She Loves Me
It was the first time all of my cousins were together at my grandfather’s farm. The Beatles were the national craze. Someone was making money off selling Beatle wigs. So we bought four wigs.
My grandfather, my father, my brother, and I wore the wigs, pretending to be the Beatles. We even had toy guitars we pretended to play. We played the song “She Loves You.”
My grandmother hated the devil’s music. Then again, she thought the devil created all music including the ones in churches. She even suspected some religions of devil worship. She hid under her apron, tried to keep her ears sacred. I doubted that it would work.
She thought the Beatle wigs were sinfully long. She thought wigs in general were made by the devil and she banned any pictures of George Washington in her house because he wore a sinful wig. She snorted, he probably snorted snuff too.
She thought the radio had the devil inside it and the devil was trying to get people buying stuff they never needed. She had a list of sinful things not to buy. She posted it on the walls. She was up to seven long lists.
She believed that cameras cast an evil eye. She broke one in a store for that very reason. There were no photographs in her house. She would clip out pictures from the newspaper so she would not have to see all the pictures of cursed people. She did not even want to know which pit of hell developed the pictures either.
During the pretend concert, she stood up, had more than enough, and smashed the radio. She yanked the wig off grandfather, and took some of his hair too. She took a switch to the rest of us. She spent the rest of the night making us recite the Lord’s Prayer. Then for irony, she sang, “she loves you, ya ya.”
That probably wouldn't wash.
The truth is that he would wait until the room was empty, then he'd run through the same futile ritual over and over again. She loves me. She loves me not. She loves me. She loves me not...
The answer was always the same. At one point he became convinced that all flowers must have an even number of petals, or maybe just certain types of flower. That would make sense right? Science? So he tried to cheat by starting with 'she loves me not'. Same result.
He repositioned himself in bed, careful not to put undue pressure on his stitches. They had already ruptured twice in his sleep and he always felt guilty seeing the crisp white linen stained with blood, knowing that someone else would have to clear up after his mess.
Being stabbed in the stomach, even while drunk, hurts. It hurts quite a lot. Unrequited love hurts more.
On the night in question it had been the usual crew in the usual places; John Doe, his friends, the love of his life and, of course, her boyfriend. He'd never liked the boyfriend and, while he could point to a few specific things that irked him, he was smart enough to know that the real reason was jealousy. As it happens, the boyfriend didn't like him much either and for the most part they kept their distance.
They hit the standard string of clubs and bars without much incident, the couple had a minor falling out that was soon patched up over vodka and Journey and the various friends all had minor dramas of their own, but nothing of note had really occurred. It was only when they arrived at a club called Bounce that the mood started to sour and a few of the group found themselves transitioning from happy drunk to... well, not-so-happy drunk.
At one point the boyfriend had tried to start a fight with him but he had let it slide. The theory had always been that one day the boyfriend would be out of the picture and John wasn't going to do anything to jeopardise his future chances. It seemed like a bad idea to burn the one bridge you wanted to cross above all others. Unfortunately fate had other plans for the night.
After his first failed attempt to instigate a fight the boyfriend had turned his attention to some strangers who were now giving him a pretty thorough kicking. This might have felt like karma to John and provided some much needed catharsis were it not for the fact that the assault quickly turned brutal. John wasn't a physical man and the needle on the fight or flight gauge in his mind quickly shot to the right. This wasn't his doing and it wasn't his fight.
Then he saw the look of horror on her face. She wanted to help but her friends were wisely holding her back. She thrashed about, desperate to run to his aid but to no avail. He was probably done for and she knew it.
When John entered the fray that night he found a strength he never knew he had. He fought like an animal. He fought like a man possessed. He fought until he got stabbed. Three times.
He woke up three days later in a surprisingly pleasant hospital room. His friends were the first to visit and they told him all about how the three lads had been arrested and that, save for a few broken ribs, the boyfriend had actually got off pretty lightly. He had been released from the hospital the day before.
When his family visited they told him that he was a hero and lauded his selfless behaviour.
When the police visited they told him much the same.
It didn't matter all that much. After all the interviews and conversations only one thing mattered to him.
She never visited.
He spent the days waiting. He read the papers (he had been in some of them) and he did the crosswords (badly) and all the time he kept his eye on the door. The empty hours ticked by slowly. Nothing proved to be a sufficient distraction from the ache he felt inside. When the drugs finally caught up with him once more, he settled back down in his bed and started to drift off to sleep, hoping that this time he wouldn't wake to blood soaked sheets and embarrassment.
As he slumbered he dreamt a foolish dream about a girl, standing just outside his hospital door, picking the petals from the flowers she had brought.
Not many nights later, we were entwined, embracing in spite of everything: in spite of the distance, in spite of the heat and in spite of the darkness. To spite the darkness.
There were to be lighter times, too; the weight we respectively bore became distributed between us. ‘We get to carry each other’, I painted on a square canvas splattered in colour, after we’d known each other a couple of years. She displayed it in her room, and hid it under her bed every time I dropped her. Which was often, at that time.
Though obscurity often muddied our love, the romance was rife. I made us a soundtrack, so we could construct our narrative around Chet Baker, Nina Simone… Sometimes she accused me of pretension, but I knew my coy romanticism was part of the appeal. So I kept it up.
At the beginning, I’m not sure if I was a good friend, or even a good lover. Later, as I stood to lose her, I knew I was a fantastic fuck, and an undoubtedly terrible friend. I’ve never been sure when our entwinement grew roots so deep that it could be called ‘love’. On days when I was feeling lighter and stronger, able to carry her, I told her that my entrancement in that bright bar was the beginning. On darker days, I told her that I didn’t know anything.
We began writing to each other, although we were sleeping together every night. For her birthday I wrote her a story to go with our soundtrack. She cried as I read it to her, one chapter for every song. I had written a beautiful story – a kind of medley of Romeo and Juliet and a Woody Allen film.
I can still see just enough. I see that I’m lucky she’s still here; I see that part of me resents her for not leaving. I can even still see the light, sometimes. And there’s no doubt that we had light. Light enough to flourish. The first postcard she sent me from the other side of the bed, said: ‘Let it Grow’.
Now, there’s just enough light to survive. ‘It’s not dark yet,’ Dylan assures us on the last track.