You don’t always get a second chance with someone. The conversation might not flow like it once did. Or, they might not be around anymore.
The funny thing is, though, she didn’t sound at all surprised when I called.
Marus! How long has it been, like, fifteen years? she asked, cheerfully enough.
Ah, maybe more like ten I said, uncomfortably. Guess. I. Got. A. Bit. Preoccupied.
I’d googled her. She was living in Brooklyn, and busking in the New York subway. That was all I knew.
She was the daughter of a woman I’d met in art school, we’ll call her Judy. Judy was wild and smart, wore vintage 50’s dresses, and had a five-year-old daughter who rode her tricycle in mad arcs and had a brilliant smile. It was really the first time I’d had a friend who was a mother and I loved the different rhythms a friendship like that creates. Judy and I stayed friends for years across different cities and time zones but then we drifted apart as long-distance friendships sometimes do. But her daughter stayed in my life, and claimed a place in my heart. We agreed upon the term “non-biological niece”, but mostly she just thought of me as her aunt. And so I remained – until ten years ago, when the travails of a low-income artists’ life, the distance between the east and the west, and family crisis pulled me away.
I was living out east now. I was coming to town. We arranged to meet up.
Well, it wasn’t quite as simple as all that. We emailed. She texted. Fifteen minutes after we were supposed to meet at Beast, a shabby bar with decent brunch that a food blogger had recommended, she called.
Marus I. Don’t. Know. I’m. Still. Miles. Away. It’s. So. Late. Her voice trailed off, childlike and sad. Hop in a cab I said firmly. Should. I. Just. Come? she asked plaintively. Yes. I said. Just. Come.
I burst into tears when she strode into the bar. Something about all those years. Family members who had died, and this one, chosen, but family nonetheless, back in my life.
Order. Whatever. You. Want. I said , recovering my composure, and waving my hands grandly, like Aunt Mame. It was easy to say that since it was prix fixe and everything was eleven dollars (ah! American prices! And the Canadian dollar at par!) and you could get mimosas for an extra three bucks.
She had something fancy with scallops, which she savoured with hungry delight.. I had a poached eggs with Hollandaise on spicy chorizo hash : not enough chorizo and the spice gone AWOL, but the sauce tasted homemade and the potatoes and salad were fine. It was actually nice to have brunch in a place so casually hole-in-the-wall, so not cutting edge.
We talked about the busking life. It’s something I know a little bit about.
People. Kind. Of. Look. Down. On. Buskers. she said. I nodded.
But. Then. There’s. People. Who. Stop. You. On. The. Street. Cuz. They’ve. Heard. You. Sing.
I knew about that, too.
She told me it’s illegal to busk in the New York subway. That she had to spend a night in jail once. That it wasn’t nice. But. she brightened, I. Know. The. Cops. Now. They. Know. Me. It’s. Easier.
I got choked up again and Busker Girl tilted her head and watched me curiously while I rubbed saltwater out of my eyes.
I told her about my brother, a busker most of his life, who’d died five years ago. I didn’t tell her that I’d been kind of judgmental about his life. That I didn’t get to know him until after his death. She was intrigued, wanted to know more. Asked for details about his busking, nodded calmly in recognition.
She told me about her plans for her music, the CD she’s recording, her eyes alight.
That’s the thing about buskers.
They came en masse my brother’s memorial and I got to know a couple of them after that. They are a such a pure kind of artist. They subsist on crumpled dollar bills and a populist kind of recognition. With a visceral need to make music every single day, they’ll do it whatever way they can.
We left the bar and emerged into the grey winter light, walking together past beautiful, stoic brownstones. I was headed to the museum, she back to her loft to do some songwriting. We hugged goodbye.
Love you! she shouted out as she ran to the subway, like she always used to.
Uh. Love. You. Too! I replied. It sounded awkward: love isn’t a word I use casually. But I meant it.
You don’t always get a second chance with someone you love.