The landscape of Athens Ohio looked the same today as it did in 1996. Back then I was seventeen. I had wishing green eyes that widened when I heard my favorite song, and I was ready to leave the city of Athens behind me forever. Forever, or until Thomas and I graduated college and wanted to move home to start a family. That was what every girl in my graduating class wanted. Only some of them were going to skip the college part. Everything was going to be the fairy tale I had laid out in my head, but now as I drive through Athens, I see the paths my plans made. I see how my plans wrapped around the downtown streets, through the high school, into the backseat of my Mercedes that was often in dark parking lots when it shouldn’t have been, and across the borders of Athens into the world.
Emily, my daughter, sits beside me in the car. She watches a different Athens go by. One that isn’t littered with plans and memories; however, one day I’m sure she will come back here and see the paths her plans made the same way I see mine. She’s graduating high school in a week, even though I feel like she shouldn’t be.
I steer the car into the driveway of our colonial house, and she jumps from the passenger seat with an idea to check the basement for more pictures in preparation for her graduation party. In so many ways she reminds me of myself, though she doesn’t look anything like me, she acts like I did at her age. Emily is full of energy and spunk, and she loves music. Almost every night there are notes flowing from her guitar, under the crack in her door, into the hallway.
Sometime later, while I’m making dinner, she comes into the kitchen holding a gray photo album I haven’t seen in years. She’s tied her dark hair back into a ponytail.
“Mom,” Emily starts, “Is this yours?” She lifts the photo album a little higher.
“Yes that’s mine.” I say with a laugh. The salad I was tossing in a glass bowl stops moving, and I walk over to Emily at the table.
“Come in my room,” She says, “I’ve got everything laid out in there.” I agree and follow her down the hall to her room. It hasn’t changed drastically over the years. Band posters are plastered across most walls. She has beaded curtains that I made when she was little, and she still keeps out the framed Pink Floyd album that was in her nursery.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen these.” Emily has sat down on the futon in the corner. I have to push aside her acoustic and electric guitar to join her.
“Most of those pictures are from the summer after my Senior year of highschool.” I explain and we open the cover of the book. I’ve dated the inside page: Spring and Summer of 1996.
“That’s the summer before I was born.” Emily says with a tone in her voice that I’m not sure I like. There are still many stories from that summer I’ve never told her. We turn one more page despite my nerves at what I may have stuck in this book.
Then his face is staring up at me.
“Who’s that?” Emily asks. She points a blue painted nail at the young man whose picture appears on the first page. He has dark hair and darker eyes. A bass guitar is slung over his broad shoulders. Emily keeps staring at me with her brown eyes; her stare demands an answer.
“Michael.” I finally let his name escape my lips. It’s a name I haven’t said in many years. I notice my hand shaking, so I tuck it behind my back.
“I’ve never heard you talk about him.” Emily looks at a few other pictures on the page. One of my older brother and I, the spring break before I graduated. One is of just me, wearing ripped jeans and a black tank top that cuts so low I’m ashamed at some of the outfits I’ve banned Emily from wearing.
“Want to hear a story?” I ask her, not because I want her to know everything, but because I need to hear it myself. She nods. My eyes are glued on the picture of Michael. A blue t-shirt stretches across his chest, but baggy jeans make his legs look disproportionate to his torso.
“It was spring break of 1996. My parents had agreed to let me visit my older brother, your uncle John, at college that week. He was a Junior at Ohio State University. My friends said I was lucky. They couldn’t wait to hear about all the college parties I was going to go to, and all the college boys I was going to meet. I was still seeing Thomas, your dad. In fact, saying I was seeing him is a bit of an understatement. We had been dating since we were Sophomores, and at that point we openly talked about what life would be like when we got married.
Thomas wasn’t thrilled that I was spending spring break at OSU, but he said he trusted me. I left on a Friday afternoon in my little black Mercedes car to go to Columbus. Thomas stood in the driveway with me and kissed me goodbye, and he told me he loved me.
