I first saw Joe as he was approaching me on his motorcycle. He wore a black helmet, a leather jacket, pants with pads and thick leather boots. I saw nothing of him, of course, but I feared him already.
He was one of the DANGEROUS PEOPLE.
I remember sitting in the dining section of the large, well lit restaurant, fittingly called EDEN. It wasn’t just a restaurant, it was also a greenery, a tourist shop and an art gallery. When I was little my dad and I used to go there on Sundays to get ice-cream. They had a very good liquorice hard shell.
We’d sit in one of the booths that were carved out of fine bleached wood, each booth with some kind of a viking name. I liked sitting in Nóatún and look at the kids in the arcade hall.
I was terrified of them, of course. They were the DANGEROUS kids and since you had to cross the arcade room to go to the bathroom I tended to glare into that dark space trying to estimate the fastest way to get to the toilet without bumping into one of those fearful older kids wearing strange hairdos and black AC/DC shirts.
When I first saw Joe he reminded me of those kids. The motorcycle was enough to put me off a little, but when he took off his helmet and I noticed the shaved head, and the tattoos twirling out from underneath the collar of his jacket I got an immediate association back to that time when I would rather pee myself than walk through that arcade room.
So to say I was nervous when he approached me is somewhat of an understatement.
You see, as a kid you tend to borrow things from your parents. You borrow money, objects, attitudes and prejudices and it isn’t until later that you discover what actually is your own and what was only borrowed.
When it comes to attitude and ideas it’s a bit harder. Things that are in your mind are yours, you think, until you realise that they were never yours to begin with and you really want to adopt an entirely different attitude and believes.
I was twenty-five and I wasn’t there yet.
So Joe scared me.
He parked his bike in front of my car, took off his helmet and put it on the steering wheel and looked at me. Then he asked if I needed help. I pointed at the flat tire and told him I was having problems with the bolts.
I knew how to change the tire. I just didn’t have the strength to unloosen the bolts. Even jumping on the wrench hadn’t helped.
He took his jacket off and placed it on the motorcycle. I noticed the bulging muscles and the tattoos slithering up his right arm.
I may have blushed, not that I had any reason to at that point.
Thankfully he was too busy with the tire to pay any notice to me.
He was silent as he easily unscrewed all the bolts I’d been struggling with. Then he opened my trunk and got the jack out. It took him less than ten minutes to change the damned thing.
And I just stood there like an idiot, waiting.
Then he turned to me, rubbing his dirty hands together as if that would clear away the dirt. I went into the car and got a piece of paper towels out and handed it to him.
He took it, but it didn’t help much.
Then he looked at me carelessly, shrugged his shoulders and said: “You should get some silicon, makes things easier”.
And my mind and jaw were immediately in the gutter. I was wearing a white, low cut top with some glitter doodles on the front. And what can I tell you? My self worth was, at the time, directly proportioned to the girth of my breasts.
When he saw the surprised and shocked expression on my face he looked me up, or down rather, and he laughed.
It infuriated me, but I can admit that the smile that followed the laughter was rather charming.
“I meant for your tires, you should modernise the way you change your tires,” he said.
I felt like a fool, obviously, and this time he did see me blushing. I must have looked like a cooked crawfish wearing white, stammering my “oh’s” and my “ah’s”. He explained the whole deal to me, but I was too busy being embarrassed to listen.
And that’s when the strange thing happened. I don’t know what came over me. I guess I’ll blame (or thank, as the case may be?) my parents for that too. I was raised to be polite, two things my mother said usually echoed through my head on moments like these: It doesn’t cost money to be polite, and If it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing well.
The later one may not have to do with that particular situation but these two things always seemed to come together. And so I can either claim temporary insanity or blame my parents, for the next words out of my mouth.
“Can I thank you somehow? I would have been stranded here for a very long time, I fear, if you hadn’t come along. A dinner maybe?”
I almost bit my tongue off when I heard the words coming out of my mouth.
He just smiled.
How do you describe a smile? It was as if he had a secret, it was kind though and a little apologetic at the same time. It reached his eyes and made him look a tad less DANGEROUS.
I, however, looked like a whore in church, I can tell you that. But he was kind about it. Kind of.
“How old are you?” he asked.
Yeah. I got irritated. But I also became a blubbering idiot.
“Öhh, w…w…what? Wha… what does that matter?” I said. That last part said in such a low voice I’m pretty sure he didn’t hear me.
“Well, I’m thirty-three, that might change your mind? What are you nineteen?”
“I’m twenty-five,” I managed to tell him relatively sanely.
