Jacob Lawrence, "The Lovers," 1946
Jacob Lawrence, The Lovers (1946)
Can a Game Be Literature?

Mark's Pages

January 11, 2003:

Spring. On a garage-sale couch before a fireplace with no fire, in a home of college students on a budget, late at night after a party.

Lovely, striking young woman, blonde, nineteen, shortish feather-cut hair like the English Mods she adores. Thin silver hoop in one ear, in the other an earring made from a small silver badge which spins and dangles against her cheekbone when she laughs. Gray eyes vibrant with mischief. Voice like music, laugh of life's pure delight springing from a well of great joyfulness deep within. When she laughs she throws her head back, sending her joy heavenward. But there's a secret center of pain behind those eyes which draws you forward, forward. You want to be the one who saves her.

Lanky boy with messy black hair, a rocker boy exiled at university. Twenty-five, looks younger, but to her he represents freedom and sophistication. Tight blue Levys, white Converse high tops, pirate's golden hoop through one ear or the other, he forgets which. Black sweatshirt.

They're talking about life, mostly hers. Alcoholic, aggressive father, physically intimidating like Jackie Gleason in The Honeymooners. You understand: neither of you are able to watch that show without flinching. Mother who clings to a desperately destructive situation for unclear reasons: maybe it's insecurity about money, although at the moment she supports them all. Maybe it's some deeper masochism. Little sister Mod girl, like her, with a parka and a scooter and a collection of LPs by the Jam and the Specials and Madness and The Beat. Unlike her, little sister gives way, avoids conflict. She herself is the Little Rebel Girl, although because of her powerlessness she depends more on guile than revolution to carve and scrape a space for her own identity.

Music as the one honest force. Everything else is corrupt, hopeless, even love, even loyalty. In music there's truth. Not the radio, the corporate rock, dominated by big-hair bands from L.A. But the real music, little local bands, and the Mods and the scene around them. You can find truth in Pete Townsend's solo records. And The Beat, and The Cure...

He doesn't know this music yet. But he understands. Her words are doing something inside him he's never heard of before. She talks and he feels it, as though her description of her life and identity were causing some filament inside him to resonate in sympathy. He feels what it is to be her.

Within a few days they're inseparable. Days and nights, meals, baths, records, road trips to buy clothes and earrings and see bands at the On Club and the Roxy and the Palace. They can't stand to be apart, it's painful, even to go to the store or do laundry. Their other friends fade into black and white, they see only each other in color. They become so close they feel they're losing their individual identities.

He feels this way for twenty years, even after breakdowns and alcohol and drugs and Prozac, and the sad and sorry ending of their friendship. For the rest of his life her jokes echo in his mind, her ways of seeing, the parts of her that became parts of him and still are. There's something of him which is always there on that couch, feeling her words, understanding her life, lighting up his insides as her head flies back and her joyful soul-laugh leaps skyward.