As we danced, I sang with the song. I held her close and knew we both remembered stolen kisses a thousand miles away. I could see something else in her eyes. She, too, knew it wouldn’t work.
Thirty-five years ago I went to a friend’s wedding in Brooklyn and it was one of the most memorable weekends of my life.
Joe and I served together in the Navy and had become friends during my first deployment to the Middle East. On the ship’s return, Joe’s family greeted him at our homeport in Florida. I met Joe’s sister and she was a brash combination of good looks and attitude. When you moved beyond seeing the outside… you saw how even more lovely she was inside. She was so wonderfully alive and passionate. About music. About life. I’d never met a big city girl like her. She was so very different from the girls I was used to. We clicked and spent time together that weekend. Though she was with her parents, her two brothers (Joe was her oldest) and little sister we managed a little time together. When she talked her voice and laugh rang out as we walked the beach in the evenings. Born and raised most of my life in the south the distinct sound of a Brooklyn native was novel to me. I loved listening to her… the tone and cadence as we talked. But I liked the silence, too. When we kissed with just the sound of the surf around us in the stillness of the night. Or as we held each other outside the doorway of the place her parent’s had rented, semi-sheltered by tall hedges that framed it, for a parting kiss. After a few days they returned home. I was smitten and sad to see her leave.
A month or so later, when Joe announced his wedding date I knew I had to go. So the Friday leading into the weekend of the wedding I flew into LaGuardia and Joe’s younger brother picked me up. We headed to the Prospect Park area of Brooklyn and soon I was welcomed and embraced by a houseful of wonderful people; Joe’s friends and family. I had never been part of a close-knit family. Certainly nothing like a large, multi-generational, Italian family in Brooklyn. I’d never been around so many people that could all talk at the same time and manage to understand each other. It was a wonderful mix of chaos and tension. But most of all it struck me as a home full of love. And the smells coming from the kitchen were of what I would soon discover was some of the most delicious food ever enjoyed in my then young life. [I will always remember the baked ziti with sausage and sauce made from a handed-down-for-generations family recipe. It was the best I’ve ever had.]
It was a little awkward seeing her, Joe’s sister, again as we greeted with a hug just inside the door. Behind her, I heard Joe’s dad announce. “Hey, it’s Joey’s friend, The Razorback, from the Navy. [That was the nickname Joe had given me when he found out I was from Arkansas — the razorback is the University of Arkansas’s sports mascot.] For a while, there was a lot of “How ya doin’ Razorback. Hey, youse have a good flight?” Everybody said hello and all the women, young and old, hugged me and the men all shook my hand. Joe’s mother called out to her oldest daughter. “How about you show The Razorback where he can put his things in his room while he’s with us.”
She took me by the arm and we went upstairs. “There’s the bathroom,” she motioned to it on the right side of the hallway. “And here’s where you are.” She opened the door and the first thing I saw, over the bed, was the huge poster of Mick Jagger prancing on stage and underneath his feet were the words Jumping Jack Flash it’s a gas… “This is my room.” She smiled and I saw a bit of blush bloom on her face. She had dark hair and eyes and the loveliest color-of-fresh-cream complexion heightened by the ruby-red lipstick (it reminded me of the chick on the cover of The Cars first album). “I’ll be sleeping in my sistah’s room.”
I smiled and said, “Thanks.” I hesitated but had to say it. “It’s good to see you.”
Her smile broadened in return–those perfect, crimson, lips–but neither of us mentioned what had happened in Florida. I hung my garment-bag on a hook she showed me behind the door and put my suitcase next to the bed. We went downstairs to the kitchen. There I met her boyfriend [I found out he was on again off again] who had just been hired by the NYC fire department. He was a pleasant guy and after we ate—which was quite an event by itself, “let The Razorback stir the sauce”—he and Joe’s younger brother brought me into the planning for the bachelor party. Across the table I saw her look at me, then at him, then back to me. I didn’t know what to think so kept my mouth shut. Soon there was an announcement: the young men were headed out into the night. Joe’s Mom followed me to the door, took my arm, and patted my cheek. “You take care of my boys Razorback… don’t let them get in any trouble.” Off we went. [I recall two bars distinctly from that night: Horsefeathers and a club on Staten Island called The Factory where I saw Twisted Sister, which I didn’t like and a Beatles tribute band, which I did.]
The next day was supposed to be for recovering [trying to] from the evening, which went into the early hours of that morning. Joe’s mom had different plans and rousted us to get moving on helping with preparations for the wedding and the reception. And so the day went.
Early that evening the Catholic wedding ceremony was like nothing I’d ever seen and in a church far, far, larger than any I’d ever set foot in (which admittedly was not many). As formal, governed by tradition and hushed reverence, as the wedding was… the reception was completely opposite and crazily wild. I drank shots with a priest and danced with a nun. I also danced with every one of Joe’s wife’s bridesmaids and many of Joe’s sister’s friends. The ladies all loved to hear me talk in soft southern tones. Once they saw I was a superb dancer they queued up. A couple of the single young ladies and an older, divorced, woman whispered invitations to me, to meet them later, as we danced.
The reception lasted a long time and then seemed too short when they announced the last dance [Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones]. It was Joe and his bride’s wedding song. He and she stepped out on the floor and after a beat, others joined them. I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned. It was her. “Razorback, you want to dance?” I glanced behind her to see her boyfriend looking at me. “It’s okay,” she said. As we danced, I sang with the song, “You know I can’t let you slide through my hands.” I held her close and knew we both remembered stolen kisses a thousand miles away. I could see something else in her eyes. She’d made her decision. She, too, knew we were worlds apart and it wouldn’t work. As the song ended she kissed me on the cheek. “Goodbye, Dennis.” And she returned to her boyfriend.
So the night ended. Joe and his wife sped off to make their flight to a honeymoon in the Caribbean. I turned to look for Joe’s younger brother for a ride back to Prospect Park. As I scanned for him, one of the girls I’d danced with came up and repeated her invitation. I was young, wild and free… so I accepted her offer to give me a ride. [Which led to an interesting encounter so close to being in public… we heard the street and sidewalk noise only about thirty feet from us as we reached apex in a secluded alcove near her brownstone apartment. A year or so later, in Barcelona, was a second near public experience on a balcony above a street in Barcelona.]
On the flight back to Florida I reflected. I’d hoped, when I saw her, for it to be like it had been that weekend–that homecoming from my first six-month deployment–passionate kisses and intimate discovery of the newness of each to the other. It wasn’t to be. But I did leave with memories of new experiences… making love to a (different) Brooklyn girl, to the sounds of the city, and I did get to drink with a priest and dance with a nun. 😀