Nothing transports like a song. Nothing evokes such memory. Like Proust’s famous madeleines, the hearing of one song has transported me back twelve years and sixty-two miles away, to a world I no longer inhabit, to best friends and lovers I no longer know, to places I will probably never see again.
At nineteen I bought a Tori Amos compilation (a CD from a mom and pop record store in Studio City) that I listened to nonstop while spending three years living in Orange County. My favorite track was #15, “Playboy Mommy.” It came after “Bliss” and before “Baker, Baker.” I listened to that song over and over. I don’t know why I loved it so much. It’s beautiful, but if you ask most fans they’d probably say they love “Crucify” or “Winter” more, and they are probably right – they’re objectively stronger songs. To me, though, it was as if there was already a memory in it before I had ever heard it. Driving around in my old green Honda Accord, before iPhones and Spotify, before bluetooth in the car. When CD’s were still the norm, and the best we could do was tote around 200 count CaseLogics or burn mixes that were like opening Christmas presents with each turn of the track.
That song still breaks my heart. How I listened to it. With Mark. Without Mark. High on Adderall. Drunk out of my mind. Completely sober. It made me feel loved. It still reminds me of innocence. It smells like early morning coffee and anxiety at the Harbor meeting. It tastes like Rockstars bought from the CircleK and Menthol Virginia Slims. It reminds me of relapse. Reminds me of Mark. Reminds me of Jessy, too.
Mark and I loved music. It brought us together and kept us close, despite our tumultuous, toxic relationship. We saw shows every weekend and brought our CD players to the beach. We spoke constantly of our favorite artists and bands. We made mixes for each other (I don’t even remember how to do that…) and even he would admit that mine were better. I wrote him love letters scrawled with heart patterns and Led Zeppelin lyrics. He played guitar and I sang. He played guitar and I listened.
Lying in bed listening to Sarah McLachlan, those lazy summer days… (Every day was a lazy summer day in Dana Point.) Mark had no shame about loving her music. He loved her more than I did. “Fear” and “Plenty” were our favorites. I will never not think of him, whenever I hear those tracks. Or The Pixies. The Mother Hips. Ben Harper. Grateful Dead. Our relationship was music, sex, food, the ocean. It was fighting. It was lying. It was romance. It was constant heartache. It was young and foolish. It was crazy love. Perhaps my biggest love, as a stupid, taking-life-too-seriously kid.
Mark passed away a couple of years ago. I never really got to say goodbye, although the last time I saw him was significant and meaningful in its own unique way. There was a sort of goodbye in it, even though I assumed I would see him again. I hugged him and waved to him from the doorway, and then he left and took the train back home to Chico and died three years later. Oh, how I loved him. Like a fool. Like a girl. I will never forget the first time I noticed him, wearing a grey bandana, a Sierra Nevada t-shirt, and other ridiculous NorCal flare, looking quite thoughtful and affected by whatever was being shared at that Mission Viejo meeting. I will never forget our first kiss, at Salt Creek beach, how time surely did stop for a few minutes.
And Jessy. When I think of my O.C. days, it’s with her, at our apartment in Laguna Niguel, making weird short films. Pulling all nighters with Folger’s coffee and Marlboro Reds. Charades with the sober crew. Watching horrible scary movies, because she loved them. Watching Carmen Elektra’s workout video while eating Round Table pizza. Swapping stories of high school and our many firsts. How she looked at me every time I brought Mark home again. Pity and love. Her silly vegetarian food that I always stole from the freezer. Her stinky Converse. And our music. That impressive child band, Smoosh. Fiona Apple. The Rent soundtrack. Rilo Kiley and Annie Lennox and Ani DiFranco like a motherfucker. She even made me sing songs from Annie to her… good grief. Hey, all the world’s a stage.
We went through a Six Feet Under phase. I had watched the show off and on in high school, but that was before TIVO and DVR and committed binge-watching, and so it wasn’t until a couple of years later that I rented (from Blockbuster!) and gorged on the entire DVD set and then bought the soundtrack online (CDNow, probably) because the music was so excellent and was, naturally, a hugely important part of the show. That was where I discovered Sia and fell in love with Arcade Fire and heard Radiohead’s “Lucky” in an entirely new way.
Jessy and I grew apart. She moved to Los Angeles to pursue her acting career, and I stayed to finish school in Mission Viejo. I wound my way through another relapse and another relationship, finally transferring to UCLA and embarking upon a new path, hearing more music, building more memories. With Christopher. With Tyler. With a great unraveling and a brand new start in 2011. Jessy and I shared coffee and cigarettes a few years ago. We talked about music.
I never gave Orange County a formal goodbye. I have never returned in my body. But anytime I want to go there, I can – without having to sit on the dreaded 405. Certain places and time periods crack us open wide and change our lives forever, and whether we visit or not maybe isn’t the point – but remembering feels important. Remembering feels so goddamn important. And maybe that is why people make music – to help us remember. And I probably should pay it a visit. Make some mixes and sit on the beach. Maybe even smoke some menthol cigarettes. (Likely not.)