BY ELIZABETH BARKER & LAURA JANE FAULDS (ILLUSTRATIONS BY JEN MAY)
GIMME SHELTER (LIZ)
I wish I could go back and ask my eight-year-old self: "Are you scared of 'Gimme Shelter', by the Rolling Stones? Does it scare you when 'Gimme Shelter' comes on the radio?"
I don't think "Gimme Shelter" scared me when I was eight; I think I just thought it was cool. But when I hear it now, it's so scary! Whenever I listen I strain my ears so hard to pick up the piano from 0:33 to 0:38 -- it sounds like haunted houses, like ghosts playing piano. And it sounds like ghosts singing too, when the vocals go "Oooohhhhhhhh...", and then the guitars sound like someone just killed someone and is totally getting away with it. And the way Merry's voice cracks open when she sings the word "murder" for the last time -- it cracks you open too.
It's a wonderful thing, to become more and more scared of something as time goes by, in a way that's got nothing to do with anxiety. I want to go back in time and be smart enough to be scared of "Gimme Shelter" when I was eight, but I can't, so I just have to write stories in which an eight-year-old girl is scared of "Gimme Shelter," and that's really not so bad.
SHE'S A RAINBOW (LJ)
Three summers ago, I was something very different from anything I've ever been or will be again, so I guess I was like a rainbow, in that I was ephemeral. But I was also nothing like a rainbow, in that I was colorless. I was as fractured as I'd ever been; I was as objectively beautiful as I'll ever look, and I mean that, the beautiful, in a bad way.
I'd been eating like a proper human for three months and so had been bumped up from visible anorexic to physical perfection because that's the fucked up way the fucked up world works. On a woman there are ten pounds between desire and repulsion on either end and I know it because I've lived it. In about two weeks time I was due to graduate from fractured into straight broken; I saw it coming and prayed that some unknowable force or knowable man might intervene, in the meantime distracted myself by focusing vigorously on my being so goddamned good-looking. A little boy in line at Starbucks tugged on his mommy's hem and stage-whispered, "She looks like a movie star!", pointing in my direction. "I look like a movie star!" I thought as I walked down the street, sniffy and strutting, thinking God they're all so lucky for getting to look at me. I will always believe on some hokey level that the merciless eye infection I was about to spend all of autumn locked in a room crying over was the Universe's punishing me for my vanity.
In the middle of the day I'd strut up to the gelato place and order one scoop raspberry one white chocolate on a waffle cone and then strut over to the benches by the bank where come Christmas they'd put up the lights shaped like angels they never took down. I'd stretch out my legs and kittenishly lap at my ice cream like I was Lana Turner at Schwab's, waiting to get discovered. It blew my mind that several Jewish strangers from fifty years ago didn't stop to tell me I oughtta be in pictures or at very least was a sight for sore eyes.
I never cared about the Rolling Stones until two Januaries ago, two Januaries later; before I read Keith's Life, I thought the Rolling Stones were sleazy and lame. They reminded me of a pool table. Back during ooh la la I'm pretty ice cream bench trip days, I cared about the Rolling Stones only at their Beatlesiest, 1967 Stones: Dandelion, We Love You, Child of the Moon, Their Satanic Majesties Request. My favorite songs on Satanic Majesties were Citadel and In Another Land, of all the Rolling Stones songs... In Another Land. Cool, Laura. Cool choice.
On this particular afternoon, I put on She's A Rainbow because- although it was no In Another Land I'm sure- it was (and is) an easy song to listen to, a summer song. It makes a lot of sense that a person eating raspberry ice cream would feel a push to hear it.
I fast-forwarded through the first boring minute of train sounds and as soon as the words came on I thought, "What is this CRAP. What is this sexist DRIVEL." I don't understand what's the point of going so far out of one's way to demonize Mick Jagger but I definitely used to do it. I for the most part reject all the "Beatles vs. Stones" nonsense people like to pedantically go on and on about: as I see it, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones are two profoundly excellent guitar-driven rock and roll bands from England in the sixties- if you like one, it makes a lot of sense that you're gonna like the other. However, if we're going to boil the whole thing down into John & Paul vs. Keith & Mick, one major pro-Lennon/McCartney point I'm really into is how they both ended up with regular-looking women instead of crazy gorgeous supermodels. It's very telling. Nobody ever thinks of the Beatles as being "rock stars."
