Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why I'm Breaking Up with Elliott Smith

For one thing, he's been dead since 2003. Not that a detail like that should put too much of a strain on our relationship. Nuns are married to Jesus and He's been dead for 2,000 years. Although maybe that's not an apt comparison. Their hearts belong to a diety, and my heart belongs to a musician who stabbed himself in his.

That's one theory anyway. Another is that his girlfriend murdered him. She says they had a fight that morning, then she went to take a shower and when she got out she found him with a kitchen knife in his chest. He talked about suicide so much that on the one hand, I can see him doing it. On the other hand, they reopened the case recently. He had wounds on his hands, like the ones people have when they fight back, so they're not really sure what happened.

I've become a groupie too late. That happened. And it's at this point that I should warn you that I'm going to admit things about my Elliott obsession that will probably make you shut down your computer and back slowly out of the room, and start reading someone else's blog with lighter subject matter, like one about snow globes. But if you're a steady reader of this thing you might have noticed two things: I have recently started seeing a trauma therapist to finally deal with childhood nuttiness, and I've been on a serious Elliott Smith kick.So the signs were everywhere that a post like this was coming, and if you keep reading then you can't say I didn't warn you. Don't feel bad, though. Here is a link to a blog about kittens.

I can't go to his shows, so I watch them on YouTube. I can't tell him how much his lyrics and his music comfort me so I sing with him. I watch interviews with him so I can hear his gentle laugh, to know there were times that he smiled, and I think, to try to figure out what went wrong. I don't think that thought out loud, but it's there as I watch him, that shy guy with a Ferdinand the Bull tattoo on his arm and often unwashed hair, so clearly uncomfortable in an interview. He looked like this:

I met him on Pandora a few years ago on my Shins station. I didn't pay much attention to him at the time. It wasn't until this summer when I was listening to "Angeles" that I clicked on his description thinking, "I like this guy. I wonder what else he plays," that I read about him and saw that he'd been stabbed to death almost ten years before. Then I had to read more about him, and when I did it was like finding out that I had a brother that my parents hadn't told me about. He'd been crazy about The Beatles, even as a kid. He was a reader and sometimes his songs were inspired by stories he read, just like how my writing is inspired by music I hear. He said the words would put pictures in his mind and that's where some of his music came from. Music puts pictures in my head and that's where my stories come from. Those things practically make us the same person, right?

I don't ordinarily like to find out too much about famous people. I can't appreciate their acting, their music or their writing sometimes if I know too much. I used to like Tom Cruise movies until I found out all of that Scientology stuff and now I can't watch "Jerry Maguire" without thinking about how he if I met him in real life he might try to sell me on it like an Amway salesman and it would be all awkward. Or he'd think my occasional bouts of depression were bullshit. No, it would never work with Tom Cruise.

But Elliott would say "I know how you feel," I know he would. His music says that to me all the time, even when he's not singing. He had it rough as a kid too, and it comes out. People write about how it came out in his lyrics, but I think it came out in sound.

Sometimes, especially when my kids where little, like before the age of seven, they would make a certain sound when they cried and suddenly I could hear my own crying as a child. When this happened, I had to remind myself that they were just upset about something harmless, like I'd taken a toy away or it was time for bed, and that nothing bad was happening to them or to me in that moment. I had to remind myself how old I was and where I was. One certain sound that my son made when he cried made me taste blood in my mouth. I honestly don't know where that came from. I have no clear memory of what happened to my mouth or why a small noise from him triggered a memory that filled my mouth with blood and my head with my own cries. But that's what happened.

There are certain sounds that Elliott's guitar makes that echoes my own cries, and for some reason it doesn't disturb me. There is no other sound that brings up those old feelings in a way that I can handle them. I can't listen to Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees" not so much because of the lyrics but because the gorgeous, sad sound of it makes me hear myself screaming and I swear I don't know why. But Elliot is different, and I don't know why that is either. The song "Christian Brothers" makes me want to talk to him, not so much because of the lines like "No bad dream fucker's gonna boss me around/ Christian Brothers gonna take him down" but because of the guitar. His sound, instead of making me feel more alone, reminds me that my pain isn't unique. This is good, I don't want to be unique in this way. It's not that I want other people to be in pain, I just want to know that other people who have it get the same way sometimes and maybe we can help each other feel better.

