“Partial Memories of Music and Love,” a short story by Lindsay Flock, was a short-listed entry in our recently concluded 62nd Short Fiction Contest, and is published with the consent of the author.
photo via Wallpaper Flare
Partial Memories of Music and Love
by Lindsay Flock
Well, how can you be so into music, if you can’t hear? Andy asks me. Or were you just pretending?
His words, white letters on blue bubbles, slice like an instant wound, a gash appearing from a knife I never saw. I know then that it’s over.
It being over is simply the fading away of nothing. Or of something, but not a profound something, as my marriage was. Andy is right; I was pretending all along, just not in the way he thinks. His words, typed on a phone hundreds of miles away, should not hurt me. Especially coming from someone I never planned to meet, anyhow.
But the wound bleeds.
A few weeks ago, at the insistence of friends who have my best interests at heart, I signed up for a dating app. Friends being married people who never worried about who would take care of them if they were suddenly stricken with a debilitating illness, or in my case, disability.
Apathetically, my entire being a withering eye roll, I had created my profile. I had listed my age and my job truthfully, my location somewhat vaguely. I had written peppy, nauseating lines: lovin’ single life but looking for more. I had uploaded attractive photos of myself, all at least three years old. I listed my likes (music) and dislikes (television, politics, tardiness, social media, negativity) and then whittled the dislike list so I didn’t sound, ironically, negative.
I found myself comically addicted to swiping left. The dating app sent me some real duds. A few of my matches were of the buff, tan, cross-fitter category. Guys who liked clean eating and disliked smokers. But most were clearly single for a reason. The rest appeared to be unkempt, middle-aged men. I presume because of my age (43) the dating app decided to keep my options open. Even they knew those cross-fit boys were not for me.
I only swiped left, never right. Andy, though. He swiped right on me, and the app made a big deal about it with firework notifications to let me know that Andy, 44 swiped me. I almost had a laugh, from my sedentary position on my leather couch, which knew the indentations of my body far better than any man ever would. But then I thought, looking at Andy, 44’s location, why not? He was four hours away. Its not like we were ever going to meet.
The truth: I didn’t necessarily want to roll my eyes. I wanted a lover who felt like more than a nostalgic cigarette, smoked years after you’ve quit and never to be touched again. I wanted to be in love, to be married…but I wanted it with my husband. I wanted a story like we’d had—acquainted at a little jazz bar, loud and quiet at the same time, flirting wildly while maintaining the premise of friendship, all the while falling headfirst.
The truth: this scenario was unlikely to ever repeat again for me because I was going deaf. Bars aren’t great places to meet people when you can’t hear. Music, once a lovely backdrop, has become an annoying obstacle.
The truth: my husband of six years left me when I began to rapidly lose my hearing, when sound became a dull roar, voices shaken in a tin can, cacophony everywhere. I got hearing aids, but I needed quiet, and he could not fathom how I could be going deaf and still be bothered by utensils clanging in the sink, the jarring sound of metal on metal too much. He hated that I no longer wanted to attend concerts, because after all, that was our thing. That was our hinge upon which everything depended. He was mourning the loss of us as much as I was mourning the loss of…everything.
The lie: he said he left me because I had changed. Well, no kidding. You try losing one of your five senses and staying the person you used to be. Especially when that person’s identity revolves around following one band across the country for over a decade.
The lie: that we had nothing else besides our love for Dave Matthews Band. Well, perhaps for him it was the truth but for me it was a lie. I would have gone to war for him but when it came time to ride or die for me, he picked a third option: desertion.
Back to Andy, though. He didn’t know about my deafness, about my slow-crumbling self-confidence. He didn’t know that my hair was long to cover the hearing aids I was humiliated by. He wouldn’t note the deaf accent in my voice, the one that became more prevalent with each passing year. Andy didn’t know anything about that.
When Andy, 44 sent me a message, I opened it with bravery and hope, knowing in my bones this was nothing, just play. My friends had assured me that if I didn’t like someone, I could just ghost them and move on. As if I was going to have some long line of suitors with roses between their teeth, Bachelor-style. It was a Friday night and I thought, what the hell? I swiped Andy and opened his message.
Hi! Was all it said, so I wrote the same back.
What was it that made you swipe right? Andy wanted to know, with a winky emoji. I was a bit stunned, unsure what to say. Um, I swiped right because you sent me a message and that’s the only way I could respond didn’t sound very good.
I frantically scanned his profile, as if there was a stopwatch on the messaging app and I was racing time. Andy was okay looking, handsome in a non-descript way. He was a postal worker who moonlighted as the lead in a cover band. Well, that sounded cool. Under the question prompts supplied by the app, Andy had answered just one: what are you looking for in a relationship?
