Sometimes, there is no positive spin. There is no life lesson to be learned, and a death is simply that: A death.
I was sitting behind him in Journalism class. At 14 years old and him at 15, we were as lost as two misfits could be. I had 90′s rolled, curled, bangs and delusions of grandeur. He had a genuine smile and some of the best retorts I’ve ever heard to what other classmates said to us in jest. I was a high school loser and he, had a car.
He offered me rides some mornings. For my 15th birthday, I received a spiked dog collar and NIN’s, “The Downward Spiral.“ He, influenced my musical tastes and opened my heart to the words behind the pain. I never really looked into what that album was about, until tonight when the discography made me understand that we had come full-circle.
“The idea behind the album is of someone who sheds everything around them to a potential nothingness, but through career, religion, relationship, belief and so on. It’s less muscle-flexing, though when I started it I didn’t know what I wanted it to sound like. Thematically I wanted to explore the idea of somebody who systematically throws or uncovers every layer of what he’s surrounded with, comfort-wise, from personal relationships to religion to questioning the whole situation. Someone dissecting his own ability to relate to other people or to have anything to believe in…With ‘The Downward Spiral’ I tried to make a record that had full range, rather than a real guitar-based record or a real synth-based record. I tried to make it something that opened the palate for NIN, so we don’t get pigeon-holed. It was a conscious effort to focus more on texture and space, rather than bludgeoning you over the head for an hour with a guitar.” (http://www.ninwiki.com/The_Downward_Spiral_%28halo%29)
Hurt was on that CD. Closer, too. The lyrics that gave a voice to pain and self-loathing in the 1990′s made me feel even more aware how unique I wasn’t. I credit him as a muse: the first man who dared understand me enough to see beyond a cheerleader exterior into something deeper- I was struggling to find myself. He stood by me in high school when I dumped him 8 hours before the Sadie Hawkins dance. He stood by me in college when I kissed him instead of my college boyfriend at the time. We laughed together when our kisses turned into a fumbling mess that made us realize in my early twenties I lost the romantic love interest and gained an incredible brother. We sat together at a mutual friend’s mother’s funeral and I looked over at him. He knew. I never had to speak any words with him. He just knew. He wasn’t the one that, ‘got away,’ he was the one that grew as I grew and evolved into something greater. He became my daughter’s godfather and I dreamed of the day our children would play together. I had seen him change, from an awkward 15 year old to a tragically misled 18 year old who wore a spiked jacket and steel-toe boots. Then he was an Abercrombie-obsessed 23 year old who stunned me with his brilliance and wit. At 30 now, I grow more proud everyday. 15 years of Joe.
He married someone a few years ago. Someone I struggled to love from the beginning. I could feel it from the first moment she laid eyes on Ava and I. Suddenly, we were a threat. I remember their wedding distinctly because I wasn’t allowed to be in the wedding party or have any part of her bridal shower. He chose a college friend to read a passage on the altar. I sat quietly in my chair, clapped when I was told to clap and eventually my date and I left early. 7 months into the pregnancy with their first child, I received a chilling phone call that my child, “looked too much like him.“ She wondered then, if it was a conspiracy. “Why are you so close?” She was angry, and I was humiliated into begging her to realize this wasn’t the case. I found out later that her jealousy grew deeper than I had originally thought. She couldn’t get over the fact we had dated. He had to make a choice.
I saw him change then. When I had to make one of the most difficult decisions in my life with Cervical Cancer, I was condemned. He said, “I cannot be friends with you, it’s too hard to watch you go through this.” I begged him on the phone in the parking lot of a Bruegger’s Bagels on my lunch hour to reconsider. I wasn’t of their thread, anymore. Years passed and we tried to mend some of the pain. I took pictures of their incredibly beautiful and special children when they came into the world. Those pictures stare down at me from the same shelf as my parents and my own child. I loved his wife because he loved his wife. I hugged her longer than him, I never sat by him and I struggled to help her understand how much of an afterthought I was. Children’s parties came and went. Seasons changed and a few days ago, I sent an email. I missed our weekly calls while we were driving and his insight into breakups and life’s greatest challenges. It had been at least a month since our last call and the ball dropped when I looked at the clock at 3:23pm. He couldn’t be friends with me, any longer.
The words were quiet, like the opening of “Hurt.” They were almost a whispered confession. I didn’t know how to plead or beg anymore and instead I said, “If your marriage needs this, if your children need this then you need this.” He said that was the most mature thing he’s ever heard me say. Somehow, those words hurt more than any goodbye and the realization was this: I had fought cancer, spoken on Capitol Hill, raised a stunningly-gorgeous 5 year old and somehow, me telling HIM that he needed to focus on himself was the most mature moment of my existence in his life. It struck me then as it struck me now, he didn’t know me at all or perhaps I just want to think that. It’s easier to walk away from someone you care so much about when you can hold onto your pain like a sword.
We are going to try a ‘separation.’ So she can rebuild her confidence and trust, without my presence in their lives. They have a house to sell and two, magnificent daughters to raise. I was reminder of tension and angst. I was to be, forgotten. I don’t quite know how to explain to Ava that her godfather had to walk away.
I tell you this, because there are moments that positive spin alludes me. I can’t craft this into a story of enlightenment or success. But I can tell you, I have loved someone so deeply and so true that I would give my own happiness for his own success. I told him to tell his wife that my love meant more to her because I struggled and won to see beyond the actions and loved what she gave to him. I lost. I tell you this, because sometimes the moments of greatest hurt, we keep inside and we allow them to jade us and make us something we are not. I heard Trent Reznor got married a while back. Through his pain he found love. Sometimes, you have a shut a door on the past to allow the future to engulf you with possibility. But it, hurts.
What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
goes away in the end…
– NIN, (Hurt)