After the Dance: My Life With Marvin Gaye - Jan Gaye (2015)

In Love with the Night

My mother and I awaited the arrival of Marvin, who was on his way to gather up all my worldly possessions and move them into his simple, unimpressive one-bedroom apartment. Abe was gone.

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” my mother asked me.

I was sure of one thing: my connection to Marvin was the strongest emotion I’d ever felt.

“I’ll be fine,” I told Mom.

“I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“I won’t. He loves me, I love him.”

“You haven’t even known him a couple of months.”

“You’ve married men you’ve known for less time than that.”

“He’s already married.”

“He’s separated.”

“But still married.”

“The marriage is over. He’s even written a song about how it died.”

“A song isn’t a divorce.”

“He’s getting a divorce.”

“I want to trust him,” said Mom. “But I know these singers. I know them all too well.”

When Marvin arrived, it was as though he had heard that remark. He was barely polite to Mom. He resented whatever authority, no matter how tenuous, my mother held over me. In his mind, I now belonged to him, not Mom.

He swept me away.

My possessions weren’t any more than a hope chest from Pier 1 and clown-shaped salt-and-pepper shakers.

The minute I arrived in the apartment, I felt a huge difference. Before, I was a visitor. Now I belonged. In the following weeks, Marvin and I fell deeper in love. Late at night, when Marvin couldn’t sleep, he sat in front of a little keyboard and fashioned melodies with such astonishing ease that I could only watch and marvel. As he pressed the keys, the wordless sounds he sang carried a lush beauty that was otherworldly. It was as though he was lost in prayer or meditation. After a while, he reached over and picked up a paperback book, dog-eared to a particular page. He stopped playing and began to read out loud. As he recited the lines, his eyes were lit with love, alive with a glow I had never seen before. He kept looking at me. I held his gaze.

O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art

As glorious to this night, being o’er my head

As is a winged messenger of heaven

Unto the white-upturned wondering eyes

Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him

When he bestrides the lazy-pacing clouds

And sails upon the bosom of the air.

“What are you reading?” I asked.

“I found this in one of your books.”

I walked over to where Marvin was seated and saw that he was reading from my copy of Romeo and Juliet.

“It’s when Romeo is looking at Juliet up on the balcony,” said Marvin. “I won’t be able to say it as well as Romeo. No matter what words I use, I’ll never be able to explain how much I love you.”

“I’ve always loved you, dear.”

“That was before you knew me. But what about now—now that you know me?”

“I love you even more now.”

“I need to hear you say that. I’ll never tire of hearing that.”

“I’ll never tire of saying it,” I said.

His eyes filled with tears. I was weeping as well. We embraced, holding each other tight, elongating the moment in which our world consisted only of this embrace. No coldness, no cruelty, no pain, no problems, no heartaches, no hardships—just this closeness, this union, this love.

Later that night he turned back to the keyboard in search of a song that had eluded him. I fell asleep on the couch. The sound of his voice informed my dreams. When I awoke, he was still playing. Day was breaking.

The next morning, I rolled the first joint of the day and started dressing for school. Still in bed, Marvin accepted the joint and begged me to stay.

“What’s the point?” he asked.

“To learn.”

“I can teach you everything you need to know,” he said only half jokingly. “We’re reading Shakespeare together, aren’t we?”

“Literature is one thing, driver’s education is another. I’m learning to drive.”

“I’ll teach you. I’ll be a far more loving and patient teacher than whomever the school provides. I think it’s time for you to leave school.”

“To do what?”

“To do what you’ve said you’ve always wanted to do—live your life with me.”

The offer was undoubtedly tempting. Much of school was boring, but I wasn’t ready to leave. Ever since I’d been a little girl I had been told that I was bright. Quitting school didn’t feel right. Wasn’t a diploma the key to the future? At the same time, I couldn’t imagine a greater future than being with Marvin. And, truth be told, I did harbor a secret ambition to be in show business. I knew I could sing. I could dance. And yet I did want my degree.

“Why should you care if I stay in school?” I asked.

“I care about us being together—every hour of every day. I don’t want to share you. There are all those strapping young high school football players looking to love on you.”

“They’re boys, Marvin, not men.”

“Nonetheless, they’re my competitors. They’re young and horny and I’d not be surprised if more than a few broad-shouldered jocks have caught your eye.”

“They bore me.”

“You say that now, but when you’re still young and fine and I’m old and gray, you’ll say that same thing about me.”

