I saw her the moment I stepped through the door. She was difficult to miss. She wasn’t beautiful, yet she was striking. In a crowd of music industry suits and pantsuits, she stood out like blue suede in her seventies revival gear, reminiscent of a young Grace Slick.
During the controversial social climate of the nineties, there had been a resurgence of sixties and seventies memorabilia, clothes, attitudes, and TV shows. Although the marketing onslaught of all of this wound up somehow being marketed to teens, it reverberated throughout a generation old enough to remember those times. As a result, parents of the new fake hippie generation in their tie-dyes and ripped jeans were dusting off their turntables and pulling out their The Who, Doors, and Stones albums by the dozens.
The ever-evolving geniuses of the record industry didn’t skip a beat and started signing bands like the Blue Is, fronted by the woman I was now staring at. I’d heard their one hit single, and at first, I couldn’t even remember the singer’s name. But then I remembered reading somewhere that she and Joan went way back and I had it: Janine Jordan.
I had no idea what the rest of Janine’s album sounded like, but the one song was as good as, actually a little better than, anything else that was being granted precious air time on the radio. It had a Melissa Etheridge feel to it, with an old Heart type rocking backbeat, added to enhance the vocals.
Unable to recall the name of the song, I asked a colleague I recognized from Rhino Records whom I spotted at the buffet table.
“Oh, yeah, ‘Too Much Trouble,’ I think. Yeah, that’s her over there; she looks different than in the video.”
Typical. Civilians assume if they ran into Cher in the grocery store she’d look and dress exactly the same as she had in those eighties Jack La Lane commercials.
I mingled, but kept my eye on Janine. I wasn’t star struck; I didn’t go in for all of that, if I had, I would’ve been all over Joan. Instead, I kept my cool. Eventually I’d make my way over to the crowd, flash Joan my pearly whites, and hope for the best.
And Janine, well, after all, I only knew the one song; she could suck live for all I knew, anybody could sound great on a studio cut. She just had a presence that took over the room. Little ringlets of long, ashy brown hair danced around her face when she spoke. She had eyes the color of granite, and they were extremely expressive, even from a distance.
I’d been watching her over someone’s shoulder, so even though I couldn’t always see her entire face I could tell when she was laughing, listening, or bored. She caught my gaze a few times, but didn’t give any recognition. This irritated me since most women couldn’t help at least flashing me a smile. Maybe she was what some lesbians call “terminally straight” and simply couldn’t be bothered with even a touch of politeness. Hurdling my fascination, I wrote her off as a snob, walked to the bar, and started to plan something witty to say to Joan that would set me aside from all others.
One night about a week after the package, I came home and Janine was on my doorstep. It was one of those snapshot moments, filed in your memory cells for instant recall. I came walking around the corner, and there she was, wearing jeans and a spaghetti strap tank top, not looking like a famous or about-to-be famous person at all. She looked just like any other girlfriend, waiting for me to get home.
“How’s work?” she called out to me, smiling. “Anything interesting happen this week?”
I dropped everything I was carrying onto the steps and kissed her. “I missed you,” I whispered into her hair. “How long are you here?”
“We can talk about all that later. I want to take you out to dinner.”
I assumed that meant not long. I was going to have to get used to this, I supposed. But it sure did feel good for her to hook her fingers through my belt loop and pull me toward her for another kiss.
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…” I started to joke.
“Oh, come on, you wouldn’t really have wanted me to walk into anyone else’s, would you?” She was right. But I couldn’t shake the feeling our relationship was going to look a lot more like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? than Casablanca.
“Let me cook for you instead?”
“What’s on the menu?”
“Linguine. Clam sauce.”
“Red or white?”
“Do you have a nice bottle of Friuli Sauvignon? Never mind. Of course you do. And if you don’t, I’m sure you’ve got something just as nice stashed away.”