John had agreed to meet me in front of his apartment, and he had called the night before to give me directions so I wouldn’t get lost. On the drive North, I played all my favorite classic rock albums. Back then everyone loved Pink Floyd. Michael, the man in the picture there, loved Pink Floyd more than most.
I pulled up in front of John’s apartment in the afternoon. It was a three story brick building with dilapidated balconies hanging off the side. There was no landscaping to speak of, unlike our house back in Athens where our mother paid a gardener to plant flowers every spring. But John looked happy there.
“Hey little sis!” He yelled and spread his arms wide as he approached my car door. We hugged, it had been a few months since I last saw him.
“Hi John. Thanks for letting me crash here this week.”
“Are you kidding?” He laughed, “Shit Mary it’s been too long. I still can’t believe you’re going to University of Miami next year. You’re a complete traitor.” John took my duffel bag from the backseat and led me into the stairwell.
“Scholarships speak louder than football student sections.” I reminded him, but John just rolled his eyes.
He lived on the second floor of the abused apartment building. The walls were yellowed at the bottom from what looked like spilled drinks, and his door was scratched beyond repair. John saw me staring but didn’t offer an explanation.
“You’ll stay in my room. I’m couching it.” He told me and threw my duffel on a bed in a closet sized room off the front door.
“Thanks.” I told him while he took me on a tour of the rest of the apartment. There was a living room with a lot of used furniture and a big screen T.V. The kitchen had new looking white appliances and matching cabinets. When I looked inside, I saw they’re filled with liquor and pasta.
“College guys only have two food groups.” John laughed. I roll my eyes and he ushered down a hallway that had a bathroom and another bedroom. “That’s Cody’s room. You’ll meet him tonight. His band is playing.”
“Are we going out tonight?”
“That’s why you’re here isn’t it?”
“The idea that I came just because I wanted to see my brother is completely unbelievable?”
“It’s a blatant lie, shit, I’m surprised Mom and Dad didn’t see straight through you Mary.” John leaned back against the counter in the kitchen that we had made our way back to.
John and I left his apartment at nine that night. He drove us in his Volkswagen to a bar just off campus, Donalds. The bar had a large patio with glass garage doors that were open to let in the spring air and let out the overwhelming smell of booze and sweating bodies. I let John lead me inside, and I followed him through the crowd of undergrads to the bar. The inside of the bar had a large dance floor in the middle, and a slightly raised stage at the back.
“Do you know what you like?” John asked me before he turned to the bartender.
“Not really.” I confessed which caused my brother to let out a chuckle before asking for two beers by a name I didn’t recognize. I didn’t go out much at home, just enough to know that it was beer inside those plastic cups we occasionally drank after football games.
“Let me introduce you around.” John took my arm after I had taken a few sips of the bitter yellow beer. Already I could feel my shoulders loosen, and my nervousness edged away. John told me a hundred names and I said hello to all of them, but I didn’t remember half of them the next morning.
After he had exhausted all of his acquaintances in the bar, John lead me through a door that went into a room behind the stage. A group of guys stood in a circle with smoke around them.
“Guys!” John called out. They all turned to look at us. One of them was Cody, John’s roommate, I recognized him because he had stayed with our family for Thanksgiving a few months back. “This is my sister, Mary. She’s here for Spring Break.” John explained. Cody took a few steps forward, waving.
“Hi Mary, good to see you again, this is Chester, Lola, and Michael.” He pointed to each person as he said their name. My eyes lingered on Michael after Cody was done introducing them, and I could tell his eyes were looking me over too.
We stood in the back with the band for a few more minutes before bar staff told Cody that they were going on in a minute. John took that as our cue, and we moved back into the main room of Donalds.
The room had become even more crowded. I squeezed in between two girls in short yellow dresses and gulped the rest of my beer down faster than I should have. I didn’t want it to spill while I danced to the music, at least, that’s the excuse I gave John. there were a few awkward seconds when everyone knew the band was about to come out, but didn’t want to break of conversation completely, so I fumbled with the seam of my black tank top.
