Two weekends ago, I spent three days in New York City. My time was divided almost evenly amongst three fantastic friends. Quality one-on-one time with each was much needed, as I hadn’t seen any them in months. Friday I spent with Erin touring Columbia University, exploring the Chelsea Market, and nibbling on delicious treats atop the High Line. From the elevated park–a former freight train cache, now landscaped walking path extending along the West Side–we watched the setting sun dip into New Jersey.
Saturday, Lee and I persuaded a less than eager cab driver to take us to Terminal 5. The driver was vexed by our destination request, claiming it would take him over an hour, with the traffic–but Lee knew he was hassling because the exact same driver had driven Lee the night before and what the driver said would take forty-five minutes, took five. When we’d gotten as far as the driver would take us, Lee and I rounded the blocks and got ourselves each a perfect slice of pizza. We spent the next few hours in the midst of The Frames, the Irish Rock band fronted by Glen Hansard, and I was swooning. When the crowd dispersed, we found Danny; I felt like the baton in a relay, being handed from the second to the third leg.
Sunday, Danny attempted to explain the subway, rather he explained and I attempted to understand. We spent more time than we realized in my new favorite store, The Strand, which boasts to house over eighteen miles of books but I think perhaps it has more. Danny purchased a few screenplays and I bagged Bill Bryson’s biography of Shakespeare as well as the third and final Knuffle Bunny book (an adorable story, accompanied by black-and-white photographs lain over with illustration) for my favorite three- and five-year-olds. We then enjoyed brunch and conversation at an Irish pub, to keep with the theme from the night before. We were shaken by the 9/11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero; I was especially stuck on the Missing poster, plastered right at my eye level. The man was young, twenty-three, and reminded me of any and all of my male friends. He had worked on one of the 100+ floors, it said–I looked at his grainy, grayscale face and imagined that in September of 2001 his college degree was fresh, it probably wasn’t even in a frame yet; I imagined he’d landed this great job, moved to the big city, and his parents were so proud. I don’t think I’ll ever stop thinking of him.
After talking through what we’d seen, Danny and I continued exploring the city until we ended up at the cross-street where I’d get my bus, the driver would be the last leg of the relay. The weekend was a complete success, due fully to my three fantastic hosts and the awe-inspiring vocal stylings of Mr. Hansard.
Yes, back to the concert. I’d learned, when I saw Glen perform as The Swell Season with Marketa Irglova and many of the same band members just this summer, that he is all about audience participation. Not in a hokey way, but in a way that says this music means so much to me, I would just love for you to feel it too. He gives the audience flash vocal coaching and phrases to own. At this most recent concert, Lee and his pitch-perfect voice nudged me for not joining in. I mouthed to him that I can’t sing.
I would, oh, if I could carry a tune. It’s such a shame, as much as I love music, that I can’t help but ruin it. In that moment, with my jaw clenched and lips sealed, I was reminded of words I’d learned two years ago. For a Shakespeare class, our midterm was to know by heart (not memorize, but specifically know by heart) a monologue of our choosing. I picked that spoken by the Duke of Norfolk in Richard II, who, upon being banished to a country where English is not spoken, says to the King “Within my mouth you have enjailed my tongue/ Doubly portcullised with my teeth and lips” (1.3). The image of not one but two, heavy grates, the innermost with pointed ends like cuspids and the outer with a blunter bottom, kept any notes from escaping my mouth that evening, I simply enjoyed the voices of those around me.
The image came back to me today and I wondered how I’d manage if those heavy gates blocked my speaking voice as well as my singing voice. I thought, at first, it wouldn’t be so bad because I’m fairly practiced at being selectively taciturn and I could always communicate through writing. I thought of all the times in classes when I’d kept my reflections to myself, my heart racing at the passing mental mention of raising my hand to contribute; I thought of all the times I’d responded to my mom’s inquiries with my eyes or shoulders; and I thought of the time, during a heated discussion with and about my consistently inconsistent beau, he put his hands on either side of my face and said Please, just tell me what is going on in your head, and none of the emotionally charged phrases dancing on my tongue could break through the double barrier.
I could do it, I thought. I’m pretty good at not saying. And then I remembered all the fantastic conversation I’d had with Danny over brunch, and how I couldn’t help but tell Lee that I’d missed him, and all the laughs that just came out when I was with Erin, and how good it feels to tell my mom I love her, and I knew I could never do it. I thought of the young man on the missing poster and how his family and friends must want, more than anything, just to hear his voice.
Lift the gates, there are too many things I want to say. And I’ll sing as loud as I please (in my car).