|Verse One: Ya SHUDDa SEEN bah tha LOOK-IN MAH AHS BAY-AY-ba,
theh wuz SUM-thin mis-UNNNNNN, Ya SHUDDa KNOWN bah tha TONE a MAH VOHCE
MAY-AY-ba, butcha DIDn lis-UNNNNNNN.
Interpretation: First, Charlotte, when I saw you there, the second-to-last Friday before Christmas break, sitting on the orange carpet by the gray skate lockers, making out with Chris, the smell of burnt pizza in the air, tiny crystal shards of light from the disco ball spinning by, your skates removed and placed askew by your white-socked feet, the hands on the nearby clock at 11:35 and my father outside waiting for me, honking the horn, thinking that I was on drugs because I was five minutes late and not where I should be; when you spotted me out of the corner of your eye, watching (How could you miss me? I was five feet away, wanting to run, and wanting to destroy you and him and everything), and you stopped kissing him and I thought I caught a bit of tongue being reined in and you never, ever, no matter how many times I tried, let my tongue pass the Berlin Wall of your teeth; when you wiped your mouth and looked at me, and before you looked to the ground and away: You should've seen by the look in my eyes that this was more than just a casual pain. Something precious had been stolen. This was the kind of heartache that most parents don't want to believe their precious, immature children can achieve. This was the kind of anguish at which my honking father would later scoff, by taking my bloodshot eyes and surly demeanor and assuming that I was stoned, threatening to ground me for a month.
And then, Charlotte, at 1 a.m., when I couldn't sleep, couldn't even lie down, couldn't even spend a single second without seeing your soft face turned up to his, glazed in the eyes and in love, obviously in love, (Oh my God, you were fucking in love with him?); and I called your house and you answered before your mother could hear the phone, because you were waiting for him to call you and not your ex-, not me: You should have known by the tone of my voice that I was more than just a wreck, that "suicidal" doesn't seem to adequately describe what it feels like to want to pull out your own guts and heart with a coat hangar, just so they'll stop burning and you can be done with it, this stupid life. But when I croaked, "Charlotte, I love you," you didn't listen. You hung up.
Verse Two: Yew PLED DEYD, but ya nevER BLEYD, unSTED YA LAY STEEL in tha GRAYSS ahll CULLED-UP 'n' HIH-ssunnnnnnn.
Interpretation: At school the following Monday, before homeroom, I saw you standing by your locker, your shiny auburn hair half tucked in a red turtleneck, your lips a new shade of gloss. I had a weekend of violent despair behind me, my stomach muscles tight from puking between meals, my brain punch-drunk from the misguided harassment plagued upon me by my father, who misinterpreted these symptoms of a broken heart for withdrawal from heroin and physically tried to pick me up and put me in his car to take me to a drug treatment center. But I escaped the car again and again, and I tried to tell him I wasn't on drugs, but when he asked, over and over, "What the fuck is wrong with you then?" I couldn't muster the courage to tell him the truth.
Because he just would've asked the details, and when put into words, the details sound trivial compared to what I felt. The trivial details: Your mother told you to date other people. Your mother didn't really understand why we were so serious at such a young age. Your mother didn't understand the look on your face, or mine, when we sat with arms wrapped 'round each other on the sofa in front of your TV, safe for the night, the heater blowing warm dust particles here and there. But worst of all, hearing your Mom say these things, you didn't fight. You refused us for the words of a parent, the last person who understood you, the stranger who said you dressed like a tart and that you shouldn't wear your hair so and that you think you're smarter than you are; these words from your mother just masks for her own unhappiness over her own failure in life, masks for the reason she's living in a trailer on a creek where a dead body floated by one Sunday (a story that held me rapt), masks for the real reason your father left and now you're both all alone. She saw you happy with me, deliriously happy, and something inside her wanted it to end.
I understood the idea of taking a break, actually. I mean, 7th grade is pretty early to find The One. But do we actually have control of these things, our hearts? And did you actually have to go through with it? Particularly the "dating other people" part?
"You've got to move on." That's what my father would've droned, himself the epitome of someone who held on too long to something he should've let go: My mother and her rapid decline and death. He consistently refused shaving devices; he achieved five-minute-long blank stares; he drank 12-packs every night and forgot about work the next day. This, over a woman to whom he rarely uttered a passionate word. Fine, fine. And so I didn't tell him, and the whole weekend he thought his 12-year-old son was on heroin, but it was worse. All I could think about was you, my private heroin --
-- so when I saw you at the locker, glossy-auburn-stained was I. I had it all worked out in my head. I'd say I'm sorry and make a joke, and you'd crack a smile and let me back in and then I'd get the details of your night with Chris and I'd play it off like it was no big deal and I'd pretend I couldn't care less and you'd see you didn't have total control of me, that I wasn't weak, that I was very strong, and you'd come back to me. But the vomit gurgled in my throat when I saw you, and my apology came out like some -- God forbid -- words of a psycho-killer. I saw it in your eyes, you picturing me going crazy, an early Columbine, when no, I just wanted to be friends with you. If all else failed, if we never got back together, I would have been friends just so I could be near you, smell your skin without perfume, hear your slightly hoarse, sugar-coated voice beneath the jungle gym at recess.
