Sunday, February 26, 2012

make me a mix tape

my good friend chris writes excellent short stories and vignettes, as well as music reviews, at his blog this wreckage. sometimes we will informally challenge each other to an idea for a story, just to see where the other one takes it, or try to inspire each other when ideas are running low. we share a love for making mix tapes, and chris' mixes are second-to-none. one night a sentence came into my head: "she was making him a mix tape, even though they'd never met." i shared this with chris as a story prompt and, with his encouragement, even wrote my own version of it. his fabulous version is posted here. read it!

one other thing that chris does really well - that i'm trying to learn from - is to post his fiction as well as his non-fiction on his blog. this is my first ever fully fictional post. i'm nervous as hell about posting it, but trying to be brave. 


Jesse sat down at her desk, her heart fluttering slightly. She was going to make him a mix CD, even though they had never met. Quickly, she opened up the music player on her computer and began scrolling through songs, searching for what she wanted to say.

Thiers was a very twenty-first century flirtation. They met on a website, but not a dating website; that would have been so last century. No, it was in an online game. Her avatar and his avatar and several other friends – some of his, some of hers – had interacted for weeks casually. Sometimes, events conspired to leave them in the online room together. They’d chat in the small message window of the program; he made her laugh. It wasn’t long before she was logging in and looking for him alone, before even checking for her other, older friends.

I am the son
and the heir
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar
I am the son and heir
Of nothing in particular

Some of the songs that caught her eye at first were laughable - the lyrics were simply too much. And yet, what if someday she could put these songs on a mix tape for him? What if someday he directed some of that humor, some of that sensitivity that she had glimpsed in the few chats they’d had, in her direction? What if this mix was just the beginning, the door opening to a larger relationship with him in the real world? What if this one bold move was all it would take to engage him deeper? What if it was just the first in a string of increasingly love-focused mixes they’d make for each other? She’d been alone so long she almost couldn’t remember how that would work, but like a language learned long ago, the overall arc of relationships lived in some deep part of her brain, tormenting her with half-memories of better times when she’d felt able to communicate with others.

Anytime she was alone with a guy in person these days, she’d suddenly lose her ability to speak coherently. After the first verbal stumble, the horrible bright red blush would begin creeping up – creating rosy patches on her cheeks that looked in no way cute and in every way conspicuous, noticeable, laughable. Her armpits would then immediately start sweating about the blushing and, getting flustered, she’d almost always make some excuse to leave the conversation, leave the party, leave the lunch date, whatever, to simply get out of the situation as soon as possible.

Hashing over each of these uncomfortable, swift retreats with her friends, they always said the same things to try and encourage her. “You just need to relax, Jesse, and be yourself! We all love you and love being around you. Why do you immediately assume that these people won’t enjoy you, too? Why do you run away from them before they even have a chance?”

But their advice was hollow and meaningless. What the fuck did they know? They were all married, most of them for at least a decade. What did they know about the slow loss of confidence that comes with year after year spent mostly alone? They remembered the fun times of their young adulthood, where they’d all get together, dress up and head to a bar or club, to dance with strangers and talk to guys, unweighted by self-doubt and shyness. They didn’t realize that that confidence was not real but was just a by-product of being young and thoughtless. They had all gotten married soon thereafter, before it started to fade, and Jesse pictured them getting daily compliments and positive messages from their husbands, living lives full of the reassuring little intimacies so glaringly absent from her own. They didn’t realize that bodies and souls were just small animals that grew hateful and ugly without regular petting and attention and care and love.

You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does

Online, though, without the worry of trying to read someone’s face, without the worry that her shirt made her look fat or her hair was sticking up or that there was lettuce in her teeth, she could relax. During their chats, she was never at a loss for words. They made jokes with each other, they shared funny confessions. Online, she felt confident, almost witty even, maybe – just a little bit – happy. She loved it that he hadn’t even known her full real name for a long time but only her virtual pseudonym. How nice to be unencumbered by even this name, that to her represented all that she disliked about herself! And even though she had figured out his real name, she still preferred to think of him only by his screen name.

One day she sent him an unsolicited email message, heart pounding. It was short and sweet – one sentence only – referencing a band that they’d already discovered they both loved. Innocuous, on the surface, but what if he’d resented the invasion of his privacy? What if he was shocked, dismayed, by her sudden movement out of their previously highly proscribed world of interactions? The friend request she got in response sent her heart into a surprising orbit. That’s when she realized that her desire for him was so strong she couldn’t look directly at it. There was nothing else for it. She had to make him a mix CD, to use other people’s words to try and convey what she wanted to say.

There's a club, if you'd like to go
You could meet someone who really loves you
So you go, and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home
And you cry
And you want to die

Some songs were easy to choose. Songs that they’d talked about in their online chats. Songs by bands she knew he liked. But most of the songs that leapt out to her had a more indirect appeal: they were simply the songs that made her body ache with remembered desire and longing. The final song was easy, and she had selected it even before starting: “How Soon Is Now”, by the Smiths, a favorite band of each of them, and a song whose dark, sultry, desperate tone matched perfectly the sad shell around her shy heart.

Doggedly, even as her uncertainty began growing, even after that first excited flush at the idea of the project began waning, she continued to refine the playlist, moving songs up or down in order, listening to the last snippet of each to check the feel of the transition to the next one. Almost unconsciously, she lined up a sufficient number of songs in the middle that created a nice, intimate mood. Listening to the mix all the way through, she closed her eyes at that point while in front of the computer and tried, tried to sink into a daydream where they met for a drink and sat, ever closer, leaning in towards each other, going back to her small apartment and…

It was no use. As the last song began playing and the sound of Morrissey’s voice filled her room, doubt overcame her. Even if she met him someday, how on earth would she pass this off? Here, I just made you a mix CD for no reason at all, and it’s full of songs that are either good to fuck to or are all about love, even though we’ve never met until now, and even though now that we have, at this very moment, you’ll no doubt want to never interact online again, and by giving you this, I’ve simply forced myself back into my completely lonely world again, without even my online fun to look forward to.

It could never be. It would never be. She couldn’t imagine running her hand along the side of his face or walking with his arm over her shoulders. She couldn’t visualize making dinner together, listening to the music she gave him, stopping to kiss suddenly over the half-chopped onion, the acrid smell filling her nose. It was no good.

Jesse ejected the freshly burned CD from the computer and contemplated it for a moment. She even picked up a permanent marker and wrote on the CD "A mix for you, from me", using their online names, before abruptly snapping it in half and throwing the pieces in the trashcan under her desk. She turned off her computer screen and clicked off the overhead light before heading to bed, alone.

When you say it's gonna happen now,
When exactly do you mean?
See I've already waited too long
And all my hope is gone


  1. You have nothing to be scared of, because this is a great story! It is so damn tragic and so identifiable.

  2. i'm with chris. i love it! there are some fantastic lines two favorites:
    "They didn’t realize that that confidence was not real but was just a by-product of being young and thoughtless."
    " They didn’t realize that bodies and souls were just small animals that grew hateful and ugly without regular petting and attention and care and love."
    nice job!!

  3. "After the first verbal stumble, the horrible bright red blush would begin creeping up – creating rosy patches on her cheeks that looked in no way cute and in every way conspicuous, noticeable, laughable."

    = Wonderful sentence, wonderful construction, wonderful capture. I had to stop reading to say that. Now...back to the story.

    My opinion first, right? Will I NEVER grow up?

    love, claud