I’m looking for a woman who loves to show her affection through music. I’m looking for the girl who will send me song lyrics to tell me how she feels…
I told him it was that. Showing affection through song lyrics was what hooked me. I mean, that was something that would have slayed the old me.
The truth: I loved music, specifically Dave Matthews Band. My love for Dave and the boys was intertwined with my love for my husband—it was an integral, unavoidable part of our story. I just didn’t have it in my life the right way anymore. Music had taken the road of my husband; still existing, just no longer mine.
Across the miles, I imagined Andy’s guitar-playing fingers flying across the keyboard, because the three little dots pulsed for a long time. Long enough for me to down a glass of wine and smoke a cigarette and think about how stupid dating apps were.
Andy’s message was worth the wait. He wasn’t playing hard to get or trying to sound cool. He wasn’t trying to impress me with his physical stats or the popularity of his band. He was just…thorough. In two paragraphs he gave me the synopsis of his life like it was the back cover of a mildly interesting book. And thus began an hours long conversation…which involved no need to hear.
I learned everything about Andy that night. I do mean everything. All about how he married his high school sweetheart, Meg. His four stairstep kids and his day job as a mailman. How, somewhere along the line, Andy’s marriage fell apart—coincidentally around the time his jam band started to book gigs.
Meg never understood my love of music. Like, how important it was to me. And I know she was home alone with four kids at night, but Pink Stripe was exploding! How could I turn that down? She never wanted to get a babysitter and come watch, and that hurt. A lot. It hurts when someone can’t love you for who you are, you know?
Oh, I did know. Differently than Andy. Even being childless, I could taste the unknown Meg’s bitterness at being left home with diapers and tears while Andy lived it up performing in bars each night. I imagined how she felt, Andy picking music over her. It was kind of how I steadily crumbled when it became clear that, without our fanatic concert-going habit, there was very little my husband liked about me.
Anyhow, I could forgive Andy’s transgressions. People grow, right? Plus…he was a mirage, words on a screen, a person I would never see in front of me. Still, the conversation engaged me until the prints on my thumbs were worn off and four glasses of wine did me in.
In the morning, there was a message from Andy:
All these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am
Oh these stories don’t mean anything
When you’ve got no one to tell them to
It’s true I was made for you.
I guess he wasn’t kidding about the song lyrics. The gesture put a smile on my face, and I responded: Thanks! Brandi Carlisle, right?
Yes! I’m thrilled you recognized her. That’s it, we’re getting married!
While I was trying to think of a witty response, Andy wrote again. I’m kidding about getting married. Don’t want you to think I’m a psychopath.
Oh, no, I wrote back. Should we have a big wedding or a small one?
I’ve already had a big one. Let’s do Vegas!
It went like this for a few days. Funny, easy banter intertwined with more intense topics. It was rare to find someone who was so willing to have such in depth conversations via text. Even my friends who tried, bless them, saved the important stuff for face to face, when they knew I could pair up the sound of their voices and the movement of their lips. Then, they could say everything that would take too long to text. But with Andy, he seemed to have no problem going on and on about everything. So much so that I nearly forgot that I was deaf.
Trading song lyrics became a daily fixture. Music was the main connection between Andy and I, and the beauty of our texting relationship was that I didn’t have to explain that music would never be the same for me again.
I didn’t have to explain music bringing my husband and I together when we were young and fancy-free, only crack us right in half. How we zealously followed Dave Matthews Band throughout our twenties, attending every show we could. How when I started to lose my hearing, concerts became…a source of frustration. A source of sadness. I knew what the music used to sound like, and I knew what it sounded like now. The difference was laden with sorrow.
It was a loss greater than death. In death, the person is gone, and memories are all everyone has left. Losing your hearing is like the person still being alive, and everyone has access to them except for you, watching in silence on the fringes of your own life.
I remember looking up as Boyd started to rock out on his violin, his dreads flying, the thunder of the stadium erupting into applause as he led into…what? What song was it? I genuinely could not tell…between the outrageously off-sounding riff and the throb of the crowd and the acoustics with my new hearing aids—it was too much. Tears streamed down my face for all that I had lost…not just this music, this song. But this night. And unbeknownst to either of us, my husband, who was already slipping away.
He took note of my tears and in the middle of the roar he squeezed my hand and grinned. He looked dead into my eyes and said something I could not decipher, because I wasn’t very good at lip reading yet. Later, the crowd fell sedate and the song became apparent: Say Goodbye. Not only a recognizable tune, but my husband and I’s song. The song of friends becoming lovers, what we were before two became one.
I was losing everything.
Andy didn’t get that story from me though. I did tell him about my Dave Matthews obsession, but he wasn’t super impressed.
