Where the Story Ends

“It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year which makes my eyes feel sore. Oh, I never should have said the books that you read were all I loved you for.” ~The Sundays

audio_mix_tape_wall_decal_singleI don’t remember exactly when I first heard it, but I do remember how it made me feel. Something about it was ethereal, airy in a way that few songs to that point had ever been for me. It had a whimsical side to it that was both lilting and fragile at the same time. It drew me in and I wanted to hear that voice again. The only problem was that I had absolutely no idea who was singing it, and it drove me absolutely insane.

It was on this mixed tape that a girl sent me. Don’t ask me to remember the name of the girl because they all blur together from back then. Needless to say, it was a girl whose musical opinion mattered to me. We didn’t know each other in real life, but in the early days of my Internet obsession it was surprisingly easy to talk to people outside of the cluster of real life acquaintances I had at the time. After we had been conversing for a few weeks, I suggested we exchange mixed tapes. So we did.

I have to back it up a step, though, because back then I exchanged mixed tapes with a LOT of people. In fact, I would go into Tower Records and purchase a package of 20 blank tapes for expressly that purpose, and use them up almost as quickly as I bought them. I had one rule, though, when exchanging mixed tapes. I wanted to come into the experience completely oblivious to what I would be hearing as I listened, so I told each person who was going to send me a tape not to label it in any way.

Hence, my dilemma. Most songs on most mixed tapes I got at that time were easy for me to figure out as they were mostly songs I had in my collection already, or were songs I had heard on the radio. I must have listened to about 50 mixed tapes through those years of swapping, from all kinds of people all around the globe, but there were very few songs on those tapes that I didn’t know. Arguably the song I liked the most from one of those mixed tapes was one I didn’t know, and thus began the journey.

“It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year which makes me wonder why. And it’s the memories of the shed that make me turn red. Surprise. Surprise. Surprise.”

Remember I said this was in my Internet infancy? That would play a huge role in my growing frustration over the next few years. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just email the girl who sent me the tape and ask what the song was, and that would be a good question to ask. However, it took me ages to actually listen to that particular tape for the first time, and in the intervening time I had a falling out with the tape’s sender. For all the beautiful songs she put on that tape for me, it was surprisingly easy for her to completely cut me out of her life. So I was back at square one.

So yes, my Internet infancy… it wasn’t just mine, because the network of sites and resources that we take for granted now wasn’t even remotely in place back in the ’90s. Lycos, or AltaVista, or whatever, didn’t quite have a lyrics engine, so my typing in random parts of the song into the search engine yielded absolutely no results. There was no social media so I couldn’t exactly ask my FB friends if anyone recognized the song. There was no Shazam, so I couldn’t hold up my nonexistent cell phone and capture the song in its clutches. I was stuck.

Years went by, and I wore that tape out from constant listening. It wasn’t the only song on there that I loved to pieces; it was just the only song on there that I didn’t already know. And as the years passed I guess I just forgot about trying to figure out who sang it anymore. I just let it wash over me when I listened to the tape, enjoying it for what it was, and just happy that I had a version of it at all. I even copied it from its location onto other mixed tapes that I sent to others.

Eventually I’m sure the Internet progressed, but I stopped typing lyrics into Lycos, AltaVista, or wherever, anymore. I’m certain at some point along the way if I had kept it up the World Wide Web would have caught up and spit back a name for me. It’s funny how some things happen, though, when we least expect them. By the time I had finally given up on finding out who sang the song it fell from the heavens into my lap. And in the most coincidental of ways too. It was on another mixed tape.

You see, after several years of swapping mixed tapes with others, I relaxed the rule of no labels, and the tapes kept pouring in. So many people were pretty creative with their labels, too, mixing in some artwork around the song titles. I still have so many of those tapes, and I have to say they put playlists to shame. But this post isn’t about that, even though it’s still fascinating to me.

On one of those mixed tapes I heard a voice I had listened to so many times before that I had memorized it for all time. My mouth dropped wide open as I flipped over the tape case and scanned the song titles for the one I wanted. And there it was, at long last, the name of the band that sang the song that had haunted me for what had seemed like forever. Oh, it was the Sundays, by the way. The song was “Here’s Where the Story Ends,” and before too long I had all three of their albums and I was in heaven.

Well worth the wait. Shortly after that, the mixed tape broke.

Sam

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The Apologist, Part 4

“The ocean sang. The conversation’s dimmed. Go build yourself another dream. This choice isn’t mine. I’m sorry.” ~R.E.M.

im-sorry-480x568You know how “Thank You” has an equal and opposite partner? “You’re Welcome” always comes along for the ride, a comforting sidekick that bookends that most wonderful of interactions. It’s clean and cauterized once “You’re Welcome” follows along, and we can move on to other pursuits. But “Sorry” doesn’t have just one response. Pretty much anything can come after “Sorry.” Some of those rejoinders are positive, others are negative, and some are merely indifferent. We can be forgiven for whatever we perceived we did wrong, we can be summarily judged for it, or we can be left hanging without any resolution. It’s almost like saying “I Love You,” because the wait for a response can be the hardest and most uncomfortable wait in the world.

