After Christmas, AJ hit me with a bender. Neither of us saw it was coming.
He was moving after the New Year. His mother got a job in Illinois.
It had to be a nightmare. Just . . . couldn’t be real.
I believed that any second I was going to wake and the two of us would be back to our normal routine of nesting at the baseball field.
That atonement never came.
A clout of surreal anguish hit me, echoing like a buzz in my ears. My thoughts were catatonic, void of any cognitive dispensation.
My future hung in the balance – soon to be resolved to ash.
The freedom from my frost bitten spirit came when AJ arrived in my life – I was liberated in a way I had never known. My emotional damage was on hiatus from feeding all of my neuroses. AJ offered me a release from the darkness. But that miasma of dejection loomed over my shoulders once again.
AJ and I spent as much time together as possible before the impending leave. So distraught by this bombshell all we did with our remained time was hide, clinging onto every second, as though our lives depended on it.
Tragically, mine did.
AJ managed to sneak his mother’s car the weekend before he left. It was his seventeenth birthday. We had sex one final time. I cried.
When he left on the third of January, 1986, I thought I was going to die.
The sickening pain of goodbye came after school. We snuck behind the auditorium stage after class. The reclusive atmosphere that we sought was meant to conceal our feelings from those that would never understand our need for each other.
Both of our sorrow drenched bodies were curled in a protective embrace. The only sprig of light that cut through the densely shadowed backstage came from the hallway angled to our right. Glowing yellow striations touched our faces with faint lamination, just enough to offer a sense of our presence.
Neither of us knew the exact words to offer. Clearly the imminent emotional separation of our hearts was a new source of pain for both of us. For the preceding four months, AJ and I lived vicariously through the salvation that we’d conjured for one another, holding onto the hope that the protective bubble surrounding our fragile existence would never burst at the seams.
Our world was soon to crumble though. We were utterly lost to ourselves.
AJ’s eyes were fastened to mine. “Yari, please don’t forget me,” his tone was pleading. “I promise I’ll write you all the time.”
The warmth of my crimson cheeks sizzled with the streaking of brazen tears.
There was so much that I wanted to say to him - so many confessions: who I was; my past; my troubled thoughts . . . the full extent of my dreams. There needed to be someone in existence that was aware of the complexities of me.
I couldn’t formulate the exact language of my words though, of my thoughts.
“AJ, you’ll never truly know how much you mean to me.” My lips pursed to suppress a budding sob. I was hardly able to control my motor-skills amidst the pain.
“I know.” AJ consoled, kissing my temple.
His reassuring arm tightened the small of my back, grasping me closer to him. Burying my face into his chest I cried. The scent of baby powder soon calmed my pain. The comforting aroma would forever remind me of him.
We parted ways indefinitely that day.
I immediately fell into such a despondent slump, rarely leaving my bedroom.
AJ and I wrote back and forth for a couple of months. But then without warning he stopped. I prayed that it was something trivial, like his mother making him move again and that he would start writing when he settled.
He didn’t. And I never found out why.
When AJ left, I found myself alone again. After turning sixteen, the end of his departing month of January, I really felt the restrictive straitjacket of loneliness snap around me.
It wasn’t supposed to be like that at sixteen. There always seemed to be this whimsical understanding by teenaged girls that once you reached this milestone, you would have a driver’s license, a steady boyfriend, and a social life. Sixteen was when a teen unofficially became an adult.
None of that happened for me.
Quickly I fell back into my pit of despair. The powers that be made a singular effort it seemed, to bring my world back down to where I had only my books and my music.
How I hated my life.
I felt as if I were shoveling shit against the tide. It all just kept coming back, no matter how hard I pushed for the paralyzing turmoil to go away.
I had been plagued by that emptiness for so long, but when AJ showed, the pressure that bore down upon me - manifested by this void - had been lifted, forcing the dark emotions away.
I wondered if maybe I clung to him too quickly.
AJ made it so easy though.
So many times before we met, I would lie awake at night praying for amnesty from my presipous of abandonment - this separation caused by the ruthless acts of those gating me into a claustrophobic enclosure. I cried countless tears, believing that my life would consist only of me and my suffering. I relinquished my heart to my companion journal until my knuckles were stiff from the tense clutches of my pen, repeatedly pressing against the uniformed lines dividing the paper, hoping this loyal practice would prove my worth for happiness.