“Never.”

“So say you’ll leave school and stay by my side. I want to be with you every hour of every day.”

“Marvin . . .”

He reached out and brought me back to bed, where we made love until we were exhausted. I arrived at school two hours late.

At the end of the school day, Marvin drove up to Hamilton High in the white Bentley. I was happy to see him, but not the car.

“Did you tell them you’re leaving?” was the first question he asked.

“Whoa,” I said. “You just brought it up this morning. Won’t you give me a little time to think about it?”

“Long ago and far away a poet once wrote, ‘At my back I always hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near.’ Time is rushing, rushing, rushing.”

“Well, I really do need time to think it over. But it’s hard for me to do any serious thinking in this car. You told me you weren’t going to drive it anymore.”

“I’m returning it now. I’m bringing it back to Anna. She and little Marvin are at her sister Gwen’s.”

“We’re going over there now?”

“Does that bother you?”

“Of course. You know it does. How could it not?”

“I just need to switch cars and pick up my son. It’ll take just a minute. Be cool, dear.”

We drove up to Gwen Gordy’s house, where Marvin parked the Bentley and had me wait in his maroon Lincoln in the driveway.

Waiting for Marvin to emerge from the house, I was nervous. I didn’t want to be there. I hated that he had forced me into this position. I wondered whether he was putting me on display. Had he driven me here so that Anna could get a glimpse of the Other Woman, the young chick with whom he was having a torrid affair?

When the door to the house opened and Marvin emerged, followed by his seven-year-old son and then Anna, my heart sank. Anna was scary—a strong woman in her fifties who, with a determined gait, walked to where I was seated on the passenger side of the Lincoln. She was heavily made-up, a not-unattractive matriarch with a round face and fair skin. She wore a purple crushed-velvet pantsuit, diamond earrings, and a heavy gold chain around her neck. Her hair had been softened and styled. Her eyes burned with anger. She was focused on me.

“Look here, Anna,” said Marvin, “don’t go and start trouble.”

Paying no attention to her husband, Anna ordered me to roll down my window. Filled with fright, I lowered the electric window only an inch. I was afraid Anna might haul off and sock me.

“I just want to see what someone like you looks like,” Anna said with undisguised disgust.

A few seconds passed. I was speechless, but Anna was not. She added, “Now that I’ve seen it, don’t ever bring it back here again.”

The words haunted me for the rest of the day: Now that I’ve seen it, don’t ever bring it back here again.

I wasn’t a person. I was an “it.” I felt like shit.

Marvin drove off with me in the passenger seat and little Marvin in the back. He said we were having lunch at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles restaurant on Gower Street. Marvin’s arrival caused a commotion. Fans ran over to ask for an autograph. Everyone wanted their picture taken with him. Polite to a fault, he accommodated nearly everyone. But seeing that his son was not happy sharing his dad with the world, Marvin gently cut off contact with his fans, explaining that this was a family moment and would they do him the courtesy of affording him a bit of privacy. His request was expressed so solicitously that the people quickly backed off.

I considered his remark about this being “a family moment.” In truth, Marvin’s nuclear family was shattered. His relationship with Anna was damaged beyond repair. He said little about his biological family. His mother and father were back in Washington, DC. Marvin spoke of his mother in saintly terms. He adored her. He rarely mentioned his father at all, but when he did a look of consternation passed over his face. Clearly he held no affection for the man. When I asked more about Father Gaye, Marvin said only, “He’s very strange.” Then there was the “happy Motown family” that Marvin called a myth. Gordy’s strategy of exciting competition between his artists and producers had led to vicious sibling rivalries.

Within that family, though, certain people treated both Marvin and me with extreme kindness. Clarence Paul, for example, was wonderful. He was a writer-producer who had acted as Stevie Wonder’s surrogate father during Stevie’s early years at Motown. He also acted as a surrogate big brother to Marvin.

Marvin was looking for a surrogate family—a wise uncle figure like Harvey Fuqua, an understanding surrogate sister like Gwen or Esther Gordy, Anna’s siblings. He found it impossible to come to terms with his own biological family.

These fractured families—both Marvin’s and mine—were huge obstacles to overcome. And yet, given the power of our love, I believed we had the potential to create a strong and wholesome family of our own.

I wondered if Marvin felt the same.

Two weeks later I found out when I brought him news that gave me both trepidation and joy:

I was pregnant.