A Busload of Banjo Players by Jon Pearson

Elya and I are sitting at a small patio table in a nice little breakfast place in Santa Barbara. It’s our anniversary, not our wedding anniversary, but the anniversary of the day we first got together at Starbucks five years ago. It’s a Sunday and the place is packed. We’ve ordered and I’m waiting for my massive cinnamon apple pancake. Elya, like most women, is waiting for something sensible, a spinach omelet, and I say, “Okay, I want you to imagine something, and I mean really imagine it.”

And Elya, gorgeous as hell in her Jackie Kennedy-looking sunglasses, is drinking in my every word. The smell of bacon and pancakes is in the air, and roses, and I am so happy I don’t have a head, the summer sky is my head.

“You’re shooting a documentary,” I say, “a nature film. And in the camera frame” (I frame my head and shoulders with my hands), “you have come across a rare Amazonian tree frog. And for the next thirty seconds I am going to be that tree frog. And your job is to watch. But watch like it’s a frippin miracle, ’cause I’ll be going to a place beyond all human understanding, and doing little things with my face and hands. I hope to God the waitress doesn’t bring our food while I’m doing this. The people around us will think I’m having a seizure. But it’ll be worth it. And then, afterward, you can do your own nature scene.”

Now, many women might say, “Cut it out,” or “Not another one of your crazy imagination games,” or “You’re gonna get us arrested?” But sweet Elya removes her sunglasses and fixes me with her big, beautiful brown eyes as if to say, Go ahead, cowboy. Knock yourself out.

And moments later, Elya, a former kick-ass corporate lawyer and professional actress, is “doing” a Sargasso Sea glow fish, pinching her face into something scary, fishy, ugly and intense while looking gorgeouser and gorgeouser by the second. Suddenly I want to make primal love to her on the patio table as she again proves the greatest of all secrets: that real beauty is far bigger than mere pretty. Pretty paints its toes and hopes you like its purse. Pretty primps, and prays somebody’s watching.

Beauty, on the other hand, could give a shit. It breaks the rules. It goes for broke. It is an all-or-nothing, radioactive busload of banjo players flying off a cliff, because beauty is a raging fire. It doesn’t wish or want, worry, wait, or look back.

And that is why Elya, my now wife, is to me the most beautiful woman alive. And it is my solemn, every-single-day job to keep it that way, to stoke the fires of her deep beauty, to help her be her one-and-only self. In my wedding vows I proclaimed: “I shall love you like no man has ever loved a woman.” A tall order. But when the vow first popped into my head, I felt I was riding a bicycle upside down on a cloud and everywhere I looked was Saturday and ice cream.

Every day with Elya, I learn how to be a man. I aspire to become the man-space in which Elya can be herself, where she doesn’t walk on eggshells, hold back, or fit into some idealized movie in my head.

I met Elya after I had given up all hope. All hope. I was sixty and had never married. I figured women had too many working parts, any one of which could go wrong, and I knew no woman I would want would ever want me.

Then, Elya – brilliant, beautiful, amazing Elya. I didn’t feel an ounce of neediness. All I wanted to do was love her. As if I had been storing up love my entire life, as if I were a circus wagon of tricks and surprises and all I needed was the right woman to see past my clever defenses, see the man who wanted to love her mightily in his own crazy-ass way.

“Why me,” I ask her, “when you could have anyone?”

And always she says, “’Cause you bring out the silly in me.”

We run through the house like seagulls, kick our legs in bed while making up poems, we switch childhood memories. I call her Bambina. She calls me Coconut Head. Every day I make her a birthday card, and every time we come into the house we hug.

It’s not easy to love. It is easy to get lazy or selfish or driven or lost in a hundred ways and, when the going gets rough, to want a fantasy. I always wanted a fantasy. Now I don’t.

I’ve had a miracle. And I’ve learned that just as beauty is bigger than mere pretty, intimacy is bigger than any dream. So I don’t care any more about looking good. I care about being seen. I want to stop running and come home. And I want Elya to feel seen and safe. I want her to feel loved and free. I want her to feel, every single day, like I am the answer to her prayers … because she is the answer to mine.


Jon Pearson is a writer, speaker, artist, and creative thinking consultant. He was a cartoonist for the Oakland Tribune and a supernumerary for the New York Metropolitan Opera. Jon’s works were nominated for Pushcart Prizes in 2014 and 2016. He writes to get to the heart of his thinking at the edge of his mind. Jon can be found with his beautiful wife, Elya, in Los Angeles, and on the web at jonpearsoncreative.com.


Please sign up for our newsletter

We'll let you know when Heart of a Man is available and keep you updated with its progress towards a crowd-funding campaign.

4 thoughts on “A Busload of Banjo Players by Jon Pearson”

    1. His is a love story with much heart. It’s not easy to love, he writes. And he wants his wife to feel safe … and loved. Amen to both. Thanks for your comment, Herbert. I’m glad you’re still following these tales.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.