“Well then,” he said folding his arms on his chest. “My band is playing at NO RIGOR next Thursday. Come and see the show.”
“You’re in a band?”
I don’t know why I thought that was a logical question to pose to a complete stranger that had just saved my ass, but I really couldn’t picture him in a band. He started putting the things he had used into the trunk of my car, when he was finished he brushed his hands together and shrugged his shoulders.
“I’ll put you on the VIP list. You can buy me beer afterwards. I’m Joe by the way,” he said this as he put his jacket on.
“I’m Nina,” I mumbled.
Then he took his helmet and sat down on the bike. I just stood there nodding my head. Then he put the helmet on, said goodbye and sped off.
And I hadn’t even said thank you.
So I drove home. And I was already planning what I would wear that Thursday night. I even asked around about the pub. My friends didn’t know much about it though.
When Thursday finally arrived I was ready. I had bought a pair of jeans, none of the pastel coloured clothes I had liked wearing before seemed appropriate. I wore a black top and a white, studded jacket that had been hanging, unused, in my closet for a long time. I even borrowed black boots from a friend.
I was a different. I didn’t recognise myself when I looked into the mirror. I had put my hair into an easy going straight-out-of-bed-ponytail and I was quite pleased with the outcome.
I had friends I could have asked to come with me. I realise that it would have been the sane thing to do, but the friends I kept wouldn’t have understood my need to do this. None of them would have approved me going there.
So I called my mum and told her where I was going.
“Have a good time dear,” she said and started speaking of the weather and that was that.
And I went alone to see Joe play.
Wait, did I mention his goatee?
Well he had a goatee, can you believe that?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for beards – and I’m partial to the two-day stub, but, ok maybe it wasn’t a goatee, but he had a neatly trimmed line running from his lip and down towards his neck. I can’t imagine why that wasn’t the first thing I told you about him. It must have been the first thing I noticed.
I was a little excited about going. I guess I was already a bit smitten and this was new to me. I was also hungry to proof myself to be something more than just a silly woman who had been rescued with a flat tire.
The security guard at the door let me in with a surprised wink. He didn’t seem to think anyone needed a special pass to get in though.
It was a dark place with a small dancing area in front of an even smaller stage. There were wooden chairs and tables scattered around and I noticed a freaky looking gargoyle hanging up beside the bar and one wall was entirely dedicated to posters from horror movies.
I ordered a beer, was asked for an ID, which wasn’t unusual, and sat down at one of the tables. I felt like people were staring at me. The confidence I’d had when I put on my new jeans and the smashingly white jacket was slowly fading away.
No one was rude though, no one approached me and when I was half finished with my beer the band came on stage. A few more people had gathered then, which meant I was now sharing the table with two long-haired, long-bearded, denim-vest wearing gentlemen, one had a frightening Iron Maiden shirt underneath the vest and the other was wearing a shirt that said: “For those about to rock, we salute you!”.
I may have stared.
I recognised Joe right away, obviously. He wasn’t wearing his motorcycle outfit, but plain black pants and a black t-shirt with the Harley Davidson logo on it.
He was the lead singer.
This surprised me more than I’m willing to admit officially. I figured that if he was in a band he’d be playing the drums or maybe plucking a bass guitar or something. But no, he sang.
And damn, could he sing.
I’m not quite sure why this came as such a big surprise to me. I had noted nothing extraordinary about his voice in our short exchange but that wasn’t strange. It’s not something you think about when speaking to people. You don’t go around thinking this guy should sing in a heavy metal band.
When the slow guitar in their first song started, a cover of NOTHING ELSE MATTERS, I got goosebumps. He gave me a slight wink in recognition as he grabbed the microphone and when he started singing, I was stunned.
He had presence and his voice filled the song with feeling in a way I didn’t remember the singer in the original doing. There was such power in his performance that I was completely taken aback.
I had never really listened much to Metallica though. And rarely been to live performances at all. I had heard the songs from the black album. Everyone had at the time, I guess, and I may have had a boyfriend at some rebellious point during my teenage years that liked them a little.
It was something I forgave him for at the time.
One of the guys at the table nudged me as I was sitting there staring. He leaned towards me and whispered: “Good, eh?”
I just nodded my head. What else could I do? They were good. Really good.
“I’m going to the bar, another beer?” the AC/DC shirt asked me and I just nodded my head and handed him a bill, completely oblivious of the fact that I was trusting this DANGEROUS man with my money.
The next song was heavier and something I’d never heard before. Then he presented a song that wasn’t a cover, and I later found out was written by Joe himself.