I should know. I apologize enough.

I’ve developed a system on the other end, being the apologist that I am. When someone else tells me they’re sorry, for whatever, for anything at all, I tell them they are forgiven. It’s as simple as that: “You are forgiven.” And that can ease the weight of the world from their shoulders. Even if it’s not as easy as all that, for me anyway. Because, more times than a few, it does take time to think about it, to dig through my feelings, to stabilize myself enough emotionally to be able to give them a solid response. But I tell them they’re forgiven right off the bat because I know it will happen. I know that regardless of how I feel in the moment I will eventually forgive them because I would want them to forgive me if the shoe was on the other foot. It’s as simple as that.

Because I apologize way too often than could possibly be healthy, and I need that kind of assurance that I haven’t ruined my relationships with others. I need that kind of protection against the harsh nature of the world, that human connection and forgiveness that can make everything else rosy. I don’t always get that, so helping others achieve that with three simple words is the closest I can get to a kind of closure I want for myself. Usually they glance at me when I tell them they are forgiven with a curious look, as if I’m telling them some kind of joke that they have to verify is a joke. But I just nod my head and smile, and they know they really have been forgiven. And yes, I live vicariously through the exchange, which is okay.

“No matter how many times you say you’re sorry, somebody is not going to hear you.” ~Pete Rose

I am the apologist. I constantly look for ways that I have wronged others, and I request forgiveness. I long for it. I need it to validate my life in some way that I still haven’t quite figured out yet. I’ve tried to evaluate it at different moments, when I feel the most sorry, but I’m too tied up and twisted in it to truly be objective about the whole thing. Others have told me that I use it as a defense mechanism, that I am so worried about the way others feel about me that the apologies, the interactions they cause, give me the approval of those I wish to impress. Of course I fear they do just the opposite, that people see me as a whiner who apologizes way too much. The problem is that I can’t seem to stop myself.

Because, you see, “I’m Sorry” is my default setting now. I think I say it more than “Hey,” or even more than “I Love You.” Some have told me that the more I think about it, and the more I try to avoid saying it as a placeholder, the less I will actually say it. They’re all full of shit, because I’ve tried, and nothing has changed. I find myself saying it, and I want to take it back, but it’s already out. So I just sit there and wait to be forgiven, with approximately a 50/50 shot at a pseudo kind of redemption that is largely unnecessary. And I know it. I just can’t seem to help myself.

There must be a better way. I’m sorry.

Sam

1998

“There’s nothing where we used to lie. Conversation has run dry. That’s what’s going on. Nothing’s right. I’m torn.” ~Natalie Imbruglia

happynewyear_1920x1200

It was my last year in Philadelphia, but I didn’t know it when the year started. Funny how that happens, how the monumental moments in our lives, the seismic shifts, often happen with no warning. I woke up on that New Year’s Day without a hangover, but the day was mostly over, testament to the insane amount of drinking I had been doing the night before and until the early morning hours — in celebration mode. That of course resulted in eventually passing out.

But it was okay. I was a newly minted 21 year old. I thought I was invincible.

Soon, though, even my invincible armor would be tested, as my engagement fell apart, my school lies began to unravel, and my relationship with my mother hit a huge wall. It was all my fault, but as a 21 year old I was angry with everyone else. I couldn’t blame myself because we just didn’t do that. It wasn’t the age of self-reflection; it was instead the era of pointing fingers and asking questions later. So that bluster took me from a young man who had hopes and dreams to a scared rabbit who was reacting instead of acting.

And I didn’t let anyone in, past the facade that masqueraded as my fearlessness, as the bravado that would ultimately lead to so many ridiculous and harmful decisions in my life. For me, 1998 was the turning point because so much could have gone differently in my journey if I had simply accessed and addressed my emotional state early on. It was like I dreamwalked through the year and woke up on the other side dazed and confused, and so much worse for wear.

“I don’t wanna close my eyes. I don’t wanna fall asleep, ’cause I’d miss you baby, and I don’t wanna miss a thing.” ~Aerosmith

By year’s end I was an outcast, shuffling off to Tennessee with a few boxes of my possessions, under cover of night because it was more appropriate that way. I was a married man then, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt like a prison break, yet I was still natalie-imbruglia-tornsomehow in prison, as if I had escaped a maze to be told it was part of a larger maze that I was only just beginning. Leaving the city of my birth was devastating, and yet it was my own decision making that precipitated it; I could blame no one but myself.

I still blame no one but myself. But if I had never left I wouldn’t be where I am now. I make myself remember that part because as 1998 ticked down, as I turned 22 in an entirely different place (both physically and emotionally), I was worn down. It was so drastic and so sudden that I guess you could say I was in a state of shock, all my problems and issues center stage that I would have to deal with sooner or later, but probably sooner. As much as I could see all of that even then, it was a whole different story¬† trying to rectify the situation, to reconcile myself to the loss, to grieve and to move on.

