There are times when the only singer I can bear to hear is Aretha Franklin. She doesn’t belong to any one of my former relationships. She doesn’t belong to any particular era of my life. She belongs to all of them or, rather, everything belongs to her. I know every one of her songs inside and out, and have been learning them since before I could talk. Our family cat, adopted six months after my birth, was named Aretha Franklin Rosman. It’s like that. I have every album recorded by this woman, and most of them on vinyl. Sometimes when I’m feeling blue I just ogle her record covers. For one thing, she’s unfathomably beautiful—feline and sly-eyed and blowsily ladycurvy—and for another I know everything divine and earthly rolls through that big, matter-of-factly churchified and cracked-up soothing-the-savage-beast of a voice. I need her to be strong so I can be strong, and in her music, as far as back as her Columbia Records years, she has never, ever let me down. I don’t care about her personal life, and I really don’t want to have coffee with her, no more than I’d like to have tea with the Queen of England. Royals, especially those who have earned their throne, are best when worshipped from afar. I know someday she won’t be on the same planet as me but I’m grateful she has been so far and even more grateful to have her music pouring through my ears when I leave that man, tote that barge, straighten that spine, open that heart in all my worst and best moments. Truly, Aretha is the Queen of Soul, and I am lucky to have lived under her reign. We all are.
I biochemically can’t get drunk or eat too much sugar. I’m too old to place vicious phone calls or stage street scenes. I’m too self-possessed to stalk. I’m ill-equipped for sobbing on someone’s shoulder. So being spurned transforms me instead into a befuddled natterer, the emotional equivalent of a violet-haired lady wearing one blue shoe and one brown shoe. Who doesn’t hear the kettle whistling until it’s utterly blackened. Who overflows the tub. Whose unopened mail piles up as she blankly watches her shows.
Which is not to say the distinctly unfresh smell of my car didn’t register with me this week–only that it registered very, very faintly. Really, I didn’t give it a second thought until this morning, when it dawned on me that the half-and-half I’d bought wasn’t in my fridge. That fact penetrated even my Billie Holiday fog for, no matter how bad things have ever gotten, I’ve always taken cream with my coffee. All metaphors attendant.
Upon my realization, I stopped short in my too-quiet kitchen and ran through all the events of the last week, fast-forwarding past the memory of his cold gaze as quickly as I could. My permakitten stood by my side, her tiny ears cocked supportively.
Finally I groaned, threw a trenchcoat over my nightgown, and ran down to the street, where I grimly opened my car trunk.
There rotted my groceries, purchased at Fairway right before I became a broken-hearted lady. The half and half, the parsley, the mint, the sweet little lambchops, the Bibb lettuce, the organic salmon, the locally sourced yogurt, and the toothpaste meant to replace the tube I’d emptied four days ago. Defeated, I stood motionlessly, staring. The spoils stared back accusingly: Where did you go? We’d had such plans together!
One of the neighborhood’s skinny Jeans popped out of her building just then, wrinkling her nose as she scurried by. I felt the sting of her young-girl disdain, her assuredness she’d never don such sadsack chic, never produce such a sadsack smell, never hold such a sadsack conversation with the slime of produce past. It was more than I was willing to bear.
Pride may goeth before a fall but sometimes it’s all that saves you from falling further. I straightened my spine, stowed the toothpaste in my pocket, and heaved the rest of those hopeful purchases into the garbage can on the corner. Then I marched back upstairs and brushed that man right out of my teeth.
And drank my coffee. Black.