I had to pinpoint exactly when I started denying reality, I'd say it was the
night I went to The Exit.
off the engine, and let's go in," Caprice said.
just want to hear the end of 'That'll be the day.'" I did like the song.
But what I really wanted was a few more seconds to gather myself. The dingy
building with the dim light struggling to shine through the grimy windows was
not exactly in New Haven
new Urban Renewal. "Are you sure it's okay for us to be here?" A mist
of cold sweat formed on my brow as I watched people filing in. "Everyone
looks ... older.
What if they throw
Skalbe, would you cool it just for once? It's a coffeehouse, not a bar. No one
here is over twenty. Trust me." Caprice snorted her snide, stifled laugh.
"You'll be glad I dragged you here."
lit a cigarette the second she stepped out of the car. "Just this
one," she said. "I'm trying to quit."
told her Karl had warned me not to let anyone smoke in his car. I took a deep
breath as we went inside and ordered coffee from a rough-looking guy with a
Frankenstein forehead. Caprice pulled me toward a mushroom-sized table near the
low platform that served as a stage. I sat down and wrapped my hands around the
mug of acrid liquid. Caprice drank hers black. I had enough cream in mine to
turn it white, but still could hardly stand to swallow the bitter taste. My
folks loved the dark brew, but my coffee-appreciation gene must have been
smoke hung in the air from all the people puffing on cigarettes. One girl with
long black hair touched a black cigarette holder to her lips, and blew a thin
stream of smoke that swirled in the hazy light. Her over-sized black sweater
hit mid-thigh on her black-tights-clad legs.
slid my feet under my chair, pushed myself close to the table, and tried to
hide. As usual, I didn't quite fit in. Ever since my family finally decided to
emigrate from Latvia
when I was
eleven in order to get away from the ravages of World War Two, I had one foot
in each country. I wanted both feet planted firmly on American soil. But my
parents constantly reminded me that our roots were in Latvia
asked Caprice what I should wear, and all she'd said was, "Something
somber." My black pleated skirt and mustard-colored sweater with matching
cardigan turned out to be as out-of-place as I felt. I should've guessed, since
Caprice had been wearing mostly tight-fitting black for the past two years. Her
white lipstick, however, was new. Not a look out of Seventeen. Not that I was
either. I tried to follow the latest fashions, but seemed to latch on to them
just as they were ending. I was not what you'd call hip.
most of the week The Exit held readings. "Beat" poetry, radical writers
such as Jack Kerouac, that kind of stuff. I'd read in On the Road. I lost track of how many times the characters drove
back and forth across the country on the open roads. I wasn't sure there was
any purpose to it, but I envied them their freedom, if not their dreariness. My
parents viewed American coffeehouses with profound suspicion. They would be
appalled if they knew I was here.
Fridays, instead of readings music was featured. I liked music, and that was
one reason why Caprice was finally able to strong-arm me into going.
and I had become friends in the middle of sixth grade, soon after I moved to
the small shoreline town of Chatfield
I was extremely shy. Caprice lived just a block away then. We found ourselves
walking to and from school together, and something clicked. She helped me with
my English, and radiated confidence. I admired people with confidence. Caprice enjoyed coming to my house where
there was a father and a brother. She had neither. She liked bugging my
brother, Karl, and he liked to tease her. Caprice and I became best friends.
For a long time she was my only friend, and even now I was not what you'd call
and I even had a ceremony to make ourselves Spit Sisters. We were both too
chicken to actually cut ourselves in order to become Blood Sisters. So,
instead, we spit into each others hands, rubbing them together to
"absorb" the saliva. We figured one bodily fluid was as good as
another. We cut a lock of each other's hair and clipped the tip of each other's
pinkie fingernail. We dug a hole and buried the hair and nails. Then we marked
the spot with a pile of round rocks we'd collected from our back yards.
started to drift apart in junior high. When we started high school, Caprice
announced that she'd dug up our hair and fingernails and scattered them. She
didn't want to be Spit Sisters any more.
spring I turned seventeen and my brother joined the Navy rather than wait to be
drafted. He left his old Chevy in my care. That's when Caprice started getting
friendly again. Maybe it was our history together—as well as the car—that
renewed her interest in me. We certainly weren't in the same circle. Of course,
my circle was much smaller than Caprice's, so I was more willing to adapt. I
struggled to find my place in the world.
Vija ...." Caprice lifted an eyebrow. "What do you think?"
do I think about what?"
let out a loud sigh. "What do you think about The Exit? Is this a cool place or what?"
could I tell her? That The Exit felt like a journey to an alien world to me?
