Friday, October 14, 2011

my life as a drum.

this morning i woke up surrounded by my fortress of five pillows at 5 a.m., as i often do these days. i usually lie there rubbing my feet together until i can fall back asleep, always on my left side, because i read it puts less pressure on the inferior vena cava (and accordingly, less pressure on my worries about the phlebitis in my left calf, which, a few weeks back, prompted a trip to the doc and then an ultrasound to rule out a clot. the many surprises of pregnancy, quite a feat to conquer for the anxiety ridden). i turned off the tv, closed my eyes, and soon heard drumbeats. not just any but the ones played during the clarksburg christmas parade circa 1982, when i marched, wearing a red sequined bodysuit and white boots with red-and-white yarn tassles, with the mitzi layne dance academy baton unit. i had thick bangs and a bun way on top of my head...i'd still wear my hair that way if my ponytail weren't so thin from that last bad haircut. i remember every beat of that drum routine. it's too bad some genius has yet to invent a way to recreate sound memory; if such a thing existed, i'd put it in here so everyone could hear those drumbeats along with me.

my life as told in drum beats began early. actually, even earlier than i can possibly recall because i was only a year old when my brother got his first drum set in our apartment on baltimore avenue in glen elk, with the yard that my picture-memories paint as somewhat southern-gothic feeling, perhaps because of the creeping vines and somber cement statues that my grandfather, nanoo as we called him in italian, poured when he had a paving business. our apartment was underneath nanoo's dim, moody, godfatheresque apartment upstairs that always smelled of spaghetti sauce and coffee and his cologne in the green glass bottle-shaped-bottle that sat on the counter in the bathroom. i vaguely remember what my family's apartment looked like, probably from later visits when dad needed to repair something for one of the tenants who came after us. mom says my brother peed behind the front door in the living room there because he was afraid the toilet would swallow him. nanoo was a hot head, but kev and i were his sweethearts and i bet he didn't care about the pee stains or the noise from his first grandchild's 5-yr-old drum cacophany. ten years or so later, kev was playing with much more skill on his red sparkle set in the attic at our house on carpenter street. all the time, in the middle of the day, for hours. and this is why i know that one neil peart solo...the one from yyz, i think?...by heart.

another 15 years later, a 21-yr-old drummer began the tradition of people calling me dee, his particular style varying from deetrain to deepants to dirty dee. now, at 31, he is also the man who still holds claim to being the last who loved me...not that others wouldn't have; i just wasn't interested in having anyone who could easily be had. or something like that. his drum set was in the corner of his parents' very-full basement in the house with the only teal leather couch i've ever seen. i rarely listened to him practice, though one time comes to mind. maybe it was the day he went to the basement to finishing putting shellac on a triptych he would show at an exhibit at zenclay, a gallery/tea house atop the studio where we took ceramics class together, and then he wandered over to his set, and as i watched his arms and face go wild with every beat, i couldn't help but picture animal from the muppets. he played with a band called asteriskathon for a hot minute, which isn't notable except that i could never pronounce the name until the first time i heard him say it. on the day of his first (and last?) show at 123 pleasant street, the local hangout, with his second band, branches, we hadn't seen each other in a week or two because he had been in boston then vermont to see his brother and i had been in nyc for a weekend with my friend ann. the night before we both left town, we argued and he came to my house later and wrote this note on the back of one of my atm slips: will you be my girlfriend?, with a box for yes or no. i still have it somewhere. so the night at 123 was a happy reunion for the on-again couple. i wore knee-high, shiny stiletto boots i'd bought at the store across from the midtown nyc hotel, and he wore red flared pants from goodwill and flip flops. the next day, i presented him with all the gifts i'd so carefully picked out: the black heart procession on vinyl, bought somewhere on the lower east side, and a mortar and pestle bought somewhere on the upper west side. he said he didn't buy me anything because he didn't know what i would've liked, so he showed me all the things he had bought for himself instead. had that moment been punctuated by a sound, it would've been the slow, dull thump of a lonely kickdrum. ten years down the line, animal and i are friends, and i barely remember the sound.

another eight years later; another drumbeat. the quiet man with the distinctive walk and distinctive way of pursing his lips before he smiled...which wasn't often, and so making him smile became a self-congratulatory thing for me, especially immediately upon glimpsing that telltale movement of his lips. the first night we met was in a narrow kitchen at my friend's house, trying not to bump into each other while both doing a subtle, two-second "hey you're cute" double take. then we went on with our evening, occasionally catching glances but never exchanging words. in the two years after that night, that initial double-take moment returned to me, usually on the frequent occasions when he had done something...or nothing is more like it. turns out that nothing can be just as bad as a bad something. in those times of frustration or hurt or blazing resentment i would wonder, but wait, didn't that look "mean" something? and if it did, then why would he act this way? and then just as quickly wonder, is that me wanting to believe in fate? fate is silly and only for the movies. i never came to any conclusions about it. well, except for one: now that i know what i know, that look he gave me was not singular, nor was i to him. the high hat crashes the heart with the knowledge that you are no one to someone. and then you move forward, in some span of months or years that you can never quite enumerate, because by then it no longer matters. but this time is different. that last crashing high hat was followed by another beat. a tiny, precious one. one that makes moving forward both absolutely necessary and impossibly complicated. and every single day, i reanimate yesterday's lifeless hope for that crash to soften.

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