It was May 1997. I was finishing up my BA at the University of San Diego in Communication Studies and was still working at the bank job and moonlighting as the lead vocalist in a show band on the weekends at night. I’d finally left Steve, but he was still a client at the bank, so there were awkward moments when we’d see one another and we’d end up on a date or something, but they were rare and waning. He was dating his secretary who he later impregnated and forced her to get an abortion. A year later she had another child and they lived together for a while. I heard that she later became an alcoholic and a drug user and after Steve took her child away from her, she ended up dying of an overdose in 2007. That could have been me.
During that time, my mother was very ill. She was dying a slow death from anorexia and alcoholism. She developed breast cancer and had a mastectomy that year. The day I found out her diagnosis, I felt such despair. I had gotten off work, gone home, smoked a joint, had a beer, and drove to Del Mar for a band rehearsal. My eyes were blood red from the pot and tears. The band had asked me to come to rehearsal that night alone with just the musical director and founding drummer to help them break in the new sax player. They said he was 24, cute, and played quite jazzy, but they were hoping he’d be able to play the 50’s R&B licks with a little practice.
I walked into the rehearsal studio at 7pm sharp. My hair was pulled back, and I was wearing yellow, flowered bell bottoms, a sleeveless denim vest over a tank top, and my glasses with no makeup. But at 28 years old, I was in my prime, so frumpy was not in the program no matter what I wore. As I entered the space, Jason and I locked eyes. There was instant recognition. It was like, “Oh, you. Where have you been?” “Deb, this is Jason.” I think I said hi as did he. He was wearing a white Hanes t-shirt, faded blue jeans, and the lenses on his glasses were so thick that his eyes looked a bit froggy and I thought, “Oh, what is wrong with his eyes? Gosh, he sure is cute, though.” His blond hair was thick and full and his heart seemed tightly closed shut, but he looked at me with wonder and intrigue.
The next few months we worked together, maintaining enough distance to safely gauge each other in the band environment. I cannot say Jason and I became close friends right away. I was still in the grips of letting go of Steve and experimenting with living the single life again. Jason was quiet and withdrawn, which made getting to know him quite difficult. I remember calling him at the home where he was living with his father, step-mother, and half-siblings, who were just teenagers, though Jason was in his twenties. He had moved back from St. Louis to live with the family and go back to college to study Physics. Trying to get through a phone conversation with Jason was like torture; one word, one syllable answers to questions. I almost gave up on him as a potential boyfriend because I could not read whether he even liked me or not. He seemed curious, but cautious, too. I asked him once why he did not have a girlfriend, wondering if he was gay or asexual. He replied “I just don’t see the point. It’s a waste of time unless you find the right person.”
In September, I was going through a rough time emotionally. I had finally given up on Steve for good and he was well into the relationship with his secretary. I had dated a few people who were just not good fits for me and it did not go well with a couple of them. My relationship with my mother was traumatic, my roommate was distancing herself from me because I was just too emotional to be around, and I was feeling lonely and lost. I was a total workaholic Monday-Sunday, but would spend my evenings listening to R&B, smoking and drinking, and crying, while taking long baths, or writing in my journal. Sometimes I would venture out to a bar with girlfriends for karaoke or dinner. Other nights, driven by the desire to find the true source of happiness, I would muster the courage to go alone to a local Nichiren Daishonin Buddhist center for group chanting (Nam Myoho Renge Kyo), or to the Self Realization Fellowship center where I was introduced to the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, or the Deepak Chopra Center in La Jolla for an open meditation session. My favorite restaurant was in Normal Heights, Jyoti Bihanga, the place of spiritual teacher, Sri Chinmoy. But, without the guidance of a true master to follow, I was unable to stick to any one path or discipline. More than for a master at that time, I longed and prayed for a soul mate.
Though Jason was quiet and I do not remember having very many conversations with him, just looking at him made me feel at home. There was a calm place where I did not feel the need to talk, impress, or grab his attention. I just felt like I could be myself. One night during one of our gigs with the show band at a fancy high-rise hotel ballroom for some event, Jason had a bad headache. I remember I felt the overwhelming need to take care of him. I went to my bag and found a bunch of Advil packets and handed one to him, like a wife would to her husband. Then, I slipped out of the green room to a roof top patio to smoke a cigarette. Just a moment or two after I lit up, Jason came out on the patio. He thanked me for the Advil and asked me for a cigarette, an American Spirit Light, my puff of choice at that time. We chatted casually in the cool San Diego September evening air. It felt like I’d known him for years.
