Me, alone, driving. Monday night, six-thirty, maybe seven o'clock, already dark on a nondescript late winter evening. After a quick doctor's appointment, I'd hopped onto I-270 for the drive from Germantown back home to Montgomery Village. Usually I'd take Frederick Road, but I thought I'd do something different.
The whole evening was different. Most trips like this, my wife would've been with me, a nice drive together, maybe stop for something to eat. A quick and cheap mid-week date, always fun. But she was tired this evening, and just wanted to stay home. Her job, she said.
Fine. The solitude gave me a chance to listen to some music. I'd bought a bunch of sale cassettes at Tower Records a week or two before, and I popped one in, The Best Of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. The side kicked off with a campy, needless cover of Cabaret, then got down to business: Teddy Pendergrass acing If You Don't Know Me By Now. What a voice, what a sound, what a song, Philly Soul at its absolute sweetest.
And most troubling. Just trust in me like I trust in you/As long as we've been together it should be so easy to do/Just get yourself together or we might as well say goodbye/What good is a love affair when you can't see eye to eye. Then the chorus, musically gorgeous, lyrically devastating: If you don't know me by now/You will never never know me...
Blood ran cold in my veins. Since moving out here, things between us had been...different. Was this it? Was this song about my life? We hadn't fallen out of love, that wasn't it. Then what? No real passion, merely routine, one thing after another to no particular purpose. Sometimes it felt like we spent too much time together, but couldn't stand the loneliness of being apart.
The love, though--it was still there. I could still recall our first date, and the exact moment I fell for her. And the feeling never left. Maybe the fire died down, but that's inevitable. Nothing could take away the memory, which was always there, always, always. And surely she could remember as well. We were still together, through all the good and bad. Neither one of us was going anywhere.
I popped the cassette out, no longer in the mood for The Blue Notes, and exited, turning onto Quince Orchard Road, passing Food Lion and 7-11 and Lake Forest Mall, no cars, barely any lights on, all nearly deserted for so early in the night.
Mellow sounds poured from the radio, Washington's classic R&B station being the default setting. The DJ paused in between songs, dedicating all the music this hour to everyone who's ever found that special someone, or anyone who ever will. Because, he said, everyone finds love sooner or later. Sometimes you just have to work at it.
Yeah, I thought. Yeah, you do. But you know what? It's worth it. The DJ threw it back to the music--Stevie Wonder's Ribbon In The Sky--and joy washed over me, the realization that I had found it, that everything I wanted, I had. It had been tested lately, betrayed and bruised, but at that moment, I loved my wife as fully and passionately as I ever had, and my heart raced with anticipation to get home, to see her, to tell her.
Still. At that moment, too, a voice sounded somewhere--you will never never know me--telling me love alone couldn't save me, or this marriage, or anything else.