“Kick Out the Jams”
The first movie I obsessed over, in the kind of way that can only be felt by the young, was Pump Up the Volume.
It was the summer after my freshman year at Miami University. I was sober for the first time. I was home in my parents condominium, a place they bought not to secretly because they wanted my sister and I to know that there was really no room at the Inn.
It was miserable.
Not because of my parents. I love them dearly. And they allowed me to wallow and struggle through great bouts of depression and horror without saying much. Today I know how hard that must have been on them. Back then I simply felt alone.
That’s when I found Happy Harry Hard On and Nora, the main characters from the film.
I spent my mornings sleeping, my afternoons obsessively watching the movie and my nights dancing until the sun came up at The Warehouse, a club in Over-the-Rhine, before returning home to wash, rinse and repeat. Day after day. Week after week. Throughout the summer.
The film, which doesn’t stand the test of time, was the first time I realized that I had a voice. The soundtrack spoke to me. The characters were living my life. And Nora – played by Samantha Mathis – became the woman that all others were measured against.
I started carrying around a notebook during that summer. Always a notebook and a pen. Scribbling. Writing. I would sit in the darkened corners of The Warehouse writing ideas, thoughts, nuggets.
And I knew what I wanted to be.
I met the first girl the day I arrived on campus.
Met may be the wrong word. I saw her. She ignored me. She continued to ignore me for a three years. Even in my shy days, the painfully awful times when the idea of leaving my room was so overwhelming that I nearly failed out of school and drank myself into oblivion, her complete lack of awareness of my existence didn’t register with me.
When you know something, you don’t count the rejections. You simply bide your time until the thing arrives.
There’s a long story behind those three years, one that reaches almost twenty years into the future, but that’s not important for this tale (and it’s a story that finally played out to its finality last year with The Muse).
What I remind myself on days like today, the days that are filled with tinges and pangs of the doors that stayed closed and of the life that never quite materialized, is that it was this moment in my life when the world became focused.
I wrote almost every day. I carried around the notebook. I hauled around a gigantic word processor and a weapon’s grade laptop (in that it weighed about 20 pounds, it seemed). I finally convinced the girl to be with me. For moments, I could see the way things could be. Should be.
Sometimes things fall apart.
As would be my pattern for the next 15 years of my life, happiness and simplicity were too much for me to handle. I couldn’t settle. And I don’t mean that as a pejorative.
The young speak of settling as if it’s some death sentence, an end. I know because I did it, as did those who came before me and surely those who have come after.
We grow and live and see. We do all of that and come to realize that there are those who settle and those who run. As for me, I ran. I left behind the happiness and the serenity I felt because there was something more that called me. Something that pulled me away.
Years later I would come to realize it was me that pulled me away, but at the time it didn’t matter. I got lost in the world with only my notebook and that same desire that I felt the first day I saw the girl. Only there wasn’t a girl anymore. There were just the words.
So I set about my journey into the darkness and the abyss, fueled by unsavory things and dodgy characters. I surrounded myself with the very things we are taught as children to avoid.
I took center stage. In all the wrong ways.
The winding road of my twenties took me back and forth across this country, to places I never expected. When I look back upon my Life So Far, it’s hard to put in perspective.
In many ways, I’ve stopped trying. It’s frankly too weird to put the pieces together, to look at the puzzle of my life and to figure out how the final picture looks as it does.
I recently found an old friend, one who appeared in my life during the dark days on the road, one who is forever burned in my brain. She disappeared, or we both disappeared, when the time came to an end. In my sobriety, I wanted to find her. We’ve been sharing stories, catching up, reaching out across cyberspace to touch each other and remind each other that what was once was actually real.
Our lives, while on separate paths, are eerily similar. We found the path, or at least the path for right now.
But there’s no way to make up for all the lost time. Neither of us knows how to tell the story of our life. There’s too much. There’s not enough time.
So I simply wrote her this: it’s not the life I expected but it’s one I enjoy.
There is a plan in place now.
I haven’t talked much about it with anyone because for the first time my life feels possible. There are components of the world I exist in today that are aligning. At least in the sense that I have, within my own grasp, the ability to make the dream I’ve had since the first time I held that notebook while I watched Pump Up the Volume, since I first saw the girl in the dormitory, since I first set about exploring the world, since I first realized I could become the thing I wanted to become.
I am very good with plans, but this is the first one that I’ve decided to actively pursue. It’s the one that feels the most me. The one that I have been drawn to for so long but feared the peace and serenity that would come with it.
There will be more about this, of course. But not now. It’s not the right time to talk about it because there is work to be done. Always the work to be done.
Nora doesn’t wait for slackers.