That my parents, instead of asking me the usual twenty questions, would've
grilled me with thirty questions if I'd told them my plans to drive into New Haven
at night. It was
only a few miles, but to my parents it was another galaxy. I told them I was
going over to Caprice's. Since she'd moved across town a couple years ago, it
made sense that I'd drive. I just didn't mention that we were not staying
at Caprice's. "Yeah ...
it's ... cool."
we'll meet some guys."
Meet a guy? Yeah, right." I crossed and re-crossed my ankles. What if I did
meet a guy? Then what! Caprice
talked about trying to meet "men from Yale." Yale!
Guys from our own school made me nervous enough. But of
course I couldn't tell Caprice any of that. When she'd been convincing me to
drive into New Haven
and spend the first Friday night of summer vacation at The Exit, she made me
think I'd be a failure for life if I didn't.
just shook her head. With her naturally flirtatious manner, she couldn't
possibly understand what it was like to be drab in every conceivable way.
Besides, I wasn't interested in just any guy. I wanted to wait for someone
special. Of course, back in junior high when I told Caprice that she laughed
and said I was afraid of life. Maybe she was right.
an eyeball on him." Caprice gestured toward a lanky, dark-haired guy in a
far corner. "He's a cool cat."
Yeah." He looked kind of gloomy to me.
lights blinked and the room's discordant chatter turned to a soft murmur.
comes Nolan Shar." Caprice nodded toward the stage. "I've heard he
even plays gigs in Hartford
I know. You've told me." A hundred times. As if Hartford
was the center of the music world.
Of course, what did I know? Caprice said this guy was a folk singer. I loved
rock n' roll, especially Buddy Holly's music. He was killed in that awful plane
crash a few months ago, and I still mourned him.
Shar stepped out of the shadows, up onto the platform, carrying a guitar. It
was rumored that he'd attended Yale for a semester, then dropped out of school
to sing. He was the kind of guy Caprice would set her sights on. I saw him only
from the back, and took in the sandals, striped shirt, and chinos. A Kingston
Trio look. As the lights dimmed, except for one casting its gentle, muted light
on him, he turned. He looked out toward the audience—and smiled directly at me.
swath of dark curls fell casually on his forehead. His stubbly five-o'clock
shadow gave his face a slightly dangerous look. He moved with nonchalant grace
as he placed himself on the tall wooden stool in the center of the stage. His
hands gently cradled the guitar. He spoke two words. "Aura Lee." Then
his long, slender fingers caressed the strings, and he started to sing in a
quiet, yet almost gravely voice. "As the blackbird in the spring
music, I realized, had been used for Elvis's "Love Me Tender." But
these original lyrics had a haunting quality, and filled me with a sense of
peace and satisfaction.
word pulled at me. Or maybe it was Nolan's voice.
applauded, too enthusiastically apparently for Caprice, as her mouth was tight
with displeasure. I realized then that steady, rhythmic clapping was the
approved method of The Exit crowd. Still, in the dim, smoky atmosphere, I
allowed myself an intense smile.
his set Nolan sprinkled in a couple of lively songs with high humor. But the
general tone of the music was soft and yearning. After his last song, he simply
acknowledged the final applause with a nod, and put his guitar its case. As the
lights came back on, he stepped down from the stage.
throat closed as he started toward the door.
wait." Caprice's voice shot across the table. She arched an eyebrow.
stopped. He looked at Caprice, then me, then at Caprice again. He shrugged,
grabbed a chair from another table, and sat down.
stared into his peacock-blue eyes. I could not open my mouth. Fortunately,
Caprice never had that problem. She launched into a monologue about Chatfield,
folk music, and, of course, herself. Word after word tumbled off her lips,
effortlessly, like rain off a roof.
sat, apparently fascinated, staring at Caprice, nodding occasionally, tossing
out an "mmm-hmm," now and then. Finally, the flow of words stopped.
Caprice reached out and placed her hand over Nolan's in a possessive gesture.
"Can I get you a coffee?"
shook his head. "Sorry. Gotta split." He pulled out a pen, tore off a
corner of my paper napkin, scribbled a phone number on it, and shoved the piece
paper at me. "In case you'd like to talk some time."
a second Caprice gawked in stunned silence. Then she sat bolt upright. "I
can't believe he asked you out!"
... he didn't ask me out."
rolled her eyes. "He gave you his number. Same thing."
right. As if I'd ever call him. Girls don't call guys."
prissy little girls don't. But some
of us do."
looked down at the piece of paper and traced my finger over the number. I folded
the paper in half, and in half again, then tucked it in my pocket.
the moment Nolan strummed the guitar I knew he was someone special. I suddenly
realized what I'd been waiting for. I'd always wanted to fall in love with a