I am calling you, my friend. Can you hear me?
You have overwhelmed me, Joel. For many days now. You have been banging against your steel door in my heart. So tonight I am yours, once again. Speak to me and take me back to a life I no longer know. I am giving you your voice, the one that has lived inside me, quietly, all these years. I want to hear you. I want to feel you.
I need to remember you.
I was so in love with you. Did you ever know? If you did, did you fully understand what that meant?
So many nights we spent drinking after work…and talking. Talking all night long. Talking until we had grown weary with each other and couldn’t imagine what we would have to say the next time around. But always…always there was a next time.
We would find each other in the middle of a crowded room and, with one look from you, I would know. I could feel your hurt as if it were my own flesh bleeding. I could taste your tears just as surely as if they had fallen from my own eyes and traveled down the hills of my cheeks to land, salty and raw, on the chapped planes of my lips.
It was late at night or early in the morning, depending, the first time you called me. We had just spent the night in a glorious mind-fuck, dissecting our souls and offering, each to the other, little pieces of them – as we often did. “What do I need to do,” you asked. “Do I need to take you out on a date? Do I need to buy you flowers? What, Stephanie? I’m asking you because I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
You didn’t need to do any of those things and I told you so. But two nights later, we met at a bar for drinks and called it a date anyway. In the parking lot, on the way to some party, you grabbed me and kissed me for the first time. It was everything I had ever wanted in my life.
I’m sorry if I never told you that.
Later, at the party, I was sitting on a window ledge on the balcony of a second story apartment. You were kneeling between my parted legs. You looked up at me and asked, in all seriousness, why you felt the need to kiss me all the time. I didn’t have an answer for you. I was too busy hoping you would just do it again and never stop. I looked down at you, speechless, and you looked back up at me….and smiled – one of those rare things you did sometimes.
(That was something we could never figure out, you know. Our attraction to each other. We tried so many times to understand it, remember? It was way past physical. Had gone beyond that realm two seconds after my eyes found yours for the first time and words flew out of your open mouth right into my soul.)
That night ended in fire. Literally. Kenneth and Shannon’s duplex burned to the ground. You looked at me after you took the call and we both knew we had to go. We stood there with our friends while the flames licked the side of the house, the cops took names, and the firemen turned on their houses. Kenneth ran into his burning house at the last minute and returned with a CD that he handed to me. I still have that CD.
We left after the flames were doused. We sat in the car under the lights of your dashboard and you turned to me and said, “Well. That wasn’t exactly the first date I had envisioned but I guess I somehow knew it wouldn’t be that way with you anyway.” And then you turned to me and we kissed as if The War of the Worlds was happening right outside the windows of your car and it was our last moment on earth together. The War of the Worlds could have happened that night. Or any other night I was privileged enough to share space with you. I would have gladly followed you into the dark.
Weeks later, you sat down beside me at the bar. You didn’t speak. You needed to tell me something. I could feel it. You ordered your drink then put your hand on my knee. You looked over at me with those eyes of yours. It was always in your eyes, wasn’t it? At least for me it was. I could read you a mile away. You knew this and you hated it.
You told me about your demons that night.
How they were wrecking you.
You were so ashamed.
And the fucked up thing about it, J, is I already knew. And I loved you anyway. Maybe even because of. Probably in spite of.
Because none of that diminished who you were when we stared at each other across the table, saying nothing and yet everything. Or how you would come to me at night, put your hands on my shoulders, and touch your forehead to mine until the tips of our eyelashes brushed together.
I loved you crazy. Messed up. Perfect.
I didn’t need you to wrap yourself in a neat little box and tie it up with a bow for me. I wanted your broken and beaten, your strength and courage, your flawed perfection.
I wanted every little piece of your puzzle. I did not need for you to assemble it for me. We could do that together.