On Raspberry Ice Cream day, I heard She's A Rainbow as being song written by pigs who married models. I heard the lyric as diminishing all of Rainbow-Woman's value and substance, reducing her to being an empty vessel who does nothing of note beyond combing her hair and wearing clothes that are the colors they are. I ignored so many of the beautiful things he's saying to focus on honing my sassy "she combs her hair" opinion, and I was so fucking full of myself, all I could think was that if Mick Jagger happened into the good fortune of walking past me and my intense physical beauty at that moment, he'd write She's A Rainbow about me, and I didn't want that, I claimed I hated how hard it was to be so beautiful although I didn't, and I don't know what I even would have wanted... "She's a Writer"? Is that cool?
Three years later I look fine and I feel fine and I love the Rolling Stones best when they're at their sludgiest. I no longer blame Mick & Keith for marrying supermodels; "Oh, whoa, you famous rock stars are such assholes for thinking beautiful women are beautiful. How weird of you." Three years later I am generally disinterested in psychedelia, eat gelato infrequently, and rate In Another Land a 5.5 out of 10. Excepting Dandelion and We Love You when I'm on an elliptical machine, She's A Rainbow is the only psych-era Stones song I bother with, but it's a very deep bother. It's a music box jangle that lights up the whole world when I hear it, and I think the sentiment propelling the likening of Marianne "Rainbow-Woman" Faithful to various staggeringly gorgeous meteorological phenomenons is the exact type of love I'd love to have.
My dress of this summer is blue and I would much prefer for a man to see it and think "She's like the sky in front of you"- the sky, the most beautiful thing of all- as opposed to what, Three Years Ago Laura? "She's got excellent taste in moderately high-priced Anthropologie cocktail dresses?" "She's adept at choosing dress-shapes that are flattering to her body type?"
When I think of the love I want I often think of a lyric from the Liz Phair song Nashville: And I can't imagine it in better terms/ Than naked, half-awake, about to shave and go to work- I think it means essentially the same thing as "She combs her hair"- and what a thing to have! I want nothing more than to be so taken with someone that even something so dull as shaving could take me. I want it to be unadorned; I don't want to be loved for being a good writer or having nice eyes or great eyebrows, interesting shoes or a devil-may-care attitude. I just want someone to watch me brush my teeth and have no choice but to think I'm like a rainbow. And I want a rainbow.
SWEET VIRGINIA (LIZ)
I remember three Rolling Stones moments with a boy I used to be in love with:
-The first was sitting at the edge of my bed on a hot and sunny September morning after the first time we slept together, eating a lavender chocolate bar for breakfast and watching him brush his teeth with my toothbrush, playing the Rolling Stones' version of "That's How Strong My Love Is" and staring at him really hard so he would get the point. (I'm pretty sure he got the point.)
-The second was a Sunday afternoon when we kneeled down on another boy's bedroom floor and I tried to funnel a can of Mexican beer, and "Dead Flowers" was on the radio, and we hadn't gone to sleep yet. I'd had my hair done the afternoon before because I wanted to look so pretty for the party, for my boy, but I was bad at funneling and the beer spilled all over my head and my hair and my cute new t-shirt with the sparrow on the front. We had some laughs and I cleaned myself off and we went down to Chinatown and ate crab rangoon wrapped in tin foil in an ugly bar and there was a jukebox and he gave me lots of quarters, like a man should, and we danced on the dance floor for a really long time and I don't know, I was in heaven, I was so sickly happy. The next day I went to work without washing the beer out of my hair because who cares about that kind of thing, when you're that much in love.
-The third was sitting on someone else's living floor on a hot and sunny January evening after the last time we slept together, eating a Hostess Cupcake for dinner and watching my sweet angel boy smoke a cigarette, listening to "Rocks Off" and pretending I didn't know we were very nearly through. "I need to start listening to Exile on Main Street all the time," I said to nobody in particular, and nobody responded. It's important because I did.
