Have I said I would marry her? I must have.

She has made it clear that she would marry me--and I have spiralled away into panic over the differences in our ages and appearance. I have hardly the will to write about it now, but I will have to.

Soon, and for the rest of my life.

For the moment, I am with her in the Blue Note on West 3rd, listening to the Herbie Hancock quartet perform live jazz. The drummer is perhaps fifteen feet away from where I sit in the corner balcony, but it's easy to ignore the musicians. There's not a conversation going on in the full house--standing room only at the bar. But not all eyes are on the risers. Most are. Some are drifting over the faces in the crowd, more are bored and looking up into the lights and speakers.

They must all be thinking. I wonder were they go in their minds.

I found myself back in my childhood, maybe fifteen or sixteen years ago; not such a long time by ______'s standards--a point of contention for us. For me. For her. For us.

I'm in my old house on Danube Way, a river turned winding street in nowhere of note, Illinois, at a party my brother didn't invite me too. I've done my room up to attract the attention of kids his age, cooler only by virtue of their age. The lights are off, the soundtrack to Beetlejuice is playing, I don't remember why, and the Apple IIC is done up to have square yellow eyes and a pixellated yellow grin on a dark blue background, something--the only thing--I had ever or will ever have learned how to code. The Robie, Sr. was up--which makes me think of my father, all the things I had, the things he gave me. You don't realize as a child--you have no idea what anything really is beyond your own pleasures or complaints.

All these people were children once, with toys. How did they all get from there to here? What have they gained or lost along the way?

Herbie is mumbling away from his microphone to the band.

"I didn't finish my sentence, did I?" he asks, and the people laugh. He's been on the planet for over sixty years, and can't have loved all of it. Life isn't easy for anyone. It's too full of choices and loss, indecision and doubt. For everybody. What might anyone in this room have to face when the music stops?

What are these three hours worth to them, as time away from life? The twisting, curling lips of the bass player, lost in his fingerwork, will they smile or frown when he comes out of it?

The two hottest chicks in the place are pawing at each other like high school sophomores. How did they get there?

The older man at the table by the stairs with the short, round, grey-haired woman holding him around his Falstaff-like waist, the one with the half-closed eyes behind drooping glasses--what brought him to her, and them to the Blue Note?

Who would trade places with who in here? Which of them is smart enough to rate what they have above what else they could have?

Some things seem very simple, and others not, and nothing that is the former can't be made the latter by way of a little contemplation. What do you want for your whole life? Are the phases so discontinuous? Are they divided by anthropological periods of the individual? Triassic, Mesozoic, Jurassic' infancy, adolescence, adulthood. How am I to evolve?

Or, as _____ seems to think, does it matter?

Live or die trying.

So much fear and doubt--a life of fear and doubt; wanting one thing, craving another, having neither, losing both.

What would ______ say?

"Just listen to the music."

And after all, isn't she right?

At some point some woman is the last woman you're with--after twenty-six and four--is she that woman? What faith have I ever kept? And if you have to ask--but I love her, and have loved her more than I have ever loved anyone. Marriage, from the start, was my idea.

And the crowd applauds.

She should have been lithe. She should have been petite and straight-haired, with delicate features and perfect skin. She should have been ten years younger.

But she's not. What should I have been, that I am not?

Herbie leaves the stage, and everyone stands up to shake the hand of a great man.