In the Winter and Spring of 1997 I have hazy memories of the subconscious of which I do not recall, nor understand. I sit here now in Conway, New Hampshire on my day off, sipping strong coffee and writing of these vague memories. My wife Sarah just reminded me of how great a memory I have, and how difficult it is for her to remember half the things in her past that I am able to conjure! However, I’m the type of person that struggles with letting things go and nostalgia, and always have to intentionally seek divine grace in matters of forgiveness.
But the Winter of 1997 is a fog to me. I’m certain I had gotten to the point during this time where marijuana had entirely engulfed my mind and existence. I slipped into a deep depression. I had a longing for the first love I had ever known, my ex-girlfriend and then best friend Harmony. I dreamed about her in vague daydreams, mystified by scattered thoughts, tears and the abyss of abeyance. I smoked my mind away and poured my broken heart into songs of longing. My parents had bought me an Ovation 12-string guitar with an electric pick-up. This guitar became my vehicle of inner expression. I would spend nights up until 3am alone… puffing and inhaling away on pack after pack of Camel Lights, and smoking pot in a pipe of my own that I had gotten through an older teenage dope-head. You see, dope pipes were sold in regular stores under the veil of being used for tobacco only. One would even have to sign a waiver stating that this was their intention, though it obviously wasn’t.
This was a great era of music. The Winter of 1997 brought about a post-grunge era of deep expression fused with electronica. The popular alternative songs were a soundtrack for my unspoken, lonely misery. The Smashing Pumpkins had an anthem of woebegone called “Thirty-Three”. When I listened to it again today through the eyes of my 15-year old self, it actually brought tears to my eyes. Maybe it lingers as a subconscious memory of the desperate love and despair I felt back then. The song croons with despondency the words:
“I know I’ll make it, love can last forever,
Graceful swans of never topple to the earth.
And you can make it last, forever you
You can make it last, forever you
And for a moment I lose myself
Wrapped up in the pleasures of the world
I’ve journeyed here and there and back again
But in the same old haunts I still find my friends…”
This song was certainly an anthem that rang in my mind. Would Harmony and I ever be back together again? We would talk some nights until the late hours, sharing our heart and soul with each other, but she always seemed to have a love interest in someone else… I felt that she could truly “make it last forever…” This love that existed in my heart for her seemed infinite, though looking back I know it was just the piercing strength of my post-adolescent emotion that paralleled the longing within all of us to taste eternal love. We all try to find this love in every corner of our soul… For what can be known about God is plain to us, because God has shown it to us, and anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (Rom. 1:19; 1 John 4:8) I suppose the real question is; “What is real, sacrificial, true love?” I’m convinced that that question can be fully answered in 1 John 4:7-21, but that is a discussion for another forum.
“In the same old haunts I still found my friends.” Mitchell played bass and Duane played drums in our band, Mulberry Tree. Our music seemed to get more and more powerful. It was as if we were living inside of our songs and performances as we worked harder on our sound. We were close friends and band-mates. I often shared my heartbreak and struggles with Duane, because he was an introspective poetry writer and cynic like me. I shared feelings with Mitchell as well, but tried much harder to appear manly to him, because he was an athlete as well as a rock n’ roller.
Duane was definitely a great poetry writer. His poems consisted of dark corners in the spiritual realm. He was raised a Catholic and had become a self-proclaimed atheist. These shadows of anger came out in his poetry and his abstract drumming. Him and I would always spend time smoking cigarettes and pouring our thoughts out to each other. He inspired me to write poetry as well, and it helped me to deal with the emotions I was facing, as well as strengthen my song lyrics.
Mitchell was a great bassist and songwriter to be sure, but he had another aspect of his personality. He was the type of guy that thrived in the world of sports and athletic vigor. It was quite amazing, really. He could spend a weekend with us smoking dope and drinking, and then go right back to lifting weights, eating creatine, and beating the garbage out of other huge dudes his size on the wrestling mat. As his muscles grew, so did his appeal with the high school ladies.
Harmony began to gain an interest in Mitchell. I couldn’t have been more devastated at the thought. But I loved both of my friends so much, and I was put in the middle. One night Harmony and I were talking and she asked me the fatal question, “So… Can you ask Mitchell if he likes me or not? He’s SOOOO hot!!”
I would call Mitchell not long after and ask him. Of course he liked her back, because she was obviously the most beautiful girl in the world to me. He made sure to ask me, “Is it ok though Ben? Is it alright that I ask her out? I mean, I know you like her and stuff.” To which I bluffed, “No, no man. I don’t like her anymore bro. Go for it buddy! What more could I ask for than two of my best friends to get together?” I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth. Was I insane? How could I bear this all to happen?
And yet it was inevitable that Harmony and Mitchell would become a thing. My songs would delve into so deep a sorrow that they became anthems of hard rock anger. The way I really felt was akin to Gwen Stefani of No Doubt in their #1 hit “Don’t Speak”:
You and me
We used to be together
Everyday together always
I really feel
That I’m losing my best friend
I can’t believe
This could be the end
It looks as though you’re letting go
And if it’s real
Well I don’t want to know
As a way of escape I delved into marijuana use in a whole new way, and pretended that I was happy for my friends getting together. But there had to be a way for me to get back at Harmony somehow… She had friends! That’s right! She had friends that were good looking. Maybe if I dated one of them I could make her jealous. She had a curly haired friend named Laila who I thought was attractive. I began my ploy to see if we could get together. And of course I would use Harmony as my “middle-woman” to orchestrate the whole fiasco.
Maybe I should have listened to the lyrics in the song “Discotheque” from U2’s “Pop” album to set me straight. I realize now that they could have spoken truth to me when they claimed a universal reality:
You’re looking for the one
But you know you’re somewhere else instead
You want to be the song
Be the song that you hear in your head
(You want heaven in your heart)
(Heaven in your heart)
(The sun, the moon, and the stars)
As much as this longing in my heart has been abated upon this earth as I look at my life now, I realize that back then it seemed to be so desperately far from me that I didn’t know what to do with myself.