Last summer I was at a party, sitting on a lawn chair and drinking alcoholic lemonade and half-assedly trying to pull myself out of the bitch of a mood I'd sunk into. A man was giving me his unsolicited advice on breaking a dry spell; he told me that the trick was just find someone, anyone, to sleep with, and then you get your confidence up, and then after that you're golden and you get laid left and right. Instead of shooting either of us in the face, I got up for another glass of lemonade and sat back down beside a boy who I knew wouldn't talk to me, then pretended to be engaged in another conversation. A song came on the stereo and it was "Sweet Virginia" by the Rolling Stones and I said "Oh!" to nobody in particular, then sunk back into my chair and stopped sulking for four good minutes.
"Sweet Virginia" is maybe my favorite Rolling Stones song but I don't think I ever heard it before my "That's How Strong My Love Is" boy shook me off, before I followed through on my promise to start listening to Exile on Main Street all the time. I love it for the broken-joyful dichotomy, because I'll be hanged if I ever let being heartbroken preclude me from being joyful too; emotional banality just isn't my bag. The chorus is the most elegant expression of irrepressibility of spirit in all of rock and roll music and I'm so thankful for Mick Jagger, for his elegance and poetry, for his elegant poetry.
ROCKS OFF (LJ)
Rocks Off is the most rock and roll rock and roll song, and I love rock and roll. It's the sound of fire existing. My heart is a flame- no, many flames, and Rocks Off is my inner light.
THE SINGER NOT THE SONG (LJ)
The Singer Not The Song is my sweet little daisy. I almost chose Play With Fire in its place, but it felt like putting my dog to sleep. The Singer Not The Song is my pet.
I fell in love with The Singer Not The Song when I was a very very little kid. It's on album called December's Children nobody cares about, and it's the prettiest song in the world. Once I wrote a fake verse for it that goes You're a cuckoo clock and I'm a bird/ Just pull my feather and I'll say the word/ You could eat a worm/ And it gives me that feeling... which is a rad fake verse if I do say so myself but nothing will ever beat its real rhymes of willingly with thrilling me and just say so with babe you know and the cool shaky way his voice sounds when he sings it. In this song he is so far away from being the Mick Jagger we all know and love. He's not confident. He's a puppy. It's endearing.
A thing I like to do when I have a crush on a boy and the weather permits it is: grab a Big Gulp of Diet Coke at the Bloor & Spadina 7-11 and the meander (when I have a solid crush going, I exclusively meander) down to the Varsity Arena, where I sit on a white concrete bench, light a Benson & Hedges menthol 100, watch athletes do things, and listen to this song. I listen to The Singer Not The Song by the Rolling Stones, and the way the words work tells me whether my crush is worth having or not. It's very easy to make it through the first two verses and relate, the others do it without thrilling me gets me all perky and I feel like he's the most special guy and everything's grand. But then it gets to the last verse, which i a bit of a twist ending:
The same old places and the same old songs/ We've been going there for much too long/There's something wrong...
And that's when I find out if it's real or not; more often than not, it's not. So often it's just the same old story of me being scared to death, alone in a city, stumbling upon another blah semi-non-boring semi-non-loser, so resolute in my fear of never getting love the way I want it that I've somehow managed to convince myself "Maybe him," "He might be the answer," but he isn't, and now I know it, and it's okay. It means that I'm still the singer, and I've still got the song.
JIGSAW PUZZLE (LIZ)
I moved to Los Angeles when I was 25. Sometimes when people ask me why I moved here, I tell them "Because I wanted to," which is true. I had no reason to move to Los Angeles apart from coming here for the first time the summer before and immediately knowing I should live in this city. I got a job here before I moved, which happened because I'm lucky and a former boss of mine had just been hired to run a magazine in Los Angeles. I didn't know anyone in L.A., apart from said boss and also a friend I hadn't seen in maybe ten years, and somehow it never occurred to me to be nervous about moving 3,000 miles away from everything I had ever known, to a place where there was no one who loved me.
