An appreciation: listening to Joan Armatrading in the shower. Bluesy, sexy, and strong: Joan brings it home to her earthy planet and rocks me gentle, with integrity and slow.
“Oh the feeling, when you’re reeling/ You step lightly thinking you’re number one,” she sings. “Down to zero with a word/leaving/for another one…Now you walk with your feet back on the ground…”1
I’m listening as the hot water runs over my hair, over my shoulders, down my back. I’m standing feeling my heart ache in a way I don’t usually let it, letting it ache frankly. Without silver lining, without cover-ups, without life lessons. Heavy pulp in my chest. Down to the ground, down to the ground…
“I’m not the sort of person who falls in and quickly out of love,” she sings and I hear it, I’m not that sort either.“But to you I gave my affection right from the start…”2
“Why do you come here
When you know I’ve got troubles enough
Why do you call me
When you know I can’t answer the phone,
Make me love when I don’t want to,
Make someone else some kind of unknowing fool, you make me stay when I shouldn’t have
Are you so strong, or is all the weakness in me
Why do you come here and pretend to be just passing by…
but I need to see you, I need to hold you
The last line just kills me. Sing it Joan, whinny it down, to craving and conflict both. Need to see you, hold you, hold tight.
I tell myself, I won’t call back this time, I won’t call first. Then, the crux: that I want to. After years of being friends and colleagues and accepting the fact that he was in a relationship and nothing would ever happen between us, I want to call him now that I can. And laugh over nothing, nerd out, sing folk songs over the phone. I want him to come over and make stir fry and dance dramatically to 90s Pandora stations, and lay on the uncomfortable futon that makes us cave into each other and gives us no choice but to touch.
But every time I see him or call, I feel the backlash. Despite our goofy brand of fun and soul connection and ease, something reminds me that he is not yet a free man. Even though they broke up and he moved out several months ago, we have to leave a restaurant because it’s a regular of hers and she might walk in.
The other night I drove home at 3am after he realized that she was coming by in the early morning to pick up their dog. This is it, I thought. There is being patient, there is being understanding, and there is this, which is crazy.
How, Joan, have I found this strange version of myself here? In this situation with the laughably bad timing, loving when it doesn’t even make sense to? When the two of them have shit to figure out, each other to deal with and heal from, get over? Despite our pull to each other, and how much we laugh together, I am unable to shake the sense that I am trespassing on someone else’s territory. That he still belongs to her. That I am making this woman I don’t know the unknowing fool.
There are few people who understand the way Joan seems to, whose voice unwinds like a wise older sister who will listen and not judge. Who has been there herself. It strikes me how I need that permission sometimes, to be a human animal, stretching out, languid, not keeping up appearances, or sucking my guts in. I need to know that I can be that unwieldy and wanting and still understood at the same time. A gentle hand to smooth me over and remind me of my humanness, my awkward yet beautiful contours. “Animal, mineral, physical, spiritual,” Joan sings, “I’m the one you need.”
With him I felt a quiet joyplace where a friend becomes lover, becomes chosen kin. Together, it felt like we were creating a place where we could take our layers off, lay on the floor a long while and take pause from all the negotiations of the day. It was a dream, and cheers to the dream: snuggling with a friend who both wants to cuddle and meet me mind to mind, who is like a “believing mirror” (as Julia Cameron puts it), seeing me even when I don’t see me, and then some. Those moments when I am feeling bleh and unsure and like ‘what the fuck am I doing ?!’ – There he is, that beautiful someone who reflects not just what I am but maybe, what I have the power of becoming. Mostly that I am actually doing an ok and sometimes even sparkle beam of a job. Not fucking everything up, like I often think.
Together we hold hands and offer a hand to the world. That is the dream.
It’s an effort right now, getting up early, going to work, getting to endless meetings and appointments, eating well, paying bills. Being in society. Who am I kidding? It’s always hard, but right now it feels like uphill with the brakes on. The whole “being mature” thing, as my friend Jen put it, when everything around her had fallen apart and it was a victory to make it to work every day. But it’s what you do. So I do it. I miss him in it, but I do it, because that is the adultish thing to do.
There isn’t anyone out there who doesn’t get jacked up by this confusing experience of being human and in love. No wonder it’s damn near impossible to let go of it when you think you’ve found it, inconvenient and off as it may be. Even with evidence to the contrary, there’s promise of shelter in it. We all need the comfort. To find safety, establish trust — all that “woo woo” stuff that we think we’re too cool for ? Woo away man, Joan knows. We’re trying to find home.
1“Down to Zero,” on Joan Armatrading, 1976.
2“The Weakness in Me,” on Walk Under Ladders, 1981.