Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What It Feels Like to be Prodigal (An Epilogue)

I realize that this will sound paranoid, but I think I'm being stalked by a song.

Peter Murphy's 1988 album Love Hysteria, although not his best track for track, produced two of the most poingnant and gorgeous musical creations to come out of the 80s, or any decade for that matter. My Last Two Weeks and Time Has Got Nothing to Do With It are each moving and powerful pieces, made moreso by the fact that both songs convey a genuine vulnerability that you'd never expect from the creepy guy who fronted Bauhaus and consequently became the patron saint of every pasty-skinned, effeminate faux-vampire who ever donned a black trenchcoat and wrote painfully bad high school poetry.

Of these two songs, it's Time Has Got Nothing to Do With It that just won't leave me alone.

When it was first released, I was a DJ at WVUM -- the rather sub-standard college radio station at the University of Miami, where I happened to be enrolled at the time and was content to spend my days sleeping, my nights getting drunk and both unwittingly racking up an obscene student loan tab. Like any drivetime DJ -- the shift I worked before getting a primetime show -- I had my share of female fans, most of whom I naturally assumed didn't look anywhere near as good as their voices sounded. One though was a friend of a friend who worked on-staff with me, so we had actually run into each other on more than one occasion, at various clubs, shows, what-have-you. Her name was Lilly and she was cute and sweet in a way that defied rational explanation. Over a period of time, we became close and, if nothing else -- and believe me, I wanted something else -- she could be assured that she'd never have to wait to hear her song whenever she got the urge to make a request, which she did on a regular basis.

Her favorite song?

You guessed it -- Time Has Got Nothing to Do With It.

Lilly requested this every time she called my radio show, to the point where it became a joke between us. In fact, I eventually began playing the song each time I wanted to talk to her -- using it as a sort of Bat Signal to get her to call in; I'd put the song on the turntable, then count the seconds from the time the first notes of it hit the air to the time the phone would begin ringing. It became, for all intents and purposes, our song.

After awhile, Lilly and I began dating, which meant that after a slightly longer while, I broke her heart.

Even at that early stage of my life, it seemed to be developing into the natural order of things.

Several years later, on my first date with the woman I'd had an office crush on for months -- the woman who would eventually become my wife, the other half of the most disastrous relationship since Sid gutted Nancy, and finally my ex-wife -- I walked into her apartment for the first time to find my favorite Peter Murphy song playing on her stereo. It was kismet baby.

Needless to say, I spent quite some time not getting anywhere near the Love Hysteria album after that experience.

I had all but forgotten both the beauty of that particular song -- the reason I loved it in the first place -- and the memories both wonderful and painful attached to it, when the fates once again intervened to bring it back into my life.

Early last week, I was listening to lastfm.com at work when, from the millions of possible songs, what did its now famous search mechanism pick to play for me but my old favorite. Hearing it again after all this time hit me like a brick to the side of the head. I sat quietly at my desk, rested my chin on my hands, and listened -- giving the song its due reverence.

The melody almost made my eyes well up with tears, bringing back a wave of emotions. The lyrics, suddenly took on affecting new life.

"The clock cannot be turned with remorseful yearns. Time has got nothing to do with it. You would see, you would see if you were three again, and did it all the same. Fate drives you insane."

Normally, even for someone as occasionally sentimental as myself, hearing the song again might not have been enough to leave much of an impact one way or the other. As it turns out though, this odd revelation came at a time when I was experiencing -- if you'll pardon the pun, given the subject matter of last week's extended column -- a "Perfect Storm" of nostalgia.

Over the past few weeks, I've hung out with three friends, each from a different period in my life, whom I haven't seen since their respective places in my personal timeline came and went. One was close to me from second grade through my teen years (remembers me as an extraordinarily creative and talented kid; wonders why I haven't conquered the world), one from my early through mid 20s, (remembers me as an arrogant but mildly charming son-of-a-bitch; wonders why she didn't smack the crap out of me that time I kissed her), and one from late high school through my late 20s (remembers me as a friend of his big brother's turned witty drug addict; wonders how either of us is still alive). Seeing each person again brought back a flood of memories and feelings, as well as a heavy headful of questions.

What the hell happened?

Where did I go wrong, if I did at all?

Did I unforgivably waste my youth, or did I live the kind of passionate life of which others can only dream?

These encounters with these different people, when combined with last Friday's anniversary of a watershed event in the evolution of who I was and who I would become -- Hurricane Andrew -- left me confused and devastated in ways I can't fully describe.

It was a little like undergoing a spontaneous mid-life crisis, and it was this feeling that led me to sit down last week and relive my experiences during Andrew.

With Abby.

With living as if I were indestructable.


Rather than get it out of my system though, my detailed acknowledgment of that early coming-of-age and of my state of mind at the time -- the youthful recklessness necessary to have made those situations possible in the first place -- left me feeling even more disheartened.

Please understand, I realize that I'm nothing special in this regard. I'm three years away from turning 40; these kinds of feelings are not only expected, but horribly cliché.