I moved here the first Saturday of August and on the following Friday I had my first L.A. kiss, with a man I alternately refer to as "the heavy metal drummer" or "the skin-and-bones chainsmoker with the drummer-y arms" or, every once in a while, "Andy." He had great arms and great hair, the same texture and length as my own. He was almost a decade older than me, born the same year as The White Album, and prone to using old-man phrases like "Let's just try to keep a stiff upper lip." He was a Cancer and had the Cancer symbol tattooed on one of his hands, I think maybe the right one, and that was cool to me. We lived in the same building and we weren't in love or anything but he was wild and I liked to think that I was wild too, just for being around him.
So life was wild and everything was exciting and I walked around all the time being amazed at myself for living in Los Angeles, it went on like that for a while. But in October there were wildfires and it rained ash and the sky was hell-orange and I started to get nervous about having moved 3,000 miles away from everything I had ever known, to a place where there was no one who loved me. And it got to be confusing, being around a man who was mostly kind but not all that interested in loving me either, and I started listening to "Jigsaw Puzzle" many times every day because the guitar sounded like how my nerves would sound, if you were Keith Richards and you pulled at them with your ugly bony fingers. I listened closest at the lyric that goes "And the drummer -- he's so shattered," thinking "We are all so tragic," and then I told a few of my friends that if I died anytime soon I wanted "Jigsaw Puzzle" played at my funeral. It seemed entirely possible that I would die, that the wildfires would spread all the way to my apartment and eat me alive and that would be the end of me, dead and loveless and beautifully desperate in this Rolling Stonesy sort of way. I was being dumb and dramatic, but it seemed like a cool death at the time. It doesn't seem cool anymore but I love the memory of it, the first time I knew L.A. could very well be the death of me.
GET OFF OF MY CLOUD (LIZ)
When I die, don't let them play "Jigsaw Puzzle" at my funeral. Play "Get Off Of My Cloud," and on my gravestone it can say: HI, HELLO, HOW ARE YOU!?/well i guess iiiiiiiiiii'm doin' fine....." I think that's a great way to go out.
LET IT BLEED (LIZ)
I went to write a prayer last year; it started out like this:
Dear God, please let 2012 be the year in which I transcend falling for beer-bellied, sexually incompetent men who don’t read books and are mean to me, as I know that can't possibly be my Highest Self and surely I was put on this Earth for much greater greatnesses; am I right, or am I right? I mean -- SERIOUSLY NOW, WHAT THE FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK?
and that's as far as I got. Kind of a bad prayer. Last year was stupid, in lots of parts. I hated everything all the time and used to drink lots of hot and artificially sweetened coffee and then go running and think murderous thoughts, listening to "Paint It, Black." One night I wrote "Let It Bleed" on my arm in black Sharpie and went out to a Mexican restaurant thinking something was going to go down, something Rolling Stonesy and great. But all that happened was I drank a margarita on fire and emotionally ate a lot of tortilla chips in an unconscious attempt to dull the emotional pain of being rejected by a man I never even liked that much. Nothing else. You'd think if you write "Let It Bleed" on your arm you might maybe summon the ghost of Keith Richards from 1969, and he'd right sit next to you in the red vinyl booth and illegally smoke and say things you don't/can't understand, and you'd laugh together and love each other, at the very least. But nothing happened. I went home and probably pouted for five hours about how the modern world is so empty of romance, of Rolling Stonesiness, of everything I really want from this life. What a bore, what a drag. Fuck you forever, 2011, seriously.
So one of the first things I did in 2012, around 3 a.m., was go to "Rolling Stones" on my iPod and put it on shuffle and put my iPod in the iPod dock and get myself a fresh glass of champagne and join the four or five party guests still hanging around my living room. I was wearing my fake-leopard-fur coat and a zebra-striped skirt and I had one of those New Year's Eve party favor things where you blow into it and it unfurls, I was pretending it was a cigarette and I kept talking in a "Keith Richards accent," which meant I just kept calling everyone "darling" in a vaguely British sort of way. I got a real kick out of myself, and it was a really nice start to the brand new year.
Another one of the first things I did in 2012 was to start saying this thing in my head whenever I got back to the place of thinking murderous thoughts. I'd say:
"Let Go and Let God, Let It Be and Let It Bleed"
and it made me feel better. It's a much better prayer than that other thing I told you about.