Maybe that’s what it was all about, that year, after all. Perhaps it was more than just a turning point. It might very well have been the beginning of my whole life, the old me turned to ash and bone, eventually fading over the passage of time. I do know that the promise I felt the year owed me was quickly snuffed out, and I have never been good at adjusting to change, so it festered and left me empty instead. So I went to Tennessee, and rung in the new year with absolutely no fanfare, fast asleep with no future in mind.

Only thinking about the past, and what went so astronomically wrong. In 1998.

Sam

This Malaise

20170114_081817.jpgSome days truly are better than others, in every way, shape, and form. It’s like I wake up on the “off” days and it hits me like a slap in the face, this feeling of despair and worthlessness, as if whatever I’m going to do on this day won’t matter. It’s like knowing I’m going to be going through the motions, knowing that I will have to paste a fake smile on my face and just not wanting to deal with any of it. Some days I really do wish I could go back to bed and wake up again when the day is done, fingers crossed that the next one won’t start the exact same way.

Maybe it starts with my subconscious, like most things. Perhaps these days begin so poorly because of the fugue nature of my dream state. I toss and turn in the night, blindly searching for some comfort, my tears soaking the pillow and my conscious self unaware of the silent struggle within. It is during these mornings that I feel most mortal, that I am reminded of the finite nature of this life, and I’m not even sure why. It might be my brain’s wake up call for my body to get it together, to physically climb up from the doldrums and to bring my mind along with it.

Or it could just be a depressive state that I don’t want to label, because we all know that labels stick. I don’t want these mornings to stick. I don’t want these days to stick. I feel so helpless and life seems so hopeless when I am like this, and I have to write but nothing positive comes out. It’s like my brain goes down a path that can’t be short circuited, that has to run its course, and I go along for the ride, a straitjacketed mess, with absolutely no control over anything.

I know when I was younger I would rely on others, like my mother and my sister, to save me from myself, to protect my fragile self from having these days spiral down into oblivion. And these days I count on my children to remind me that life is not hopeless, that I am not helpless. Instead of pasting a smile on my face, when I am with them I can still feel my authentic self despite the devastating nature of these thoughts. But I know that’s not healthy, that I should be able to deal with it myself, to develop some mechanisms that will get me over this malaise.

I just don’t know where to start.

Sam

300 Writing Prompts: #143

“Describe a ‘first day’ in your life.”

first_place_blue_ribbonI’m really big on firsts. The first tooth I lost was a cause for utmost celebration, even though it created an imbalance in my mouth, because I knew more would follow. The first time I kissed a girl the smell of her gum (cinnamon) stayed with me for weeks afterwards, even though we shared only the one kiss. The first movie I saw in the theater was abbreviated because I arrived late, but I will never forget it for as long as I live.

There’s just something about firsts that is special, that draws me in and makes me want to indulge them for as long as I can, because once each one has passed there is no getting it back. The first time is special simply by essence of being the first time, and nothing can change it once it has occurred. That’s why people celebrate anniversaries, because each one reminds them of the original, of the first time something happened, good or bad.

The first time I realized I was black, and what that meant, was in fifth grade, when a class of white students visited our all-black school and I was introduced to the “other” for the first time. Before then all the faces I saw looked like mine, and everyone I knew had a similar history and heritage. But that day, the first day they were at the school, I saw that there was more to this world than my own insular understanding of it based on those near me. That was when being black became a differentiator and not just something I saw in the mirror every day.

My first day in Tennessee was a study in contrasts. For a boy from the ghetto in one of the largest cities in the country, moving to an up and coming college town in the heart of the Bible Belt was a shock to the system. I remember looking around when I got out of the car after driving all night, and wondering what this brave new world held for me, if I could even survive what I knew would be a radical change. I walked around in a daze that day, faced with the surreal idea that I lived there, that it wasn’t just some chaotic dream.

Life is full of firsts, from the first step we take, to the first song we hear, to the first time we hear the word “dad” and know it means us. Those firsts tend to define us more than many other things can because they stick with us. Often we memorialize them, and revisit them in our thirst for a nostalgia that may or may not have been truly amazing that first time but becomes so in the reliving.

Which is our prerogative. Which is our joy.

Sam

Someday

“Someday” is as presumptive as having potential, like the possible future ability to accomplish something, to be someone, or to get somewhere somehow means we don’t have to go through the middle ground (the proving ground) to get there. There’s just something about “Someday” that makes me feel somewhat incomplete, because it’s not a fixed concept, just a dart thrown in the air waiting to land.

And yet I’ve done just that, used “someday” as a place holder for many things in my life. When did I plan on getting published? Someday. When was I going to go back to college and get my degree? Someday. Luckily for me, those Somedays transformed themselves into actual dates as I was able to check things off my list, but way too often we are stuck with the notion that eventually a day will come like magic when everything will get done.

Maybe if we treat “Someday” like we do “Today,” things will get accomplished. Because if we challenge ourselves to do things today it will drive us insane when we don’t get them done. The longer we put them off the more they will eat at us until we come through, until we are finally able to assuage ourselves of the inevitable guilt that comes along for the ride. If “Someday” was “Today,” perhaps we would stop getting stuck in neutral.

Perhaps.

Sam

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