When she sang, I got goosebumps.
We lived in a small, crowded, hardwood apartment on the east side of the park. I remember the slow evenings’ passing by in a blur when she sat in front of the bookcase, picked up the guitar, and sang.
Singing was a magic I never learned. When I try it, the quarter-notes leave my throat in a mangled and keyed-up state. For me, music is a saw-toothed weapon I wield to get laughs at karaoke bars and score points in conversations.
But when she sang, her eyes closed. I liked to think that she imagined a different place, far away from the apartment whose rent we scrounged to pay. A wonderful, distant place filled with the air sucked out of our lives by our poverty. A place with different people, possibly without me. And after t seconds, where t times 340 meters per second was the distance between the bookcase and me, I’d be there too, struggling to breathe.
When we were together, she seemed so unhappy. We leaned on each other when everything else in the world pressed up against us. Sleepless nights were spent wondering whether we’d even be friends if one of us had the strength to shove back just once, to create a vacuum — a reprieve — for just a moment and escape.
But when she sang, the world was taken aback.
“Hey,” I’d say, “stop singing and sit next to me for a while.”
She’d crook her head at me and ask why, and I could never bring myself to tell her that I missed her, that if I didn’t rush over to her in t time — jumping over every carton of take-out and every unpaid bill in our laughably small apartment — and hug her she’d be gone too soon. That she could leave eventually, but not now, not when I needed her so badly. I could never do it.
So when she sang, I closed my eyes too, and I wondered if she’d still be there when I opened them.