As we climbed the stairs, I wondered how much she knew about wine. Was it as much as she seemed to know about everything else? Her capacity for knowledge amazed me; hell, everything about her amazed me. But the greatest miracle was that she was here, standing smack in the middle of my life. In that moment, holding the door for her, I was suddenly struck with the feeling that it didn’t matter to me who she was, how famous she was, how often she was away, who else she slept with, or anything else she did. I was making a conscious decision to love, for it is only when love is a choice that it even has a chance. Those addictive emotions of fascination, falling head over heels, even obsession, would always give way when the people in the relationship acted as their adult selves. I wanted something much more real than that. I decided right then and there that when the going got rough, as surely it would, for the first time in my life I wouldn’t run. I wouldn’t abandon her or my heart’s desire, which had in an instant become one and the same.
I had no idea where she was or how to reach her. I knew inside I would see her again, I just didn’t know when. But the mere fact she was going to come back amazed me, so much that I had what I believed was a small panic attack. Not knowing how else to medicate anything from the flu to rabies, I poured myself a tall glass of single malt scotch with shaky hands. Now what? I sat down at my kitchen counter, grabbed the phone, and called my best friend in the whole world, Cindy.
An hour later we were at Sea Salt in the village sharing a pitcher of Long Island iced tea and an enormous cob salad. “I can’t believe you didn’t call me sooner,” she complained.
“Cin, this whole thing only happened less than a couple of weeks ago. Sometimes we go for months without talking to each other.”
“I know, I know. Listen, I’ve known you since we were little kids in Milltown. And I’ll tell you something. That look that’s on your face right now? I haven’t seen that since Ellen Trainer when we were in the fifth grade.”
“And what look is that?” I asked. “Terrified? Tortured? Obsessed?”
“Smitten,” she grinned. “It’s cute.”
Cindy and I had known each other practically since birth. It was fair to say she knew me better than anyone did, and I trusted her opinion. When I had moved away to the cornfields of Illinois, she was one of less than a half dozen people I maintained contact with besides relatives on the coast. She had done everything I had ever been afraid to do: she was in a rock band when she was 20 and they actually were achieving some local success, but she walked away from that to travel with the Peace Corps for a few years, then she met some sort of guru on a retreat weekend and followed him to live with Buddhist monks in Tibet for a year. She came back to the States and, of all things, went to law school, and now she worked for an elite firm in upper Manhattan.
She was one of the most interesting people I’d ever had the pleasure of knowing, and one of a very limited number of women in my life I had not slept with, thereby maintaining the sanctity of our relationship. I trusted her above anyone else, and I had to tell someone about Janine.
“You know how I feel about bisexual women,” I said. “Nothing but trouble.” I looked down into my glass.
“Well, it’s not like you just found that out. You knew going in. You always do that, and then want to use it as an excuse later on to bail. I also know you’re enlightened enough to understand it doesn’t really matter. People fall in love with people, all that gender driven sexuality crap is a bunch of bullshit.”
Of course she was right. I was often drawn to women who were unavailable to me for one reason or another, and being bisexual was my favorite choice. It gave me a way to not commit and an easy out when intimacy became too intense or complicated for my liking. I liked to find women who were emotionally unavailable because, really, it was me who was afraid, me who was unavailable. Cindy knew me too well.
“Yeah, but Cin, I mean, come on. She’s a fucking rock star, for Christ’s sake. That’s a whole new level of unattainable for me. What will I do, sit home and watch porn and hang out with the cat while she’s on tour in Japan, or Australia, or god knows where?”
She gave me the look all best friends have. The one that says, “I know the truth about you.” She lit a cigarette with a match. I found this endearing about her. Cindy was a woman who could afford Zippo lighters made out of gold if she wanted one, yet she was always rummaging through her purse to find a match. She was also constantly quitting smoking, but never quite managed to do it, like it was a project she kept putting off.
“The truth, kiddo, is you have strayed farther and farther from your true self ever since you ended things with Liz. That was nearly ten years ago, for god’s sake. I won’t say just get over it already because I know, I know it was the most painful things you have ever been through. I know she was the only woman you ever really loved. But just because that didn’t work out doesn’t give you license to abandon the hope of ever being happy.”