For months after he left, I fluttered back into the despondent lull of my formidable self. I wrote some of the darkest music I had ever comprised. One in particular stood out from the rest.
You trapped my soul
Wanted more than I could give
Your breath on my brow,
It’s how you lived.
I never needed your captive arms
If only I could escape your reformatory embrace
Oh, your bewitching charms,
Never knew passion could lace
The seams of my heart
To the deception of your face
The love you promised,
Were you thinking of me
When you said never lie
It was all fabricated symmetry.
You didn’t warn
Of your flattering heart
Such a disgrace
Your sins and your lies in the first place
I wanted to believe that when AJ stopped writing me it was because he somehow lost my address. But it was almost certainly another girl who diverted his feelings from me. He promised that he’d never forget me. Instead, it seemed he had forgotten me - in less than two months’ time. I realized then that the feelings I had for AJ were not reciprocated. His emotional hold on me was not as strong as mine was for him. And because of this betrayal toward me, this song titled “Deception,” was my way of being cleaned of his deceit.
In actuality, I didn’t want to know the truth behind me and AJ’s broken heartstring. It was easier to heal with the fuel of hate than with sorrow. This acclimation was a survival tool, much like when my mother died. I blamed her not only because she took the razors to her wrists, but I also held her accountable for the consequences of her actions. She could’ve sought help for the sake of her children. That alone was enough for me to possess animosity toward her - a resentment that would never fade. I would later convince myself that my mother never existed.
It was this motherless, Immaculate Conception that I regarded as my stork-ride into the world. I had no parents, and AJ was dead to me too.
Maybe it wasn’t the divine mind of a god that imagined me, but rather a devil. That would make more sense – the spawn of Satan. Only creatures as cruel as the evil doers downstairs would torture me with a brief window of happiness, only to then slam the happy-pane shut, as I attempted to climb through for a share of the justifiable joy that waits on the other side.
If not them then could it be that nothing happens for a reason? Things just, happen? Cause and effect, and nothing more – no detours for a possible turn around. Life is what it is - Shit.
Was there no influence by fate? Is the world solely governed by nature’s laws?
Whether a devil devises the rules, or it’s merely the science of our actions generating reactions, should I just take a backseat and give in to whatever comes my way? Do nothing?
Again, there was that lance in my side – the powerlessness - the non-power that leaves me like a fish out of water.
Fate, the devil, God, nature, whatever – I was sure they’d only force me backward
I can see why people give up on life - life gives up on us.
It’s said that life isn’t going to be easy, but it will be worth it. My response to that is, when will it be worth it? In the end – when I’m dead?
It felt like I was impervious to anything good. Only shitty things were allowed to cross my path.
My anger escalated to a new level of scary after the desertion of AJ. And my trust was nil. I devised a new rampart of defense, against guys, altogether - protection for my emotions, forging a safe zone between me and them and their dubious ways, becoming more conscious of opening up to anyone that promised their heart to me. I realized that no one should become that vulnerable.
I learned my lesson. So I thought.
When the weather turned bearable after spring’s arrival, I wandered aimlessly at the baseball field. Void. My thoughts empty. I hated to even let my eyes haze over the spots that AJ and I frequented. I was punishing myself for being so naive, believing for one moment that I was normal.
Spring of ‘86, I was pacing the chain-linked fence that framed Jaffrey Field. The night before I dreamt of addled words to a song, feeling a walk might help in capturing a tune to move the process along.
My attention was diverted slightly though. A lanky guy, alone, playing guitar in the bleachers caught in my peripheral sight. He was humming while casually caressing the strings beneath his fingers.
I was fixated on his rhythm.
With eyes closed, the six-string continued to strum heedlessly, as he practiced a ballad. I stared curiously several feet away.
His long, chestnut hair fluttered lightly in the breeze over his perfect olive complexion. Not a flaw could be found amidst the strong facial features. He had a long, thin, chiseled face with high cheek bones, and a deep-set dimpled chin.
I moved in close enough to hear the melody, keeping an inconspicuous amount of space between us. My face remained parallel to him while keeping his music within earshot. He was on key, sounding acquainted with the guitar.
After several minutes of my lingering curiosity, the amateur musician caught a glimpse of my presence near the lower bench of the bleachers.
I stole a quick peek then looked away, faking a nose itch. He smiled curiously in my direction, while resting the guitar by his side. He placed his elbows on his thighs then leaned forward with crossed hands.
