It’s so impersonal and I hate hate hate to tell you this way, but I didn’t know how else to get a hold of you I don’t have your number anymore. Michelle drowned yesterday. She’s gone. Call me if you need anything.
Words. Those words there on that computer screen were just words. Just words. It seems the death of one of my oldest friends deserved more than just words, a big bang, shock, tears—something. Then creeping in came more words and a melody—Michelle ma belle. These are words that go together well. My Michelle. She was named after that Beatle’s song and now I was humming it to myself.
Just that week Michelle had been calling me. I’d look at the phone, see her number and put it back in my pocket. I’ll call her back later. There were no more words, nothing left to say. I wasn’t the same person I was when we were that by-the-book-tragic-high-school-couple. Oh Michelle—my first love, the first girl to cheat on me, my first heartbreak, my first broken wall, my first broken hand.
Michelle, the one who took my virginity one summer day while her dad was out in his brown uniform delivering packages. Michelle, the one who laughed when I took my pants off. Michelle, who I asked what was so funny and Michelle who said, “It just looks weird. Your cock is too big for your scrawny-ass body.” I remember lying on my back looking up at her posters, into Robert Smith’s smeared-black, sorrowful eyes while she sucked me off, but mostly laughed nervously and wondered if I should look into her eyes instead.
The blue lava in the lamp was really jelly-fishing inside the glass. Michelle loved making mix tapes, one of which was playing and outside the birds chirped, the wind chimed, the highway rumbled and the sun came in like it does in all good memories. And I remember her stopping to flip the tape, her hand marked with a big black X from an all-ages show two days before and punch down fast forward to Boys Don’t Cry. “Okay I’m ready now,” she said and fell back onto the bed like it was a laundry detergent commercial and I wasn’t sure if I was ready myself. I was intimidated that this wasn’t her first, or even fifth time, but that was just hear-say. Michelle, who I now realize was probably as nervous and scared as I was, said, “wrong hole,” and guided it in like she had done it a thousand times before. Nag champa ribbons of smoke spun into that ray of sun slipping in between the blinds. “Slow down. Life isn’t a porno,” she said, advice I heed until this very day. Her skin so pale, so soft and so smooth. Boys Don’t Cry was still playing as I finished. Michelle, I never wanted to leave your side.
I automatically hated everyone she had ever been with. Michelle, we all want to be unique.
Michelle’s parents were divorced like mine. Her dad was born on October 8, 1951 like mine, took custody of his children, like mine. Her dad was always working, never home like mine and she had to fend for herself like I did. Her bedroom was a sanctuary where I found out who I was, what I liked. She’d go, Check this out: Kerouac, Bauhaus, thrift store clothes, getting high on Robitussin, Fugazi, Harold and Maude, Clock Work Orange, Boones Farm, Violent Femmes, Dylan, Janes Addiction, punk shows at the VFW, and Led Zepplin’s Tangerine.
Later she was the first girl I lived with, the first girl to visit me in jail, the first one I thought I got pregnant, the first girl to slap me, the first one that said she loved me, the first one I bought a fake gem for, her dad the first dad to hate me.
There were break-ups and make-ups. Every time it seemed I was finally moving on she’d appear from nowhere and I’d drop what I was doing to crawl through her window at three in the morning one more time, to love and cry and look for the happiness that escaped us.
We grew and eventually forked off into own lives. Michelle got married and divorced and married again, became a mother, became a mother again. I moved away, she moved away, I moved back, she moved back, she moved and moved and I left to come back again. When there were no new words, when we talked and all we could talk about was the remember-whens, I knew she wasn’t my Michelle anymore and probably never was.
I wish I would’ve answered her calls. Maybe she needed to tell me something? Maybe she just needed to know I was still here? Maybe she needed to hear my voice? Maybe she would’ve brought up the fishing trip she was going on and I could have said, don’t get too close to the river, you might slip, hit your head, fall in and drown. Maybe I could’ve told her they would never find her body? I wish I could’ve told her. I wish I could’ve told her that even if I didn’t like her at certain times that I always loved her. I wish.
Music can hold enormous power in memories and experiences, transporting us instantly to an age, location, or person. What sonic joys, mysteries, disbelief, and clarity have you experienced? Identify songs of influence in your life and explore them like variations on a theme, melding syntax and song structure, recalling the seriousness or levity that accompanies. Whether it’s an account of when a specific song first entered your life, the process of learning to play a song, teaching someone a song, experiencing the same song in different places as it weaves through your life, unbelievable radio timing, sharing songs with those in need, tracking the passing down of songs, creative song analysis etc, I am interested in those ineffable moments and welcoming submissions of your own variations on a theme, as drawn from your life’s soundtrack. Please email submissions to email@example.com and keep an eye out for others’ Variations.
**(“song” is a broad phrase: could be a pop song, a traditional tune, a symphony, commercial jingles, a hummed lullaby, 2nd grade recorder class horror stories, etc)**