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Memory of the Future

You may have heard folks say that smells are a good time machine, often whisking us back to various moments in our lives, even with just a whiff of an old scent remembered. While our olfactory senses are certainly good for recalling memories and planting us back to where they began, I would argue that another good method for accomplishing this is music.

Songs can be a powerful madeleine, recalling a setting, or a place in time, that we either have fond or disagreeable memories of. I experienced such an occurrence recently when Sting's song When We Dance came on the radio. Released in 1994 as the new song from his 'best of' compilation, the track did moderately well here in the U.S. (peaking at # 38 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart), but it was an immediate favorite of mine.

1994 was a year of development for me. I turned 18 at the end of December 1993, finished the final semester of high school in spring 1994, on home bound education because of bullying, and then began a metamorphosis during the summer of '94. That's when I found a new group of friends, and explored my city as an adult for the first time. Later that year I began meeting honest-to-goodness gay folk and, by the end of year, was on the verge of starting classes at Parkland College.

One of the gay people I met that year was Jeff. He was in his mid-twenties, tall, skinny, face slightly marked by acne, cute, lived alone on the north end of town and who had an extraordinary taste in music. It was Jeff who first introduced me to artists such as Pet Shop Boys, Erasure and Cocteau Twins. We had an interesting friendship for awhile. It was a tumultuous time for me, and Jeff was often a patient and, at times, even a protective influence. I was saddened when he died a few years ago of a heart attack, not even forty-years-old.

Jeff's presence could also be provocative. Looking back, with over twenty years of time and space between our primary involvement, I think it's safe to say I was in love with him. At least a little. This was mostly (mostly) unrequited, though he was more than happy to share his friendship. This meant assuming the role of friend while Jeff dealt with his own scenario of unrequited love. He was head over heels for a guy who was in a relationship with someone else. The guy would feed Jeff just enough attention to keep him hooked, but not enough to satisfy.

The aforementioned situation frustrated not only Jeff, but myself. It was during this time that I heard Sting's When We Dance, and it spoke to me. A slow, beautiful song, When We Dance meanders for a bit, then culminates with Sting imploring whomever it is he's singing to to come with him, rather than the person they're with. The lyrics in question go like this:

"He won't love you, like I love you
  He won't care for this way
  He'll mistreat you if you stay
  Come and live with me
  We'll have children of our own
  I would love you more than life, if you'll come and be my wife"

Some of the pronouns excepted, you get the idea.

While he could be clear-headed when helping me work through my own life issues, Jeff was a mess when it came to the guy he liked. I remember one night when I took Jeff for a ride in my car. Things had broken badly with the object of his desire, and he was telling me about it. We eventually pulled over and stopped in a parking lot, and Jeff proceeded to collapse into my lap, violently sobbing. It was a loud, ugly crying session. Somewhat wet behind the ears and just 18, I did my best to comfort him, patting his head as his tears dampened my jeans.

I hadn't thought about that night in a long time, not until When We Dance came on the radio the other day and brought it all back. That damn song.


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