I started performing music live with no pretenses and no surprises. While living in a different city, I’d recognized that long hours and low pay was unavoidable. At least I didn’t fool myself. I’d regularly be the opener for a not very remarkable main act at a nondescript restaurant out in the suburbs. I understand why it’s easy to develop an alcohol problem while being the night’s entertainment, especially if audience alone is not underwhelming enough.
For the whole of the night, enthusiastic people in attendance always bought me drinks. I never lacked for booze, often wishing it could be exchanged for money. That not being the case, instead I drank. Intoxication can be a humbling experience while on stage. I shall say no more.
I’ll admit that, like many musicians, I used my talents partially as a social icebreaker. When sets were over or when it was time to take a break, I headed directly for those in the audience who had been sufficiently snake charmed. Every man with the courage to play a guitar and open his mouth before an audience knows exactly what I mean. Nothing opens doors quite the same way. For the chronically introverted, like yours truly, the hardest part of talking to complete strangers was thereby established. The first move had already been made for me.
Women who are much older than me hold a mysterious appeal. Much of it is a desire to learn from someone with more experience and more knowledge. The physical attraction is present as well, of course, but I suppose I must have my baser reasons. On the opposite side of the coin, I know now that I’ve been used a time or two to assuage cravings for youth and attention. Prior girlfriends miss being as desired as they were in their prime, when they were much younger.
For those who never found me too much of a baby or too much like their grown sons, I assume that same need must have also been present. I always sought more than a one-sided pairing and learned to cut ties with women who saw me as a fountain of youth. It took me one particularly bad experience to adapt and change for the wiser.
She was different. She was youthful without trying too hard to be young. Her height stood out most. Long legs dangled off of the stool just as mine did during a performance. A singer/songwriter, what she wrote was grounded and calm, not full of angst and confusion as mine were. I wanted that for myself. Call it maturity, stability, or peace of mind, I was instantly certain I knew the very thing that I had been lacking. Thoroughly fascinated with her songcraft, I wished to learn more. My eyes now projected the same glassy, impressed stare I had seen in many others.
The tables had turned. Shyly approaching her as she left the small café, I’m sure I was typically awkward and untypically gushy. The look she gave me was kind, but cautious. The message had been relayed. I was asked whether or not I wanted to see her next performance at another venue later in the week. Entranced, for the next several weeks I stayed out late many nights during the week when I’d much rather have been at home. I already played until the wee hours on weekends. Though the setlist became increasingly familiar, the person playing remained elusive, confounding, and unattainable.
I’m glad I wasn’t asked to wait too long. Late one night, the audience long since departed, we finally addressed the subject of a relationship. We couldn’t talk long. Bartenders were already straightening up and restocking for another night. They all knew her personally, which allowed us to linger for longer than normal. I knew eventually we were going to be kicked out, and my impatience reflected it.
Very matter-of-factly she invited me home with her. The delivery was typically businesslike and sober, the statement phrased more like a transaction than anyone’s romantic fantasy. I did not critique, I merely followed.
After that, we tried to make what we had work, even when the both of us kept weird hours. Fellow musicians could have put two and two together by our regular proximity and frequency. Even so, she insisted on at least the façade of strict discretion. She was twenty years older than me and I imagine the relationship was a combination of pride and discomfort for her. She never went into detail about much.
Once she alluded to a past struggle with cancer, and then never mentioned it again. She had never married and rarely talked about past partners. Two personalities could not be more different. She was restrained and tight-lipped, whereas I wore my heart on my sleeve and vocalized my feelings.
We tried to play music together, but found that the convergence in styles didn’t match. She was an extremely fussy musician, insisting upon to-the-note perfection, and not particularly appreciative of my contributions. I recognized eventually that much of that supposed calm was contrived. In reality, she was extremely controlling of her own work and also of me. While on stage, I noticed how she stared down other women in the audience that even dared to look at me during a performance.
Within a few months of dating, I recognized I had fallen in love with a fantasy. I had been seeking stability in someone else, a major no-no. My fascination by what I thought was wisdom and truth was actually an-all-too-trusting belief in subterfuge. I was confusing a front for what lay beyond it. We parted ways soon after, when I could no longer tolerate her lack of trust in me. I avoided even having to see her, making sure not to attend the places where I knew she’d be. Though I live elsewhere now, I’m still afraid I’ll run into her someday by random coincidence.