I met him in October 1997. I don't remember what I had been doing, or where I was. Or even who I was with. I've coined a lot of different stories about that day, but, truthfully, it's all a blur. All I remember was the feeling in my heart, head and stomach, the exact moment my eyes fell on him.
He was dressed like Sid Vicious and Eddie Vedder mixed together. A ripped band shirt, and purple jean cargo shorts with black and white sneakers. He had dirty blonde dread locks that went past his shoulders, but not by much. He had the presence of a rock star, but the way he was hunched over suggested the deep and complex soul of Kurt Cobain. I fell in love. Of course I was just a kid, really. I didn't even know what love was. But I knew I felt, strange. I couldn't help myself but to stare at him, and, he looked up and noticed. He smiled at me, and, I can actually remembering feeling the butterflies when he did. I only remember so vividly because to this day, he gives me the same fluttering feeling. To this day, I fall in love every time I see him. Back then, I never would have had the nerve to say hello. Some days, I still don't. I'm tongue tied by him and can't muster more than a smile. He seems to like it either way. Most days, those smiles say more than all the dictionaries in the world could. But, that night, wherever we were, I just smiled and walked out of the room.
At the time, I figured I'd never see him again anyway. But, life has a strange way of bringing people who would otherwise never meet, together. It would turn out that Kevin's friend Jesse knew this kid. They were friends, and had been for a while. They hung out together at Kevin's, and when I was at Kevin's for dinner one night, I found this out. So, when he left, I asked about him. I asked his name, how old he was, what he was into. All of the things a person could want to know about someone who stole their heart at first sight. Jesse answered all my questions. He told me that his name was Jason, and he was way too old for me. Jesse could tell I was interested. Both him and Kevin suggested caution, but, I wasn't hearing it. I let logic leave the building, and gave the wheel to my emotion. My heart was set, even if it was on self destruct.
At first it started with excuses giving me a reason to hang around. But, then they started inviting me out with them. The whole time Kevin lectured me about “getting involved”. About being “too young”. He lectured Jesse about encouraging it. About three weeks must have passed since I started playing tag a long. I believe it was the first week of November. The leaves were almost off the trees, but there were a few holding on for one more day of this tragedy called life. It was cool out, but it wasn't cold. Brisk, is a good word to describe it. Me and Jason were out on the balcony, alone. I had went out for fresh air, and he made an excuse to follow me. He asked me if I had been hanging around so much because of him. I nervously confessed I thought he was cute, and he confidently asked me out for dinner.
The night after, he picked me up in his brothers car. This beat up and run down beige thing that looked like it needed to be put out of its misery. We drove to a diner about 15 minutes outside of the town. We both ordered coffees, and a milkshake. I remember being nervous about being alone with him. When we were with Jesse, there was a buffer. Now, I was afraid he would see right through everything I was pretending to be to impress him. That he would see I was just a stupid kid when our conversation fell to silence. But it never did.
Minutes turned to hours of intense conversation, eye contact, and sparks that could have burned the city to the ground. If someone asked for directions to the hottest place in town, they would have found themselves in the space between our bodies. Finally, the owner asked us to leave so they could close for the night. By then, it was well after midnight. Jason parked the car a few blocks away from my parents townhouse. We walked the rest of the way, hand in hand. As we got to my doorstep, he pulled me into his arms. I looked up at him, and into his eyes. There was a hesitation so brief I could say it wasn't there at all. I could tell he had already been planning this moment when he leaned down and kissed me. In that moment, during that kiss, Satan grabbed a vein from each of us and tied them together. Because what was supposed to be an “I'll see you around” moment turned into 18, and still counting, years together.
We started dating, but, told everyone we were just friends. We lived a double life. We both liked it better that way. We lived in our world. One that defied logic, time and space. When we were together, time didn't matter. People didn't matter. The state of the world didn't matter. We weren't there anyway. We were in what could only be described as a blissful Nirvana. A paradise only big enough for him and I. We existed in the lulls, the silences, the daydreams, and the forgotten hopes of everyone who felt this way before us. We were two young kids in love. We had endless possibilities. We were going to take on the world together. We were going to fight anything that tried to take this away from us. We were going to fight to keep it pure.