I loved the black t-shirt you wore to work and the blue bandanna you tied around your head. I loved the glass in your eyes when you had spent the night thinking too hard and too long. I loved the quiet way you called me ‘baby’ so no one else could hear; the way you could walk up behind me and wrap your presence all around me without touching me at all; mornings when you couldn’t speak to me because the night had been too hard; how you brushed the back of your hand against mine so our knuckles were perfectly aligned; the way I could feel you before I even knew you had entered the room; your anger when you would yell at me to get out of your head, and the laughter that would always follow after.
I loved every dirty, ugly, despicable, beautiful, clean, holy, magnificent thing you were.
The drugs were only a part of you and I knew they were not the whole. Just like the darkness in me is not the sum total of my being.
They never disguised you, J. I think you thought they did. I think you thought they were a shield you could hide behind. But they weren’t and you couldn’t. I could still find you. I knew you were in there. And I knew you didn’t want to be lost in there. So you never really were. Did you know that? Do you know that you always kept a piece of yourself so close to you that nothing could ever take it away from you?
It all ended that night in the parking deck, didn’t it? We had been fighting and when you tried to kiss me, I slapped your hands away and grabbed your face instead. I asked you if anyone had ever loved you before, if anyone had ever given a shit about you. We were standing so close I could feel your stomach contracting and expanding with each hard breath you took. You cried, holding on to my hands around your face. You touched your forehead to mine and for a moment, only a moment, stared into my eyes, out of breath. Then, you pushed my hands away and said, “Fuck you, Stephanie. Fuck you for arousing emotions in me that don’t need to be aroused.” You turned from me and walked away. I called your name and you turned, walked back toward me and said, “You’ll be just like all the rest. The minute I show you, you’ll leave me. The minute you see the scars, you’ll be gone.”
I would have never turned my back on you. Just the thought of you believing I would was enough to break me. And it did.
I’ve never told a soul about your tears or the way I screamed after you that I loved you while you slammed the door to your car and raced off. How I crumpled beside my own car, too weak to even open the door and get in. How I cried for you on the cold, hard floor of that stupid parking deck.
I had already seen the scars on your soul and I loved them. How could you think I wouldn’t also love the scars of your flesh?
You called me months later, after I had left town. I drove back to see you and you told me you were sorry about that night in the parking deck. Your apology meant nothing to me because I didn’t need it. I never needed you to apologize for anything you did, were, or felt. It wasn’t that way with us and you knew it.
That was the last time I ever saw you.
I know you are out in the world, J, because I looked you up. I hope life hasn’t changed you much…your core, your center. I hope you are the same J I knew and loved. Mostly, I just hope you found a way to finally wrestle your demons. I hope you have made peace with yourself.
I’m sorry I could never help you do that.
Maybe my memory of you is stronger than the one you keep of me. Maybe our time together meant more to me than it ever did to you. It doesn’t matter. I didn’t love you because I hoped you would love me back. I loved you because I had to. Because it was all I could do. Because it was the only thing I could do and it didn’t matter if you felt the same. I can no more choose who my soul connects with than I could have chosen my parents at birth. We are all free to love but we are not guaranteed that our love will be reciprocated. If any of you are waiting for someone to love you back before you give your own love freely, then many are the moments of life you will miss out on. Beautiful are the people you will never know.
I’m glad I didn’t miss out on my moment with Joel.
Anyway, I’m locking you back up now, okay, J? I can only take so much. I wish the best for you and I always will but it hurts to think of you. I’ll love you always but I have to say goodbye for now. It isn’t forever. I know your memory will pound on my heart again and my soul will set you free.
For several days now, I’ve had this song on continuous loop…in my car, on my computer, anywhere I found myself alone and had a moment to listen. I knew it was speaking to some deep part of me but I couldn’t figure out why or what it wanted me to know. When I started writing this to J, it all made sense and I finally understood. Even though Conor is telling his own story in this song and it isn’t mine, I found Joel in the lyrics anyway. Not in the individual words, because the story Conor tells is a very personal one, but in the song as a whole. Like the way a good book can take you places you didn’t even know you could go. That’s what Conor did for me by sharing his story and I want to share it with you.
You will need to turn the volume up as loud as you can stand it. It’s the only way to take this ride.