoped one would break the cycle before it broke her. But here she is, 24 years after I was born and 22 years after my father left, forever spinning in the same circles.

It would be impossible to tell you she’s not beautiful. Or kind. Or genuine. My mother is someone who deserves the kind of love she wants to find. Her weakness is how bad she wants it. How convinced she is that it makes her better. I’ve tried to tell her otherwise, but have always come up short in my delivery. Seeing the look in her eyes, it makes me feel like I’m part of the problem. Like I’m partially responsible for the cracks forming beneath the surface. So, I shake my head. Tell her I’m sorry. Promise her this is just another bump in the road and that she’ll find her happy ending. I try to tell myself I’m not lying, but then again, I’m sure every man I’ve seen come through those doors has told himself the same thing. We both know better. The difference is, I’m doing something about it.

Tonight will be like any other night. Perfect, concise. I line the outer curves of my lips in light pink, then fill them in with a shade only slightly darker. I practice my smile, the shy fall of my eyes. I practice the conversation in my head, how they’ll start it and I’ll end it. With a shake, I let my hair fall out of a loose bun and onto my shoulders. I run a quick hand through it, letting the curls settle in soft spirals.

I try to picture his face. How he’ll look at me in those first moments. I’m not as beautiful as I could be, but that won’t matter much when I lean in and laugh. Touch his arm and blush. Make him believe that I’ve unknowingly wandered into enemy fire. I’ll think of my mom. I’ll hear her early morning laugh and her late-night cry. Then I’ll squint my eyes and smile at him, offering just enough to make him think he’s earned the rest. I’ll watch his thumb tap on the bar in anticipation, and I’ll hear his heartbeat. The quick, low one that turns blood into affection and desire. He’ll think I’m his for the taking, but as I settle in at his side, I’ll know he’s mine for the breaking.

Listen to the song here

Pop

How Will I Know

She’s biting her nails and I can’t get her to stop. Her eyes are wide and she stares past me in the diner, nibbling on what’s left of her thumbnail. The waitress approaches with a smile and I return the gesture.

“What can I get you guys?”

My teenage daughter snaps up straight and drops her hand to the table. “You go first, mom.”

I hold the menu up in front of me and slide my finger down the options until I find the one I’d decided on. “The BLT please, and can I have a side of ketchup?”

“Of course,” the waitress says, then she looks to my daughter. “And for you?”

My daughter nods deep, slow nods. “Yeah, uh, same. I’ll have the same.”

The waitress smiles and takes our menus. “Okay, it will be out shortly.”

When she’s gone, I look across the table. My daughter has already begun to drift again. Her hand, still resting on the table, inches toward her anxiously. I reach across the muted blue table and take her hands in mine.

“Honey,” I say, “take me where you are.”

Her eyes connect with mine and I can see a thousand questions inside the blues and greens that blink at me. She tightens her grip on my hand, then loosens it and lets them go. She runs a hand through her hair then rubs her eyes with her palms.

“I just,” she says with her head down. She takes a deep breath and then brings her eyes back up to me. “I think I really love him, mom.”

I wait for the laugh, the subconscious smile, the giddiness, but it doesn’t come. Her words hang in the air, lacking all buoyancy, and her mouth remains flat.  I scrunch my eyebrows together.

“Honey, that’s a good thing.”

She shakes her head. “Then why does it feel all…” She twists her lips, searching for the right word. “Icky.”

I smile small and reach back out for her hands. “Because it’s real,” I say.

She pulls her hands away again, leaving mine empty between us. “But what if it isn’t? What if this is all in my head? What if I’m just an idiot?” She sighs and lets her head fall onto the table, then lets out an indistinguishable string of groans. Oh, how I remember being this young.

I lean back into the cushion of the booth and fold my hands out in front of me. “What makes you think it isn’t real?”

She sighs once more into the surface of the table, then sits up at looks at me. “Because he doesn’t hear them.”

“Hear what?”

