The Listening Gift

Hear the water pour down from my roof, greeting the ground. Leftover rain disappears. A car, a truck. Machines growl in the distance. That dog just stopped barking. Workmen stomp down the fire esca

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Hear the water pour down from my roof, greeting the ground. Leftover rain disappears. A car, a truck. Machines growl in the distance. That dog just stopped barking. Workmen stomp down the fire escape. Inside, light guitar music. The smacking of my gum. My fingers, yeah, on the keys.

I've always been a listener.

I was a quiet, shy girl, gripping books and pens like a tree-stuck, saucer-eyed koala. Listening got me through many a strange adolescent day. Just last week, my three aunts told my mom that my listening was "a gift."

I am interested in people's strange stories, but sometimes I listen because there's too much going on in my head to verbalize the wild things. I notice too many details, like some guy's worn moccasins, some girl's watery eyes or some baby's frog bib.

Music. I often go to shows alone. When I get into some band's sound, I listen and raise my right eyebrow. Not consciously. I just catch myself doing it sometimes.

When I hear something really kickin', I dance like a jumping spider.

This past Saturday, after my heart broke over an awkward conversation with a man for the millionth time, I headed over to Mac's Pizza to check out singer/songwriter Levi Weaver's show. I was looking forward to it, despite my tricky mental state.

Parking, I rolled down the window. Outside, tires skidded, then settled. In herds, people walked slowly, like grazing horses. The streets sounded quiet. Safe.

I made my way to the back of the bar. Levi and his wife, Heather, greeted me warmly. When Levi listened, he squinted a little. When Heather listened, her big, feline eyes widened.

Heather had long brown hair held to the side with one bobby pin. Naturally pretty. She had a good ear. Often, she cocked her head to the side, leaning in closer to hear me.

From Nashville, Levi is known to play his guitar with a violin bow, stomp on a tambourine and play harmonica all at the same time, while wearing a tie, vest, jeans and a gun belt buckle. Quietly waiting to play, he sipped a small drink, appearing alert, professional and kind, sinking into the scene but still beyond it.

A breeze drifted in from the open back door, the one that led to the smoking patio. The night was perfectly chilly, enough for long sleeves. Then to my left, the loud party started.

A table full of about 12 friends was in full swing. It was one girl's 21st birthday, and they were all tanked. By the time Levi took the stage, one guy passed out on his friend's shoulder. Drooling.

Levi began his usual banter, but the crowd was something else - screeching animals focused only on the next pitcher. Still, Levi's set was lively and heartfelt despite the zoo.

I thought back to my 21st birthday. I spent it at Top Cat's, where Edwin McCain was playing. Then the Blues Travelers appeared out of nowhere. They were in town for a Riverbend show with the Black Crowes, and they decided to stop in Top Cat's to play some songs.

Sure, I was liquored up, and I ran into an old lover and told him that he sucked. But even when I was drunk I was there to hear the music, however garbled it came into my soggy brain.

Back when I drank, I often went to Riverbend, and those big cups of booze were bitchin'. One time, at a Neil Young show, I took a hit of something and Young's sideburns grew large and alive; I was sure they were coming to kill me. My friends found me on the lawn, curled up like a resting cheetah, but there I was, listening. I still stayed through the show.

OK, there was that one Phish show when I was in a complete blackout, but that's beside the point.

I wondered what it was like for Levi, playing clubs across the country, never knowing what to expect from listeners. I gave him credit. Grinning, he even sang "Happy Birthday" to the 21-year-old. Then he rolled his eyes, laughing and looking at Heather.

Birthday table was completely focused on the party. Then one guy wandered over to the bathroom to puke. By then, Levi was done playing and was in the bathroom at the same time. He missed getting puked on by just a few inches.

At the end of the night, Levi shook my hand with both of his, smiling wide. Heather gave me a sweet hug, wishing me luck. Although I usually did a lot of listening, on that night somehow Levi and Heather knew that I needed someone to listen to me. It seemed that they too had "the gift."

I thought of the difference in my life now — the next day I wouldn't have a raging hangover. I'd know that I was there to support an act who deserved attentive listeners. I was there to hear and feel the sound. And escape in it.

As I drove home, I thought about my relationship problems and shrugged. There was always tomorrow. I was alive, clear-headed, and that was enough. Walking alone, the streets sounded quiet. Safe.

In the alley, I heard whispery shifting. One lone, swift, slick cat.

Contact C.A. MacConnell: [email protected]

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