Ruined Music has published me:
He was a rock and roll Raggedy Andy, all cable knit and frayed denim. He had spiky red hair, like bolts of yarn, and a secret sewn over his heart. He loved music almost as much as he loved the intake of breath that kept him alive. In fact, to him, I think they were one and the same. He didn’t just ruin one particular song for me, he ruined an entire artist. I was a fan of Fiona Apple before he came along, but it didn’t hurt to listen to her the way it does now until her songs became the words I was too scared to say, until her phrases rocked a boat that I was too afraid to shift my weight in. Her entire discography would eventually become the soundtrack to our very intense and very memorable relationship.
We would meet in Las Vegas. Sin City. It was perfect for us; a city whose entire tourism campaign is based on secrecy. What happens there, stays there. And so I clamped it. I kept my mouth shut and let Fiona do the talking. We would barricade ourselves in a hotel room for a day or two, emerging only to drink, maybe to see what time of day it was. We’d spend hours making out. Good, old fashioned making out, like in high school, where his hands were like snakes and my lips were swollen. Music would fill the room, like steam from hot water, records he’d brought with him that he wanted me to hear. He would gently lift the long rope of wet hair from my back and begin to brush it as he pointed out a melody here, a drum fill there. He taught me how to listen to the music, how to truly hear it. Fiona was one of his favorites, too. He admired her passion and compared it to my own.
When we were apart, we’d spend long afternoons on the phone. “What are you listening to?” he would ask.
“Ah, yes. Of course. You and your Fiona. Which song?”
“Right now, it’s ‘Limp.’ She’s so brilliant. These lyrics are the best.”
“Indeed. Ah, can I call you back?” He would know exactly what kind of mood I was in and he would run. I ached for him. I was restless and wanted more than he could give.
During one of his last visits the phone rang and I answered when I wasn’t supposed to. A female voice on the other end asked for him. I held the receiver next to my thigh. He was sitting there in a dress shirt and slacks that made it hard for me to recognize him. I knew him in casual clothes, jeans and vintage tee shirts of rock bands that he loved. A knitted cap that made his face look very pink, fleshy with the cold. Shoes with soft soles and beautiful stitching. The room swayed as reality hit me in the face. In a voice I had never heard before he told me to hang up the phone. It was in that instant that everything changed. It was time to go home.
Fiona often sings about being angry. She sings about regret, about sorrow, and about a love that cut a wound so deep it changed the very core of who she is. Almost any one of her songs could sum up our entire relationship, and most of them are now off limits in both my iPod and my car’s CD player. Especially my car’s CD player. The last thing I need is to be blinded by tears while I’m driving. There’s just something about the quiet space and personal privacy of hearing a great song in the car that gets me every time.
It’s been three years. He’s moved on and I’ve become a memory. A song he hears but can’t quite place. Still, the music keeps coming, “you and your Fiona,” and I begin to hate the sound of her voice, the perfection of her piano, and the lyrics that make me burn with the resentment of not being able to let go of something that does not want to be lost. Words that threaten to drown me in anger as I choke on my own frustration. Sometimes I wish I could tape her mouth shut.
Because, interestingly enough, the relationship between myself, Fiona, and this man has somehow transcended any standard boundaries. He no longer comes to visit; we no longer speak on the phone. All the proper limits have been set and yet, years later, he still pops unexpectedly into my inbox with delightful treats such as Fiona’s recent duet with Elvis Costello, mp3s of the Cold War Kids covering “Fast As You Can,” links to posts he’s made about her on his popular music blog. I devour each one of them like a brokenhearted girl in a bakery. I know they are bad for me, but I cannot stop. He also sends music through the mail. Shiny silver discs in paper envelopes containing every emotion that has been bottled and corked and sent out to sea. Delicious waves of melody that wash them all right back. Little gifts of song that mean more to me than any bauble or trinket ever could.
His name appears in a subject line and I freeze. My head screams delete, but instead I download the pain. It hurts like hell, but I make myself listen. I don’t know, maybe I listen because I’m looking for a place where I can not only forgive him, but myself as well. Maybe he sends them because he knows that place might be somewhere in these songs. Maybe he just wants me to have my songs back - the musical equivalent of returning a favorite shirt left at a lover’s house. Either way, I’m beginning to understand that sometimes that which fills an empty space can be even bigger than what was there before.