J. used to say, "The Lord helps those who help themselves." I played the smartass. "Then why do you need him?" J. couldn't detect sarcasm if it came wrapped in gold. She said, "It means that he does even more for you than you could do for yourself. But you need to make an effort, believing that he'll help." I loved her optimism and even her childish faith in a higher power. I think it's okay if some people believe. Perhaps their simple, sincere prayers are the glue that keeps the whole world from spinning off its effin axis. Me, I see no way around randomness, fate, caprice -- whatever you want to call it. The senselessness of it all out of which it's our job to construct a meaningful narrative -- ain't nobody upstairs gonna do it for us. Comedy or tragedy, take your pick, the effin pen is in your hand.
She would sing early Leonard Cohen songs and John Lennon's "Imagine." Entreaties to her unseen god. She had a high mild voice, breathy and thin, like the sound of wind tearing through a reed, but her pitch was perfect and when she sung a ballad she could move you to tears. Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye. But it was. It was the best way. In song, unaccompanied, unhurried, transporting all of us sitting there back to the golden days of our first falling, when desire seemed at one with love. Oh to bury yourself in the object of your affection. Who cares if it's an illusion, poot, as long as it sustains you on your pilgrimage? J. sang with her eyes closed. She used her hands to draw shapes in the air that corresponded to the shape of the melody. One version of the story.
Amazing how any of us survive youth, the first big romance that shakes you from head to toe, sex and worshipfulness in bed together, writhing in ecstasy. Like a chunk of effin TNT buried in the soul, it'll blow it to smithereens years later when you hear a strain of some lost tune and it stops you cold, opening a bloody rift in your heart. I don't want your music any more, it troubleth my soul. I wanna stay numb, no one cares about the past. I ain't buying your effin nostalgia.
"I'm a survivor," said Little Joe, who'd spent three years in jail. "The Lord isn't gonna let me fall again." He lived in Garfield with J. and their two young children, both girls. "I got a big job now, taking care of these little ones." After work, he'd light a cigaret and lean against a stack of pallets and watch the rising sun illuminate Secaucus. "You see that ridge over there?" He pointed west, toward Lyndhurst. "I'm gonna live there someday." He had a plan. And J. wasn't just being charitable, she really cared for him, and so did the children. In the old days, he beat her, but that was a lifetime ago. As long as Joe stayed sober, everything would be alright. She tried to tell her story but it came out in fragments and didn't make sense, a college-educated girl like her getting tangled up with a criminal. Nothing made sense. Life was hard, but it was a lot better when you were living with somebody who cared for you. The Lord would watch over her, of that she was sure, as long as she stayed the course.