The first time I saw him, “Brown Eyed Girl” was playing on the radio. I remember the day like it was yesterday.
I was at home. “Home” was a tiny 10 x 12 I shared with my roommate and sometimes lover at the time. Her name was Melinda. We were in California. Our room was littered with “peace” signs from the war protest that we had been attending all week. The Beatles had Guest of Honour status on our walls, looking down benevolently. The rest is a haze. Not because it has been so long since I lived in that cramped room. It was the sixties, you know?
That small transistor radio was my favourite, if not only, possession at the time. I listened to all my shows religiously. It wasn’t called classic rock in our time. We just called it popular music. Our parents called it the music of the devil. I remember the radio host – his name eludes me – going on a long, funny diatribe against the “old” generation. I used to think a lot of my parents in rural Minnesota. Religious churchgoers. Rule followers. They hadn’t been happy when I decided to come to California for college, but they never stopped me. When I listened to the host, I used to think of them.
My parents were High School sweethearts. They were married the day before he left for the War. My mother was among the first women in her town to start working when the men were gone. She was pregnant but she still drove ten miles every day to work at the factory. I was born eight months after they were married. I used to wonder if I was the reason they got married. I look at her fresh-faced smile in their wedding picture from time-to-time. Did she know then?
Mother was a pioneer. But she was also among the first women to drop out and stop working when the men came back. I asked her once why she stopped. She’d just shrugged. “I didn’t have to stay.” I think it bothered me a little. Maybe.
What would they think of my lifestyle? They might have been shocked. Most people were. But my parents were rocks. When father came back from the war, he used to wake up screaming at nights, drenched in sweat. I used to run to their room and stand in the open doorway. Watching my mother hold him and gently rock him back and forth until his breath slowed and he was ready to sleep again. In the morning, they betrayed no emotion; no signs of having seen me witness the scene. They were Immovable. Soon, they started sleeping with their doors closed. “What goes on behind closed doors…” was an opened-ended sentence my mother loved to leave hanging in the air.
The first time I saw him, I was sitting on the small ledge outside my window, smoking. It was a precarious ledge – only about a foot wide. A little miscalculation and I would go flying through the air ten storeys down. But that was part of the charm for me. Many a day was spent on that ledge, imagining what it would feel like to go hurtling through the air, no way to go but down. How long would it take? Would time stand still as I flashed back to my past and pictured every friend, every lover I had ever had? Or would it be over in a flash? Would it hurt? I used to look down at the concrete pavement and imagine my skull cracked open and people gathering around my lifeless body.
I had been enjoying an hour of listening to The Doors. I loved Jim Morrison. My friends and I had been planning a road trip to Los Angeles. I had heard that the man living in his old dorm room at UCLA had been letting people visit his room for a fee. I wondered if his room had a ledge like mine. I imagined him sitting on that ledge, the sharp L.A. sun blinding him as he thought of songs. I wondered how he came up with his songs.
A glint caught my eye and I peered down through the gap between my feet at the ground. A small puddle of water had gathered on the pavement underneath. I wanted to crane my neck to see what was dripping, but some kind of self-preservative instinct didn’t let me. So I busied myself instead by staring at the slow, ripples spreading out evenly, only to be disturbed by the next drop, and then the next.
Suddenly, “Brown Eyed Girl” came on. I was briefly disappointed that The Doors hour was over. I blamed myself irrationally for a moment. I had gotten distracted from my Jim Morrison daydream so they’d stopped playing. Then I laughed at myself and continued watching the puddle, humming along with the song.
Out of nowhere, a foot stomped right in the middle of my puddle. Droplets scattered, spreading all over the pavement. I yelled out angrily, “Hey!” The foot froze. And he looked up.
Brown eyed girl. Lala la la la la la la la la lala.
He had the most beautiful brown eyes I had ever seen. A light coffee brown that when caught the sun in just the right angle, looked almost amber. I’d never seen eyes like his before. Honest, steadfast, with an infinite capacity to love. In the five seconds that I stared into his eyes, I imagined the next fifty years of my life waking up to those eyes every night.
Then, just as suddenly as it had started, the song ended. I broke eye contact and climbed back into my room, embarrassed.
Did he stay and wait for me to come back out? Did he keep walking? Does he remember that day just as clearly as I do? Does he think of me every time he listens to “Brown Eyed Girl?” Does he know me?