But it was like you were dead, like you could never even bleed, though your face flushed quite a bit in that moment (somewhat surprised and frightened, I'm sure, by your own power to make another human so pale, so helpless). You looked at me, as you moved behind fellow students passing by like grass waving in the breeze, students that were looking at us because they knew, too. And you said, "Please. Don't do this. Just leave me alone."
Most often, men and boys deserve the following designation, and it hurts me to say it to you, my love, my Charlotte. But that was definitely a snake move.
Verse Three: Ya noEYE NOOo ahl aBOUT THOSE MEYn, stillAH DOE re-mem-BERRRRR, cuz itWUZ US BAY-bah WAY beFOR Thennn, ahn wer STEEL to-ge-THERRRRRR.
Interpretation: This verse really doesn't make much sense. You were the first, always the first, but we're definitely not together now. I suppose this is a good time to say that I'm doing all right. I mean, you know, life goes on and there have been other unfortunate, slightly less meaningful incidents involving sweet lovers. But I'm doing all right, making money, engaging in relatively healthy relationships and all that. (Adulthood is boring!)
But even so, sometimes I'll be driving down the highway and I'll come across the song, our song, on the radio, and I'll be in the car with someone and they'll somehow sing it the wrong way. You know as well as I do, proper pronunciation in this song is everything. It brings it to life: It's the voice of the Inner-Self (if you'll pardon the yoga-speak; I'm taking a class now), the true voice, the one that doesn't speak our language, but if it did, it would have to be interpreted from another dimension, so that when it came through, the words would be skewed, slippery, like an fevered, possessed robot trying to talk: re-mem-BERRRRRRRR.
I hear the song and I'm briefly paralyzed, suddenly in the grip again of your eyes with the light flecks, suddenly doing a pretty good impersonation of my father when he faded out for five-minute intervals. I'm in the moment, heavily whipped, freshly kissed, for the first time. But also, I know I'll never get you back. I don't mean get you back. I mean, just get you back here, once, sitting down for a coffee so we can talk, maybe somehow recall, however briefly, what it's like to be 12 again. That would be nice. Because, although you were the first, you were, more importantly, the last: the last of those dying days of youth, the last of the purity, just before the puberty set in and skunked things up and sealed off walls and made hair kink and made the voice change. We were living the life that didn't need alcohol or drugs -- Contrary to what my father thought, the addictions didn't flirt until later, to stem the more powerful addictions of love. -- or even understand the need for it, chalked up that kind of behavior to the stupid things adults did because they were so miserable with their own stupid lives; the last moments during which we just needed to believe that someone out there understood what the parents, in their growing stupidity and drug-induced hazes, could not. And that was you.
And this was our song, with its specific pronunciation, sung to each other in whispers, written in the postscript of notes, just to make the other one laugh.
You know, I'm just saying it would be nice to see if that's still locked away somewhere.
But that's never going to happen, is it? Because, on a nostalgic whim, after hearing the song, I used company time to go on one of those high school reunion Web sites -- I knew the name of your school after you moved halfway across the country without calling me (for that, I choose "Take It On the Run," but I digress) -- and that led me to a message group, and that led me to an email address of someone who said something in the group about how she "really miss(es) Charlotte," and that led me to email her, and that led her to email me, and that led my heart to impersonate a caged gorilla as I clicked on her name:
And I couldn't picture what she wrote. The images of your sweet, torn face and windblown, roadside flowers didn't jibe. Polar incongruent: Like someone laughing at you because you're crying. Or, like the feeling you might experience when you are, say, leaning over the toilet in your office bathroom, puking your guts out, your body under the voodoo spell of an untouchable loss, but also conscious of the fact that you actually feel embarrassed as you hear someone else -- another human who has surely puked in his life -- come in and make some racket by the sink.
Youth never dies. It must be killed.
Bridge and Chorus: anNA MEYNT everWERD ah SEYD, wenNA SED THAT AH LUUUVD YEW ah MEYNT THAT AHD LUV YEW FEREVERRRRRRRRRR.
An ahm GONNA KEE-EP-on LUV-in YEWWW, CUZits THEE OWNLa THING AH WONna DEWwww-OO, AH DOE WONna SLEEP, AH JUS WONna KEEP-on LUVin YEWWWWWWW.
Interpretation: Did you somehow mistake my allegiance to you for a passing, youthful fancy? Do you think death might challenge it?