Finally, the lights dimmed, and the band walked out on stage to a roar of applause.
“Hello Donalds!” Cody yelled into the metallic microphone before him. Everyone in the crowd yelled back to him, “We are Left Turn Only, and we are here to rock out with you all!” He kept yelling the entire sentence, but I didn’t mind.
Their first song was explosive. The guitar was moving up and down the music scales faster than I could follow, and the lyrics were about the main singer being screwed over by a girl who slept with half his friend group. They had a rock sound that matched what the top charts were playing back then. I watched Michael more than anyone else in the group. His shaggy hair looked purple in the bar’s lighting, and it was quickly damp on the curly ends from putting so much effort into his music.
Left Turn Only played five more songs before they told the crowd that they were going to take a break, but be right back. My legs were burning from jumping around to the music, and I was starting to add to the smell of sweat in the room. I didn’t care at all.
“I’ll be right back.” John yelled in my ear so I could hear him. As he walked away I began to feel awkward standing alone, but I wasn’t by myself for long. I noticed Michael approach me from the stage door. He had changed t-shirts in the few moments the band had been off stage. This one was white with a black outline of a buckeye leaf on it. We locked eyes and looked at each other as he approached.
“Mary right?” He said when he was next to me.
“Hey, yeah, the music sounds great!” I told him enthusiastically. He shrugged and looked down at his shoes for a second before meeting my eyes again.
“Can I get you a drink?”
I followed him over to the bar where he ordered two beers, the same brand John had ordered. I made a mental note to memorize that name for school next year. Michael leaned against the bar while we waited for our beers. He stared at me for a second and I squirmed under his gaze. I wasn’t good at small talk then, but he started asking me questions soon after that. They weren’t ordinary questions. No talk of my favorite classes or anecdotes about my personality were present, instead, Michael started asking me about Music.
“Well my favorite band is Pink Floyd, but recently I’ve been listening to Nirvana.” I told him and he nodded in approval.
“This music is my life.” Michael confessed, “I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t play music, especially rock music. Cody thinks that rock has run its course, but I don’t think it will ever die. I hear it, I play it, and I just smile.” A smile crosses his face. I liked the way he was suddenly so open with me, it was as if we had known each other for years instead of minutes.
“I’d better get back up there.” He suddenly said, “I want you to find me afterward.” He leaned forward and kissed me, deep, before leaping through the crowd and back up onto the stage where the band waited for him.
I saw him walk a lap around the band members. They all gave him the same confused look before shrugging, and Cody motioned to someone behind stage before they began. John came to my side at some point during the shuffle. He apologizes for leaving me, and I don’t tell him that he was easily replaced by Michael. I didn’t tell him Michael kissed me. I had never kissed anyone except Thomas.
I didn’t recognize the first few chords, but before the lyrics started I realized they were playing Nirvana’s biggest hit. It’s a slower song, so the crowd didn’t seem as excited by it. I was elated in contrast to everyone else.
Michael smiled in my direction, playing a little harder. I could tell he became a part of the music. His fingers strained against the strings of his bass guitar. Sweat gleamed on his forehead. The lighting above made it seem as though God himself was shining down on Donald’s stage, and if I was being honest, I could have felt God in that place.
We danced and swayed to the music for another half hour before the band said their final goodnight. The crowd yelled out to them, but no encore followed. Instead, John led me back through the stage door so we could congratulate everyone on another great set. They were all panting and heaved over amps when we arrived. Cody poured a bottle of water across his long hair; it splashed us when he wiped his head back and forth.
“That was amazing.” I said, but mostly to Michael who had started walking towards me.
“You liked the opening song?” He asked as a smile threatened to break through his hard exterior.
“How could I not like the opening song?” I gushed, “That was for me?”