“The songs. He doesn’t hear the loves songs when he looks at me.”

She looks completely wounded by this theory, and though I can’t quite make sense of it yet, I can sympathize with its origin. When I was a teenager, I dyed my hair purple in the hopes of catching the attention of a boy in my class. He was dark and broody, a notorious bad boy, and I was every shade of beige. I wanted to seem rebellious, but with the combination of my complete lack of at-home hair care experience and my short bob haircut, I went to school the next day looking like a grape. When the boy gave me wide, judgmental eyes, I went to the office and told them I had the flu.

“How do you know he doesn’t hear them?” I ask.

“Because he doesn’t dance. He doesn’t always take my hand when it’s sitting next to him. He doesn’t spend hours and hours looking in my eyes. He doesn’t want to just be still with me. He just…he just doesn’t hear them.”

A warm feeling radiates through me and a smile forms on my lips. “And you do?”

Her eyes water and her mouth turns into a frown. She nods. “All the time. Does that sound stupid?”

I shake my head. I can see myself in her. I can see myself sitting in a booth across from her dad on our first date, nervous as ever. I wanted so badly to know if he was feeling all the same things I was. I wanted him to give me all the signs that love songs and romantic comedies alike had assured me would come. But her father, my husband, was nervous too. He didn’t know which signs were good and which were bad. He didn’t know if I felt the way he did, and he didn’t want to make the mistake of assuming so.

I reach for my ring on my left hand. “Have you ever considered…” I say, and she looks at my fidgeting fingers, then up into my eyes. “That maybe he hears different songs?”

She tilts her head to the side, “What do you mean?”

“Well, love songs can come in any genre, right? And love stories can be found in any movie?”

We’d spent many an evening on the couch watching movies together, and after I ask the question, I see them flash behind her eyes. “Yeah,” she says, nodding, “I guess so.”

“So maybe you’re hearing one type of song, and he’s hearing another. They’re both love songs, but they don’t sound the same. Maybe his don’t make him dance. Maybe his just keep him smiling around you or calling you day and night.” I raise an eyebrow. “Even in the middle of family dinner.”

She laughs at this and the sound fills my heart.

“You really think he could love me, mom?”

I reach across the table and take her hands in mine once more. “I know it.”

Listen to the song here

Pop

Because You Loved Me

I knock on the door of her apartment with three light taps. I’m nervous. My feet squirm a little on the welcome mat. I don’t know what I’ll find on the other side of the door, but I have expectations.

I hear movement. The carpeted apartment floor creaks and I hear a muffled sniffle. I take a deep breath.  The doorknob twitches, a lock clicks, and the knob twists, then all at once we’re face to face.

Her eyes are red, tired. Her cheeks are swollen and the shoulders of her t-shirt are damp. I try to muster a smile, but as I look at her and the sad, cold air of the apartment seeps out onto the porch, I can’t help but shiver a frown. My eyes begin to tear up, and hers to do the same. I take her into my arms and we just stand there, crying.

“This wasn’t how it was supposed to be,” she says a little while later, curled up on the couch. She’s wrapped herself in a blanket, with only her head poking out. Her hair is in a messy ponytail and matted to the sides of her face.

“I know,” I say, trying not to look at the picture on the fireplace.

She stifles a sob and lays her head down on the couch pillow. The moon is shining in through the living room window and she stares at it as if it might soon tell her something profound.

“Have you talked to him today?” I ask, cautiously.

She nods with squinted eyes. “He says he thinks it will just take time.”

With a quick glance and crippling curiosity, I look at the picture. Taken 8 years ago, you wouldn’t ever assume it would lead them here. She stands with her arms in the air and her mouth open wide, laughing, and he has his knees bent, almost in a squat, and both arms reaching towards her, his eyes are bright and his are lips curled into an unconditional smile. She’d framed that picture as opposed to the traditional hand holding bride and groom photo. She thought it better defined them as a couple.

