Yesterday afternoon, I caught bits of a radio interview with Rosanne Cash from 2009 on Fresh Air. This was between errands - parking and unparking the car, so fragments, really. She had just released her album, called The List - the title referring to the list of 100 essential songs her father, Johnny Cash, had given her.
During a segment I heard, they played a clip of Rosanne Cash covering Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You.”
I knew every word by heart, and was reminded of my summer of Patsy Cline: my months spent working in a bakery cafe (now long gone, replaced several times over) on Thayer Street. It was me, and a few guys who were friends, and they played Patsy Cline on continuous repeat throughout the day. In fact, I don’t remember any other music being played in that place that summer. If quizzed, I think I could still recall the lyrics from every song on that album - “Walking After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Crazy,” “Faded Love,” and so on.
Those years remain a blur to me. I had taken leave from school (had been encouraged to take leave) and was working full-time at this cafe. I had just moved in with the man I would later marry. We lived this kind of shapeless life. After the cafe, B. and I would meet up for a late dinner at a Tex-Mex restaurant - another place that is no longer there, and then play pool with our housemates, or go to late movies.
I remember one of the cafe guys: James. Thankfully, the term “bromance” had not yet been coined, but all of us - B. and me, and the other couple we lived with - we all had a kind of crush on James. He had grown up here, seen the overprivileged college students descend on his turf more often that he cared to discuss, and so viewed us a bit warily. We came from our distant cities, set up our tents, and when we had our fill of the beaches and the cafes and the quaint bead shops, we left. He’d hang out with us, tell us his stories, drink beer with us, and sometimes take us to places the grad students hadn’t yet discovered - but he wasn’t going to get too close.
After a few weeks of casually dating James (meeting up for pool, or drinking beer in our backyard) B. and I decided to take it to the next level. We invited him over for dinner - we would cook! We told him to bring his girlfriend - a dark-haired pouting woman we’d heard about but only seen fleetingly - in the car, as she dropped him off at work, or leaving the bar where we played pool, just as we arrived.
We spent the afternoon at Bread & Circus (what Whole Foods used to be called) and picked out our favorite fancy (but not over the top!) items. We were aiming for simple, but tasteful. We chose a country pate and some smoked trout to put out with crusty bread while we cooked. Shrimp to sauté in butter with garlic and white wine. Fresh linguine. Baby greens.
Moments after he arrived, alone, we knew the evening would go a very different way from what we had imagined. We offered the pate, to which he asked: “Isn’t that chopped up bunny rabbits?”
To the offer of wine: “Actually, I brought some beer.”
To the shrimp: “Allergic.”
So, we ordered pizza and drank beer and I thought of how for me, the perpetual romantic, these items, this evening, suggested a kind of luxury and for others, just a whole bunch of stuff to be avoided. I felt pretentious and clumsy.
But the gift of James was that he laughed easily, generously. He had a wide smile that dominated his face, much of it hidden under a mop of curly hair. He sat there, in his faded blue plaid shirt, and told us about “the girlfriend.” How he was sure that really she hated him. She was angry all the time. And even though they were miserable, barely spoke, never spent any time together, he was so drawn to her. She was like a drug to him.
Our housemates came home and joined us, and James went on about how nearly every night, he’d decide to break up with her, and he’d go home, ready to tell her, and she’d be in bed, or curled up on the couch. How even when he thought himself resolved, she’d be able, nonetheless, to arouse him. “She comes at me like she’s working a lawnmower,” he’d said, pantomiming pulling on the starter cord. We all laughed, and he did, too, a little. But he seemed sad, tired.
Later that summer, he moved away. He got drunk with his friends from school one night, got a tattoo of an anchor, with the state motto (“Hope”) on his arm, and left for Texas. Austin, I think. He didn’t leave a number or say he’d be in touch.
To this day, when I see the lawnmowers lined up in the Home Depot, the bright orange tags hanging from the starter cords, I can’t help but think of James. And every time I see pate, I think: "chopped up bunny rabbits.“