The following week at the regular Wednesday night rehearsal I think I said to him, “We should have a drink sometime after a gig and chat.” He smiled and said, “Yes, we should.” I knew of a jazz bar near where our next gig was going to be at the Convention Center near Hotel Circle. Since I knew Jason liked jazz, I told him about it saying, “There’s a great place around the corner from where the Humane Society Charity Fur Ball is being held on Friday night. Wanna go for a quick cocktail after the gig since it ends early at 10pm?” He agreed.
It was September 26, 1997. The evening of the Fur Ball had come and I was feeling excited to play music and also to spend some time with a person who at that point was a bit of an enigma to me. Hell, he’s still an enigma to me. Jason was playing things close to the vest, but I could tell he was looking forward to our date when he asked at the beginning of the night, “Still on for that drink?” “Of course!” I beamed. Since our group was a preservationist 50’s and 60’s doo-wap-n-roll revue, we always dressed up in suits and poodle skirts and beehive wigs. In this case, the show was a costume ball where guests were encouraged to dress up for the sock-hop and also to bring their leashed pets! It was a gas! People were walking and dancing with their poodles, terriers, St. Bernards and spotted dalmations while wearing blue jeans and bobby socks, saddle oxfords and black leather jackets, poodle skirts, and mary janes. It was surreal. Jason and I were laughing throughout the night at the spectacle of it all.
When we finished the gig, we both quickly packed up and loaded up our cars with saxophones, amps, wig boxes, and garment bags, and drove just 1/2 mile around the corner to a small Irish pub called Kelly’s. Jason was driving an old 1972 Chevy Stepside Truck which was painted in various colors of grey, white, and primer. I was driving my 1993 Mercedes. He wore jeans and a white t-shirt. I wore a black skirt, heels, and tank top. We looked like opposites, but already acted like lovers. I loved how he did not give a shit what anyone thought about him or his choice of vehicle in a place where sports cars and mini-skirts ruled. He was always a bit of John Denver in Glam-land.
We went into Kelly’s, a smokey, dimly lit cocktail spot with a long bar opposite a grand piano encircled by a c-shaped bar surrounding it. A dozen elderly ladies and men sat at the bar, smoking cigarettes, drinking high-balls while passing around an sm-58 microphone to sing their favorites accompanied by a veteran pianist who was a human catalogue of jazz music. He could play anything. Women with thick, blue eye shadow, lipstick stained cigarette butts in the ashtrays, and the haunting sound of billie holiday tunes filled the room. We went to a corner hightop table by the front window. It was a sweet little nook, giving us a little privacy and a view of the room, piano, and the local color. When the waitress came over to ask what we wanted, Jason immediately ordered a Bombay Sapphire Gin and Tonic with a lime twist. Surprised by the grown up sound of that drink coming from this young 24 year old boy, I stuttered and blurted out “I’ll have a Manhattan” not having the faintest idea what went into a Manhattan anyway. But, I wanted to make sure not to show off my trailer park idea of a good evening spirit, a coors light over ice. My Manhattan was dreadful, and as I gagged it down, we shared a laugh over my pretentiousness of requesting such a god awful beverage in order to impress my date. I think my second drink was a gin-and-tonic, a much better choice.
As we sipped our drinks, smoked our American spirits (remember when people smoked in bars?) and listened to the grandmothers crooning out love songs of the past, Jason’s head was turned away from me as he listened. I was moved to lean over and softly, slowly kiss him on the left side of his neck. He turned back towards me and smiled. No words were exchanged. When the evening ended, we walked out to our cars sitting side by side in the lot. He asked me for a few cigarettes to help with his 40 minutes drive to North County. I gave him a few out of my pack. He stood, looking like James Dean, leaning up against the front wheel of his pickup. I leaned towards him, rested my body on his, and planted a big kiss on his lips. He was eager to reciprocate and we shared a lovely moment where all things seemed possible.