I’d looked at it thousands of times before. I’d always relished the feeling it gave me—a hybrid of jealousy and inspiration. One day I would have that, I thought, or maybe I never would. My mind would run circles around these two thoughts until she would interrupt me with a story or question.

I too had talked to him today. I’d been by his house this morning to deliver his mail and offer similar condolences and support. He had thanked me for coming and offered only kind words on her behalf. Talking to him then and seeing her now, I can’t help but try and believe this is all a big misunderstanding. But then I see the papers, signatures still wet, and the truth settles an unshakeable nausea in my stomach.

“It will be okay, right?” she says, looking over at me. “This is what we’re supposed to do?”

I note her nod to the old cliché, “if you love something, let it go” and I tilt my head to the side in sympathy. The truth was, I didn’t know if this would help. I didn’t know it was truly possible to fall out of love with someone you swore you’d love forever. I didn’t know that two people who had once referred to each other as their corresponding “halves” could start to fade away from one another without feeling empty.

They’d never fought. Not until this decision had been put on the table. I had watched them start to live separate lives, but even then, they’d almost seemed happy, supportive of one another. One day it was as if their increasingly different lifestyles had become a relief. But then doubt started to creep in.

“Is this what being married is?” she said to me one day last year.

They’d gotten married young, everyone told them that. But they’d fought through hell together, and that was supposed to bind them for as long as they both shall live. On the night of their wedding, she’d cried looking into his eyes, telling him she wasn’t sure she’d have made it this far without him, and he took her in his arms and covered her with equally lyrical affection. But as the years passed, the smoke of previous battles drifted far from their skies and their adrenaline-fueled fire sizzled out its last coal. They began to crave something outside of themselves. Dreams put on hold shifted back into focus. “We’s” began to turn into “I’s.” They began to exist next to one another rather than for the benefit of or the God given purpose to. I still saw them smile and I still saw them laugh, but something had gone missing, and though I think they noticed right away, it took them years to admit it.

“He’s going to do really big things,” she says to me now. “I know he’s going to get everywhere he wants to go. And someone’s going to love him. Someone’s going to love him forever.”

“You will too, don’t you think?”

“Bigger than me,” she says, “far bigger.”

She’d always wanted pursue music. She has the talent, and even knows a few names in the industry from past jobs and common acquaintances. He’d always told her she should go for it, but they had bills to pay and she felt guilty pursuing her passion when he was so far from doing the same.

“And he quit his dad’s factory,” she says, “he’s all packed up to move in the next few months.”

He’d always wanted to go back to school and get a degree in environmental science. He wanted to help improve water quality in third world countries. When they first started dating, they theorized they would “heal the world together.” Her with music, him with water. But life caught up to them quick, and it was these forgotten dreams that pulled them apart over time.

“Have you been writing at all?” I ask when I see the cover of her piano raised.

She sits up and shrugs. “A little. But it’s all sad, pathetic songs.” She laughs lightly.

I smile. “Well you can’t hold that against yourself. You have a right to be sad.”

She brushes this off with another shrug. “But I want it to be more than that. I feel more than that.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m sad,” she says sternly, as if to makes this abundantly clear, “but it’s a different kind of sad. It’s not heartbroken…anymore…it’s more…grief, but matured grief, does that make sense? It’s like when you lose a grandparent and at first you’re sad, sadder than you could ever imagine, but then after a while, it becomes this dull ache, and you find a way to focus on all the good times you had with them growing up.”

“You become more thankful than sad,” I suggest.

“Yeah, exactly.”

“Well,” I say with a shrug, “maybe you should start by saying thank you?”

“Thank you,” she mutters under her breath. Her eyes focus again on the moon and then they drift over to the picture on her fireplace. “Thank you,” she says again, even quieter this time, “thank you for everything.”

Lisen to the song here

Pop

Night Changes

“That doesn’t work. It’s something…I don’t know, there’s just something about it that doesn’t work.”

