We had dinner last night with his best friend from childhood. These two grew up together in a small town, attended college together in Murfreesboro where they played in bands they say no one listened to, and they both remained in Nashville to work in the music business.
They share an inside language of family, music, friends, exes (girlfriends, band members), trips they’ve taken, dumb things they’ve done, gossip, gin and sometimes work.
This childhood friend’s wife is a photographer – quite exceptional with portraiture – and she pulled out some prints she’s made of the two of them, and others in their friend group, from seven or eight years back. This is before I knew him and his circle, when I was married to someone else.
I was afraid of what they might think if I did what I wanted to do, which was inspect and dissect every pixel of his portrait, so I said a polite, “Great photo!” or whatever, and left it at that. But it was beyond a great photo. This is what I saw:
I saw a classically handsome man of 35 or 36, with hyper-animated, expressive eyebrows, a half-smiling snarl in one corner of his mouth, subtly but suggestively jutting hip, black suit. If his friends read this, they’ll tease him, but he looked to me like a celebrity, like if I had seen him out somewhere at that period of my life, I would have intentionally ignored him so I didn’t look like I was staring.
In that photograph, I saw a man a few years younger, cockier, and perhaps even freer than he is now. I saw a man who had already known for a long time how beautiful and sensitive Chris Bell’s music is, who had already read “A Prayer for Owen Meany” 900 times, and who had given copies of that novel and “I Am The Cosmos” to plenty of other creative, sensitive brunettes.
Knowing someone intimately does not necessarily mean you know the details of their life before you were in it. Sometimes those things reveal themselves in conversations with old friends, in photographs, in the context of someone else’s circumstances, or seemingly from nowhere but fate.
Sometimes mystery is best.
I looked at that photograph of him for but a few seconds, felt jealous that I wasn’t in it, then almost as quickly felt the sort of crush I’d felt when we met, when every little thing about him was new.
He will always have years that are not mine, things about him I don’t know. That is wildly sexy, and I hope someone has taken photographs of those moments he was awesome, long before he met me.