April 1, 2010 by 8junebugs
For about 12 years, I jumped to a different station whenever U2’s With or Without You came on the radio. Without fail.
See, it was one of those songs. You know how sometimes, there’s a song that sounds like the soundtrack of your life and you can’t get away from it? Every time you start your car, some station is playing it. That’s normal for Top 40 hits, but a song that was already 10 years old in 1997? A classic, to be sure, but not on every DJ’s daily playlist. One would think, anyway.
It seemed in constant rotation when my relationship with J was falling apart.
J was the first boy I lived with and bought furniture with, the first boy to propose marriage, the first boy to take me on a mini-break (a theater weekend in San Francisco). We had little in common — we’d have even less now, if I’m not mistaken — but it was a lovely relationship while it lasted. He was, in all honesty, one of the best and most well-meaning people I’ve ever known, and what we had was very, very different from any other relationship I’ve been in.
Not better, not worse. But inescapably different. It was my sitcom relationship, the one that actually looked and felt like a teen movie. Instead of the brooding intellectuals I was usually attracted to, here was this clean-cut almost-20-year-old, full of sunshine and adventure, just waiting to open my door or change the oil in my car (while I drove his Integra for the weekend). We didn’t stay up all night talking about society or politics — we cut class and went to the beach. We went to the zoo, we went to coffee shops, we flew a Mighty Mouse kite (it was all Toy R Us had when the fancy struck us).
J was the one who got my attention by using the word “homonculus” in our philosophy class at Ohlone College. I turned and stared and waited for him to prove that he knew what it meant. At this point in my life, my flirting style was well-developed and…um…confrontational.
At this point in my life, too, I was pretty sure my ex-boyfriend and my best friend were the smartest men I would ever know. They still lead the pack.
(That ex-boyfriend was Graham. He dumped me after I graduated high school and went into a tailspin trying to figure out how to go to college without parental support.)
(Well. It worked out in the end.)
Life in a teen-movie relationship was awfully fun. J treated me like a princess and I, as often as not, didn’t know how to deal with that. I was used to being loved, sure, but…J had the means, motive, and opportunity to play Prince Charming, and at least one of those things hadn’t been available to each of his predecessors. (High school love has logistical limitations.) This was my only real experience with traditional “dating” — boy picks you up in car, boy takes you to dinner, you’re too excited to eat, boy pays for dinner. We got to know each other’s families and friends. We planned to be together forever.
Head over heels in love, I tell you.
It continued when we lived together, for the most part. We shared a small apartment in an old complex for three months, during which I cooked maybe three meals. (He was a really good cook, and I didn’t care about cooking then.) He tried to teach me to run — that went badly.
(It turns out he was teaching me wrong. For the record.)
The stress of life eventually dulled the glow of teen-movie love, though. I was working three jobs, he was working evenings, and we were both taking classes. I got really testy when I came home from a 10-hour shift and found him watching Thundercats in his underwear. I discovered that I was attracted to brooding intellectuals for a reason — they were more like me, and therefore more likely to understand me.
And then my grandmother died and I went into a pretty dark period. Nothing illegal or even dangerous — just dark. Dark-and-brooding me was a bad match for a happy-go-lucky guy who just wanted to get a good job, get married, have kids, and live happily ever after. (At 19 and 20, I wasn’t at all sure I even wanted kids.) He did try…but eventually I came home to find his shaving kit gone and his side of the closet a little bare.
One rainy night, after lots of tears and some yelling, J convinced me to head to the beach at 1 am. As he drove down 17 (which he could’ve driven with the lights off — that’s how often we went down to Aptos) and I sulked in the passenger seat, With or Without You came on the radio. AGAIN. I started crying, taking it as a final sign that we weren’t going to work this out. Ever.
And ever after, I couldn’t listen to that song. My heart was broken for a while — even after it mended, the scar still ached. Though we’re better off apart, I’m not proud of how I behaved back then, and the song brings it all back.
This morning, I listened to all of With or Without You and smiled. I’m not sure what shifted. I’ve known for years that he’s got his happily ever after — good job, marriage, kids. I’ve known for (even more) years that we were ill-suited in the long run, and our paths after we parted reinforced that. It might be because I finally feel like everything’s right-side-up in my life again, and even the bad days aren’t very dark.
Related: J always feared that I would leave him for Graham, in the end. I’m not sure that was prophetic — head over heels, remember? — but he may have seen something then that I didn’t see for a very long time.
Still, I remember more sunshine from those days than rain, and count myself very lucky to have loved and been loved well by a really great guy.
Henceforth, the ban on With or Without You is lifted.