When the music’s over, turn out the lights, Jim Morrison was singing on the portable record player in the kitchen where we were gathered around the table for my 18th birthday. A few friends were there along with my immediate family. It was hot. Relentless July heat and humidity.
Papa was grumbling about the damn hippie music, he was always complaining about what I listened to. If it wasn’t Frank Sinatra, it wasn’t real music.
I was thinking about how hot Morrison looked in his tight pants and long wavy black hair.
The candles were being lit. Mama was saying something about the strawberry short cake she made by hand (“with my help!” my sister kept chiming in), recounting every detail of the process from stirring the batter to whipping the cream. And then topping it with the fresh strawberries she got from the grocery down the street.
The last candle she held the match to flickered for a moment before swelling into a nice sized flame. It seemed to be bigger than the others so maybe it had magic powers.
“Now, make a wish…”
For the music is your only friend, Morrison grunted.
It had always been my only friend. Especially when I felt alienated from everyone in the neighborhood. I wasn’t like any of them. Too effeminate. Sometimes I wanted to be like them. But I couldn’t. Not if I wanted to be at peace with myself.
Peace was hard to come by. I had a brush with sex with another boy a few years before. It left me in turmoil for a long time. And with images of dying at night with that sin on my soul. It could never be confessed. How would I ever get the words out to utter them in confession, even in the supposed privacy of that dark box? Besides, the sin could never be forgiven.
Music saved me. Books, too. Music was the salve to sooth a tortured soul as I read things that made me doubt everything I had been taught. Condemned to freedom. That’s how Jean-Paul Sartre summed up his philosophy. I could be and do anything I wanted.
As Coltrane and Miles filled the room with the music of the gods, I left the endless row house streets of South Philly for the noisy crowded cafes of Paris where Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone DeBouvier argued over the nature of existence. Sometimes Jean Genet dropped by with one of his prison angels.
In high school I found a small group of friends who, like me, didn’t seem to fit in anywhere except with each other. Like Sal with the longish dark hair and piercing almond-shaped and colored eyes. Satyr, trickster, poet. Alone in his room one night, he and I almost kissed. Now he sat across from me at the table as I stared at the birthday cake with the 18 candles. A number that meant I had just graduated and faced college, the draft, life.
What made us both hesitate, I wondered?
“Hurry up, the wax is running all over the place,” Mama said.
I blew out the candles.
“Did you make a wish?”
I lied. My wish was unspeakable. It involved Sal’s body and a lot of saliva.