“Of course.” Michael laughed at my feigned innocent act. “You guys aren’t leaving are you? Wait for us, we can all leave together.” Michael prompted John who didn’t seem to care. He patted Cody on the back and mumbled something about finding other friends in the crowd.
I stayed backstage with Michael who was slowly taking down equipment. He had stacked two amps and was starting to slide away his guitar when he turned to me.
“Do you know how to play?”
“No.” I laughed and shook my head, “My parents were more into French tutors than guitar lessons.” He nodded in understanding, it made his hair flop over his eye in a way that made my heart speed up.
“Can I teach you a few chords?” He asked, picking the guitar back up. I nodded, nervously, but took a few steps closer to him. We sat down on two folding chairs backstage, Michael put the bass guitar in my arms, and leaned in close. He smelled good, even though he had just finished sweating up on stage.
His hands guided mine to a position that he gave a name to; I never remembered what it was after that moment. Then, Michael moved my other hand across the part of the strings that were lower down on the guitar, and to my surprise, music came out. I wasn’t musical at all, and I told him that.
“Well I think you’re a natural.” He said with a smile. “My dad put me in guitar lessons when I was six years old.” Michael began to tell the story unprompted. “I think I was the only kid in my elementary school whose room was decorated with rock band posters instead of sports heros. I learned to play all types of guitars, but the bass was my favorite. I joined Left Turn Only during my Freshman year of college and never looked back.”
“That’s amazing,” I told him, “I wish I had something I loved so passionately.”
“You can’t love anything if you don’t have a passion for it. You need to want to do something, really want to,” Michael explained as his eyes wandered to a far off place, maybe a place in time when he realized just how much he loved music.
I wanted to keep talking with him. In fact, I never wanted to move off those plastic folding chairs. In the short time that he was teaching me the guitar chords, we had moved in rather close to each other.
Thomas flew through my brain for a moment, but not long enough to stop me before I leaned in and kissed Michael. When our lips touched I felt like I understood what he had said, about trying to love something without having a passion. We pulled apart all too quickly. He smiled and took a visibly deep breath.
“I’d better go,” I said to him. I started to stand up to find John in the bar, but before my butt could leave the chair Michael laid a hand on my knee to kiss me one more time.
I walked out from backstage with my head spinning. John didn’t seem to notice, so we left Donalds for the slowly warming Spring air.
When I woke up the next morning, the air smelled stale. I heard creaking floor boards in the other room. John’s room looked like an abandoned boyish-man cave, but I expected this. His abandoned room at home looked similarly. My feet left the warmth of the covers for the reality of the cold hardwoods, and I left the room in search of coffee. A fuzziness clouded the back of my head; unfortunately, that fuzziness was banished from the crash of a cereal bowl in the kitchen. My head ached.
“Sorry.” It was Cody.
“It’s okay,” I lied to him, “Good show last night.” Not a lie. I walked around him to the pot of coffee that had already been brewed.
“Thanks, John went for a run.” Cody told me, “So you really thought it was good?” He asked after a minute of awkward silence when I blew on my coffee to avoid conversation.
“I really did.” I confessed, “Especially Michael, he’s so good!”
“Yeah,” Cody hesitated, “He’s good, but I’m not sure it’s going to work out with Michael. He loves rock music, and he’s good at playing it, but I don’t know if that’s the direction I want to take the band in.” Cody shook his head and stared at the empty cereal bowl. “I think I might have to talk to him about it.” Cody continued staring into the cereal bowl as if the cheerio streaked bowl would hop from the sink and talk to Michael for him. No amount of willing and wishing was going to make that happen though.
“You’d really kick him out of the band?” I asked concerned.
“Well, yeah, if he doesn’t want to change his style of music. I have no choice.” Cody looked discouraged and left the kitchen. He mumbled something about John being home soon when he was halfway down the hallway.
