I'm braiding her sister's hair after food, and my hands are a little greasy because it was pizza and I didn't use my napkin perhaps as much as I should have. I have no manners, I noticed, the last time I was at a nice resturant I felt like that cliché Calamity Jane character in desperate need of a makeover as all those I was sitting with gracefully and automatically and with great ceremony released their napkins to full size and extended them over their laps as I extended my own fingers toward the pile of bread that was calling me. I have a lot of catching up to do, I realize, but at least I don't need people anymore, I think. Or that is what this sister whose hair I am braiding said to me not long ago, thus implying that I was needy once and making me irrepressibly annoyed. Excuse me, I am nomadic and a rock and an island, clearly, and I don't need anyone calling my reputation into question. As I look at them all under this pleasant lighting in this cozy room with classics and theology stacked to its ceiling I know I should feel bad for wanting to leave it all behind sometimes, to not be known any longer, lest I be thought of in the unremarkable way that I sometimes think I am. But there will never be any new people like this, so I will fold these thoughts up as I usually do; I will tuck them away for another cold day when I am not braiding her hair.
I'm talking to her brother as he sits beside the family computer, letting the glow from its screen, far from my view, illuminate the toll that this school year has taken on his eyes, the skin surrounding them seeming worn out from being propped up and pried open. I don't know what we're talking about, a mutual friend or what to do with academic apathy, which is not his possession as often as it lives with me like an unwelcome feline, or maybe I am chatting about the very feline I daringly rescued from its garbage dump home last week and its lack of appreciation for my bravery. Maybe he's listening, but probably not. His sister, the tallest one, is piping in with her wise tone that always makes me wish I were younger so that we could be best friends, and while I'm thinking about this music begins to fill the room, slipping by all of us mostly unnoticed, it is quiet and soft and subtle for the most part. The four of us do tend to favor the depressing, but then again who, in the world who would like to think that they have a thought in their head, doesn't? It's guitar city in here, then a sad piano, then a parade of indies that in this moment I would prefer never to cease.
My ears do take specific notice when a favorite song that conjures my memories of a strange time on my own, long before I met any of these comfortable couchfellows, is chosen. The band is the most of the indie scene, perhaps the most overrated but I like them anyway, more nowso then then, and the singer's voice seems to me in character as always just a little bit older than a boy's for reasons I can never say. The song is louder and more intense than this singer has a right to be, though, and his themes are strong and sweeping and too romantic for him. He begins his song-story by describing someone special, then explaining that he very rashly left this Special One's side one morning, leaving behind a note of goodbye, and then begins his chorus in first-person telling her that she will be loved beyond her wildest dreams someday. At one time I listened to this wide-eared, aching, sometimes overeagerly striking the replay button before the song had even ended. I hate this song.
"This is one of my favorite depression songs," I say, to all of them or no one in particular. She tries to nod, but I have my hands on her head so this is difficult. "This is one of my favorite songs," He says, as if he hadn't heard me say anything- if he had I think he wouldn't use the word favorite so soon after me- we are too word concious around here. "He's such a jerk though," I say, a little bit louder but carelessly, the way you do when you expect everyone around you to commiserate, the way I imagine liberals behave at Obama support parties or how crazy taxidermists talk aloud at moose lodges across the country. It takes me a moment to notice I am being looked at with disdain. "are you kidding me?" comes across the room to greet me, waking up my soon-to-be impressive defenses. "It's exactly the opposite," he's saying, animatedly. "He's the one giving her a chance." This is nonsensical. I had no idea that such a song would be somehow akin to the divisive quality of a Lynch movie. I hear my voice morphing into that strange, partially offended, partially light-hearted tone that I take when I nonchalantly argue with my friends with intent about the media.
"Have you actually LISTENED to the song?"
Yes, of course he had. He thinks I don't get it at all.
"And you think SHE'S the jerk? He leaves her-"
No, he doesn't think she's the jerk, there is no jerk to be had.
"He leaves her- they don't break up. He leaves her- he says right there that he literally fled. He didn't care at all about her."
Yes, he left, but that could just be figurative. Of course he cared about her, he describes her so beautifully at first.
"He fle-d. And he knew exactly how much he meant to her-"
"Listen- right there he says she's crying because of him."
He knows it's painful, but he wants what's best for her.
"He's a coward and the entire chorus is simply him trying to make himself feel better."
He's comparing himself to a bad dream!
"He's letting himself off the hook! He's implying that she didn't mean anything…"
He's implying that he won't mean anything in the end…
"He says he 'feels no regret'."
He knows he's not the one for her.
"I hate it."
Well, you're just an angry girl, then, aren't you?
The pause is barely noticeable but entirely audible to me, oh so loud and clear. There is nothing different in his slightly amused tone, in the tone of the room or the warmth of it or the slickness of the oft-dyed hair slipping between my fingers now. His smugness and dismissive wave of hand follows as if to say I'll never understand and waits to meet with my usual exhale of breath and blustery mutterings as if to say he'll never understand as these cozy disagreements usually seem to conclude with, the ones that usually start with a comparison of short story writers or ponderance on the limits of guilty pleasures or whether or not the majority of America likes bananas with their peanut butter or who made a better badass cowboy, Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly or Clint Eastwood in Fistful? But the grouchy chumliness is a long time coming from my mouth, the friendly exasperation, when it does come and of course it does, is not as high-quality as we depend it to be. We do our jobs, natch, but the surprise revelation is too tricky; its bluntness almost too obvious to be attended to, like in that Poe story (about the letter that was put out in the open so that no one could find it). The preciseness, the correctness of his assessment is so very accidentally on point that even he can't identify the target, and the birth of my conviction is too large for all of this small pleasantness, so as I attempt to tuck it away she talks about movie stars, and she requests that I undo my progress and make it French, and he carefully plays another sad song that I haven't heard before.