After a day off from the project yesterday, I am back with Day 3’s post “Talk about a memory triggered by a particular song.” I wrote this post in 2004, during my time on a short-lived blogging site called scribblejournal, and I’m reusing it because I want to spend more time reading others than writing here today. It is a little purple at times, but other than that, I am sentimentally attached to it, which is quite an accomplishment for eight-year-old writing. It was in response to this prompt: something you finished too late. I almost never write about this topic, and never have in this depth under my real name. And maybe it was not finished too late at all.
Those were days when I traded and hoarded mix tapes that were made for me. By now they’ve all gone thin and snapped, except a few. An older brother of an older friend had made a tape for me that fall, complete with artwork on the liner and with all the solemnity that comes from a thirty-year-old man making a tape for a girl who’s nineteen and professes to love Pink Floyd. The tape was laden with the obscure songs I hadn’t heard on my midnight drives home on DVE, when I’d stay out later than I even wanted just so that I could come home with the Floyd Fix.
At the time I thought I’d go to culinary school or commit suicide. The previous twelve months I had destroyed almost everything I touched. Things were coming for me in just a few months, but I didn’t know it then, and I spent my days selling 4x8 sheets of plywood and wet red bricks that smell like something you don’t talk about to your little brother. I preferred my silence and my Tanqueray Sterling for those days, and you were still a little boy with a crush on Danielle Fishel.
The car was a little slip of a thing, made for a girl; it didn’t drive fast enough to make my mother nervous about me taking you around in it. The night I bought it, my first brand-new car, I drove you around in it, through our hometown, playing music and talking to you as though you were someone my own age. Almost ten years younger than me, you weren’t yet old enough to be the asshole you would pretend to be later, and you were one of the few things in my life that I didn’t treat with detached coolness. Your eyes were better than any other eyes in our house; they looked like a green and gold glass vase that had been shattered on topsoil after a thunderstorm. I couldn’t look at you without seeing a wonder who called all his friends by their first and last names, as though I couldn’t keep track of them, as if knowing that someday you’d have too many for anyone to tally. I learned how children learned to pronounce things by watching you; I learned the way people learned to think. I learned how new words got stuck in your head and I learned the lyrics to “Just Me and My Dad.” I wanted to give you something, to be that sister.
Along the road to Victory Hill through the township, I pointed out where my friends lived and I played you the mix tape. Amid all those obscure never-on-DVE songs he’d thrown in “On the Turning Away.” It was quiet in the car, and the silence behind that voice brought us to silence ourselves. “It’s sad,” you said. “It gets less sad,” I said. Could you have understood those lyrics back then, so small I put the seat belt on you myself, never ever thinking that a seat belt would have saved your life six years later? A fucking seat belt. Fabric. It would have kept you here, maybe having momentary twinges when you heard Pink Floyd, remembering your sister driving you around. After that one, I played “Wish You Were Here.” You couldn’t pick up the words to that one. Years later our brother would play it for me on his guitar, slowly and precisely, and it would echo in his tiny apartment. It was a too-on-the-nose moment, looking back, but when your heart pours out from you there is no such thing as too-on-the-nose.
I never finished with you. You never finished anything, except winning seasons and probation terms. Even your destruction isn’t finished; I know its waves can be detected from New Mexico and Georgia and the damn Crab Nebula. We took you once to the hill by the cemetery, and the three of us talked like friends instead of siblings, but I never got to tell you anything important, not ever. I waited for you to get older, thinking what we would become when you got your teens out of your way, when you wanted to hear someone else. Instead I would never see those greengoldbrown eyes again; I search for their liquid light in photographs of you, but it is never there. I didn’t know that you weren’t getting any older than you were that day on the hill, that we would bring you to the cemetery soon after carried on the shoulders of your teammates, and that the only thing I’d finish, because the grieving doesn’t stop, would be the story about the day we cruised through the Valley and we played Pink Floyd.