I found the mixtape you made me. Or rather the mix CD. It was the blank CD-R that was in my CD case, the big one I’ve had since high school. I don’t normally touch my CDs anymore but some time around the month of my 30th birthday I remembered that unlabeled CD-R was in there. I took it out of the sleeve, stuffed it into the optical drive in my computer (it’s not really a CD-ROM drive any more, is it? There are CDs and DVDs and BDs now…let’s stick with optical drive), and played it for the first time in 12 years.
If you’ve read any of my various online writings over those 12 years (and I suspect, Kat, that you haven’t), you may have noticed past writings about memory triggers. It may be because I remember things well, or because I have been pretty emotionally sensitive over the last three decades, but there are a lot of latent memory triggers sitting around. And indeed, when I played that CD it was a gigantic memory trigger because every one of those songs was one you told me about at the lunch table in high school.
The songs ultimately aren’t important, though some of them definitely helped me remember who you were as a person. What was more important was the image of not only those lunchtime conversations but in fact the entire year began to sublimate as I listened to those songs. You were one of a cast of many, and yet you’re one of the few who completely disappeared from my life. Starting at that lunch table…Patrick was there, it was the three of us most days. He and I still see each other, maybe not as frequently as either of us would like but frequently enough that I can say we have a relationship. I’ve met his wife (as out of character as you might have found that sentence many years ago), he’s met my girlfriend. We went out for drinks in New York maybe three months ago. He did not disappear. You did.
Timing is a part of that. I packed up for Pittsburgh, and you still had three years of high school left. You might have met my brother…he never mentioned it but then again I wouldn’t expect him to. Still, that’s quite a gulf, at least it was then. And that likely explains what happened on my side, too. Three years seemed like a big difference when I was 17. But now, if I were to meet you again, you’d be 27 and I’d be 30. Those two ages are for all intents and purposes the same.
I admit I looked for you online, partially out of a sense of morbid curiosity and partially because I thought it might be fun to drop a random note, even though there’d be a good chance you wouldn’t remember who I am. No need to chase it further, though I’m not always the best at letting things (people?) disappear. It is kind of ancient history at this point…but in some ways it’s a fixed point in time.
I hope this doesn’t all seem ludicrous or creepy. Fact is, not many people made me mix CDs in high school, so you ascended to a kind of rarefied crowd with that move. And I do remember you and remember you positively, something that can’t be said for much of what I knew and experienced in high school. So forgive this somewhat insane writing…maybe drop me a line some time. Nostalgia is a weird thing, and I’m sure you can accept that.
I did listen to that mix CD, and it was in a rarefied space. Aforementioned Patrick made me a mix, which led me to some great musical acquisitions (Beck, Morphine, Dandy Warhols, Elliott Smith, others). My one high school girlfriend Katy made me one as well…It’s in a jewel case somewhere, which means I may have lost it (I’m sorry!). In both of those cases, I still have the people. Kat I never kept in touch with. I kind of regret that, she was sweet and witty, as well as off kilter in a way that I didn’t know how to deal with in high school but now greatly appreciate. Frankly, I think our timing was off and we met 5-10 years too early. But that was mostly my fault…18-year old me was dumb and pretty impatient.
I don’t have many high school artifacts left. As I alluded to in the “letter”, I blew up a lot of the relationships I had in high school, and others I was either too anxious or too oblivous to nurture. Part of the way I’m learning to deal with this is identifying all the things I had to learn…and clearly, learned after high school. But that evolves into this weird sort of regret, the useless regret where you wish you could be back then knowing what you know now. So here’s the symbolism, a tangible object that represents a friendship I did not destroy, and yet through neglect actually did. It may be totally normal (and even expected) that 18-year old me didn’t know how to value what he had. As useless as it is, I still waste brain space thinking that guy’s an asshole.
Postscript: The day I drafted this post, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park was found dead, a suicide. He was 41. Suicide is a whole other topic for high school me (link here), but more importantly for this topic, I was playing Linkin Park albums while writing this. It added a whole other level to the vividness of high school memory triggers. I hope you find peace, Chester. You did more than you could know for me and probably scores of other angry and aimless 14 and 15 year olds.
I tried so hard, and got so far, but in the end, it doesn’t even matter…
The song can have a positive meaning if you look at it in the right way.