Tessa was the younger sister of Jamie; a girl who a mutual friend had tried to hook me up with. A couple times. It didn’t happen. Tessa was a few months younger than me but she was wiser than her years (and me) and it was both awkward and exhilarating that she and I thought so much alike…that we had both had a startlingly high number of similar experiences. Our connection was somewhat tense because her sister Jamie was my supervisor…but she met somebody else (who she married a few years years later). And so Tessa and I were suddenly spending more and more time together – but the moment I knew it was getting to be “something” was when she played a song in her car one day – a song that I could not stand. I hated that group and their radio single were the worst. But she talked about why they were her favorite band and I told her I thought they sucked but I would give their new album another chance. The next day, she showed up at my apartment with a copy, still wrapped, receipt in the bag.
Long story short, within weeks, we were inseparable. It was late January of 1999; the place I lived was the common ground of several social circles – always crowded, always smoky, always a constant hum of conversations. The bedroom was sort of the VIP area; many brain cells were deep fried in that room. It’s horrifying to recall the happiness I felt the first time she came in and took off her shoes and jacket there in my room; everybody else put their shoes and jackets in the front closet. When she put her shoes in my closet and hung her jacket over the back of my desk, it seemed that something became Official. And within a day or so, people were talking about how much we laughed together and we always went on ice-cream-and-other-junk-food runs together (previous to Tessa, these runs were typically made by four or five people) and of course, how I now listened to that damned CD…the same one which many of my frequenters adored and I bitterly complained about….as recently as a month before.
In Ella Valentine’s piece, “Ugly, Beauty, Dountful Reality” she writes, ”another day was forgotten without a story to tell, without anyone to tell it to”….I didn’t realize my life was like that (in those days, my partying was sufficient to keep thoughts and memories of that nature at bay) but one night, Tessa and I were separated in a crowd….and I just intuitively knew where she’d be. Without being able to fully see her, I reached out, found her hand and our fingers intertwined – I pulled her to me and we left the building like that, holding hands. When we got back to my place, we kept the lights off and didn’t answer our cell phones (they were as big as cans of soda back then). It was a special night – not in a sexual way, it was just two people who Connected. Two people who Understood and Listened To and Shared With Each Other.
The day of reckoning was very soon after. I won’t go into any detail except to say that Tessa was extraordinarily pretty and she did not flaunt it but she did not exactly conceal it either. That night, we were alone, there were candles and we had a normal conversation that did not end well. By the time she left the bedroom, everybody else had already cleared out. I so vividly remember standing there, Nine Inch Nails “Pinion” playing in the background, reliving all the whole of our good times…all of which were abruptly shattered by less than a dozen words. Not “I think of you as a friend” nor “I met someone else” or even, “you’re like a brother to me”….no, the truth was that she and my best friend were ‘together’ and had been for a few weeks. She didn’t say good-bye. I didn’t either. And I removed that CD from the player and flung it as far as I could; it ended up behind my desk where it would remain for many months.
The following day was one of such cold and wet and emptiness that all the usual party favors weren’t enough. Not nearly. The few people who did show up at my place the next night were solemn and each apologized for not telling me but I wasn’t pissed at them. Irritated but not pissed. They all left unusually early…and I realized I was out of cigarettes. The store was only a ten minute walk but it was cold and raining. I put on my headphones and listened to “Disintegration” by The Cure quite loudly…but it was different that night. Ten minutes was approximately enough time to listen to “Plainsong” and most of “Pictures of You”…and that matched with my arrival at the store but that walk was also a fucking eternity. The raindrops were the small, hard ones, cold and the wind kept blowing it in my face. I had shoulder length hair back then…and by the time I got to the store, I was totally soaked and shivering but I didn’t feel it.
I felt nothing. I remember the money I gave to the cashier was wet and he asked me why I wasn’t wearing a jacket and I told him I didn’t need one. I think that I believed part of me died when I learned the terrible truth…maybe it did. Maybe I killed it with my selfishness. Maybe she was just attention-starved. When I got home, my phone was ringing….it was Tessa’s sister. I answer and she only asked one question: “Are you ok?” I lit another cigarette and I think I laughed but I know I couldn’t get any real words out. She said, “I’m so sorry, I just found out and I would have told you.” I was silent. She said, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Take care.” and hung up. I called a certain friend and spent a lot of money on powerful party favors that night; when I told him what the occasion was, he gave me more for free. I was a friend as well as a good customer. By sunrise, I was quite sick. When I woke up, my friend Eric was in my room, shaking me awake; there was dried blood all over my nose and pillow and apparently the front door had been wide open.
I don’t remember how I got to the bathroom but I remember I told Eric to play “The Speed of Pain” by Marilyn Manson (a new song back then) and I washed my face then went straight back to it. Then I decided I couldn’t stand to be in the apartment for another minute and Eric and I decided we’d go see a movie but when we stepped out of the bedroom, my former co-worker, Maria was there…she’d quit several months earlier to begin attending JMU. And she had a friend…a girl of extraordinary beauty, named Kate. They were on the way to a rave and thought I might want to go. It was Friday evening.
Saturday afternoon, I was awoken by my friend, also known as Tessa’s significant other – I didn’t think to think I was only wearing boxer shorts when I opened the door. And I wasn’t particularly angry either. The first thing I saw was the horror on his face. Then I saw the others: most of them asleep. “Friends” from the party. He asked me about the naked girl in my bed and all of a sudden, I realized it had been less than forty eight hours since the truth had come out and Kate was pulling on one of my t-shirts and she was Beautiful…and I started laughing – but I was not laughing inside. I don’t know that I ever really laughed again the way I did with Tessa before the truth came out.
A few hours later was the 1st time I’d seen Tessa since that night…when she saw me, she immediately began walking towards me to apologize when she saw Kate…and Kate saw her and in my mind, it wasn’t just the three of us but the WORLD that froze for a moment. Phones stopped ringing, babies stopped crying, etc. I hadn’t said anything to Kate about what had happened with Tessa…and now I knew I would not have to. Nonetheless, Tessa was on the guest list for our wedding.
Which never took place.
The ‘engagement’ such as it was, lasted about three or four weeks total but the last week didn’t count. That’s quite another story. The day I found out the truth about Kate, I also had to walk to the store to get cigarettes…and I listened to “Plainsong” twice as I walked. It wasn’t raining. The wind wasn’t blowing. I only wore a jacket so I could have my collar up. Hell, I might have been wearing sunglasses even though it was well past sundown. I’m pretty sure I left a trail of charred brain cells. The lyrics to that 1st song of The Cure’s much-loved album are still among my favorite of ALL songs by The Cure and damn, they have a LOT of songs.
“I think it’s dark and it looks like rain, you said and the wind is blowing like its the end of the world you said and it’s so cold like cold if you were dead – then you smiled for a second. Sometimes you make me feel like I’m living at the end of the world – it’s just the way I smile, you said.”
‘PLAINSONG’ from the album, “DISINTEGRATION” (1989, Fiction Records)