I wasn’t used to listening to that kind of music, but it struck me as really beautiful in all its rawness. I didn’t listen to the lyrics, just heard the agony play out in the wailing guitars and in his voice.
“They’re going to get big,” the guy wearing the Iron Maiden shirt said.
The band was called CITIZENS OF DIS and when they took a break my heart was thumping heavily. Joe jumped off the stage and walked straight towards me.
“I didn’t really expect you to show up,” he said, “it didn’t seem like your scene,” he said.
I shook his hand and afterwards I felt like a fool about it.
“Well,” I told him a little belated, contemplating what to tell him. “I have a motto, do everything once and twice if you like it.”
That wasn’t my motto. Not at all. I had borrowed it from a friend I no longer had much to do with, but it seemed like a cool thing to say at the time.
“And besides,” I added, “I never thanked you properly. Never said the words.”
“Really?” he said, smiling that smile of his.
He walked to the bar and left me sitting there, like an owl, with the two heavy metal stooges that I was starting to like. When he came back he pulled a chair from another table, turned it around and sat on it leaning forward on the backrest.
“So what’s the verdict?” he asked. “Are we any good?”
I was in the middle of changes that I can only compare to changing religions. How do you go from listening to Celine Dion and Enya to this, over night? And what kind of adjectives do you use to describe it?
“Amazing,” I mumbled and shook my head. I stared at my beer, trying to find something smart to say. But you know words, they never come to you when you’re in the situation.
“That’s great, then maybe I’ll let you buy me beer afterwards,” he said, “assuming you’ll still be here?”
“Yup,” I whispered, “Still haven’t said those words.”
He went up there again and they finished their set. The disappointment I felt when the last tones of their soft version of NUMBER OF THE BEAST died out was quite real. They did one encore and then they all vanished into the back.
Joe came out a few moments later carrying a white towel. He was dripping with sweat.
Now normally that would have made me cringe. I’d have a snide remark all ready, but not this time. He looked great.
I went to the bar and bought him a Heineken. Bought one for myself too, making a silent promise to myself to drink it very slowly. My comrades in arms had vanished to the bar and were drowning in some alcoholic beverage that might as well have been on fire, so we had the table to ourselves.
We were silent for a while. It was the kind of awkward silence when both partners are frantically trying to come up with something to say, because they don’t know each other well enough to be silent but they don’t know where to start. It was made even more awkward by the fact that I wanted to get to know him. I had never been this interested in another human being before and that puzzled me. I wanted to know the depths underneath this iceberg I had crashed into.
This man, who I had dismissed before as one of the DANGEROUS PEOPLE. And I sat there wondering what else I had missed out on because of my pastel coloured clothes and attitude.
“You were really great up there,” I told him.
I’ve always been awkward with compliments. I never know if I sound like an ass-kisser or if my words sound genuine. But I wanted to be real and realising that I hadn’t been real in much of my life up until then hurt like hell.
“Thank you,” he said. “I’m glad you liked it,” he took a large sip of his beer. “So no more Celine Dion?”
He was grinning.
I was a bit startled that he had pricked me so easily.
“Well, you can consider me converted,” I told him.
Again more silence and for a second I was terrified that he’d just stand up and walk away. He didn’t though. He sat there allowing me the time to recuperate.
There was a moment during that awkward silence. A moment when he looked into my eyes, or I looked into his, and something was said without words. I guess it’s the usual thing that goes on between a man and a woman in bars after a few beers, but to me it was something different. He was what I would have called a BRUTE just a few days before, this man who just wore jeans and t-shirts, obviously spent a lot of time at the gym and was the lead singer in a heavy metal band.
I realise you don’t understand just how odd that was for me.
The men I had fancied before were delicate, shirt wearing gentlemen with political aspirations, high-end jobs and they had all owned more than a dozen ties.
I doubted that Joe even owned one.
A friend of mine had gone through a phase where she fell for a bad boy, got in a little trouble and then redefined herself as the wife of the future of Icelandic politics. Afterward it irritates me to no ends realising that she should have been that future, and not him. She often referred to her “sidestep,” as she called it as the biggest eye-opener of her life, in the way that she realised what she’d had at home. Hence marrying the guy she’d met in high school.
But this was different and I knew that right away.
When I broke eye contact he rose to his feet and grabbed his bottle, finished what was left in it. Then he left for the bar and came back with two more. He handed me one and then he took my free hand.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said.
We went out the backdoor. The air was a bit chilly, but it was refreshing. He had left the towel in the back of the restaurant, in a room that looked more like a storage facility than anything else and he was now wearing his leather jacket.