Interpretation: The funny thing is, when I first saw you, I didn't want to date you. I liked your best friend, or thought I did. I saw her skating to "Ring My Bell" in her Jordache jeans. She was a good skater, turning backwards and forwards without looking down. But she was hard to talk to, so resistant to my stares from 100 feet away (and we both agreed later, just sort of dense). But you, you saw me looking at her and you came up to me while I was playing Asteroids. You offered to be the diplomat, the negotiator, the Cupid. Out of shyness (accentuated by a general feeling of being unhinged since losing my mother the previous year to that highly aggressive form of breast cancer), I denied any interest in her. But you persisted, and you were so friendly that it just seemed strangely status quo and non-threatening to admit it. That was when I first fell: I admitted my attraction and you didn't laugh. You just said, "Let me help." You suggested that all three of us skate together. We went 'round and 'round that rink, and you did most of the talking, and pretty soon, with our song playing, the G-forces pulled us closer together, on the outskirts of the orange oval. You asked me questions. You laughed when I said something even remotely funny. I felt natural, for once.
At school the next Monday, after a weekend of glorious daydreaming (during which time my father told me to get my lazy ass off the couch and go outside and play; but I was playing in my mind, virile with the potential of first love as it tickled under my shirt, laughing along with me), you gave me a note in first period that pretended to talk about her, but then it complimented my choice of shirts, and I wrote back, pretending to be vaguely interested in her, and I complimented the plaid ribbon in your hair. By the end of 7th period, we had skipped one class and exchanged several dozen notes. And in those discreet disclosures, we had both told each other about our missing parents.
By your bus that day, as you were leaving, I was afraid that what transpired between us would slip away forever as soon as you stepped on board, that you might come back tomorrow perennially wiped clean of my influence, and so I tried to capture it, you, love. Who knows why people kiss? What does it mean to touch your lips to someone else's? A custom? A handshake? No weapons here? For me, it was gravity, a giant black hole spinning in my chest, pulling you in. And best of all, you kissed back, soft and willing and ignoring the rude squelches from the bully kids on your bus. And we looked at each other for what must have been 10 seconds, saying nothing, just trying to figure out what just happened, and I noticed how there were these light flecks of green in your brown eyes, but I could barely see them because everything was slightly out of focus from standing so close.
And you said, "You're spontaneous." You said it as if you meant I was rich. (Confession: I was never very bright, and I had to go look up that word; I liked what it meant.)
Everything changed for me during those four weeks. I was not a nervous, motherless boy. I was not shy. I was spontaneous. I was a daredevil, not counting the number of cars lined up and determining the necessary speed needed to clear them, but just hitting the gas and flying, knowing I'd probably wipe out at the end but having no earthly idea just how badly it'd break up my insides. Not even caring.
Remember when you wrote TruLuv4Ever on my notebook? Remember when I
gave you that note that was stream-of-conscious musings about jelly donuts
and the smell of scotch tape on
the letters that spelled CHARLOTTE IS SPONTANEOUS?
I told you I wrote it while taking notes in 4th, but it took me three days to pen that thing.
One night on your couch, after I tried (and failed) to French kiss you (failed, because you said you were afraid you'd get "carried away" if you did it, and I didn't even know what it meant to get carried away, not really, but it just made me want to kiss you more), we made a pact that nothing would come between us: At the heart of our relationship, the steel of our connection was the fact that we were best friends (the first time I had actually been best friends with a girl, something I tried only once more, and that ended on some progressive dance floor, with a Nirvana B-side playing). And we both mutually agreed that somewhere down the road, we'd date other people, and we'd still be friends, and we'd meetup again when we were in our 20s or 30s and we would see if we still had the intangible something we felt on that couch. It made sense.
These are things I don't forget.
But fuck, did you have to French kiss the first guy you dated right in front of me?
(Repeat Bridge and Chorus)
Second Chorus: BAY-ba AHM GONna KEE-EEP-onnn LUVin YEWWW, CUZits THEE OWNLa THING ah WONNa DEWWWW, AH DOE WONNa SLEEP, AH JUS WONNa KEEP-on LUVin YEWWWWWW.
Interpretation: So, in summary, to repeat, in order to make very clear, a few points:
First, I meant every word I said. I'm going to keep on loving you, Charlotte, for the rest of my life.
Second, I'm now officially old and alone, with nothing but these strands of memories hanging in the air, unable to connect to the torn strands from which they originally belonged; but, like the fading notes of a guitar solo, trailing a bit too long because the bushy-haired guitarist is more self-centered and immature than he realizes (and not quite as talented as he thinks), I'm lingering.
And finally, regarding the French kiss thing? This song is not really about love nor betrayal, but both; and what's left when there's nothing else. People leave, people die. Shards of glass along the side of a two-lane road are swept away. And I should move on, with this firmly in my grasp.
But no, to answer a question you did not ask, I do not forgive you.
I'm thinking of that dark night, when I called your house and you answered on a half-ring. Between your insistent, excited, whispered, "Hello? . . . Hello? . . . Hello?" -- and before my pledge of love -- there was a black silence swirling between us, creeping its way inside, where it would nest and fester 4ever. It's the blackness of eternal love, the only thing that is true.
"Charlotte? . . . Charlotte? . . . Charlotte . . . Charlotte . . . "
(The last pretty notes of a piano.)
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