“Either you like my song, or you’re in love with me?” He chuckled with an innocent flirtation.
Embarrassed that he noticed my staring, I put my head down and turned a dark shade of crimson. He rose from his seat and scooted down closer to where I stood.
A few paces into my departure, I hesitated a glance in his direction. His bold greeting was something of a shock to me.
“I’ve seen you here before,” he said. “What do they call you?”
His rootbeer-brown eyes waited for a response.
I forced myself to turn the full extent of my body in his direction. Still I was silent.
He was persistent though.
Wavy long hair hung past his shoulders, wild and trendy, complimenting his casual attire of ripped-knee jeans and Judas Priest concert t-shirt. Regardless of how much effort I put into trying to not offer him any interest, I couldn’t deny his appealing good looks. There was something uncanny about him that surpassed adolescent, budding hormones. His soothing voice and caring air caught me off guard. The hair-band look that he adorned contradicted the seemingly warm nature that felt evident.
He laughed at my silent reprieve. Surprised, too, at my behavior, having never been the shy type, I tried to formulate a coherent thought. But I was at a loss for words.
“Cat got your tongue?” he teased.
“No.” I managed. My voice was stale.
“No, you’re not in love with me?” The cutey forged a wounded frown.
I caved and offered a faint smile.
He looked at me as if he could read into my soul.
“So, you can talk, then?” he beamed. “That’s a relief. I thought I was gonna have to coax it out of you.”
I quickly replied with a prudent laugh, not wanting him to think I was childish.
“Um, you play the guitar pretty good.” I said, feeling comfortable enough to finally speak freely.
“I’ve actually always wanted to play myself.”
His face lit. He moved closer to me. I stood along the lowest tier facing him.
“Are you into rock music?” He ran his fingers through the long tassels framing his face.
“Of course,” I snorted with a derisive tone.
His eyes flickered from my assertive right turn.
“My name’s Brad. What’s yours?”
I pulled back a chunk of hair that fell into my eyes. I hated my long wavy hair and made a swift attempt to fix myself. Being plain and tomboyish, my efforts were in vain – there was no hope for me. Compared to Brad’s beauty, I looked like a wet mop.
He waved a charming, crooked smile. “Well, should I just call you beautiful, then?”
I forced a haughty laugh. A guy as attractive as this specimen, calling me beautiful, had to be a wise ass.
“Yari.” I looked into his eyes unyielding, waiting for him to make fun.
There had to be a flaw within his ostensible perfection. Probably was a sarcastic jerk. My unusual name almost always took people off-guard. In school, because I wasn’t the typical Jessica, Sara or Heather, my name often received strange looks. I was named after my grandmother on my mother’s side. She was Brazilian. She died when I was too young to know her. But I cherished the name out of respect.
Brad leaned in closer to see if he heard me correct. “Yari, is it?”
I turned defensive. Apparently he was no different. “Yeah, why?”
“Chill, feisty one - I like your name. It’s cool.” A broad smile filled his face. He looked me over impressed by my quick defenses.
“How old are you?” Brad relinquished an undecided brow lift.
“Sixteen.” I was terse, untrusting.
“Really? Wow - you don’t look it. I thought you were at least eighteen.”
I was kicking myself for not lying and telling him I was older. Now he’s going to treat me like a baby. “How old are you?” I countered.
“How old do you think I am?” Not once did he drop the amiable smirk.
He was clearly older than me. Not by much though - there was still collagen around his mouth and eyes. I then became suspicious of this age inquest. Was he sizing me up for something?
“Nineteen?” Playing along, I was hoping to be right out of pride.
“You’re better at judging people than me.” A slight snort trickled his throat. “So, tell me, what rock bands do you like?”
The uncanny comfort level that was attempting to be reached between us was largely due to Brad’s polite determination. His strange eagerness to know me seemed to inevitably pose a problem with my obstruction of will. But, would my weakness of loneliness become my Achilles Heel?
He seemed like a flirt, but not a perverted stalker-type. There was a gentleness that emanated from him, like a brother.
We talked for a while. He told me of his rock band called The Rangers, and how their style was similar to Aerosmith. Naturally, I was intrigued, and asked if I could hear him play. He invited me to come by his garage where they rehearsed.
I don’t know what possessed me to do it – boredom, desperation, or just plain curiosity, but I took him up on the offer.
