Coming Out & Coming Apart
I can feel the heavy wash of synthesizers vibrating their way out from the scratchy foam headphones of my walkman, even though I haven’t played this album on cassette in over a decade.
Seventh grade, the album out for a year. These over-the-top synthesizers are the beginnings of my teenage angst. Don’t you know I am ratting my hair in rural America?
Pictures of You
Synthesizers give way to the ready and repeated strumming of guitars. The first song was all drowning, but this, this is swimming, kicking my legs, driving me upward.
I am on a school bus and the left side of my face presses into the textured green vinyl seat. The glass rattles in its square metal frames as the bus lurches down a gravel road.
I have stared at this landscape my entire life. It never changes. These mountains and trees and the river are fixed and certain. Geography as a kind of constellation.
I am rising close enough to the surface to see how light ripples and distorts.
Not on the bus, but lying on my bed staring up at the ceiling at the poster of Robert Smith’s enormous orange lips. I don’t even know where I could find lipstick in that shade.
I let the music pool underneath me, raise me up, until I am floating just underneath those enormous lips. They consume my field of vision. Why can’t I stop thinking about another man’s lips?
The reedy synthesized flutes and violins. The first clear, undistorted strings of an electric guitar. Is this hopeful or just the memory of feeling hopeful?
This song has played on the radio for twenty years and will still be playing on some soft rock station twenty years from now. In the car, when it comes on the radio, passengers catch me singing along.
Back through the exotic curtain of heavy synth. This song was a placeholder, a resting spot between two others that I my friends and I sing along to.
Only years later do I realize that the lyrics are about recollection. Not nostalgia, but a kind of distorted foreknowledge in retrospect. How to be in the moment again. Even twenty years later. But in that moment with the knowledge that it is twenty years later.
How I lie on that bed thinking I was the only fourteen year old who would ever want to kiss another man, unable to know how many men I would press my lips to.
This is the other song that my friends and I sing along to. My stringy bangs are so long and they resemble a spider’s legs. It was a contest. Who could grow theirs the longest? We all want “skater bangs” even though not one of us owns a skateboard.
Alone in my bed at night, I dream about hands touching me, taking me somewhere that I want to go but have no name for. A drowning hunger.
If the last track tucked me in at night, this one pushed me out of the house to wander my small town in the dark. I walked miles, looking into the light cast from others’ windows. Each house a solitary stage on which another’s drama played out.
I knew everyone in the town where I grew up, but in the dark, from a distance, all lit up, their lives became fascinating.
Prayers for Rain
The restless build of the song mimicked my own. Too young to drive, too far from a city, and parents who monitored my every move, I paced. I threw myself down on the couch and my bed to try to break apart the monotony of my body. I got back up and paced. I swam in the slow circle of my own adolescence.
In some car, in some city far from here, someone was up to something better. The empty eye of the television gave me glimpses with its long blue stare.
The Same Deep Water as You
Drunken guitars echo slowly through the track, delicious as the moment before a first kiss with someone new. The lyrics spoke to me before I learned how to speak about desire.
To tell another person. To hear another say, “I’m just like you.” The words hover, twist upon the lips, always about to be spoken. Breaking the surface, into the air and light terrifies.
How could I miss all the kissing in this album? Sure, The Cure released “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me” in 1987, but all the real lip action took place two years later in Disintegration.
My freshman year, during a round of “Stump ‘Em,” (a team based charade challenge) I correctly guessed the title of this album when one of my teammates made a confetti-like motion with his hands. We were accused of cheating. No, I loved the album that much.
Robert Smith couldn’t stay up-tempo forever. The slow slide of boozy guitars and stumbling piano accompanies his slurring voice. Having hovered just below the surface, the resolve to rise above wavers and comes apart.
I want to say this song makes me homesick, but it’s a lie. I never want to go back to the suffocating wave of rural, sixteen-year-old existence.
In an attempt to break the lung crushing weight of my life, I tell my best friend that I might be bisexual the same night I taught her how to smoke. A full moon in July. Smoking on the same field where I used to play Little League, in the same park where I learned how to swim, my life in the shadow of those unmovable peaks.
The song opens with an accordion or at least the synthesizer’s approximation of an accordion. Robert Smith’s voice is gentle, but sure. He tells us, “never quite said what I wanted to say to you. Never quite managed the words to explain to you…”
I managed to come out to a few people at the age of sixteen, but I waited another three years for that kiss.
I too wonder what I have managed to say as the cassette clicks off.
Jory M. Mickelson’s work has appeared in Free Verse, Oranges & Sardines, Knockout, New Mexico Poetry Review and other print and online journals. He is the winner of the 2011 Academy of American Poets Prize at the University of Idaho. He’s the nonfiction editor of the literary journal 5×5 (www.5x5litmag.org) and blogs about writing and queer life at Literary Magpie (www.jorymickelson.blogspot.com).