I’ll write about the amazing Writer Unboxed conference another day — I’m still unpacking, literally and figuratively!
…But a bit ago, I organized about 15 years of mix CDs into chronological order in an effort to sort out the chaos of my life (or possibly act out High Fidelity, Cosby sweater and all). I even made a sweet little book to organize track lists, because I’m crazy like that. It’s an ongoing project for when I have a few spare hours on a Saturday night; a trip down memory lane, a reminder that as cool and awesome as I may be now, I was once a girl who thought “Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me For Me)” was essential to have on my person at all times.
But on a mix CD from summer 2005, titled Dark Music For Your Little Black Heart, I found October Project’s “Deep As You Go,” a song I hadn’t heard in years.
It’s sort of hard to say when I fell in love with Martin. My grandmother introduced us; she knew I liked “those cartoons with the big eyes” and he was a fan of the same. He lived in Oklahoma, so we became pen pals, and he sent me letters on homemade Sailor Moon stationary. He was 2 years older than me, attending a very prestigious math and science high school. He sent me a photo of himself on a floppy disc and I lied to the librarian so I could print it out in color and hang it on my wall, next to a Dior ad that I swore I would one day look like.
We met once the first summer we were pen pals; I think we got a burger and he gave me an extra Queen Beryl doll he had lying around to round out my Sailor Moon doll collection and nothing else eventful happened. (Note to self: That might be the weirdest sentence I’ve ever written about my dating life)
But we kept writing letters, now on Team Rocket letterhead (sample line, from a letter dated December 8, 1999: It’s not helping things that an internet site that takes Discover is having a REALLY good sale on laserdiscs.) Then those letters turned to late night phone calls…and when I arrived the next summer at the Will Rogers Airport, there he was, with a Cherry Coke and a smile.
He cranked the A/C and put in October Project’s eponymous first album, and it was like nothing I’d ever heard before. It was ethereal and beautiful and heartbreaking, the national anthem of a world filled with magic and passion. For a goth girl trying to find her musical way in a small town filled alternately with Billy Joel and Britney Spears, it was a siren song, the fulfillment of an auditory yearning I didn’t even know I needed filled.
We played that album every time he picked me up from my grandmother’s. “Bury My Lovely” became our song. The hours I had to spend without him were agonizing, but I bought my own copy to fill the void, playing it over and over on my discman, letting Mary Fahl sing me to sleep. He kissed me in the botanical garden, a sweet, shy kiss while there were fireworks overhead. And then, I guess, it was love.
Don’t take this the wrong way, Martin wrote in the last letter he ever sent me. But I love you.
What wrong way was there to take that? I loved him too. I broke up with my boyfriend and the phone bills climbed higher and I listened to October Project on the way to school every morning, hiding with my headphones on in study hall, rereading his letters until his handwriting was smudged under my fingers.
And then, well, love got taken the wrong way. He met someone else. He got engaged to her. He dumped me. In that order.
And I was devastated.
I played that album until it wore out, like maybe it was a secret language that could bring him back to me. I bought books of love spells, wrote his name on apples, wrote her name on onions. I scrawled the lyrics to “William, It Was Really Nothing” in chalk on the concrete porch of my grandmother’s house because I was 19 and I had discovered the Smiths.
But none of it worked. I moved on with my life. There was Aaron and then Ian; there were other friends, other animes, other albums. I kept the CD but never listened to it; it brought back too many memories
About six years later, while I was living in Binghamton, we got back in touch. A month after the first phone call, we met again on that same porch, drove together under that same endless Oklahoma sky. He’s still married to that same girl; they have a son. I have not met her, but I’ve seen photographs. I gave him a mix CD of all the songs I’d saved for him and we played that to. But we didn’t play October Project. He’d gotten rid of the CD years ago. It reminded him too much of me.
But I still play that CD occasionally, and just bought Falling Further In as a whole album. I can’t help but think of him when I hear it, but one of the things I never thought would happen to me, as an actual real grown-up, is the ability to untangle music and relationships. It doesn’t mean the relationship wasn’t meaningful if the song no longer stirs that same deep ache in your soul when you hear it, but music evolves, people evolve…and maybe that’s the magic.
But one thing holds true, even to this day — “Hey Leonardo” is still a fucking terrible song.