Falling in love. Deciding to be in love. What’s the difference?
“Long May You Run” is playing. McCormick remembers the “chrome heart shining in the sun.” Winter Matheson driving away.
He’d chosen her at chorus practice from a row of altos, written her number on his palm like he imagined people did.
Neil Young songs charted the whole thing. She was a “Cinnamon Girl,” hungry mouth offering lifetimes. Until the day she couldn’t stand him, after which McCormick lived on his knees and always replaced the needle.
“Nestled in your wings my little one…tomorrow see the things that never come…”
June hears them first and pulls us into the square.
“Welcome to New York, Welcome to New York!” Two dozen big gay voices.
This is exactly why I moved to the Castro at twenty, and bought in the West Village at fifty. Freedom, like singing, comes from the drawing of breath.
Michael arrives for Empire State of Mind. We played it at our wedding.
He whoops for the top-knotted soloist, but I catch him eyeballing a hard-looking white-boy taking pictures outside the fence. He’s worried about an alt-right assault, I know it.
Dance with your daughter, McCormick. Fill your lungs.
What if you have the gift of listening—knowing—so when you hear
We don’t have to be stars exploding in the night, or electric eels under the covers
We don’t have to be anything quite so unreal, let’s just be lovers
the alchemic achievement lifts you, holds you, sends you back down for more
like breath, like a child who has learned to swing?
Do you then imagine you can cast those spells, that reading so well means you might also write?
Try it. Open a page. Lower your hands and blink twice. Bring all your talent and luck.
Julie and the contractor consider stains for June’s new bed and closet.
Recalls a prompt he gives students. What’s the first room in which you remember falling asleep?
June’s window reveals green-leaved limbs, a sweet swath of sky, a balcony directly across where four Dachshunds pee at barking intervals. At sunset, tattooed owners dine on the same concrete plat.
McCormick’s place is Montana. Cinder block bare in Married Student Housing. To doze off, he listens to Bulldog football and songs that weren’t popular in Delaware. “The Streak.” “Country Bumpkin.”
Should be a lonely memory, but no. He was good then.
From the steps he watches June bounce onto the camp bus. The rows call her name. She blows him a kiss. Makes him glad, but still, he wants to go blue.
Not dirty blue. Gloomy blue. He goes upstairs, puts on Steve Earle—I know I can always count on you—and composes himself.
A lit agent once asked why McCormick’s author felt no compassion for his characters. Wonder what that guy listens to in the morning?
His golfing buddy Jay feels the same way: “You’re funny, man. You should write funny. Everything isn’t a lesson.”
Well, that’s not true.