The other day, I was running errands in the truck, listening to the country music station.
Whoa, rewind. Let's read that again: The other day, I was running errands in the truck, listening to the country music station. Yes, this is me, Sidewalk Monkey, a young, Asian-American woman, previously of New York, NY, currently missing only a cowboy hat and a bit of straw clenched between my teeth.
Anyway. The station started playing "Desperado," by the Eagles. The only other time I'd heard this song was on a scratchy mixed tape that Brian McVey gave me in 1992 with the admonitory-sounding command to "listen carefully," to it. This was accompanied by a meaningful and baleful stare, which was probably met by my own disingenuously bewildered stare.
Sadly, the track had been rerecorded so many times that the lyrics were completely indecipherable, even to a fourteen-year-old accustomed to gluing herself to the radio every Sunday and filtering Rick Dees and the Weekly Top 40 through a crackly haze of the kind of static you pick up when your house backs up to an enormous volcanic ridge. I could make out "Desperado, why don't you come to your senses," and then "...fences.." and then not much more till "before it's too late." I sensed that it was a sad song, that the boy was trying to convey feelings for me, that I should be touched, and so I was. I wondered what a desperado was, but it didn't occur to me to look it up in the dictionary. It sounded romantic, at any rate, and adventurous. Later that month Brian McVey gave me a locket, a large and brassy one attached to a chunky chain that threaded through a piece of glossy cardboard. I slept with it tucked in my hand, under my pillow, for days, amazed at such extravagance.
I don't know what happened to Brian McVey; I don't even remember how he stopped being someone I knew. I do know that he was almost my first lesson in not being able to save someone not ready to be saved--I was 14 and naive for even a 14-year-old, and he was a 19-year-old who had dropped out of high school, was riddled with mysterious ailments, and as such was an irresistibly tragic figure to many girls in the neighborhood--but luck or maybe some tiny wick of self-preservation or maybe just being 14 kept me from falling in too deeply. Maybe I was saved by the fact that I was so completely unaware of what hanging around with boys meant at that age that it never occurred to me to kiss him or let him get close enough to kiss me, or even to hold his hand. I think we just drifted out of touch, easily and mercifully.
A couple of days ago, when I heard "Desperado" on the radio, I remembered Brian McVey right away. I remembered wondering about the rest of lyrics to that song, and turned up the volume to listen more closely.
The thing is, it's a beautiful song. It is a sad song, and romantic; the 14-year-old me was right about that part. I still don't know exactly what a desperado is, and I still don't really want to look it up, preferring the image that the song creates--a lonesome, brittle woman, chasing the ideal of freedom regardless of cost, unaware that her pursuit is really bringing her in a steady loop towards home. That dual and contrary pull--towards freedom, towards home--has been such a constant in my life, something I could not have imagined when I fell asleep in my small, sure bed with the locket clutched in my hand and this scratched, unintelligible crooning pouring from my tape deck. Would it have been something I would have avoided if I had been able to hear the song those 17 years ago--if I'd been able to heed Brian's advice and listen carefully? Or, and this is maybe more likely, would I have thrown myself harder into the desperado role, hoping for someone to see the real, lost, lonely girl I really was and sing me out of my sadness?
And on the other hand, maybe I would have just laughed. I laughed in the truck when the song was over, laughed and laughed as I pulled back into the driveway with the groceries Jam Guy had requested I pick up for him to make dinner with. The song includes lyrics like "You ain't gettin' no younger...Your prison is walking through this world all alone." Beautiful lyrics. But--I was 14!
No, I wasn't getting any younger, thank heavens, since I had finally, like, mastered pre-algebra, or whatever. Brian McVey, wherever you are, I hope you are happy and whole. But, dude. Seriously. Who dedicates a song with lyrics like "You better let somebody love you before it's too late," to a 14-year old? Do you think she might suddenly worry that she is becoming haglike and had better ride off into the sunset with you while somebody, anybody will still have her? That once she hit 15, all her dreams of love and gentle romance, dreams dreamed over department-store trinkets and hand-me-down tape decks, might come crashing down like so much rained-out Aqua Net?
I guess it's always funny thinking back to how serious everything was at that age. I remember girlfriend after girlfriend gravely approaching me to say things like, "Gavin and I are having problems." Or Gavin would approach me with the same vague concern; it would usually come from one or both of them after a couple of days of silent hand-holding while gazing off into opposite directions. For no apparent reason, I was the group-appointed relationship counselor. Certainly I had no relationship experience of my own. I suppose if it had occurred to me that what Brian and I were doing might constitute a relationship, I might consider it to be problematic. But since all we did was talk on the phone and mope around the mall with our respective friends trailing along, I was mystified--pleased, but still mystified--by the locket and mixed tape.
I think now maybe Brian thought I was playing hard-to-get, which explains the lyrics a little more. I was just playing--playing at my last year of really being a little girl while all around me peers were playing at being women. (For crying out loud, I would get Cinnabon frosting all over myself at the mall.) Of course Brian wouldn't have seen this--he was, like most 19-year-old-boys, not overburdened with subtlety or perceptiveness. He had a completely different set of experiences than I had. I wonder if he saw, in my scooting to give him too much room on the food-court bench or my leaving parties too early, avoidance or fear or pride instead of utter ignorance of his intentions.
It is probably all for the best that I didn't hear those lyrics, because along with being more naive and trusting than probably any 14-year-old you've ever met, I was also as insecure as any 14-year-old you've ever met. Geez. I may have been saved from the Brian McVeys of the world, and safely delivered to my Jam Guy, finally, at the ripe and spinsterlike age of 28-going-on-29, by the imperfect technology of home tape recording and its own application of the surprisingly benevolent law of diminishing returns.