We walked quietly down to the canal that was a few blocks down the road and for a long while I figured that I really didn’t have anything to say to this man.
“I must admit that this was quite an experience,” I finally offered. It was hard. Offering a piece of yourself always is, and although this may not sound like much, it felt a bit like apologising for something I didn’t do. Impossibly hard.
He smiled. “I’m glad you came,” he said, “We don’t get a lot of crowd on Thursdays”.
“I really loved the first song you played that was your own, what was it called?”
“PRETENCE,” he said. “I wrote it recently. First time we played it like this. It was a bit of a test run”.
“Sad, and a lot of anger in it,” I said.
He smiled, but there was a quiet sadness in that smile.
“I live just around the corner, want to go there? It’s a bit chilly, isn’t it? I swear I’m not dangerous.”
I laughed at that. It somehow seemed hilarious that he, who I had stamped as DANGEROUS from the first moment I saw him, was trying to reassure me he wasn’t.
“Sure,” I said and I guess that’s when I realised I didn’t really think he was DANGEROUS at all.
He lived in a studio apartment. It was one bedroom apartment with the tiniest kitchen in the world. There was a sofa bed, a small table where he obviously ate all his meals and the rest of the area was filled with different musical instruments. The only thing that seemed personal, apart from the instruments, was a picture of a red headed child sitting on the windowsill.
He threw a few shirts from the couch into a cupboard in the corner paving way for me to sit down.
“So you do this for a living?” I asked.
“Hell no, wish I did,” he said, “Maybe one day. I work at the aluminium fabric.”
I nodded my head, a bit puzzled.
I was still nursing my beer, but he grabbed a can from the fridge. He put some music on low volume and sat down next to me raising his foot into the sofa so he could turn himself towards me.
I pointed at the picture of the kid and asked, “Yours?”
“Yeah,” he said and shook his head. “Ehm,..” he hesitated and looked down, took a sip and then he looked me in the eyes.
“She died last year,” he said. “Car accident.”
I just sat there stupidly trying to come up with anything, just any way to answer this statement.
“I’m sorry,” I told him. “I’m so sorry.”
What else can you say to someone who has lost a child? All these years later I still can’t even begin to understand what that feels like.
“Yeah,” he said, “me too”.
“And the mother?”
“We divorced, it was too hard.”
We were silent for a while. He got up and raised the volume of the music a little.
“This is a great song,” he said. I had never heard it before, but I leaned my head on the sofa, closed my eyes and just listened. There was a melody, a soft guitar sound that got repeated quite often that struck me especially and I found myself rocking slightly in beat to the music.
When I opened my eyes again he was sitting there beside me, looking at me.
“Thank you,” I said.
“For opening my eyes,” I said.
He just nodded as if he knew perfectly well what I was talking about. I reached my hand towards him and stroked my thumb over his lip and then down the line of his beard. A soft plop sound escaped his lip as my finger moved down, and when I felt the awkwardness had become too great and was about to pull my hand away, he caught it gently with his and put my thumb on his lip again.
“I hate your beard,” I told him smiling and stroked my thumb down it again.
“Obviously,” he whispered.
I wanted to kiss him, but I was too afraid. He was an enigma still. This musician, artist who had already lived and suffered a loss I couldn’t even begin to grasp. His whole persona made sense, but suddenly I felt that mine didn’t and it was a hard lesson.
“Do you do this a lot?” I asked still stroking his lip and his beard with my finger.
“What?” he whispered.
“Bring women here that you’ve rescued on the road? Or women who like the way you look on stage?”
“You like the way I look on stage?” he asked smiling.
“Yeah, I do,” I said frankly.
“No I don’t,” he said, “That’s Franks job”.
“And Frank is?”
“Our guitar player,” Joe smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
I decided I didn’t care but when I figured I’d lean over and kiss him the song changed. I was a bit startled by the energy of the next song and so I pulled my hand away.
He stood up and lowered the volume.
“The remote is broken,” he said to explain.
I just nodded.
He took a sip from his beer, but didn’t seem to enjoy it especially. I had finished mine.
“Want another?” he asked.
“I shouldn’t,” I said, “I’m not used to it.”
As I said that I realised that it might be the first real thing I had said about myself.
“Can of Coke?” he asked.
“Is it Diet?” I asked almost biting myself in the tongue for it. I didn’t want to be superficial and I didn’t want such things to matter, not now, but he said yes and so I got a can of Coke in front of me and the moment we’d had before was gone.
“She looks beautiful,” I said pointing at the picture. “What was her name?”