You must know what feeling that way is like. When you're so sure that you're strong enough to take on the world together. That, nothing will ever stand in your way. But, if you do know the feeling, you also know that nothing gold can stay. So no matter how hard we fought to keep our Nirvana free from the tainted world outside, it always managed to crawl into our blanket fort of illusion. The outside world was a monster to us. But, you can't hide from this kind of monster. It ended up slipping into our peaceful world. The sky that was full of endless possibilities filled with black clouds, and all that could be heard was the distant sound of horses, stampeding. Suddenly, bright red eyes appeared in the clouds, and the sky opened up beneath them. The hand of the devil reached forward and ripped us both back into reality.
I realized much later in life that hand was actually his.
That's the thing about the beginning of a relationship. You don't really know who you're spending your time with. You're like a newborn adjusting to the florescent light of the hospital room. Squint, catch a glimpse, but it takes time to fully comprehend what you're looking at. I fell in love at first sight, but my eyes were squinted the same way. I couldn't see what was really there. But it didn't take me long to see his true colors. When my eyes started to adjust, I could see the beautiful boy in front of me was actually a monster with blood soaked teeth. But I've always loved the color black, even when it started turning purple. After seeing the monster he was inside, I fell even more in love with his disaster.
Like every other kid at the time, he wanted to be in a band. I pushed him to go for it, to follow his dreams, the same way I did with everyone. But I never realized his dreams were going to have no room for me.
It wasn't long before we started arguing. All the time. I'd like to say young love, but it was more than that. He was a loose cannon with a thick exterior. The only way to strike a cord was to impress it into his casing. Cut and slash. I never wanted it to be like that. I never wanted to hurt him. I wanted him to listen, but he didn't seem capable. He was shutting down, blocking out his emotion. At least when it came to me. In hindsight, I can see we both started to pull away. I guess we thought the distance would make it hurt less. It didn't. Later in life, he sent me letters, wondering what would have happened if he had never listened to me about the band. I wondered the same thing from time to time, but, I'm glad he listened. I know he wouldn't be here if he hadn't. Music saved his life. I would have been more than happy to try, but I would have been another casualty placed with everyone who tried before, or after, me. I couldn't be his hero. Instead, I became his villain. The monster trying to drag him down into Lake Michigan. The psychiatrist trying to shove the pill down his throat. The nightmare plaguing every dream he tried to have for himself. But worse, the girlfriend who was holding him back.
In a perfect world, I could have just told him I was a afraid of being left behind. But the world is only perfect if you're looking at a picture on the wall. Something stagnant, without the room to grow. The real world is gruesome, and flawed. Sure there's a beauty in the imperfections. It's a stop and smell the roses kind of metaphor. But, human beings always let emotion get the best of them. Every time I brought up his band it escalated into an argument. Then, he'd throw things, or I would. He'd yell until his lungs were sore. I'd scream until my voice gave out from the pressure. I'd cry until my eyes went dry, and he'd apologize until he ran out of apologies. The holes in the wall were just decorative reminders of everything we were fighting to make it through. The hurtful words, aggressive comments, and emotionally charged statements, just, lingered in the air above us. All of it, illustrating just how much we were changing. There was no time to stop and "think about it". The words rolled off our tongues like the dice in a casino. Lies blended with the truth. A slur of "I hate you"s stirred into morning coffees. It became all or nothing. In or out. The last hand in a poker game, and too much was owed to the house. All chips were in, so is the second mortgage. And all because pride is the ultimate addiction.
I remember once he called me from a highway.
“After so long behind the wheel, a highway turn off is as good as anything else. A moment of rest before it's back to the chaos of the world. Modern sailors drive mini vans to Destination No Where, 1450 miles left to go.” It was just after midnight when he called. I pictured the guys asleep in the van, maybe someone awake listening to him talking. He described the moon hovering over the lake just in front of him, the stars as endless as the possibilities. Then he said he wished I could be there. With them. It was the same thing he said when he was in the last band, but it didn't sound the same. There was a lack of sincerity in the words now. Now, he was reading from the "what girls want to here when you're on tour with your band" section of Cosmopolitan Magazine. Or the musicians guide to long distance relationships. Either way, I read through everything he said. I knew he didn't wish I was there. I had become an obligation to him. I could hear it in his tone. He spoke with such life, such admiration, until it came to comments like that. That was when it became real. His new life had no room for me. That night, our "I love you"s didn't sound the same. They were contrived, and meaningless. Nothing more than words. When I hung up the phone, I knew what had to be done.
The sky was full of endless possibilities, but for us, it was just the end.