That's How Strong My Love Is

A long way from New Brunswick

I had just laid Beren down for the night. He was a "tough sleep candidate" tonight, bouncing around the kitchen as Jared did dishes and I hid in the office writing. That's one of few fall back plans when Beren won't go to sleep at his usual time - 1.) wrap up the chores together 2.) chores separately while the other parent disappears for solo time 3.) go outside.

I was about to leave the room when That's How Strong My Love Is by Otis Redding came on the iPod (I guess one day 'iPod' will sound charming and vintage, but as the last generation of those who entered into their teen years still in the analog age, it just sounds cold to me). I lingered to sing along. I had hoped to sing this song to Beren as a lullaby, but could never quite remember the lyrics and keep the melody a capella. I also hold within myself a secret desire to revive my punk rock vocalist past, and add soul songs to my repertoire.

I sat on the bed, singing and listening to the frogs. I remembered the party at which I danced the entire night with my future husband.

Jared was a guy I'd seen around New Brunswick parties - handsome, dark-haired, a little edgy, smart-seeming, a guitarist in a band. I had sworn off musicians, and music in general - I was nursing a year-long broken heart because of a musician. "Broken hearts" had previously seemed the domain of only woeful country crooners and gothy singers, but I then felt like Patsy Cline in Nick Cave's wardrobe. I had also recently extricated myself from an overly complicated and destructive affair that I sought out to remedy my broken heart. Life was best at the 50¢ Pabst Blue Ribbon Night at the Melody Bar on French Street (now demolished).

 My friends, a couple - Damien and Kathleen - began setting up monthly art salons at their house. At the first salon, I observed Jared sitting on a couch between two other darkly dressed guys. He set up his Marshall 4-10 cabinet and Sovtek amplifier. He played a song which he quietly introduced as a 'new American anthem'. It was angular and interesting. I was interested. A friend played a VHS video of my band my band played in New Brunswick the previous year. Seeing myself in black and white on a tired television felt like its own performance. I set up a couple collages on the mantlepiece.

 I said, "Hey," to Jared as he passed me in the hall later in the evening. Brilliant chess move, I must say. He sailed down the hall, his contribution to the potluck aspect of the party tucked under his arm. He wore Hungarian army boots, cords, and a hand-knitted sweater with intriguing symbols woven into the design. I watched as he climbed into his '87 Dodge Ram van. My heart did something new, but I had been snubbed. The dark guy didn't reply, "Hey."

 I stayed late at my friends' house. "So who was that guy who sat on the couch next to Eliot tonight?" I asked. "Oh, I don't know. Some guy,"the Kathleen replied. Damien laughed, "Yeah, just some guy." "We've tried to talk to him, but he doesn't talk," Kathleen sneered. "No, but really. Do you know his name?" I pressed. Kathleen and Damien's relationship was on the rocks, so I figured one or the other might stop being 'ironic' and sarcastic and help me out. "No, he's just some guy," they agreed. Neither seemed willing to to help me out of my own relationship-related pit.

I began hearing about Jared. He was setting up shows in a former bodega attached to the front of his apartment. He'd emptied the room of debris and had invited musicians and artists to set up shows there also.

A friend's band was coming through town, and I thought I'd try to set up a show for them. I walked down Joyce Kilmer Avenue and knocked on Jared's door. His roommate answered, wearing only a thin white towel, the kind that was probably stolen from a motel room. He held the door in one hand, and a fistful of towel in the other. "No, he's not here. Want to leave a note?" I did, but never heard from him.

A week or so later, I went to a party at Jared's house with a male friend. Jared danced to the music unlike most others in the New Brunswick music scene. I noted the pint of El Fundador brandy in his back pocket. My friend and I left the party in his car, he sneering at the scene, probably because he noted my attention to Jared's back pocket and his everything else.

The endless autumn party season continued with Halloween. I went to a party hosted by my former love-affair disaster   I wore a slip under a sheer white curtain and white paper mache wings I built from chicken wire and tracing paper. My wingspan was about five and a half feet, my flowing hair curled and teased. I wore red lipstick. My heavy eye shadow set lines into folds of my eyelids as the night wore on.

I saw Jared that evening, playing guitar around a fire pit. I can't imagine an urban fire pit, but I suppose the police had other worries. He and his bandmates wore sailor's uniforms. Jared's was sleeveless. "Hey, sailor," I said when our paths crossed. He was silent. Though I had added a word - "sailor" - to my previous greeting, no reply. His shipmates were nowhere nearby. Clearly I was addressing this sailor, but he not me.

I later walked the streets of New Brunswick curtained and in angel wings, with my former love-affair disaster escorting me safely home. I felt 15 feet tall, my gait dared any hombre to cat call me. None did. I was pissed off.

At the next art salon, just days after Halloween, I sat down to the left of my friend Christina, a fellow photography student. Jared sat to her right. I ignored him, and chatted to Christina. After listening to us talk for ten minutes, Jared leaned over and said, "Are you the Rachel that left a note at my house a couple months ago?" I crossed my legs clad in too short khaki pants with black and white striped socks. I adjusted my loose tunic sweater, which I still have (the socks, too) and said, "Yeah." I can't remember what Jared shared at the salon, but I read a story called "Pig Car" about my parent's old station wagon. We sat around on my friend's back porch, and at the end of the evening, we exchanged phone numbers.

I was cagey and tough. Slightly rude and flirtatious. I had been burned, not by my new dark-haired companion, but my previous one. Though my "Hey" greeting of a couple months before had reached its intended recipient, I wasn't sure of... anything.

In the weeks following, I planned a roadtrip with a girl friend, Jessica, to see a couple bands play a few hours away. One band member was the one who had bestowed upon me my Patsy Cline-level broken heart. On the same weekend, Jared was throwing a party - liquor, bands, a DJ spinning psyche music. The flyer depicted a furry Sasquatch-like creature with a alligator wearing a modest, below-the-knees dress and short heels. They daintily held hands as they were in mid-spin on the dance floor.

The day before we were to depart, I called Jessica, "I think I need to go to this party. I need to give this new one a try. Sorry to cancel." She understood.

Jared and I danced nose to nose the entire party. I didn't stop to fill my cup. The DJ, Mike, was a local cad about town. In between sets he asked, "So you know Jared?" "No," I replied, "Just met him." His eyebrows raised briefly, "Oh." Only a few people danced around us, but Mike played minute and a half psyche songs about girls, heartbreaks, and drugs for hours more.

A couple months later, I found my note to Jared one of his desk drawers. "You know, you never called me," I said.

I glued the note into a scrapbook that begins with photos of New Brunswick, then Spain, Hungary, Poland, Philadelphia, Princeton, Milford, Queens, Detroit, and the Sourlands where Otis sings his sweet song to to the frogs, a mother, and her sleeping child. Otis' guitarist strikes a distorted closing chord, and the song fades. The iPod spins another tune. This one features David Doucet's melancholy Cajun blues guitar. Its from an album Jared played to try to lull our son, Beren, to sleep over a year and a half ago.

I get up, walk into our damp basement, open up the washing machine, and begin to shake Beren's red sweat pants free from Jared's socks. I'm a different person, heading into a new stage of life. I can feel it.