I wish I could have made him feel better. Sometimes I listen to his live performances so I can hear him move and breathe, as if by watching him I can bring him back to life. I watch his fingers on the guitar, see what T-shirt he was wearing,and hear him make mistakes and laugh about them.

I can not believe I just admitted all of that, and more surprised still that I'm more embarrassed about admitting that I watch the way a man moves on YouTube than I am about having flashbacks where I taste blood in my mouth. I think I get embarrassed about all the wrong things.

But, I can't help it. He seemed sweet and cute. He giggled once when an interviewer used the word "kerfuffle" and repeated it to himself. It does worry me a little that I'm so drawn to a person who was a suicidal addict. I've known a slew of suicidal addicts, but I don't go around falling in love with all of them. Only, you know, a few. But this guy...

They said when he died there were no drugs in his system besides behavioral medication. No alcohol, no heroin, nothing. I understand that, I think, better than it happening with some crazy chemical in his system. There was no buffer between his mind and the overwhelming pain of himself that made him tear his body apart. Maybe he was even out of cigarettes.

I can't count the number of things of done to block out the pain of those moments when I've felt so ashamed and so stupid for no reason at all, and it's a desperate, wrecking ball of a feeling that swoops in and hollows me out, and I have to fill myself with something, anything at all. To sit with it is to starve to death, to feel so hungry, so hideous inside like the walls of my stomach are coated with an acidic tar that eats me from the inside out. I have to get up, I have to pace, I have to put something in my mouth, I have to get someone on the phone but I can't talk, it hurts to talk, and I'm so so stupid. I think to myself that I wouldn't be feeling this way if I wasn't so fucking stupid.

And it's a moment and it passes. That's what I've learned. If I sit with it I won't starve to death. Nothing is actually eating me, there is no blood in my mouth. There is nothing I've done wrong, there is nothing that's really bad that's happening to me in that moment that feels so real. And I'm not, as it turns out, stupid.

I don't know if that's exactly how Elliott felt. I'm sure it was a variation on the same theme. I also don't know why some of us live through this and some of us don't. When I think about all of the things I've done to myself, I don't understand why I'm here and other people like Elliott are not. But he reminds me what can happen to hurt children who grow up to finish the job that some sick adult started when they don't take care of themselves.

And that's why, Elliott, I can't go out with you anymore. I know what you're going to say, you're dead and you don't know me, but just hear me out. Being with you these last few months has been a really good thing. But when I listen to you for a few days in a row I've noticed that I go into a dark place. No one will probably know how or why you died. Only you know that. And also the more I get to know about you the more I realize that I don't really know you because you can't truly know someone from interviews. Although I do believe that you can determine that a person is awesome when they laugh at the word "kerfuffle."

I'm going to miss seeing flat, one-dimensional pictures of you and listening to you speak in one-sided conversations that I can't participate in because they're recordings that happened over 10 years ago. My capability for emotional intimacy must be at an all-time low if I can only romantically connect with a person on that level.

But, I don't know. Maybe this is what I need right now, with all of these repressed memories coming up and the frightening, sometimes overwhelming feelings which all led me to believe that I shouldn't be in a relationship with someone anyway. Maybe you, Elliott, who can only comfort me, who can not be hurt by me or feel rejected by me if I tell you that I need a few days off, are the perfect partner (of sorts) for me right now. You don't even know that we're together, how could you feel bummed that we're apart? You can't! It's perfect!

God, I am so fucking weird.

So maybe I won't break up with Elliott right now. I think I need him. I can't imagine going more than a few days with listening to "O So Slow"  which has no words and which is, I believe, the noise of my soul. That's what it would sound like if you put your head against my chest. And there would be a man standing in front of my heart with a guitar like a shield, making my cries with me so that I don't have to sing them alone.

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