"Let It Bleed" is holy to me. It's sacred and sacrosanct and it's nasty, the line about "You can come all over me." Sometimes I think it'd be a great song for the last dance at a wedding -- what a laugh, for your last-dance song to include the lyric "She knifed me in my dirty filthy basement" -- but it's tender too, and full of heart, there's so much love and kindness. The girl and boy in my book aren't ever going to get married but I have a scene in my head where they dance to "Let It Bleed" in a bar in a wedding-y sort of way, showy and old-timey, jokey and sincere at the very same time. I think there's a good chance that scene won't actually make it into my book, but there will always be the suggestion that theirs is a "Let It Bleed"-y kind of love: inconvenient and messy and possibly crazy but always generous, the most generous love I can ever imagine.
Generosity of heart is hard sometimes but when I listen to "Let It Bleed" it sounds easy, in every sense of the word: simple and effortless and lazy and light. I'm gonna try to think in the "Let It Bleed" way more often from now on. Let's all try to.
BEFORE THEY MAKE ME RUN (LJ)
(Write about me barfing all you want, motherfucker. I will show you how it's done.)
It's the middle of February and I'm booking it down my block, smoking a cigarette out the left side of my mouth while spitting out my right. It's that watery thin spit you get right as you're about to puke. I'm listening to Before They Make Me Run on headphones; if it were any other song in the world I would've turned it off because usually when I'm this drunk music sounds faraway and confusing but no no no this is cool, this is really cool guys. If it wasn't for Before They Make Me Run right now, this would be a shitty night that'd make me feel shitty and I'd be sad about barfing and being a fuck up but instead I feel Keithy and like it's perfect, the exact perfect thing I should be doing, like any drunk night out that doesn't end under such circumstances was a failure and a waste. A waste of money
I trip and fall and bang my chin and pick my wet cigarette out of the snow and blow on it but my little breath can't dry it. I light a new one and run the rest of the way home.
I have one of those old-fashioned bathroom where the toilet's in one room and the sink and bathtub are in another. I can't puke in the tiny toilet room because I get claustrophobic and the lock's janky. I locked myself inside for one drunk and panicky hour last October and was horrified. I think it's appalling how much time we poor humans are forced to spend pent up in these tiny uncomfortable spaces, cars and cubicles and bathroom stalls, shoved unnaturally up again some sketchy stranger on a subway. I'm meant to exist on a beach or in a wide open field.
I'm vomiting Thai food, lime pulp and Jack Daniels into my bathtub. I'm thinking about how great it is, the way hard living degrades you. Do your damn hair and wear your wild clothes, write that wild heart out, but at some point or another you're always going to drink yourself right back to this very moment, wiping your puke-stained arm on your tear-stained face when you're too post-puke woozy to care whether or not you just rubbed a niblet of digested bread-mush into your eye. And if you can't look in the mirror at that moment and see the most beautiful woman you've ever fucking seen, I'm not kidding, you may as well just pack it in and die tomorrow; ain't nobody ever gonna love you for being fabulous.
The second sentence in Before They Make Me Run goes Only a crowd can make you feel so alone, and Keith sings it like "On-reeeee-caaaahhhh-nnn-ghuhhhhm-mmm-la make you feel so alone"- it sounds like blood and shit and snot and puke and piss, the grossest scrappiest chilliest gnarliest Keithiest moment of the Keithiest Keith song there is; it's this. I'm it. I'm "On-reeeee-caaaahhhh-nnn-ghuhhhm-mmm-la."
A piece of broccoli is stuck in the drain and now the water don't drain- how on-reeee-caaahhhh-nnn-ghuhhhhm-mmm-la of it. I fish it out but it fixes nothing; the whole bathtub's filling up with murky pukey water, chewed-up vegetables floating, I'm drunk as I've ever been and it's four in the morning, this is the reality of my life and I have no choice but to accept it: I have to deal with a "drain issue" right now, the exact sort of thing I spend my entire life going very far out of my way to avoid. I don't replace ink cartridges, I don't run anti-virus software, I don't put up Venetian blinds, I don't deal with "drain issues"-I don't know. I don't know what these things are.
