I turned around to see up close the loveliest face on God's green earth. It was shockingly beautiful.
She asked me how long the jam band had been on stage. I said at least 30 minutes because they'd been on stage when I arrived that long ago.
Then, because I wanted to keep staring at her forever, I turned my back on her and looked back at the stage.
I could feel her behind me, her scent lingered as I stared straight ahead. She had sought me out to speak to me. Why was I looking at a jam band from Atlanta?
I turned back to her and asked her what she knew of Emmitt Swimming.
As she answered, I had to stop myself from blurting, "I'm married and I have a one year old son. I'm not wearing my wedding ring because I needed to reconnect with my essential self, the one that is beholden to no one, not because I'm trying to score, not because I'm lying."
But that would have been absurd. I didn't know her so I let the conversation unfurl. I still regret it.
She loved Emmitt Swimming. I told the story of Justin playing it for me years earlier and how I'd hated it. When she told me her name was Melody something in me fell even harder. Again I fought the urge to confess my situation.
My explanation of how I'd heard of Emmitt Swimming led us to some interesting discoveries. She'd been sitting in her car in the parking lot deciding whether to come in as well. She had performed that evening in a play. The cast party was happening AT THAT MOMENT at her house. We marveled at how we'd both continually told ourselves that we weren't going to go inside. Her connection to Emmitt Swimming? It had been her and her ex-boyfriend's favorite band. They'd had a nasty breakup and had only recently spoken. He'd suggested they could talk at the concert.
I told her why I was in Chapel Hill...turns out she was a theater student in the UNC-Chapel Hill theater department. Playmakers Rep is affiliated with that department, using students as interns, the theater is part of the campus. She'd been in a student production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' as Titania.
Emmitt Swimming was about to take the stage. Melody suggested that we go up on the riser to get a better view. We had already become a we. We chatted and laughed. Our hips briefly touched. I made sure it didn't happen again. She said that she couldn't stay to see the whole show because she really did have to get to the cast party. It had been opening night, after all, and the party was at her house.
I was having such a good time that my panic subsided. I would enjoy this moment with her for what it was worth and let her go. Would she later discover that I was married and a father? Maybe, it was a small theater department and word would surely get around. Plus I thanked Maria and Cashel in the program notes for the show. No, the more I thought about it, the more I kept coming back to the fact that I had to tell this person I'd met not 15 minutes earlier the entire truth about myself.
Then she invited me to the party. This gave me a glow of the warmest warmth.
So I said I couldn't go. I had a rehearsal early in the morning. I hadn't seen her show and it would be rude to go to the cast party of a show you hadn't seen. She seemed not to think that was a big deal but I insisted. By this time Emmitt Swimming was playing and it was hard to talk with all the noise. They were great, by the way.
They'd played several songs. We had stopped chatting to listen. Soon she had to go.
That was when she spotted her ex in the crowd, the guy she'd come there to meet. It was the tall guy with the tall girl I'd focused on earlier. I'd imagined she'd come to meet them but she'd only come to meet him. Seeing him with another girl shook her a bit and she asked if I'd walk her out to her car. I said we could walk right by them if she wanted. The old 'pretend to be your boyfriend' trick.
Once outside of the club I was struck again by how completely at ease I felt with her. She again asked me to come to her party. I knew I shouldn't go, that going was only going to perpetuate this interlude, that every second I spent with her in which she didn't know the truth about me was going to haunt me.
So I got in her car and went to her house.
I can't remember why I didn't drive behind her. Like I said, we were already a we. It seemed unnatural for me to get in another car. So we went together to her apartment off campus. I left my car in the parking lot of Cat's Cradle.
Her apartment was in a complex off of Highway 54 which runs through Chapel Hill. The party was in full swing. 40 or 50 people crammed into a small 2 bedroom apartment. Music blaring. Beers. Kitchen clusterfuck.
Melody went into her bedroom to change clothes. When she came out I'd gotten involved in a conversation with a group. She came out in a wig and a Mets t-shirt. We made eye-contact and she saw that I was comfortable and then she set about mingling on her own.
At this point I was planning how I would explain my life to her when she drove me back to my car.
The Almost Fight
A drunken undergrad was trying to goad me into a confrontation by calling me Brandon. I had no intention of letting that happen. This calm response to that age-old vague homophobic aggression was new. I smiled and corrected him every time he called me 'Brandon'.
By now I was on a couch in the living room having reconnected with Melody. I'd been in the house for 45 minutes. She became angry with this young idiot, found the friend who was responsible for his presence at the party, and told him to get his friend out of there. I said it wasn't necessary and I should probably be getting home anyway.
I told myself I'd tell her in the car. But at the last minute her roommate came along. I said nothing about Cashel or Maria. To this day I feel guilty.
My car sat alone outside of Cat's Cradle. It seemed like years since I'd gotten out of it to go see a show I had no intention of seeing, a band I didn't like, on a night I'd planned on staying home.
Instead I sat in a car with Melody Dawn Garren and couldn't tell the truth. Which, for the first time in my life, was all I wanted to do.