“Regina,” he said. “She was five.”
I didn’t open my coke, instead I looked at him and then I stood up.
“Do you mind if I change it to that beer?” I asked.
He smiled and shook his head. So I went into his tiny kitchen, opened his tiny fridge, put the coke back in and pulled out a can of beer. I opened it with a frizz and took a large clunk from the can.
“Will you play me something?” I pointed towards the instruments.
He looked at me and I saw some appreciation come alive in him. He picked up a guitar and started plucking at it. After a while he started singing.
I do believe it was his voice I loved first. It seemed to change completely as he started singing. As if it didn’t even belong to the same person. And the song he played was filled with painful gratitude.
When he was finished I had tears in my eyes and awkwardly I felt shallow for it. As if my superficial idea of what the loss he had suffered, and sung about, meant anything at all.
He didn’t seem to see it that way. He leaned forward and wiped the tear from my eye with his thumb. Then he played something lighter.
When he was finished he put the guitar down and put the music on again. This time on even lower volume than before.
“My neighbour gets irritated if I make too much noise,” he said smiling.
I nodded my head, looking at him.
“Am I incredibly shallow and self centred if I try to kiss you now?” I asked.
I don’t know where that kind of courage came from. I guess in moments like these you draw strength from special sources and do what needs to be done.
He didn’t say anything for a long time. He drew his knee up into the couch to face me again and he put his hand on the back of the sofa. Then he smiled.
“I don’t think you’re shallow,” he said.
“You don’t know me very well, do you?” I said starting to lean forward.
He didn’t lean forward to meet me. But he kissed me when my lips touched his and I could hear him breathing in heavily.
It was a soft kiss, delicate, gentle and polite, but also curious.
When I pulled away I half expected him to pull me towards him again, I expected him to react, but he kept his eyes closed for a while and when he opened them again he looked calm and satisfied. He was smiling in that way of his.
I was a bit disappointed.
Awkwardly I picked up my can thinking that things had become weird now, but he surprised me.
He pushed his knee down and as I was drinking he pulled me softly towards him so I was leaning backwards on his shoulder.
“Listen to this,” he said softly and I felt the nearness of his body so close to mine. I softly ran my fingers over the tattoos on his arm. It almost looked like they danced underneath my fingers.
We listened quietly to the music and when it was finished he took the can of beer out of my hands, squirmed down on the couch and pulled me on top of him. His hand delicately on my head and then he kissed me.
“Do you do this often?” he whispered.
“Kiss men whose beard you hate?”
“Never before,” I mumbled, softly stroking the beard with my thumb as I kissed him, the finger awkwardly in the way, but I couldn’t help myself.
He seemed to like it.
It wasn’t like my previous occasions. Not that I was very much indoctrinated into the art of making love at the time, but it was different from the fumbling I’d done in the past. And it wasn’t just because he knew a bit about what he was doing, but because I wasn’t feeling self conscious. I was too rung up to be.
When I woke up the next morning he was in the kitchen making breakfast. I ate boiled eggs and bacon and we talked about something I’ve forgotten all about now. He told me he had work in two hours and we took a shower and I watched him put on the clothes he needed so he could ride his bike to work.
We walked to the pub where he had his bike and I had my car. He kissed me, closing his eyes pulling me to him as if he was afraid he’d never see me again.
And still after all that had gone on I felt a bit awkward. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t now how to express anything of what I was feeling. I didn’t know if it was appropriate to show these feelings at all or if I was supposed to be all chum about it and just go about my business as if nothing had happened. I guess I was still a bit busy wondering about what others thought of me.
“When are you playing again?” I asked as he pulled away.
“The weekend,” he said.
I was silent.
“Will I see you tonight?” he asked, smiling.
I felt like such a weak woman then, because it should have been me asking, but I nodded my head and I gave him my number.
When I drove home I made a promise to myself. It’s a promise that I’ve kept ever since. Or I’ve tried my hardest to keep. Be true in your moments. Because otherwise your life might pass you by in superficial nothingness.
I was awake suddenly and I already felt ashamed of who I had been before.
Not because a man changed me over night. He did, or because he showed me that I had. But because a human being let me reach out to him, despite all my insecurities and awkwardness. Our minds met, despite our differences in almost everything. That night I became one of those DANGEROUS PEOPLE who live their life the way they want to.
And our minds continue to meet.
I still hate his beard, but he knows I will never, ever, ask him to shave it off.
Oh, and the denim-vest wearers? Tim and Jake? We became good friends. They taught me how to change the tire on a motorcycle.
Isn’t life great when you let it be?