(I am trying something new with this site: publishing each new excerpt as a separate post, which I think is a little easier to read. All excerpts are available together under ‘The Thread That Binds’ in the menu above.)
“You okay?” I asked, knowing by the way that she was dabbing at her eyes and sniffling that the answer was ‘no’.
“Oh, yeah,” she said, dismissively. She gave a fake chuckle. “Damn hormones.”
“You sure that’s it?”
She shook her head. “It’s really stupid.”
“I won’t care.”
She looked thoughtful for a moment, as if she was weighing her options. Finally, she let out a great, soul-releasing sigh. “You ever had a song remind you of someone?”
“All the time.”
“No, I don’t mean like happy fun times with your girlfriends.”
“No, I know. You mean like when a song comes on and suddenly you’re in his arms again.”
Gloria turned her head to face me so fast, I’m amazed her neck didn’t break. “How did you know that?”
Because that look that came across your face is one I’ve seen in the mirror, I wanted to say, but I held back. How could I put it into words that she would truly understand?
When Russ and I met, there was music. The last song that the band had played was still bouncing around inside my head, and when he pulled me up into the truck beside him, it was like all those notes came together with every colour I had ever seen, and every sensation I had ever known, and flowed through me like a current. It was the most alive that I had ever felt.
George Strait was the soundtrack to that night by the river. Bruce Springsteen was playing the first time we took his truck for a spin, and Russ wailed “born in the U-S-A!” off-key and tapped his fingers on the steering wheel to the beat. We had endless debates over whether Ronnie Van Zant was singing about a bird that couldn’t be changed or a bird that couldn’t be chained. Music was so tangled up with who we were that when we were apart, all I had to do was listen to one of ‘our’ songs and I could smell him; all laundry detergent and Old Spice and a hint of engine oil. But that was before, when ‘apart’ just meant ‘until we see each other again’. Now that ‘apart’ meant states away, and worlds away, music for me wasn’t a ticket to nostalgia, but a hot knife on an open wound.
I couldn’t tell her that, so I just asked, “What song is it, for you?”
She shook her head. “Whatever that last song was, I’ve never known what it’s called. Do you have one?”
“Anything by Colt Ford…. Lynyrd Skynyrd…. George Strait… Or Bruce Springsteen, or Jonny Cash, or Waylon Jennings- just to name a few.”
“Wow, you’re fucked.”
I had to laugh at that, and immediately, I was glad that I did, because a smile spread across Gloria’s face. “Sorry,” she said.
“No, you’re right; I am. I can’t listen to half my music anymore.”
Gloria looked at me then, with something between pity and confusion. It was a look I had been getting a lot lately. Although it probably just meant “who the hell is this girl?” I liked to think that it was a look that said “I think I underestimated this one”.
“Come on,” I said, “we’d better go back outside before anyone worries.”
I was halfway to the patio, but turned to face her.
“What do you do when those songs come on? How do you handle it?”
If only there was a simple answer. “It just gets easier. You just try to remember that those songs- You knew them and you loved them long before you knew him, and it makes things easier.”
Unlike before, the look she gave me then was one that I recognized, but rarely got see: a look that said thank you.