My heart felt heavy. After listening to Michael talk about his music last night, I couldn’t imagine how he would react to Cody’s news. I searched my mind for something I could do to save his passion, but nothing surfaced. All of my thoughts stayed in the brine of non communicable ideas. I grunted in frustration as John came in the door. He said he had plans for us all day, so I pushed my thoughts of Michael to the back of my mind.
It was a few days before I saw Michael again. John had classes on Monday, so I busied myself with shopping around Columbus. I was walking through a park with my coffee when I saw Michael propped up on a park bench. All the sadness in the world was planted around him.
I almost didn’t walk up to him. Another path presented itself to my right, and I could have hid myself away. Instead, I slowly approached the bench.
“Hey there.” I said trying to hide the obvious disappointment in my voice. I could tell just from looking at him that Cody had gone through with his plans to kick Michael out of the band. He looked up at me; I could see the surprise in his eyes.
“Mary!” A bit of happiness sparked across his face. He stood up and gave me a quick hug that felt awkward after our kiss the last time I saw him.
“How are you?”
“I’m good. I had a nice weekend, and now I have a lot of free time since John is in classes during the day.”
“You know, don’t you?”
I hesitated to answer, which was all the answer he needed, Michael’s head fell forward. Neither of us said anything for a moment, we let the sadness slither around us for a moment. Sadness does that, it curls into the smallest places of your life. It can fill up the areas you never knew could hold sadness, and it can ruin them. I didn’t want to let us feel that way any longer.
“What are you going to do now?” I asked him, hoping for a happy turn of conversation.
“I’ll probably leave school for a while. I’ve always wanted to focus on my music anyway.” He told me. I wasn’t sure if it was my place to discourage him from leaving school. I didn’t know Michael very well despite how connected I felt to him.
“Do you have a job, or anything?”
“No, but I don’t need one.” He shook his head and looked around the park, “Do you want to get out of here? I mean, do you have anywhere you need to be?”
“I’m free.” I said. That made Michael smile, so he stood up as fast as ever and extended a hand. I took it. I didn’t ask where we were going, and I didn’t voice any concern over his current situation. I let him lead.
We ended up in a music shop a few blocks from the campus. The walls were yellowed with age and the carpet had a few questionable stains across the aisles. The musty smell of unopened attic trunks was in the air, like old book pages. Michael brought me into an aisle of rock music. One side was records, the other tapes. At the front of the store they kept CDs, but those were more expensive.
A Red Hot Chili Peppers song came on the radio from a speaker above our heads. My feet shuffled from side to side while we looked through the stacks.
“I love this song.” I told Michael. Instead of the happy response I expected, he rolled his eyes.
“People use the word love to loosely.” He explained, “I’m sure you do enjoy this song, but it’s like I told you after my last gig. Love requires passion, and without passion you can’t have love.” I watched him as he told me that. I could see a spark return to his eyes for a brief moment when he talked about his music. It vanished too quickly. He looked more alive when he had that spark in his eye.
“I guess I don’t have a passion for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.” I said and laughed.
“I hope not.”
We kept looking through the rows of Rock music. Michael picked up a few favorite albums and pointed out the best tracks on the list to me. In the end, he bought a new tape of The Ramones. We walked back from the store to my car, and we put the tape in while we kissed for a while. It was even better than our kiss backstage, but I guessed that had something to do with being sober.
“Do you want to go for a drive? I know a good place.” Michael said and leaned away from my face a little bit. I thought about the responsibilities I had that day, and I decided none of them were as important as going on an adventure with the new, cute, troubled guy who had appeared in my life. So we started driving.
Michael led me down country roads and through tiny Ohio towns until we reached his destination. Lake Erie. The sun was setting when we pulled into the public swimming area.
“This is where you like to go?” I asked, “We’ve been driving for two hours!” I laughed a little.
“Well now that I’m not in school, I’m going to have all the free time in the world to come here.” Michael said and started to get out of the car. I followed him from the parking lot to the beach. We didn’t have any blankets or anything, so we laid down in the sand. Barely anyone was around.