So what I'm doing, what I've done, is I've found an eyeliner on the counter, my stupid eyeliner that seven hours ago I drew all over my eyes with so I'd look sultry and extra-beguiling, and now I'm jamming it down one of the four quadrants of my "drain thing" trying to get at whatever's down there, and now I'm getting tweezers involved, it's a two-handed effort, and nothing's fixing anything and barf is now drying onto my skin and I have to work early I'm afraid I'm going to be too hungover to take a shower and I'm going to smell like barf at work I bet oh God this is so fucked up why is this happening, "Just drain, drain, Just drain, drain," and finally I feel something, I've found it. I chopstick my utensils intro brain surgery mode and I'm sweating buckets, it's been so long since I've sweated since it's winter but I'm really going at it, I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna fix this, I'm gonna find it, and I do: it's a clump of my hair and my roommates' hair and the hair of people who have lived here long before I did the approximate size of a mid-sized octopus. It's covered in mold and vomit. Pulling it out feels like giving birth or taking off a hair shirt, the most beautiful release- it's exquisite.
The water drains very quickly down the drain and I look at the wretched slop hanging off the edge of my tweezers and throw up from revulsion.
I go outside and smoke a cigarette that tastes like a rusty nail and feel semi-ashamed of myself but get over it like 2 seconds later- what's the fucking point, ain't nobody ever gonna love me for being fabulous. I'd rather die than end up the kind of girl who's too previous for rock and roll to mean anything more than a distressed denim jacket, I want to live here, I want to live it, I want to live in the blood and the snot and piss and dirty shit of it, I want to look back upon the scuzzier chapters of my life and think I did alright, I had my fun, but don't let them make me walk; I'd rather run.
YOU CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT (LJ)
For all the times I've alluded to the horrible heartbreak I endured when I was twenty-four, for every mention of the magical mystery man who did it to me, the endless stories of ensuing eye infections and years and years spent mooning over him when I knew I very well shouldn't have been- it's been three years, to be precise, and for every goddamned time I've poured my heart out about all my most invasive whatever-the-hells without batting an eyelash, I've never even said his name. I don't know if it's been to protect him, to protect myself, or if maybe it was because I wished so hard that he'd come back one day, and I didn't want to ruin my chances by making him angry with me. Maybe it was because I was under the false impression that I "hated drama" (I didn't; I don't; I love it), maybe it was because I was under the false impression that the truth might be relevant enough to spark some sort of controversy (It won't), or maybe I was just scared. Probably yeah, that.
It's honestly not even very interesting. The summer I turned twenty-four, Matthew Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces asked me to write a book about the Beatles with him. It was supposed to be a novel in letters, that word I never bothered to learn. ("epistol...") I don't want to get too hung up on the "secret wife" part of the story (mostly just because I always liked his wife, or the idea of her at least) but personally, I think that if a thirty-seven year old man spends a year of his life engaging in conversation with a twenty-four year old woman who unabashedly worships him and chooses to punctuate their acquaintance by asking her to write a book with him, a book based on fucking Pamela for crying out loud, it's probably his responsibility to let her know that he's married. And I also think it's fucking sketchy that on the day I met his wife, she'd never heard my name either, had never heard of any such "Beatles-novels-in-letters" her husband was writing with his fan; I don't know. I think that's sketchy. I think that's a very sketchy thing.
And I also think it's sketchy that after all this shit went down, he disappeared. He never wrote me one single Beatles letter, never even wrote me any regular old email explaining why he never wrote me a Beatles letter, and then I got an eye infection. He came back into my life six months later, claiming that he never wrote me a Beatles letter because he couldn't think of anything to write. I accepted that, because I loved him.
I would have thought that by now I'd have realized I never loved him, but oh my God I loved him! I loved him so much. I loved his hair and his body and his hoodie, I loved his eyes and his eyebrows and the lines beneath his eyes and I loved his shoelaces and I loved the way his weight fluctuated and that he was a genius, a real genius, not just a shitty loser from Toronto who wished he was a genius like every other dude I've ever had. I loved how when he wanted to compliment me he told me I was terrific- such an antiquated choice. He told me not to be afraid of him starting to think I was less terrific once he got to know me- "I won't," he told me, "I'm gonna think you're more terrific." And the whole thing was handled incredibly inelegantly on either end, but I don't blame myself for freaking out. I just wanted to get back to that line.
