It's funny how much music defined a person in high school. My school had the kids who listened to country, the kids who listened to rap, Top 40, the "alternative" kids. I listened to all of it.
I remember going almost weekly to the Best Buy off the highway between where I lived and the restaurant where I worked. I would walk up and down the aisles holding the little manila envelopes with my tip share money and trying to figure out whether to invest in something I knew I liked or take a risk on something new. I often had to choose between tapes I could play in the car and CDs I could play on the stereo in my room, or between singles of a few songs versus a full album of a band I really liked. On very rare occasions I would buy the full album in both tape and CD formats--Pearl Jam Vs. was one of those.
("Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" has been my ring tone for years. I think it might be my favorite song of all time.)
Don't get me wrong--I didn't listen to music that would impress anyone. I don't have some killer vintage vinyl collection, and I didn't venture too far beyond what made it to mainstream or alternative radio. When I was little, my dad let me watch MTV with him, so I had a fondness for U2, the Cars, the Eurythmics (and later Annie Lenox), the Police (and later Sting), etc. I listened to rap with the football players (I wasn't brave enough to buy many of those albums, though), sang along to pop songs like "Shoop" by Salt-N-Pepa on the cheerleading bus and knew every word to "Ice Ice Baby." Cheerleading for other sports (soccer in this case) introduced me to songs like "Down In It" by Nine Inch Nails in their warm up playlists, and you can't grow up in Texas without an appreciation for country dancing to songs like this:
So when I got into Sarge's car for our first date, the first thing I noticed was a huge collection of CDs. The binder containing them looked as full to bursting as the baby album my grandmother kept for me and just as meticulously tended--when he took a CD out of the player, he carefully replaced it in the slot with its album cover rather than just putting it back into any open spot. As we drove into the heart of Dallas from the suburb where I lived, we listened to some of my favorite songs and a ton of new stuff I'd never heard before. He had a little white sports car, and I almost felt like we were flying on that highway into town.
Earlier in the week he had asked me what I wanted to do, but I demurred. I lived in a world of pep rallies and locker signs, meeting at Taco Bell before the game and driving through McDonald's or Whataburger afterwards. Most of my friends' parents set their driving limits at a pretty tight radius around our suburb, and the last time I had gone to dinner in the neighborhood where Sarge planned to take me had been one of the chaperoned squad outings during a cheer competition. I tried to act appreciative but only marginally impressed, but the whole time I was suppressing a full-on freak out at how good it felt to get out of high school world.
After dinner, Sarge drove to an unfamiliar part of town and a nondescript building nestled between a garage and a tire store. He explained that I should stay kind of quiet for this next bit: a friend of a friend was making an exception and letting me in to see a show that was supposed to be 18 and up. He had it all worked out, but it would be best if I just went along with whatever he said.
I started to have serious doubts about the situation (how well did I actually know this guy anyway?), but I decided to roll with it for the time being.
I waited in a lobby area while he approached the guy selling tickets. After a quick conversation and the guy glancing at me over Sarge's shoulder, he came back with two tickets and handed one to me. We waited until a hostess took us and another couple to a table off to the side of a stage. I ordered a Coke and watched the room fill up around us, and the people all seemed nice enough and fairly ordinary. I had no idea what might eventually happen on the stage, but judging by the other people gathered to watch, it didn't seem like it would be anything weird or scary. I started to relax.
The show ended up being an ad-lib comedy show. To this day, I can only remember a handful of times I've laughed as much as I did that night. My sides hurt and my cheeks ached about halfway in. I couldn't tell you exactly what bits they did, and I have no frame of reference for whether the group was any good (though I'm pretty sure they were--I got to know the friends involved on the performance side eventually). But I laughed, and laughed, and laughed, without reservation, without inhibition. It was the most fun I'd ever had.
During the show, Sarge and I maneuvered our hands towards each other in stealthy increments until our little fingers were touching, and by the last curtain call, we were holding hands under the table. We let go for the walk to the car, but after we put on our seat belts, he reached over and took my hand. The car was a stick shift, so it was a little awkward to hold hands around the gear shift, but I drove a standard, too, so I kind of intuited how to make that work. Once he shifted into fifth gear on the highway, we moved our hands to a more comfortable position and settled in for the ride.
We laughed about the funniest parts of the show and compared notes on which jokes we each found most hilarious, listened to more music, and it all felt like flying again. I found a CD in the binder and gasped a little; hardly anyone I hung around with knew the song, and even if they had, they probably wouldn't have liked it as much as I did. It was like the moment of discovering someone else is a fan of a book or movie you love: recognizing there's significance in knowing you both stopped to notice the same beautiful or interesting thing in the world.