They’re so…commercial. I’ll hook you up with some real music. Later that evening, song after song came through my phone, each one sounding the same as all new music did to me now…muffled. Indecipherable. It was why I rarely listened to anything other than DMB—what I knew by heart. Something in my brain could pick that out, a memory sparked just by the lower tones I could still hear or a particularly pellucid word. And then it would all come rushing back, and I could sing along even if I couldn’t hear.
New songs? Not so much.
Still, I told Andy to keep ‘em coming. The old me would always have been open to something new.
Some mornings, I woke up to sweet words from Andy that were his own, not pilfered from a song. Good morning, beautiful girl, he’d say. Once, he sent me a picture of a zinnia from a garden on his route. Florescent hot orange and pink. I was touched that he had remembered something so small I had mentioned: the zinnia being my favorite flower.
The evening of the zinnia, Andy sent another message.
Enough texting. I want to hear your voice. Can you talk right now?
Immediately, everything stopped. It was if my whole world had been in a half-asleep haze of dreamland, and I’d suddenly woken up. I was playing at this ridiculous flirtation, ignoring the step between texted song lyrics and meeting face to face. It was the thing I dreaded more than anything in the entire world: a phone call. Not just difficult, as it once was…but now impossible.
I took myself outside. I lit a cigarette and sat down. I tried to figure out what to do.
One: I could blow Andy off. Do what my friends said and ghost him. The thing was, I had grown to enjoy our conversations. I didn’t want to blow him off.
Two: I could make up some type of lie to excuse my inability to commit to a phone call. But what? Can’t tonight, I have friends coming over didn’t really solve the problem. Because a normal person, a hearing person, would simply suggest another time.
Three: I could just tell Andy. I’m deaf and I can’t talk on the phone. What if it was just…that simple? Maybe Andy wasn’t anything more than words on a phone, so maybe he’d accept me for me, dead ears and all.
I don’t know about a call, I typed, my heart a faltering staccato in my chest. I have a pretty severe hearing loss, so phone calls are tough! I added the exclamation point to keep it light, breezy. And I waited.
Andy, of the instantaneous replies and forever strobing triple dots, took a while to respond. And when he did, it was with bluntness, non-acceptance. There wasn’t even any pity, which would have felt kinder than being rebuffed.
Well, how can you be so into music, if you can’t hear? Or were you just pretending?
No, I love music. It’s hard to explain. I wrote a long paragraph, Andy-style. I tried to describe how hearing loss is an affliction of the brain as much as the ears. How I appreciate music I used to know a thousand times more than anything new. How my brain recognizes Dave Matthews Band in a way it will never recognize anything else.
So, you’re brain-damaged? I guess I don’t understand. You should have mentioned this. Andy’s harshness and abrupt change in demeanor made me wonder if Meg had had more than one reason for leaving him.
There was no reason to mention it, lol, I said, trying to grasp the breeziness, to clot the wound. No need to hear when we text. Smiley face.
I’m not sure I can be with someone who can’t really understand the music. Know what I mean? Been there done that. Laughing emoji. The mood was lightened for him…and darkened for me. As if the profound loss of communication—of my life, really—was comparable to Meg’s inability to stroke Andy’s ego while she stayed home changing diapers.
In a way, I wish he had ghosted me after all.
The truth: the world is not full of people who will see past your flaws and incapabilities. It is not full of men who will see the things about me that I know are real: my heart. My soul. My love of music.
The truth: being deaf is a hard pill to swallow. Being cut off from music, and by default my husband, is a travesty.
The truth: after he did ghost me (which followed two days of half-hearted conversation and zero song lyrics) I had a very satisfying Friday night deleting all his “real music” songs from bands I’d never heard of, one by one.
And then I turned up Say Goodbye as loud as I comfortably could. I closed my eyes and thought about before. I listened to it in the only way I could—pairing what my heart remembered with the little bits my ears could register. Kind of like how I remembered my marriage…the parts that left me breathless in good ways—our little love story. The parts that left me breathless in sorrowful ways—his unexpected abandonment of me in the worst of times.
Partial memories, of music and love. It would have to be enough.
Lindsay Flock grew up in central Pennsylvania, and currently resides in the Poconos area with her two teenagers. She has been writing since she was old enough to peck at a keyboard. Lindsay is a writer of all things: truth, fiction, opinion, and everything in between. She is the recent winner of the Ligonier Valley Writers 2022 Flash Fiction Contest. Lindsay also enjoys hiking, reading, tarot cards, and hanging out with her two black labs, Moose and Willow.
Listen to Dave Matthews Band play “Say Goodbye” [RCA Records]
Click here to read “Mr. P.C.,” Jacob Schrodt’s winning story in the 62nd Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest
Click here for details about the upcoming 64rd Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest
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