“Do you love it here?” I asked, “Is this a good time to use that precious word?” My comment made Michael laugh.
“Yes I do love the beach. I have a passion for the sand between my toes, and the sound of the gulls overhead.” He waved his hand around, and landed it on my hip. We continued kissing on the beach for a while. When I looked up from the side of his nose the sun had completely disappeared under the horizon. I thought briefly that John would be wondering where I was, but I didn’t move.
“Want one?” Michael had reached in his back pocket and pulled out two joints. I had never smoked before, but I agreed anyway. He placed one between my lips and lit the end.
“Is this where I’ll be able to find you for the rest of our lives?” I asked and laughed between puffs of thick smoke.
“I’ll be here.” He said, “Writing music on Lake Erie with the sound of the waves crashing behind me, finding myself.” The way he said it made me smile.
We stayed on the beach until everyone else was gone, and it was after midnight when we got back in my car. There was sand everywhere, inside every piece of clothing. My head was still a little foggy from the pot, but I agreed to drive us back to Columbus anyway. Michael turned on the radio before we pulled out of the parking lot, and a Pink Floyd song was on.
“This is one of the only songs I really Love. There’s something about the way it sounds that makes everything in the world seem right.” Michael told me, “Like right now.” ‘See Emily Play’ wasn’t a happy song, not really. It was about a girl, Emily, who didn’t take advantage of the day in front of her. The harmonies were inspiring, and the message had a certain hope to it.
“What do you love about it?” I asked Michael.
“I love learning from this Emily girl.” he explained, “There’s no other day. I need to learn to love today, I don’t think I’ve done that yet.” Michael laid a hand across my shoulder, “I need to find a passion for each day I’m in. I guess this Emily girl does too.” he smiled.
“Do you want to dance?” I asked him. Without responding, he unbuckled his seatbelt and left the car. Michael opened my door with a metal creak, and I turned up the radio. We danced in the deserted parking lot to the last verse and chorus of the song. Sometimes the sand made us slip, and sometimes the pebbles got stuck in uncomfortable places on my foot, but we were dancing on clouds nonetheless.
I skip the next portion of the story that I tell Emily. She may be eighteen, but a mother has to keep some secrets.
I got back to John’s apartment in time for him to still be awake. I hesitated to mention Michael; because, I knew when I do John will ask about Thomas, and I didn’t have an answer for that type of question. I fell asleep in John’s room that night replaying the day in my head. The way Michael’s hands felt on my skin, the way his voice sounded singing along to the radio, the way the smoke tasted on my mouth. In between our mouths.
He was a passionate guy with big dreams. In a few days he had managed to open my eyes to a new way of thinking, for better or for worse. But he scared me. Something about his intense style of falling in love with things of this world seemed dangerous. It was like he was moving with notes along a music staff, no idea where the next note would take him. He would go anywhere, or at least he wanted to.
Over the next few days, I didn’t see Michael again. I planned to leave the University on Saturday, and John took me out on Thursday night. That night was the last time I saw Michael on that visit. I could tell he hadn’t smiled much since I last left him. He was wandering through the groups of people in a packed house party. I easily broke away from John to go see him.
“Hi.” I tapped his shoulder.
“Well,” Michael sighed, “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes.” His words were slow and long.
“Are you drunk?” I asked, the cup in his hand was empty. I waited for an answer that didn’t come, instead, he kissed me.
“I don’t know what’s going on.” he confessed, “I don’t feel connected. I don’t feel passionate about today.” I watched him talk to me, but I was more focused on how to get him some fresh air. His downward spiral since Cody kicked him out of the band the weekend before was progressing quickly.
When we finally made it outside, Michael was mumbling nonsense and sloshing the remains of my drink into an unkempt garden bed. Inside, the party intensified. I heard shouts and the loud beat of music. It wasn’t rock.
“We should go back in there.” Michael said and tried to stand.
