It's funny how much music defined a person in high school. My school had the kids who listened to country, the kids who listened to rap, Top 40, the "alternative" kids. I listened to all of it.
I remember going almost weekly to the Best Buy off the highway between where I lived and the restaurant where I worked. I would walk up and down the aisles holding the little manila envelopes with my tip share money and trying to figure out whether to invest in something I knew I liked or take a risk on something new. I often had to choose between tapes I could play in the car and CDs I could play on the stereo in my room, or between singles of a few songs versus a full album of a band I really liked. On very rare occasions I would buy the full album in both tape and CD formats--Pearl Jam Vs. was one of those.
("Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" has been my ring tone for years. I think it might be my favorite song of all time.)
Don't get me wrong--I didn't listen to music that would impress anyone. I don't have some killer vintage vinyl collection, and I didn't venture too far beyond what made it to mainstream or alternative radio. When I was little, my dad let me watch MTV with him, so I had a fondness for U2, the Cars, the Eurythmics (and later Annie Lenox), the Police (and later Sting), etc. I listened to rap with the football players (I wasn't brave enough to buy many of those albums, though), sang along to pop songs like "Shoop" by Salt-N-Pepa on the cheerleading bus and knew every word to "Ice Ice Baby." Cheerleading for other sports (soccer in this case) introduced me to songs like "Down In It" by Nine Inch Nails in their warm up playlists, and you can't grow up in Texas without an appreciation for country dancing to songs like this:
So when I got into Sarge's car for our first date, the first thing I noticed was a huge collection of CDs. The binder containing them looked as full to bursting as the baby album my grandmother kept for me and just as meticulously tended--when he took a CD out of the player, he carefully replaced it in the slot with its album cover rather than just putting it back into any open spot. As we drove into the heart of Dallas from the suburb where I lived, we listened to some of my favorite songs and a ton of new stuff I'd never heard before. He had a little white sports car, and I almost felt like we were flying on that highway into town.
Earlier in the week he had asked me what I wanted to do, but I demurred. I lived in a world of pep rallies and locker signs, meeting at Taco Bell before the game and driving through McDonald's or Whataburger afterwards. Most of my friends' parents set their driving limits at a pretty tight radius around our suburb, and the last time I had gone to dinner in the neighborhood where Sarge planned to take me had been one of the chaperoned squad outings during a cheer competition. I tried to act appreciative but only marginally impressed, but the whole time I was suppressing a full-on freak out at how good it felt to get out of high school world.
After dinner, Sarge drove to an unfamiliar part of town and a nondescript building nestled between a garage and a tire store. He explained that I should stay kind of quiet for this next bit: a friend of a friend was making an exception and letting me in to see a show that was supposed to be 18 and up. He had it all worked out, but it would be best if I just went along with whatever he said.
I started to have serious doubts about the situation (how well did I actually know this guy anyway?), but I decided to roll with it for the time being.
I waited in a lobby area while he approached the guy selling tickets. After a quick conversation and the guy glancing at me over Sarge's shoulder, he came back with two tickets and handed one to me. We waited until a hostess took us and another couple to a table off to the side of a stage. I ordered a Coke and watched the room fill up around us, and the people all seemed nice enough and fairly ordinary. I had no idea what might eventually happen on the stage, but judging by the other people gathered to watch, it didn't seem like it would be anything weird or scary. I started to relax.
The show ended up being an ad-lib comedy show. To this day, I can only remember a handful of times I've laughed as much as I did that night. My sides hurt and my cheeks ached about halfway in. I couldn't tell you exactly what bits they did, and I have no frame of reference for whether the group was any good (though I'm pretty sure they were--I got to know the friends involved on the performance side eventually). But I laughed, and laughed, and laughed, without reservation, without inhibition. It was the most fun I'd ever had.
During the show, Sarge and I maneuvered our hands towards each other in stealthy increments until our little fingers were touching, and by the last curtain call, we were holding hands under the table. We let go for the walk to the car, but after we put on our seat belts, he reached over and took my hand. The car was a stick shift, so it was a little awkward to hold hands around the gear shift, but I drove a standard, too, so I kind of intuited how to make that work. Once he shifted into fifth gear on the highway, we moved our hands to a more comfortable position and settled in for the ride.
We laughed about the funniest parts of the show and compared notes on which jokes we each found most hilarious, listened to more music, and it all felt like flying again. I found a CD in the binder and gasped a little; hardly anyone I hung around with knew the song, and even if they had, they probably wouldn't have liked it as much as I did. It was like the moment of discovering someone else is a fan of a book or movie you love: recognizing there's significance in knowing you both stopped to notice the same beautiful or interesting thing in the world.
He played the song for me, and I shyly sang along while looking out the window at the dark landscape rushing by. Too soon we pulled up in front of my house, and he walked me to the front door. He did not kiss me goodnight, but he smiled over his shoulder as he walked down the sidewalk.
Ten days later we were officially a couple.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.