I Fell In Love At A Salvation Army


It was the day after I came to your house at 2:30 in the morning. Your soon-to-be ex-husband was launching a verbal assault, smashing a coffee pot, ripping open a screen door, slamming his fist into the kitchen wall as you felt the breeze of it cool your left ear. I sat with you all night on your crumbling futon, resisting every urge to act on anything but the platonic nature we had consigned ourselves to, quietly agreeing that we wanted to do something very wrong but knew we must wait. Patience was not a virtue but a mental mantra.

We met that afternoon for lunch at a diner on your side of the river. We ate chicken croquettes and talked about anything else but the vile and childish anger you had been forced through. You mentioned your lengthy brown hair and how he refused to let you cut it short, a pixie cut like you had all your life. I drove you to your favorite salon and parked in the lot, walked to Sears and contemplated buying you a new coffee maker, but not those K-cup monstrosities we had mocked as a sure-fire sign of buying into the domestic dream. The over-the-shoulder attitude we had watched friends and family members succumb to as they disregarded the overfed pricing on the device and the cups, only to have Kova in the morning and Donut Shop at the night, Colombian Fair Trade when feeling pity and Double Black Diamond when not. I relished in you joining my backward elitism, my favored Chock Full O’Nuts or Cafe Bustelo, the kind of coffee that came in a tin can to be used as an ashtray or place for thumbtacks. I walked along the highway to meet you out of the salon, singing Cole Porter songs way too loud until I saw you walking back towards me, your princess hair cut down to a crown of gelled waves and fine ends.

You said let’s find somewhere else to go. Let’s keep you away from home as long as possible, only in time to teach an evening violin lesson to an attentive and exuberant 5-year-old girl as the drugged out soon-to-be-and-ex-parolee chain smoked with the belief he could make his garden grow squash merely by glaring at it. I mentioned how I needed furniture for my apartment, was tired of it being only a square living room with one arm-chair or telling people sitting on pillows on the floor was a tradition in my entirely Germanic family.

You suggested a Salvation Army family store. Thrift stores are my only real home, being the sole source of my childhood clothing and playing the dealer in my mother’s addiction to Cherished Moments tchotchkes. It’s a warehouse of forgotten dreams and hobbies, diets that never worked out, fashions that faded, brand names for people who do not care to recognize them. Mountains of console televisions too fat and heavy to be sold, disregarded for not resembling a mirror like the current flat-screen beauties. There is no white plastic in a Salvation Army, all of it yellowed from age with dust and sunlight soaked into its imperfect surfaces, be it a toy fairy wand or a Rival toaster.

The milk crates were loaded with LP’s we couldn’t play: Firestone Tires Presents: Your Christmas FavoritesThe Carpenter’s Greatest HitsJohnny Mathis Sings The HitsHooked On Classics, Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring, Beethoven’s EroicaJudy Garland Live In Concert. Art never dies anymore; it lies in state between Andy Williams and the soundtrack to Love Story. One could tell when a fan of Lee Greenwood or The Grass Roots had passed away, the entire discographies worn and sealed together after years or decades of being played for joy, for parties, for drinking, for dividing the stems and the seeds. The music and cover art was easy enough to mock, but we would months later find ourselves slipping a Roy Orbison vinyl under our arm to put on while making dinner, remembering how nice it is to feel like the target of a universe that requires care in dropping the needle, mending a warp, cleaning a groove.

We wandered through the clothes as you contemplated saris, gowns, skirts, kimonos, and whatever else had been thrown into a trash bag by the original owner to be felt up, contemplated, then sold for a tenth of the original price. We found our way to the books and I made the entirely cheesy decision to read you poetry from an Oxford compilation. I read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and swooned for a hypothetical girl who could merely make me feel such a way, never admitting she was the same girl I showed five minutes later how to put every Emily Dickinson poem to the tune of Gilligan’s Island (Because I could not stop for Death/He kindly stopped for me/Five passengers set sail that day/for a three hour tour).

The idea that you sustained attention and did not beg me to drive you back home immediately — not even giving the same sigh of boredom countless other women have sung out like a chorus — was all I needed. I already knew you, knew your fears and desires and frustrations and obsessions, your habits and wants and annoyances and celebrity crushes. But that moment, low on sleep and reading depressive poetry at you while dancing to old TV show themes or mocking the Christian radio on the loudspeaker or totally forgetting I was there to look for a couch (which was a fever dream anyway as a sofa stood zero chance of fitting into my backseat) was the tipping point. I had no interest in being away from you ever. We enjoyed ourselves together more in a thrift store in Mechanicsburg than we had anywhere else alone. Why aren’t we at the Louvre, mocking Leonardo’s intentions (“you call that a smile?!”) or Degas’ expectation in women? Or the Vatican, laughing at funny hats only to bow our heads to stick in? I want to contemplate Machu Picchu with you, attempting to understand the shapes and tears of ruins with the same energy we gave to thousands of old records and an equal number of women’s shoes. I want to wander the anarchist communes in Copenhagen and give the same speculation to drugged out hippies there as we do here. I want to walk your fat beagle in Beijing, I want to get real Sumatran coffee, and I want to forget all about the dents in your walls and the sight of his bony fist as he shook it at me, cursing my existence like a child might do to a bee. I want your hair to be however you damn well please, I want to learn how to pronounce croquette and I want a single record player without the needle broken and a huge stack of Edith Piaf 45s. I want you and it all, and all of it will be no good without you.

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image – Nico Paix