A week later I stopped by his place.
The one-car garage-door was open. Coincidently, I timed my visit perfectly with him setting up for rehearsal.
“Hey, Yari,” Brad called from behind a double-stacked speaker display. “I was wondering if you were gonna swing by.”
I smiled awkwardly, standing before the curious eyes of his band members.
“Guys,” Brad called their attention to him. “This is Yari. We met last week at the park. She’s a bit of a music guru. I invited her to hang with us so we could get some feedback.”
The three surly teens mumbled half-interested hellos then continued with their instrument setups.
“We’re just about ready for a jam session.” Brad said, gesturing toward the corner of the cluttered garage. “Cop a squat on that stool over there and hang out.”
Brad was certainly the better looking of the four guys. His manicured appearance was refined with a clean shaven face and tamed hair. The others looked like they just stumbled out of bed by the looks of their snarly mane and unkempt clothes. The drummer brandished a hangover look; the bassist resembled that of an emaciated Ozzy Osborne, and the guitarist appeared to be so completely bored with his mindless prodding of a frayed string on his jeans.
I didn’t foresee any descent music coming from this motley crew. But I was polite. I looked on with interest.
When Brad finally got his discombobulated friends organized in their rightful places, and focused on his mission, they managed to break a tune - if you want to call it that.
The lazy guitarist kept falling out of sync with the bassist, and Brad was tripping up on his lyrics.
“Craig,” Brad faced the bassist. “You’ve gotta come in strong in the intro. Benny, you’re introduced when the base goes to tempo. Come on, you guys are killing me here.” He shook his head in earnest.
My attention was primarily on Brad’s contribution to the band. He had a great voice; it was strong – holding the highs and lows with solid form. I was impressed.
They rocked out a jam called “Easy Rider.” It was pretty lame, and painful to listen to. The lyrics were, I think, about a guy whose life was focused around a motorcycle, or maybe it was a horse, or maybe a woman? They were far from Aerosmith, more like Loverboy meets The Three Stoogers.
“So, what did you think?” Brad asked, eager for my input when they finished.
The rest of the band showed barely any interest in my presence.
My eyes pulsed wide with pained directness to his gaze. I didn’t want to be the one to break the bad news since no one else had offered the painful truth already. I wasn’t sure which direction to go: The safe, polite, you’re great; or, the constructive criticism route, some more practice would really help. Why did he even care what I thought?
“Uh,” I stalled. “You want to know what I think?” playing surprised.
The truth was all I had. Lying wasn’t a virtue of mine. He wouldn’t like my honesty though - I was sure of that.
My molars were grinding. I was hoping he’d forget the question if I delayed.
No go – his attention was locked on me.
Brad nodded, pushing for my response. I bit my tongue, careful with my delivery.
He took a few steps forward and picked up a battered kitchen chair. Rotating the back of it to face him, he set it down, straddled the seat then rested his forearms on the back. Still he anticipated something to roll off of my tongue.
My butt was sore from being pressed against the rock-hard surface of the stool for the last half an hour. I shifted from cheek to cheek, allowing the blood to flow back. It was more of a nervous teetering than a circulation booster.
“Well,” my eyes shot cautiously over the desolate faces of the three other band members. “I didn’t get a sense of the Aerosmith influence that you mentioned at the park.”
One of the band members snickered. I didn’t catch who it was though. Brad did, and peered over his shoulder to glower at Craig.
“Yeah, we’re working on that.” Brad said. “What did you think of the lyrics?”
I fidgeted again in the backless chair. It was becoming apparent that they didn’t get much for feedback from anyone. What did they just play for fun?
“They were in need of . . . depth.” I said then scratched my forehead as a diversion from any possible elaboration.
He chuckled at my recovery.
“I know.” Brad chortled. “I guess I’ve just been in denial.”
The rest of the band lost interest in mine and Brad’s assessment of the music, and strolled off to congregate at a refrigerator in the back of the garage. Beers materialized in their hands soon after. Clearly, Brad was the passion in the band.
I spat a laugh to keep things light. “You shouldn’t care what I think anyway. Create your music for you.”
“No, you’re right. We need practice.”
I didn’t offer any further insight into my suggestion. Frankly, I liked their sound. As sloppy as the clumsy noise was, it was also oddly appealing.
I soon found myself attracted to the asylum of the garage, and its remedial relief: Brad plus music, equals escape for me.