April 12, 2008

It's just a story.

In 1987 I was a senior in high school and my mother was in the hospital with leukemia; a long, very painful experimental treatment would either cure her (but leave her changed for life) or she would die.

With the profits I'd made from my summer job, I had bought a $400 Technics portable CD player, one of the very first ones ever made. It was solid metal and heavy as hell, and the rechargeable battery pack was as big as the CD player itself and weighed twice again as much. It still plays perfectly to this day.

I was left with her lame car and a giant house to myself and not much supervision. It would have been many a teen's dream, but not mine, since I was truly alone; after I moved back to the States for the eleventh and twelfth grades I never once had a friend over after school, or went over to a friend's house, or went to a party, or a dance; I worked in my little computer lab from when I got home to when I went to sleep. I graduated with honors but didn't show up. I was programming at the time.

Some nights I would take my mom's (new-model) Chevy Nova out and just drive around the waterfront, listening to my little CD player. There were two discs in particular for when I felt most alone: Steve Winwood's "Back in the High Life" and Peter Gabriel's "So". Both artists were consummate musicians, at the height of their craft -- neither would ever make another album as successful. Both created incredibly rich soundscapes, and both talked about loss, and longing.

I don't share either album with people very often, these days, because I've discovered I am incredibly upset if my guests are anything below astounded by them. I require rapt attention, possibly sighs, if you hear the Blessed Two. I feel as if I am physically cutting away my skin and pulling it aside with tongs to show my viscera, the actual core of my being, and if my listeners are all, "Can we put on some GOOD music after this?" I just want to smite them.

To this day if I hear "Don't Give Up" I will cry. I may not bawl, but you can see little tears in my eyes. I can see the park on Lake Washington I would drive to. I can feel the slight cold of the wind through my not-at-all-fashionable windbreaker. I can see the giant CD player on its huge strap around my neck. And I feel the hurting, of wanting to not be alone. Of waiting it to be over.

--

The happiest and saddest part, I think, of liking someone of the opposite sex... really liking, as in, really admiring the person, thinking that she is, in fact, a really good person, a decent person, a person whose morals and smarts and sense of humor and accomplishments you actually think are amazing -- not just, like, "Damn, she got pretty tummy," which latter sentiment I have also fallen prey to -- the happiest and saddest part is that you become someone different when you feel this way.

I don't want to, and won't, use the stupid cliché from the stupid movie. But it's true. You make yourself into a better person, not to trick them into liking you, but because _they deserve it_, and _you want to be a person that deserves them_. The difference is everything.

It's the saddest part because when you lose the hope, the dream, the focus -- well, you want to hold on to that you, that better you, that you that you liked so much, the you that you were with her. It's inside you. Were you faking? No. You have it. Just continue being it. Just don't stop. Be more patient with people you see. Smile at them. Let tiny things go, ignore any little slight, be generous with praise. Be that person. You can still do it. Hold on to him.

--

An interesting, if bizarre, factoid about me is that I cry if I see kids under the age of 10. I also cry if I see child's toy aimed at under-10-year-olds. And, finally, I can remember only two or three scenes from my life from before I was 10: My dad reading "One Fish, Two Fish" to me to teach me what words looked like. (Read to your kids! It's more important than you think.) My parents in bed on a lazy Sunday and the kids coming in and hassling them. Running to get one of the Big Wheels in recess in kindergarden, because there were only a couple and if you didn't get one recess was lame. The other kids wanting to build a boat out of toy cardboard bricks, and me, the quiet kid who never spoke up, finally saying something: I have a plan. I can build a boat. Show us, show us, and I did, and for that one day, for that afternoon, I was the hero.

The rest of my childhood is gone. I don't know where that person is. He's very sad, though.

Yes, I'm in therapy, thanks for checking.

--

I listen to Steve Winwood again, on my expensive studio monitor speakers, the likes of which I couldn't dream of when I was 18. His album still sounds great to me, after all these years.There's a part of me that's conscious of all the time that's passed: that the rich, full sound I loved is now considered cheesy and overproduced, that nobody has heard of Steve Winwood in twenty years, Peter Gabriel is just another dude at TED, and that schmaltzy emotions are for angsty teenagers with zits and five-year-long erections.

But there is a little kid who has felt alone all his life, and he wants it to end. When will it be over? Will I die first? Why are you so old? What have we done with our life? Why are we alone? How did you manage to fail in this, the one thing that mattered.

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