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Thunder Pie | Tougher Than The Rest

We sway together as Bruce begins singing, his voice cutting across the years from wherever he was long ago when some stranger hit record in some arena or stadium.

“If you’re rough enough for love/ Baby, I’m tougher than the rest.”
— Bruce Springsteen

Well, it’s Saturday night. The last hours of our beach vacation have drifted away from us. Ragged and sun-whipped, I pick myself up from my chair on the screened-in porch overlooking the street and move towards the sliding glass door.

“I’m heading to bed,” I tell Arle.

She doesn’t reply.

There’s no need to really.

There is an air of mellow understanding settled down on this house tonight. It’s as if we both know that the past week was a rare thing indeed in our world and that words here, in the end, can only mess things up.

In my weak knees, I feel the sea bashing up against me. In the curves of her back/ Tuesday’s waves/ and Wednesday’s too/ they keep ramming into her with ancient force. I waver when I rise. It is the sign of something good having happened, I guess. The very Earth has claimed parts of me. Muscle and energy. But in exchange, I am pretty sure that I have earned certain moments that have been burned into Charlie’s mind forever. Or Milla’s maybe. Or Violet or Piper’s. I have boogie-boarded into small legacy status. I have handed out crab cakes like potato chips. I have stood alone behind a kid in the wild Atlantic and smiled as they were eaten alive by full-moonish swells hurling their bodies as if they were already drowned.

At the sliding glass door the Spotify live Springsteen mix goes from an acoustic version of something into the first familiar kick and snare of something more. It’s Tougher Than the Rest. I stop mid-step and stand still. Behind me Arle is sprawled out on the couch, her long legs painted in darkness, only slashes of her face barely visible as weak illuminated strips are war-painted down her left cheek/ running down the one side of her neck.

When it comes to the endless saga of love, we only ever have two chapters to contend with. There is the one chapter written by everyone else who has ever lived. It is the longest chapter by a million miles, crammed with the inspirations and tragedies that have long defined love in the human style. Your grandparents are in there and so are their grandparents. All of your elementary school teachers. Shakespeare. Martin Luther King Jr. The gay peasants suffering madly in the dark of their daddy’s barns. The rich daughters pining for anyone but the one they got. Black folks. White. People from Mongolia and people from California/ all the people/ all the starlit eyes/ all that passion/ the lust fueled by the fires of a trillion suns/ the whispered promises/ the muttered sighs/ the self-cut veins/ the bloody bathtubs/ the forgotten graves and the family Bibles/ all of it/ together/ tells the story of human love in popular form through the eyes and words of people other than you.

The other chapter is yours. Like it or not, your chapter is always narrated only by you and as such, the ebbs and flows of its murky existence stand as a small monument to the most salient days and nights you ever lived through. Unfolding as it is now, in real time- you (with yours) and me (with mine)- we tend to ignore the chapter altogether, not out of some kind of ignorance or fear or whatever, but more out of necessity. Our love is still bashing us like waves/ still pushing us under, tossing our helpless forms over here and over there with locomotive vigor. And so within each of our own chapters we write, largely unconsciously, free from forethought or unnatural influence, about the loves we have found. The ones that got away. The ones that hurt us so immeasurably. The ones that might have happened but never did. And perhaps, if we are lucky, as it goes, the one that emerged out of all that gauzy war smoke to smile sheepishly at us, once upon a time, from across a field of wreckage.

As the first synth notes break through the drumbeat, a recording from long ago climbs up onto the deck of my ship, dripping from so many years adrift. I understand maybe a little bit in that moment, about all of this love coming down on me even as I’m wandering hard and fast across the night streets of my very own life unfolding all around me.

I stop short of the door into the house and I think to myself about this one shot. This one chance to do something I have never done before although I have no idea what that could mean or why it even matters. The chapter of my love is written in blood and piss and sweat; organically spilling down onto the unread pages. Someday maybe someone will stumble upon something I wrote, some notion or dream or regret I had, but probably they won’t. The moment I die, my solo chapter will fall in with the other one/ that collective tale of human love/ and it’s so easy to get lost in there. It’s so common to simply vanish when you show up there at the gates, your little journal in your hands, the four winds whipping across the plains of everyone that has ever loved. Or longed.

I turn around, spin around, retrace my exit, and hold my one hand out to Arle laying there in the humid night. Things are breezeless. In the house the light of the TV hung on the wall lights up the dark room. Piper’s pipsqueak body is stretched out across the cushions, exhausted in the YouTube glow.

I can tell right away that Arle understands what is happening. She rises to my open palm and takes it at the same time. We say nothing but we are muted smiles trying to break through. We are joy playing it cool. Our muted grins right then and there are carved out of space and sky and powers beyond our control.

I put my arms around her and I can feel the body she lives in. We sway together as Bruce begins singing/ his voice cutting across the years now from wherever he was so long ago when some stranger to us hit record in some hockey arena or some football stadium. To me, the nuances of his tone when he sings this one are a departure from any other song he sings. Something resonates deeper. There is a vulnerability and some sort of wisdom all over him when he starts into it.

Many Bruce fans would tell me I’m full of shit.

They don’t hear it, they’d say.

Fuck them.

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Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattling around his noggin.