Once he asked me if I'd bought any new clothes lately and I told him I bought a pair of white jeans. "Are you worried you're going to get your period in them?" he asked, and I thought that was badass. Another time, we were getting off the phone and I asked him what he was going to go do. He told me play piano and I asked him "Are you just gonna, like, make stuff up?" and he was so amused by it, because to him it was serious, it was composition, and that was the he & me that I wanted so terrifically for he & me to be. I wanted to make his life lighter but I don't know if I could do that, for him or for anybody. Or maybe I'm selling myself short and I could have but it doesn't matter, because he didn't want it. Sometimes other people don't want what we want, but we always think we know better; we can't believe we couldn't.
He disappeared, he stood me up, he moved away, and out of all the weird cities in the world he could've moved to he just had to choose the city where my mother grew up; I hate him more than anything for taking that city away from me. I hate that when I'm finally able to scrounge up enough money to go to the south of France, I'll spend the whole time trying to have this heavy and emotional matrilineage blood thing happen and all I'll be able to think about is if I'm going to run into Friedberger. And I'd probably want to, although I wouldn't want to, it's the most unknowable thing. I probably hate him. I hate him for one song he wrote about me, my least favorite song ever written:
He made a record, a record that's the tale of a twelve year old girl carrying her double bass around the world; I think it's an allegory for what his life's been like the past couple of years. He wrote a synopsis of it on the Thrill Jockey website that includes the words blogger from Ontario with an eating disorder, which cut my face wide open; the least-flattering description of me possible. He couldn't even have said writer, he couldn't even have said Toronto.
The song's about "Friedberger twelve year old" moving to Quebec (where I lived when I met him) and moving in with "me," a girl from Toronto who took the bus up from Toronto and is always throwing up and typing and talking about buses. "I" see a sign of Chinese characters and I think it means something "rude" about me, and then I type and throw up for a big chunk of the song until I reach into my stomach and there's a baby dragon "lodged" in my "warm tiny gut" and the metaphor is in it's foggy enough to distract Friedberger twelve year old from my "revolting issue" (bulimia, actual bulimia, a thing I had that I wish Matthew Friedberger wouldn't write songs about), but then Friedberger girl realizes she needs to go find work and no longer live by the hand of fortune. So yeah, yes, definitely. I definitely hate him for that one.
I used to write him email after email after email that he never wrote back to. Some of them were nice and some of them were wild; I just wanted to get him to say something, anything, so I tried every tactic I could think of. Eventually I gave up, but still, and probably forever, every time I'm published I send him the link. I'm like Eli Cash, I always think, sending Etheline my clippings.
You Can't Always Get What You Want is so much more than one of the 5 Rolling Stones Songs I'd Rather Die Than Live Without, it's more even than one of the 5 Beatles Songs I'd Rather Die Than Live Without. It's the number one song, out of all the songs ever, that I'd rather die than live without, and I'm not just being dramatic when I say that I would without missing a beat trade the entire Beatles for only the last minute and twenty-five seconds of this song.
They're perfect, and they sound, more than anything, like life to me. They're neither positive not negative, but they're exultant, glorious, they're EVERYTHING. Life to me is something so beautiful I spend most of it hunched over crying so hard I can barely breathe and life to me is something so terrible I spend most of it hunched over crying so hard I can barely breathe.
That thing broke me. I grew from it but will never be grateful for having grown from it. I turned out to be the woman I turned out to be not because of but rather in spite of it, and maybe that's something, but I still would've preferred to have overcome nothing. I spent a lot of days mourning the loss of the woman I was on the morning of the day he asked me to write that stupid book, the woman I would've become if he hadn't. But, and I don't know how it happened, I just stopped thinking about it one day. I don't remember when that day was, or what spurred it on-
Maybe there's some cosmically-designated amount of seconds your heart in the event of a given heartbreak can stay broken before it scars over, and all it was was time passed. I walked through that last second without even noticing.