Saturday, October 22, 2011

Old acquaintance be forgot

The early 1990s. My mid-20s. A New Years Eve I remember little about other than I spent it alone. I had been dating a musician for a long time and was convinced that I had either become very boring or she had become very distant because spending any time alone with her had become pointedly infrequent. And New Years Eve is always too loud and never what you want it to be, but being at a bad party is still being together and the odds of that felt unlikely, even before she proposed something that formalized our separate ways into something that just didn't matter, at least not to her. That could be unfair, but that's how it all felt around a New Year's Eve sometime in the early 90s.

“Do you want to do something together on New Year’s?” Louise asked over the phone. “Because I have an idea. It’s something we both could do.”

I hadn’t planned anything. There had been a few pub nights years before, and a Solstice party a few weeks earlier and I was looking forward to finding a spot with too many people and doing the 10-9-8 count before midnight and warbling Auld Lang Syne before replacing it with more drink or food or just giving into the ritual  for a few hours. New Year's Even hadn’t always been – ever been, really – anything close to exciting for Louise and I. Our usual routine of heading out to new bands or old bands in out-of-the-way places was always something fun. I thought she was going to offer the back room of yet another a club to see a mutual friend or a friend-of-a-friend for music and wine.

She said “I’ve been asked to sing backup at one of the High Park performances, maybe do some trios. There’s a family night there at first, then some jazz when the kids have all gone home. It’s on a 20 minute cycle, 20 on and 40 off. You could be part of it.”

I imagined a cold night sitting on a cold bench for long stretches while Louise performed. I said “How, exactly?”

“I think the organizers are giving away candy during the shows," she said. "Or they’re supposed to. Or we are, between sets. Maybe you could do it for us. But you don't have to. So...what do you think?"

Now; if I can’t remember the precise year that this happened, then I have to be careful and fair about the events that follow. I have a faint memory of saying something like I really don’t want you to and hearing Well, I’ve sort of already volunteered, but I might be able to back out of it as a response. But this isn’t fair to Louise. I think if I had objected with more vigour then and there, she would have begged off the gig and we would have ended up together someplace and she might have sulked about having her plans spoiled as much as I might have sulked being a non-performer at an unheated venue on one of the coldest nights of the year.

“You can do it if you want to," I told her, "if it’ll help you get gigs later on down the road. But honestly, I can't stand the idea of being in that park for that long, that way. I’ll freeze. I’ll be bored. And you’ll be in a performance headspace rather than an audience headspace and that’ll be your evening from…what…7:00pm to god knows when?"

“It wouldn’t be that long!” she said. “And it’s all over by midnight. We could talk between sets, walk around the park, find coffee or…”

“I don’t know if that will happen,” I said.

I understood that the crowds, the other performers, the distractions and how, quite legitimately, an audience member (even your lover) isn't as important as everything that's required for the show itself. I could think of one hundred reasons why those walks and that coffee would be passed over in favour of something more important  like soundchecks, tech problems, catching-up with past acquaintances and everything that comes from having to be on all evening. I wasn't trying to hold this against her. I just knew the odds were against us actually having the kind of evening she was suggesting.

I finally said, “I know it might happen, but there are so many things that might come up that I don’t know it will happen.”

“I’ll try,” she said defensively. "I can promise you I'll try. Is that enough for m'sieur?" Then she softened a little and said "I’d love to see you there.”

My office was having a party at The Poet's Rest pub that evening; free drinks were on offer if attending in what the invite called 'fancy dress.' It wouldn’t offer an environment much more intimate than a cold park, but it would be warmer and we could drink, dance, or park ourselves in a quiet corner, together. It wouldn’t be performing or not-performing and everything that came with that.

“I’ll probably go to the party at the pub” I told her. “You could be there by 12:30am or so if gig ends at midnight.”

“Probably not exactly at midnight,” she announced. This didn't match her earlier It'll all be over by midnight statement, but I didn't harp on it.

“Then come by whenever," I said. "Come for 1:00am.”

“We'll see. There might be traffic. When do the bars close that evening?”

“Late. It’s New Year’s Eve,” I reminded her.

"I'll try," she said.


The grey area begins here.

I remember that I didn’t want her to do it. That doesn’t mean I didn’t give her my blessing to go forth anyhow. That’s my fault. If I took that as an opportunity to sulk, that’s also my fault. I think I rationalized it as just being an just another evening with no particular resonance and I’d see her before or afterwards.

But the resulting impact – the simple knowledge that we’d reached a point where she’d be much happier taking part in something with me as a spectator or employee rather than companion was depressing. And I realized that I’d rather spend the evening alone than as a guest she might pay attention between sets. And I didn't believe that there would be any time for anything else, despite her insistence. I knew how the gigs went and knew that promising me something wouldn't change her behaviour.

This hung over me for the 24, 48, 96hrs between our rushed conversation and New Year's Eve itself. I considered our relationship and for the first time I started thinking This feels like a job. And I’m not paid enough for this. It's just what I found beside me over those few days.

There was a blizzard on New Year's. At the pub, I'd run downstairs to a bank of payphones to check Louise's messages on my answering machine, where she'd mention how the tech was wonky and speakers were buried under garbage bags and snow and things were going to go much, much later than midnight, maybe she’d just go out with the other performers for a drink if it didn’t look like she’d make it to the pub before closing. There were enough maybes presented to me in her messages to be demoralizing entirely on their own, each one of them compounded by the fact that I didn’t think anything she intended had a chance of going my way to begin with.

At midnight, somebody kissed me. A tipsy, smoochy kiss that became a gentler, licky kiss in very short order. It’s easy to be kissed on New Year’s Eve. I pulled away. She looked surprised, then smiled sheepishly and found somebody else to give the same kisses to. I would have gladly continued kissing her, but it wouldn't have solved my problems. I left the party early and tried not to feel resentful or sorry for myself. I don’t think I succeeded. But the drinks and the long walk home meant that I slept easily enough.

The phone woke me up at 4am. Louise wished me a Happy New Year. I returned the favour and asked her how her sets went.

“Busy,” she said. “And it was freezing. And I ended up following Margie around to one or two of the other sessions to help with their microphones and levels and just to keep warm. We did a great impromptu jam session right after midnight, it was a blast! And it’s probably good you weren’t there after all; I wouldn’t have had a lot of time to chat. But I wish you had come.”

“It wouldn’t have worked,” I told her. “You moved around a lot with Margie.”

“I know,” she said, “but I still wish you would have come.”

"I didn't come because..." I thought for a second before saying “Do you realize that you just told me that I wouldn’t have seen a lot of you?”

“I know,” she said, exasperated, “but I still…”

“That’s why I didn’t go," I said finally. "You said you'd make time and I knew you wouldn't have the time despite what you've said and you've just told me as much and that's why I didn't go. You do understand this, right?”

The phone was silent for a few seconds before she said “I should probably let you sleep,” and I didn’t object.

I put down the phone and it was deeply quiet.  I'd realized that despite efforts to the contrary, I couldn’t accept I wish you'd been there  and I wouldn’t have had time delivered in one breath as one concept without contradiction. I might have been worth the longing she implied, but evidently I wasn't worth the choice of not doing the gig.

That said, I had stayed away voluntarily, abdicating my right to feel shunned. All I knew was that I had been left alone on New Year’s Eve by somebody who claimed to love me and insisted she missed me, while still staying away. Her intentions did not erase the deed.

October 2011
Revised November 2012


Patti said...

I haven't been in that relationship, but I know what it is to be with a musician. And it DOES get cold and long at those gigs sometimes. One needs a lot of warm and together times in between the gigs.

Adam said...

nice, very nice.


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