She was wearing her purple Abercrombie & Fitch tee.
He had on puka shells — it was a phase — and that red and white short-sleeved collared shirt.
They were both music minors. She, a freshman just in from Reading, two hours up past Sacramento. He, a junior, from Nebraska and Minnesota and mostly Claremont.
She had been hurt before, in high school. She wasn’t looking for a relationship. He wasn’t interested in casual dating. He walked up to her after class, fidgeting, so nervous and friendly.
Growing up, she listens to everything: musicals, country, boy bands, ’80s music. When she drives north to visit home, he makes her CDs. When they’re back in her dorm room alone, they play them and dance. She saves all the playlists.
And look, if you think you know where this story is heading next, and that direction is toward Barbra Streisand, then take a bow.
If you don’t know who Barbra Streisand is, or don’t know her music, then go watch some clips. It’s cool, our protagonists can wait. They are slowly, happily getting to know each other. After Consort Singers class, Tuesdays and Thursdays, they talk. During full choir, on Thursday nights, they position themselves so they can sneak looks at each other.
And they ride the bus together to and from Staples Center, for rehearsals, because this is September 2000, and Streisand is throwing herself a farewell tour. The LMU Concert Choir joins Babs for three songs. One is titled, “On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever)”:
You’ll feel part of
Every mountain, sea, and shore
You can hear from far and near
A world you’ve never, never heard before
He writes and sings pop songs, too. Starts a band with friends. They play for three years. Before he meets her, his songs are full of longing; after, relief.
Sure, they have a couple of rough patches. They break up for a while. She has a health scare. He graduates and moves back home, a little lost. His dad hears about PLACE Corps — you get a teaching credential and a master’s in education, then go teach where the archdiocese needs you.
He enrolls, moves back near campus. He would take a warehouse job to be near her, but teaching turns into a calling. She becomes general manager at a chain of spas. Both of them glow, though, from that light within.
Nine years in, he proposes. Her father officiates. Music means so much to them. His brother sings “Out to See.” Her sisters sing new lyrics to a Coldplay song. Her father sings “You Can Close Your Eyes,” the James Taylor number he sang when he proposed to her. Later, she sings it to their babies.
Twenty-one years later, they are still together. Finishing each other’s sentences. Laughing throughout a long interview. Gazing at each other. Two great kids, 5 and 7 years old. The house in Hawthorne, after years of living even closer to the bluff.
He sits down, takes out the acoustic. Debuts an original. A little Ben Harper, a little Jack Johnson — remember the puka shells — a little Beach Boys. He sings it again during this interview. She puts her arm on his, gently.
So here we are / at the start of a life we’ll live together //
And with compromise / we will thrive regardless of the weather //
Is this where you tell me you’re scared? / well I’m not, we’re a lock, and I’ve never felt better prepared //
Plus, my luck is known to all the world / my luck at meeting such a girl //
Tho nothing’s perfect / some things are worth it //
And I can’t wait to get started //
No I can’t wait //
No I can’t wait.
At the wedding, hearing this for the first time, she’s crying. Who isn’t crying?
Today they make up songs with the kids. The youngest is like mom — amazing voice, shy about performing. The eldest is more like dad — happy in a spotlight. One of the kids comes into frame, dressed for ballet class. Life is good. It’s time to go.
Here’s to Alyssa Jahnke ’04 and Chris Jahnke ’02, M.A. ’05. A duet, in perfect harmony.
Jeremy Rosenberg is the author of “Under Spring, Voices + Art + Los Angeles,” which received the first California Historical Society Book Award. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, KCET.org and elsewhere. Follow Rosenberg @LosJeremy.