“Let’s stay out here.” I suggested. He gave in easily and sat back down in the grass. He mumbled on a bit more before mentioning the song we listened to on our way home from the beach. The Pink Floyd song that had lyrics about taking advantage of today.
“What would you say if I told you that today wasn’t the only thing I was passionate about?” He asked laughing. I didn’t respond right away, “What if I said I was passionate about you? What if I love you?”
“No Michael.” I sighed, “You don’t love me, you barely know me.”
“Are you saying that because you don’t love me?” His voice raised and attracted the attention of a few people who had strayed onto the porch.
“Calm down Michael.” I coaxed, “I just think you’re upset, and you’ve had a rough couple of days. I think you need some time to sort out your life right now.”
“I need to find myself.” Michael mumbled, “I need my music. I need you.” The mumbling grew once again to yelling. I saw John come out the front door, someone must have gotten him.
“What’s going on?” He shouted above Michael’s yelling. I tried to shoveJohn away, but Michael grabbed hold of my arm. John clearly didn’t like what he was seeing, so he pushed Michael, hard, and walked with me into the street. I could hear Michael blubbering on even when we were a block away.
I went home that Saturday with conflicted memories about Michael. He called our house to apologize a few days later. Thankfully, I was the one to answer the phone. I didn’t mention him to my friends or tell Thomas that I had cheated on him several times over my spring break adventure. I tried to make my life go back to normal.
Except, normal was hard to find when Michael continued to send me song lyrics in confused letters in the mail. I opened and read every one of them, and I responded to about half.
I couldn’t understand how I was feeling, and I knew he was going through a worse time than I was. My whole world started to look and smell and sound wrong. If it didn’t smell like the old record store, look like the sun setting on Lake Erie, and sound like the harmonies in ‘See Emily Play’, it wasn’t right. It meant Michael wasn’t around.
I finished my last three weeks of Senior year feeling as lost as if I had been the one kicked out of the band and cut off from my passion. My one love.
“So did you ever see him again?” Emily asks while flipping through the next few pages.
“I went back to visit Uncle John in June.” I explain, “I asked Cody about Michael, and he told me that Michael was still in town. I went over to his apartment to see him. Things were different.”
“Different how?” Emily keeps asking. She has flipped enough pages to find one more picture of Michael. He looks drawn in this picture. The weeks of excessive drug use had aged him, and the lack of activity that came with dropping out of school had made him lazy. His hair was a little longer in June, I remember I didn’t like it as much.
“He had lost the love in his life.” I tell her, “We still hung out that weekend I was there,” I turn one more page in the book, and there is a picture of the two of us. It’s the last picture we ever took. I’m sitting in his lap on the front hood of my old car. I remember feeling his boner under my hip when we took that picture. Not surprising given that he stayed the night every day I was there. There’s a blunt burning in his left hand. He had started having three a day at that point.
“It’s kind of cool that you had a summer fling,” Emily says. A few minutes later, Thomas walks in the door and plants a kiss on my cheek.
“Hi girls,” He says, and Emily follows him upstairs talking nonstop about the song she learned on her guitar and the day we had getting ready for her grad party.
I don’t follow them right away. I stay in Emily’s room looking at the picture of Michael. I never found out if he started making music or joined another band. In my mind he lived on in that gross apartment, smoking weed all day, and writing depressing rock ballads. Sometimes in my mind, he died. I never wrote to him to tell me what happened after I went home the last time I saw him, so Michael doesn’t know that I had a baby. He doesn’t know that I got married; though, I’m sure he assumes all of that.
My hand caresses the fading picture one last time before I close the photo album. I don’t often open that chapter of my life. I don’t often think about the boy who taught me what love really meant; that you need passion to truly love something. Little does he know he turned my world upside down, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the people in my life because of Michael. I love the music he gave me, and I hope he found his way back to that same melody.
From down the hall, I hear Emily begin to play the song she talked about learning. The notes dance through the house and give life to everything that hears them.
“Do you see Emily play?” I asked the empty bedroom.