One of the first things I remember is the violin. The crash of the drums. Sitting in the passenger seat of the old blue Explorer being introduced to the Dave Matthews Band. And quite a bit more.
“Do you know what this is about?” became the running theme. The answer was always a resounding no. Are songs supposed to be about things? his face would say. “Listen to the music,” he would counsel me in that blue truck.
Is the music anything but a showcase for the lyrics? I wondered. Who cared for the melody if the song was about an assassination, the loss of virginity, the discovery of love. If the words carried double meanings or hit me in the stomach, I didn’t much notice the package they came wrapped in.
But Marc could hear a song every day for ten years and care not one bit for the lyrical significance. It was the layers of instruments, a particular bass line, a break in the drums to bring in a lone violin, just when you least expected it. That’s what makes the song.
We come from two different worlds, almost two different generations. Old Police records (he listened to records) and Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Pat Methany are his musical references. Mine were the Michael Jackson and Madonna of the eighties, and the grunge music of the nineties that he still doesn’t “get.” But it isn’t about understanding it so much, is it? It’s about that place the music takes you, rearranging the world into what it was, and who you’d been. When I first heard “Billy Jean,” I was seven, the age our son is now. I couldn’t fathom why Michael kept swearing that the kid wasn’t his son, but I knew that there was something foreboding about dancing on the floor in the round. Now that I’m thirty-six, I finally get the paternity-suit part, but the beat still fills me with the wonder of my childhood and Mama’s warning about breaking hearts.
That same year, Marc was tending bar in Oswego, and though I don’t like to think too much about it, he probably had more than a passing acquaintance with the ideas of women trapping men caught unawares. Yet, ensnaring men with their dancing skills and fertile wombs is not what Marc thinks of when he hears Billie Jean. He remembers the smells of the bar, the clinking of beer bottles, the virile freshness of his early twenties in the catchy drums and the synthesizer.
We fight sometimes. I can recall with an almost eery precision entire snippets of conversation. It helps to produce them to illustrate a point or two, especially when that point has to do with dates or times or plans or promises made. He responds viscerally. Strong emotions, fraught with memory or frustrations. He can’t always get his argument across like I can and we go around and around making the same arguments we’ve made for ten years. I don’t concede. I come halfway. I say “Maybe you’re right.” Maybe.
I write him letters. The first one was in a card I gave him when he boarded a plane to North Carolina to visit his sister. I quoted an Ani DeFranco song in that first card: “Your bones have been my bed frame and your flesh has been my pillow. I am waiting for sleep to offer up the deed with both hands.” I listened to Ani a lot in those days, in my angsty early twenties. I hid the terror of what I felt behind her voice and her lyrics. I was in love. For real.
I knew it in his basement, watching him on his drum set, his eyes closed to the rhythm of the music as he brought them down according to the pulse running from his speakers through his body. The cry of the violin in the Indigo Girls’s “Love’s Recovery” brought it home.
There I am in younger days, star gazing
Painting picture perfect maps
Of how my life and love would be
Not counting the unmarked paths of misdirection
My compass, faith in love's perfection
I missed ten million miles of road I should have seen
Meanwhile our friends we thought were so together
Left each other one by one on the road to fairer weather
And we sit here in our storm and drink a toast
To the slim chance of love's recovery
The first time I told him I loved him was in a card. He’d been saying it for a while, intense, with eye contact. Matter-of-fact. I wrote earnest diary entries about him, but I couldn’t meet his gaze for fear of losing myself. So I wrote it. I handed it to him across the earth-toned stripes of his king-sized bed, and picked at my cuticles while he read it. When I dared to peek, his blue eyes were wet. They were full. And they held me, as they hold me still.
His cards are shorter. Full of love but to the point. His love letters are the work he does for us, me and the two little ones, one with his curious mind, the other with his blue eyes. He leaves before we wake up some mornings and comes home after dark. And quietly, while they sleep, he organizes and moves things, cleans, feeds the animals that I forgot about. Finally, he’ll sit in the light of the television screen, and while Jon Stewart regals him with Indecison 2012, he replenishes his to-do list while I sleep next to him, on the couch.
In my twenties, in his bed, eyes closed, pretending to be asleep, he would lean over me. Brush the hair from my forehead and whisper things he wanted me to know. In the light of day, we were keeping our relationship light. He assured me that when our inevitable separation occurred, we would remain friends, always. And though I told him time and again in his blue Explorer that he was going to marry me, he wanted to take it slow. There was the unspoken warning not to pressure him.
But when the early morning light crept through his dusty vertical blinds, he would tell me not to be afraid, to trust him. “Always,” he said.
Always. On our ten year wedding anniversary, ten years after we held hands and made promises in front of everyone we loved, we still love. We hold on through storms of loss and anger, through the wonder of the bounties our lives brought us, multiplied and boundless. And maybe all this time, we’ve learned a thing or two. Maybe it’s not the words or the melody, but the magic that gets made in the culmination of the two. Maybe without the music, the lyrics would be an unread poem. Without the lyrics, the song would be the tinkering on a piano. Maybe.
But I know that when I hear a violin, I am twenty-two years old in the passenger seat of an old blue truck, about to go on the ride of her life.
Happy Anniversary Punk.