She had two friends that year, that horrible year, Patty White who was black and Tammy Black who was white and she kept them from each other because that seemed what everyone did. Patty was her first kiss, but she didn’t consider that her first kiss until years later when sitting listening to a gospel group with her fiancé and he mentioned how beautiful the one singer was. She wondered what had happened to Patty. That woke in her the memory of that first kiss, the confidence in calling it her first kiss. She kept it to herself. Tommy Massanelli was her first boy kiss she’d tell herself going forward.
“That one singer, the one all the way to the left she’s beautiful,” he said to her, “I’d love to record them,” and he feinted lifting his phone. Her heart skipped. He didn’t want to see intrusive.
“Yeah,” she laughed, “I know,” she demurred. She stifled a cough.
But the words carried her away, lifted off the bench simultaneously rooting her to this city but liberating her from it as well out beyond to where there were rules and forms like language, but it was all agreed upon and if someone said up was down it was so because everyone agreed on it. It took just a few seconds or maybe they had been sitting here for some time because immediately afterwards she realized time like language was just a construct to order components of the physical world.
The singing was like soul coming through the radio. It was like the soul that came through her radio all those years ago in NJ. Staple Singers, Rose Royce, Rufus with Chaka Khan. She realized we all come so far only to be right where we are. And for that moment she was back in NJ. She listened to soul music, quietly in her room, but only when her parents were on their monthly jaunt into the city to see the Opera, her mother always joked it was spelled with a “Capital O!” They would return with her father tipsy from too many scotch and sodas and her mom loquacious from sloe gin fizzes; it was their one day a month to unwind and relax like common people. She stuffed her robe into the crack under her bedroom door so her bratty little twin sisters couldn’t hear how loud she was playing it.
It was Panasonic clock radio tuned into music from the big city east of her and the big city southwest of her. If she had triangulated her position she’d realized now she was further than ever from where she wanted to be or at least thought she thought she wanted to be. She made sure to choose correctly between “further” and “farther”. It made sense. The words made sense when we agreed to them and kept things calm going forward. She’d look out her window into the farmlands of western New Jersey just over the hedges and golf course to where they receded into the mist of Pennsylvania and knew her life lay elsewhere. Deep down she wished was Black. To be invisible together with a group of people who had Soul and who said exactly what they thought and felt.
She loved her soon-to-be-husband very much and felt nothing but a deeper connection to him because of what he said, the word he used; he felt comfortable enough to tell her anything unconditionally. Although he was simply wrong about Whitman – What if they were paeans to young boys? He asked – but she felt now, in this instant, she was back again where Patty was all that time ago, just as out of place as she was then. It was empathy. The A Capella quintet began Will the Circle Be Unbroken and she thought somehow the circle hadn’t been united, not just yet.
It was winter when they really became friends and she always told herself later how she lamented waiting that long using nostalgia to castigate herself rather than for reverie, but she was that way and while it made her gut and heart sink at times she told herself it allowed her to see how we can trudge through the tough times, like all those bad nights in Barcelona with her ex.
She had slept over at Patty’s and went to church with her the next morning. And it was that Sunday afternoon when they kissed. She was attracted to her beauty while Patty said, “What other choice do I have? I like girls, there’s not another black family within 50 miles, and who else in West Jabib, NJ, knows who Rufus is?” She was going to tell Tammy after gym class on Monday but when Tammy made a joke about scrubbing dishes with an afro all she could do was laugh.
She was living a lie. Not so far away from it that should couldn’t see it or taste it. And the memory of that kiss blew across her lips like a breeze. She wasn’t quite ready yet. For what she didn’t quite know, didn’t have the words for the nebulous sensation inside her.
They went off to dinner, at that Italian place, where he always had too much wine and she never seemed to have enough. She had the strawberry and goat cheese salad with olive oil and vinegar on the side while he had the pear and gorgonzola pizza with balsamic reduction. She paid for the meal quickly while he stopped in the men’s room. It was the least she could do now.
They made love later and afterwards she told him she was having her period, so it might be a little bloody. He had never heard her speak so plainly, directly and somewhat indelicately. When he washed her blood off his cock a few minutes later in the shower he realized that was the first time he had ever heard her talk of her cycle or even seen her blood. No errant swipes in the kitchen or a nicked shin from shaving her legs ever before. One time she even mentioned that her blood pressure was 82 over 60. As he stroked his dick clean he wondered if she was even alive – of course she was, he just couldn’t control himself sometimes and wore his emotions on his sleeve. When he returned to bed her back was to him. “Everything ok?” he asked. “Uh-uh,” she said flatly, “Just tired, have a big day tomorrow.”