One hot September summer night in 1990 I’m tossed and turned in bed like the mattress and the sheets are a storm and I’m a small ten year-old boat in it. I wake up soaked in sweat from a bad dream I can’t remember to the siren’s call of music from downstairs. I go look. Music is where mommy and daddy will be, where I’ll find solace. Down I go. The record player is in the front room and in warm weather my father balances the speakers on the windowsill and feeds music to the porch and the world beyond. Sinatra croons to the Ohio darkness over luscious Gordon Jenkins’ arranged strings about his very good years. The Voice is turning fifty in 1965, the year he records the song, a comeback year for him. Bear in mind this is the sixth recording of the Ervin Drake original, but Sinatra is Sinatra and that’s what everybody remembers.
Mom and dad sit on the porch step, they hold each other close with eyes shut, silhouetted in blue and silver. I can’t see, but I know their eyes are shut. How could they not be? Beyond them, mysteries, the dark land, a billion stars. I daren’t interrupt. I know not to. He leans into her ear and whispers. She smiles dreamily. I stand inside in the shadow by the record player. I watch the needle navigate its predestined way in the black shiny vinyl grooves. It’s hypnotic. My father never owned a CD in his life, as far as I know. It was all old school for him. It’s the first time I hear the song and I will never forget it. I don’t forget my father’s white t-shirt clinging to his strong shoulders, my mother’s flowery blouse which the warm breeze occasionally ruffles, her wavy blond hair that she lifts from her neck to try and get some cool air in there. But all she gets is a kiss from my father and he leaves his head hidden in her blondness and then takes her by the hand and walks her down the path, across the road into the woods. Maybe, I’m just saying maybe, they ended up by the pond where I would lie down with Cat and then Roy, years later. For a moment, I fear they’re gone never to return. But it’s fine. Sinatra keeps me company and he’s all I need. The song’s over and I lift the needle before the next one begins, bring it back to the start of Side B. I listen to it again. Again, and again, until I can sing along, until I believe the particular grooves of that track are now worn deeper than the others. What other song could I have sung for Uly and Mad, on our own soft summer night, the night I drew his blood and Madeline–
They’re still gone. I don’t mind. I can cope. I wish them well. I stop the music and listen in on the night. Wind in the trees and small animals and beautiful silence. Someone laughing in the dark. Is it? I shiver. I’m a little afraid, I am, but I stay a bit longer, because the night is under my skin. This is about a month before my father is shipped off to the Middle East, back to war, this addiction the country has him hooked on. This is two months before I turn eleven and wake up early to his garbled, clipped, flat, satellite-borne ‘happy birthday, kid.’ This is happiness and love and goodbye, and time passes and what do we do with it, all mashed up in one moment, a choreography of gestures and secrets with the right soundtrack. We yearn and we long and our memory goes.
This is five months before he dies.
Sinatra had five more songs to go through on that side of the record, the B Side. The record is called The September of My Years. Won a Grammy. The last song is Weill’s September Song. It came together, it made sense like that. Tonight will not swing. Tonight is for serious. Says so on the back cover. It says he sings of days and loves ago. I set it down by the record player with the wistful painted Francis Albert facing me. I go to my room. The heat doesn’t bother me anymore.