I have spent this evening listening to the Toad the Wet Sprocket Pandora station. A random choice, perhaps, as I’m not sure they were even that popular in their heyday (except for that one song), but there’s some nostalgia there. Their fourth (and probably most well-known) album, In Light Syrup, was the first CD I ever bought with my own money. I was a freshman in high school, and I was coming down off the rage of Nirvana and Pearl Jam (which of course don’t seem so rage-y now but certainly were then) and settling into some stuff that was easier on the ears.
I remember distinctly that I was going through an “everybody hates me” phase, and I remember listening to the song “Good Intentions” over and over. I truly believed that song was written for me as I tried so hard to make everyone around me happy, only to have things fall in on myself. I, like most 13-year-olds thought I was the only one suffering from the malady of being just fine one day and then a complete screaming, crying basket case the next. One day, I had friends, and the next day I was the outcast of the group. Then, everything was back to fine the next day. I used to think I surely must be the only person on the planet who had such ups and downs. Ah, to be a self-centered adolescent again.
My parents used to tell me, “Ava, if they’re writing songs about it, it’s because it’s happening to lots of people. How else do you think they came up with the idea? Get over yourself.” Parents. They never understood.
At this time, I was also suffering for the first time from unrequited love. Don’t get me wrong–I’d had crushes in middle school that simply didn’t pan out, but for some reason, they were relatively easy to get over. I don’t know if this particular person was so special or if I had just reached a level of (unrestrained) emotional maturity that allowed me to feel more deeply for this person that I should have been able to. Ugh. Either way, it sucked big time.
He was a senior and was one of the captains of the swim team. Looking back, I can see that he wasn’t even that attractive, at least not conventionally. I guess he treated me like a little sister when I think about it. He was very protective and helped me feel like less of a dumb freshman and more a part of the team. He encouraged me to improve my times, and cheered me on when practice got me down. At parties, he danced with me and made sure I was included.
While very much falling on my face for this guy, I also spent an unreasonable amount of time trying to convince everyone around me that I wasn’t into him. My best friend had a crush on him too, and it seemed important to listen to her gush and encourage her without revealing my feelings. My mother was also dismayed that I might be interested in someone so much older, so I just kept saying over and over that I thought of him as an older brother. “A crush? Ew,” I would say over and over. There just happened to be a song on that Toad the Wet Sprocket CD called “Brother.” That song still makes me think of him even though it’s not really about romantic love.
I wish I hadn’t been so young when all of this happened. I developed some terrible habits during this crush, and had to learn some hard lessons down the road as a result. I basically stalked the poor guy and manipulated him into thinking I wasn’t into him. I flirted with him and got away with it because I didn’t have a crush on him, my best friend did. “I’m just friendly and happy, shut up I’m not flirting.” These are all techniques I tried on guys after that one, and each one caused pain. I guess we have to learn the hard way sometimes, and we have to learn over and over sometimes.
Anyway, obviously nothing worked out. He had a girlfriend the whole time, although I had convinced myself that she was a terrible person and made him extremely unhappy. She went to a different school and I’d never met her, but deciding she was terrible made me feel better about crushing on a dude with a girlfriend.
I ran into him at the gym in my hometown sometime after I’d graduated from college. Turns out he’d had a really rough go of it. In our relatively short conversation, he let me know that he had been struggling with mental illness and that a lot had happened to his family. It was a sad conversation and just made my heart ache. There had been a time in my getting-over-him phase during which I was very angry and silently hoped he would fall down the stairs or something. As an adult, however, I genuinely felt bad that life had made him suffer. I was pretty certain I wouldn’t see him again (I didn’t), but I make a point of wishing him well whenever I think about it. He tracked me down on Facebook at some point a year or so later and thanked me for allowing him to unload all that stuff when we talked in the gym. The little things count sometimes.
So, to you out there: I heard “your song,” and I remembered all those crazy feelings and that crazy time. I sent a good vibe out into the universe just for you. Hope you got it and I hope life turned around for you.