He played the song for me, and I shyly sang along while looking out the window at the dark landscape rushing by. Too soon we pulled up in front of my house, and he walked me to the front door. He did not kiss me goodnight, but he smiled over his shoulder as he walked down the sidewalk.
Ten days later we were officially a couple.
Ever since publishing my last post, I have wrestled with how to approach this next phase: writing about my relationship with my ex-husband. I told myself at least fifteen times that I don't really have to do this, and it's perfectly fine to keep going with posts about my kids or how I'm keeping myself busy while I'm unemployed. Anybody who reads here would understand if I said I'm not ready, or I'm worried about what the kids/my parents/my former in-laws/the postman will think. Mary Karr warns in The Art of Memoir, "everybody I know who wades deep enough into memory's waters drowns a little" (27), and the sheer amount of procrastinating I've done in the past ten days tells me exactly how much I would love to avoid dealing with it.
Except it won't leave me alone. Which means it's exactly what I need to be doing.
I do want to be clear on a few things right off the bat.
Let's dive in before I change my mind again.
I met Sarge the summer before my junior year of high school. I worked as a hostess at a Chili's-esque restaurant, and he started as a waiter while I was out on a family vacation. I groaned when I saw a new name on the section chart my first Friday shift after I got back. The other hostesses and I made bets about how long it would take the new guy to get "in the weeds" (i.e. completely and totally screwed with the kitchen and his tables). Friday nights meant 15 sheets of names on the waiting list and wave after wave of people crowding into any available space from which to glare at the hostess stand; they were nights of "How much longer do you think it will be?" and "Did you forget about us?" and "Those people [a party of two] came in after us [a party of 12]; why did they get seated first?" A Friday night shift was a baptism by fire for new waiters, and after having been on vacation for a week, I didn't want to deal with the fallout if this new guy couldn't keep up.
So I got drinks for every one of his tables during the first few hours of the shift. That way if he didn't greet the table right off, they were still somewhat satisfied until he could get to them. Then all he had to do was manage their food order, so he started each interaction a few steps ahead. Managers encouraged us to get drinks when we could tell waiters needed help, and I thought a preemptive strike might head off a meltdown.
I worked without noticing Sarge for most of the night. Then during one of my circuits through the restaurant checking for open tables, I paused at the top of a staircase near his section. I heard a voice from the bottom and looked down; a blue-eyed boy holding an empty tray was saying, "So-and-so said you're the hostess who keeps getting my drinks? Thanks a lot. But you really don't have to do that." I told him to let me know if he needed any help and walked back to the hostess stand with the list of tables that were ready. He made it through the night in one piece.
Over the next few weeks, I started checking the waiter schedules to see when Sarge was working. I found out he had just graduated from high school and lived nearby. I volunteered to help with waiter side work--rolling silverware, refilling salt and pepper shakers, "marrying" ketchup bottles--and stayed to hang out in the parking lot after the restaurant closed on the nights he worked. We both ended up at a party thrown by one of the other hostesses, and I left with him for a few minutes to retrieve a board game from his house. (That was the first time I met his stepdad, who came out of his room in his boxer shorts when he heard voices in the hall at 11:00 p.m.) I thought I might really like Sarge, but then he and another guy started making racist, homophobic remarks. My heart sank, and my hackles rose. Sarge could tell and asked what was wrong, so I told him. The other guy waved off my protest, but Sarge listened. When I was finished, he said, "I never really thought about it that way before. I can see that." He seemed earnest and open, like I might have actually persuaded him to think differently. When he asked me for my number and said we should "hang out" before I had to go back to school, I hoped he would call.
The last week before school started came and went. I didn't hear from him.
Football season started when school did, and on Friday morning, I realized I needed money for dinner after the game. I had several shifts' worth of tip-share envelopes (all the waiters for each shift paid into a pool for the hostesses and busboys) in the manager's office at the restaurant, so I went up there after school. Sarge was sitting at the back table where all the waiters lingered until the dinner rush started, and I knew he saw me walk in. I glanced in his direction as I turned to go to the office in the kitchen; I'm pretty sure I gave my cheerleading skirt an extra flounce, too, knowing his eyes were following me down the hall. After a few steps, I heard him call my name and ask me to wait, so I stopped. I turned sideways and let him catch up.
"Hey. How's school?"
"Well . . . it started. So much for 'hanging out' before I had to go back, huh?"
"Oh, right. Yeah, I'm sorry about that. . . . What are you doing next weekend?"
"I don't know; I haven't made plans yet."
"Do you want to go out?"
"Yeah. Okay. Sure."
"Okay, great. I'll call you."
"I'll believe it when I see it."
He smiled and walked back to the table with the other waiters, and I wasn't surprised when my phone rang the next day.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.