There’s bass coming from the stereo speakers of a nearby car. They wait at the top of the hill for a light to turn green. I wait for them to fade in the distance, muffled by the rows of brick buildings as they turn the corner. An older woman, with short faintly tinged lavender-white hair rocks her foot to the beat. She wears bright orange Crocks with the back strap positioned over her heels. It seems a subconscious motion – she continues to talk, unbothered, to the table of other older women. “Sexual interaction,” she says in her long stream of explanation. Hand motions accompany the topic. A breeze pulls her voice away, after the bass softens in the background.
For a time, when I dated my husband, I lived in coastal Virginia. Crowded beaches. Jet noise. Flip-flops year round. And bass resounding at every stoplight. Never mind the pick-your-own strawberry fields in late May, or the ferry ride from the south coast to North Carolina, or the vineyards full of muscadine grapes. I don’t immediately recall the salty breezes miles inland or moonlight walks along cold sand beaches in December. Instead, I recall air-conditioned car rides – not because of the heavy humidity, but because of the people’s love for a specific kind of music. Bass rhythmically shocking their side view mirrors, so the reflection looked like one of those slow photos capturing a moving object. Bass so loud that the plastic and metal frame of each car buzzed high-pitch with each beat.
Once when I was a teenager, but not yet driving, I depended on an older friend to get me around. She would swing the car door open by leaning across the seat with a wide smile, her blonde bangs hanging half over her blue eyes. “Hey!” she’d shout as I dropped my body in. Turning the volume up, she’d lean back into the driver’s seat, still smiling. The bass would vibrate in my ribs, nausea rising to my throat, as I pretended to hear the conversation she was attempting to shout over the rattling hum. My ears would ring for days.
I was in a band with my brother for years. We played what we thought at the time was incredibly unique music: a mix of folk and rock and punk and psychedelic emotional laments. We carted our own equipment with us – guitars, drums, microphones, speakers and one short black monitor that we positioned at a forward center point on the stage. The only place that every band member could hear: about two feet directly in front of me. As I sang, my soprano voice always floating on top of the mid-range sounds of the instruments around me, I could feel the bass pulsing through the chaos. My feet absorbing the sharp insistence of it’s beat.
The group of older women have left. Their Crocks and Danskos and Earth shoes have moved somewhere else and left an empty table. A couple to my left speak Slovenian, while the man smokes strong smelling cigarettes. His voice dipping into a lower register when he laughs. Haw haw haw, a smoker’s crumbling laugh. He must have made a joke. Her laugh, a giggle almost, tucked tight in-between the words she says in reply. Their language reminds me of rolling down the grass hills of my youth.
The night I met my husband, a mutual friend introduced us. I shook his hand while I looked at his shoes and tried to decide where he was from. Pennsylvania? his blue patterned Velcro Tevas suggested. No – there were no socks. I walked to the front of the room and sat on the assigned stool. My brother lifted the fabric strap of his acoustic guitar over his head, looked at me, and smiled. My cue to relax. Even after years of performing, my ears filled with my heartbeat and my mind grew light above me. Like a helium-filled balloon in a small child’s hand, soon to be lost. We sang, and I gripped the microphone – squeezing out the songs we had written together for almost ten years. I didn’t know then that we were singing one of our last few shows together – him off to college, me off to marriage. I didn’t know then that I had just ignored my future husband based on a pair of shoes – a man who would see more potential for life in me than I would ever see in myself.
I was putting away cords, wrapping them palm to elbow to palm, when someone made this future love of mine laugh from the back of the room. His unusually low baritone hitting the floor beneath me and shocking weakness into my knees. I reached out to steady myself as I noticed his smile for the first of a million times, wondering how I might hear those deep tones again.
The empty table next to me is now occupied by a balding man in moccasin-type house shoes and a thin ponytail. He reads a tiny book with a blue ballpoint pen steadied in his fingers, while my husband walks across the street with a friend. Justin Timberlake belts from a four-door at the top of the hill now. Every fourth beat hits a deep electric bass. I look up to see my husband now sitting with his elbows on his knees, and my heart thumps out a low sustaining pulse.