A teenage heart, late 1970s
The floor-to-ceiling windows look out upon the darkened front garden below. Beyond were other people’s houses, streetlights, the future.
I had arrived after making a short nervous phonecall out of earshot of my family.
She guides me away from her parents and younger siblings into a room stylishly sparse of furniture. A lamp by the record player. Another lamp in the corner opposite. Light enough to see her calm, kind eyes. Dark enough, hopefully, to hide my awkwardness.
She puts on a record. Not new, only a few years old. Songs, I learn some years later, by Jackson Browne, John Prine, Joni Mitchell, Janis Ian, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan and the album’s singer, Joan Baez
We sit on a couch, a little apart, facing the windows. Words? Now and then. Here and there. But not how or where I want them to be.
Like a million fools before me, and a million more to come as sure as night follows day, I leave my virgin emotions unspoken, expecting osmosis to be a go-between.
In the gaps between the songs are the murmurings of the household. Television. Parents chatting. Children being told it is “Bedtime! School tomorrow.”.
When the second side of the record finishes, and the arm of the stylus nestles into its cradle, I glance out to the darkened windows knowing I’ve failed. She is gracious in her goodbye. Making my way home the streetlights expose my timidity.
Ten years later, with a Joan Armatrading record playing in a tiny inner-city terrace, an abode with barely a window, I do not make the same mistake with Julie.
It is a sunny afternoon. We are at a small music festival on the coast. Twenty years since the tiny terrace house. As a band finishes on a main stage and the crowd disperses, a stranger approaches. I am embarrassed that she has to tell me her name. And when she does, when she speaks those two syllables, my heart thumps. And thumps and thumps. The whole weekend.
Pathetic sentimentality? Sure, if you wish. Or testament to the calmness and kindness she had once shown a clumsy young man (a boy, let’s face it), who was able to depart an empty room with some dignity.
With the next band sound-checking – and Julie reading me like an open book – I find the composure this time to put the right words in the right places, to ask about partner, marriage, children, work, career, siblings, parents, long-ago mutual acquaintances; the past I never knew.
Stereo Story #578