This recognition, unfortunately, takes nothing away from how strangely bittersweet and thoroughly confusing it all is.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, my early 20s through my early 30s were lived as if I'd never see the age I'm at now. The intensity, passion and outright cockiness I exuded, often at the expense of those who had the misfortune to care about me one way or the other, was like a high -- one that couldn't be sustained forever, no matter how much I might have wished that it could.

But what do you do when that high is gone? How do you become a real adult when you've never been more than a child in a man's body -- when you've always been so good at being an overgrown kid?

Over the past year, like it or not, circumstances have conspired to force me out of my impetuous immaturity. The brain tumor I survived has left my body unrecognizable to me -- changing my hormonal output, or lack thereof, overnight. Slowing me to a crawl. Making me mortal. I'm no longer indesctructable, and I now look back on the days that I was -- or at least felt like I was -- with a longing I can't even begin to put into words.

I find myself thinking that maybe if I hadn't burned so intensely, I'd still somehow have surplus fuel left to carry me today -- and then I counter that with the argument that I have memories of a past, as difficult as it may have occasionally been, which allow me to be a better writer today (or at the very least, one with something to write about). Maybe that's what I have left -- the various true tales I now find myself putting down on these virtual pages.

But I still wonder if I misspent the opportunities of youth, or if I tried to hold onto my childhood for far too long. When others were planning and building, I was living dangerously -- all or nothing. It's a great way to go as long as you don't plan on living for very long.

Now I'm starting to understand that there's a trade-off for that kind of behavior. There's a cost for everything. By burning so brightly at such a young age, I feel as if there are no surprises left -- no new roads to cross or lands to conquer -- like the best years are well behind me. I have an astonishingly wonderful wife, whom I love very much and want nothing more than to make happy, but I worry that my lack of vision for the future all those years ago has hurt her as well as me. I wanted to be a kid forever. I wanted to live as if there was no tomorrow -- but tomorrow came.

So what now?

There are no easy answers.

There are no simple truths, except one.

Time, as it turns out, has everything to do with it.


girl with curious hair said...

I'm sitting on a conference call reading this with tears in my eyes, praying no one asks me a question now.

I'm a few years younger than you, and joke that I go through a midlife crisis every few months. Except it's not really a joke. I have played it safe--so very safe--with my life,'saving' it for later when I would experience that greatness. But I haven't. I look around me at the women (and men) I grew up with and feel I have missed opportunities to actually live and have nothing to show for it.

Maybe tomorrow will make it better. It's just about all I can hope for most days.

Oh, and our client now thinks I'm a nut for crying in the face of criticism. Great.


A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one, a long time have I watched...

Never his mind on WHERE HE IS. Hmm? WHAT HE IS DOING!


Adventure? Heh!
Excitement? Heh!

A Jedi craves not these things.

Anonymous said...

What's even more sad is that I can 100% relate to this, but I am half your age.

Nancy said...

Doncha just hate it when ya grow up in spite of yourself?


slouchmonkey said...

Why does Master Voda always say the right things? At least you're not Miss Teen South Carolina.

Shortly, I'll be embarking on a whole new adventure. Fatherhood. Yikes, and I still feel like a kid! What can I possibly teach? I've pushed every boundry, I like to think, and I'm still not where I saw myself when I was younger.

Keep being bitchin!

Lily's Mommy said...

This is probably going to sound bitchy but whenever I start to have similar thoughts, some grounded voice at the back of my head says something like:

Isn't it nice that I don't have to worry about food, or water, or electricity or even trying to get wood for a fire without being gang raped (ie. Darfur), so I have time to worry about shit that I have no control over?

Life is what it is. It's nice to look back sometimes, but pull up your big girl pants and get on with things.

And let's not get into having other voices in one's head....

Al said...

Forget the song, but the words are wise:
"It's better to regret something you've done...than to regret something you haven't..." [smart] "and if you see your mother, tell her I said...SATAN!" [ok, less smart but amusing]

In my case I spent my college years and 20's being safe and smart. Never partook of much excess, be it interpersonal, chemical or professional. Seemed to be the path to....what, exactly? I don't know. It made sense at the time.

Had a dinner on Lincoln Road one night, including a cute young couple about my age. Meant to call them someday and get to know them better. Then months later I heard the woman had died. Just, whammo - undiagnosed heart condition and that was that. What had I need waiting for? That someday when money, life and career lined up in such a way that I could THEN enjoy it? I saw my Dad work like a dog for decades only to arrive at his "golden years" without a marriage, his health or his vitality. His someday never really arrived.

I hit my 30's doing - riding the motorcycles I had always yearned have, playing hockey, taking some leaps of faith in my career. Am I reckless? Nope - I have a kid and amazingly supportive wife to think of. But I also want my kid to see that life is meant to be lived, no guarantees but also no regrets.

Each day you spend looking back is just another day you'll look back on and regret after all.

There ARE easy answers. You can't do a think about the past so don't waste time on it. Realize where you are today is because who you were and what you did then.

To put it succinctly, "seemed like a good idea at that time".

Luna said...

Wow, you got me thinking my friend. I could relate to what you wrote and it made me kind of sad. I think we should freeze ourselves in time ... 1986 through 1991. I hate being an adult. Can we scream "do over" and go back?


Lorenzo said...

'Tis sad but true, sooner or later, we all have to leave Neverland.