He paces around the room, running his hands through his hair to smooth it back, then dragging them forward to mess it up again. His eyes are wide and glued to the floor as if he’s trying to see something beneath the surface. I bite down on my bottom lip and wiggle my toes inside my shoes. I’m just as anxious to get it right, but there’s not as much pressure on me to do so.

“I have to get this right,” he says, “they need it by tomorrow.”

“We’ll get it,” I reply softly, and the skin on his face softens.

“Let’s start again.”

He picks up his guitar as he sits back down and rests the body on his thigh. With a deep breath, he starts playing. The sound is soft, warm, with each strum I feel as if the room is beginning to glow. He looks at me and I smile.

“Will we ever, get past never,” he sings slow and sad.

Will we ever, flee this weather.

Will they ever find the proof?

Will we ever tell the truth?

Will we ever.

Will we ever.”

He stops playing and rubs his nose. It takes him a few seconds to look up at me.

“It sounds good,” I say. “Better each time.”

He doesn’t answer. His eyes again find the floor.

The room becomes quiet and so do we. I close my eyes and rest my head against the wall. This room is the safest place we have, and yet even these walls have started to betray us. I touch my index finger and thumb to the ring on my left hand and turn it around and around. For a brief second, I try to pull it off, but my hands are swollen from the heat, so it remains unmoved at the base of my finger.

There had been no choice that brought us here. And there was no shame hidden in the corners of the room. We’d come here a thousand times before with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts. Stories had been told, secrets had been shared. I’d showed him my ring before anyone else and he’d hugged me as I jumped up and down.

He’d slept here on long nights and I’d found him in the morning, smiling and eating a store-bought breakfast. We’d all eaten dinner here. All four of us. And we’d laughed and drank and thanked God for the life we all shared. But then the clouds came. Seemingly overnight. They threatened rain and then followed through and we couldn’t decipher how it felt when it hit our skin. We just stood in the middle of the storm and looked at each other, quiet.

He puts his guitar down and puts his face in his hands. It was 1 a.m. now and we’d both been here for over 6 hours. I try to find something, anything to say, but nothing comes.

He taps his foot. First slow, then quicker, and quicker, until suddenly he stomps his foot loud against the carpet floor. I expect his voice to be loud, angry, but when looks up at me and starts to speak, it’s barely more than a whisper.

“What am I supposed to do?” he asks calmly. “What am I supposed to do if I’m in love with you?”

I let the words hit me. They sink into my skin and fatigue my muscles and sicken my stomach. We’d never spoken of it. We’d always left it buried along with that gray sky look we shared that night almost a year ago. I can still picture his face, and often do in the moments just before I fall asleep, but I’ve never said a word and neither has he, until now.

I shake my head with guilt, then speak from the heart, for they are the two truest creatures I own.

“I think we’ve both been in that boat for quite a while now,” I say quietly.

“So, what do we do about it?”

I shake my head again and then shrug my shoulders. “Keep rowing?”

He laughs at this and I laugh at him. My heart swells and the room glows again. The sun begins to rise and goosebumps run down my skin from its warmth. How could I leave here? How could I go back now? But then I feel the weight of the ring on my finger and I’m met with the truth again. How could I stay here? How could we ever?

I shake my head again, this time with my eyes closed. When I open them he’s looking at me with those sad eyes. The ones that ask and understand at the same time.  The clouds roll back in and I shiver. Suddenly there’s a knock at the door and I can hear their voices outside. Hers that is his, and his that is mine. Soon it would be the four of us again and this room would no longer be safe.

He looks at me and the rain begins to flood the room. I want to cry; to let the rain mix with my tears and wash it all away, but I know I can’t. He stands up and walks towards me and I let him take me in his arms.

“We’ll keep rowing,” he says, “even when the night changes.”

I nod into his arms, holding back the tears, and take a deep breath. He lets me go and walks to the door. When he opens it, the truth escapes into the night and I’m left standing in the middle of the rain, waiting.

Listen the song here.