In high school, AK would sometimes find me in the hallways and give me things: mix cds, printouts of poems or stories he thought I’d like. Once, memorably, a chocolate ganache cake with how strange it is to be anything at all written across the top in pink frosting. At some point he gave me a burned copy of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, the title written on in blue Sharpie, his cramped handwriting looping and dipping. We spent a lot of time getting stoned and dancing to Holland, 1945 in the living rooms of everyone we knew; my first night at Yale that song came on in some smoke-filled room and I was relieved to learn that I was well-prepared for college, after all.
For a while that year I thought I was in love with a different A. On the last night before Thanksgiving break we met up in a friend’s dorm room; I was wearing my favorite kind of impractical outfit, cutoffs over tights, red thrift store heels, a long white down coat with a fox-trimmed hood, the fur fallen back around my shoulders, meant to mix in with my own glossy pelt. Everyone else drank whiskey out of the bottle and danced to The Smiths while he and I argued carefully on the couch: I think you like me, I said, and he told me that he did, but that he didn’t want to date me, and that he was sorry about it. I don’t really care if you’re sorry, I said, and then he left so I left too. It had rained and frozen over while we talked: I walked outside into a world slicked over with a quarter inch of ice: steps, sidewalk, railings and gates glassy black. I almost broke my neck walking home in those heels.
The next morning he texted to ask if I’d come over and help him pack: it was sunny and warm and the world was in a melt. I sat on the floor of his spare, quiet room— I’d never been there before— and we didn’t talk at all while he played I Love How You Love Me from Live at Jittery Joe’s and I wondered whether he was going to kiss me goodbye.
(He didn’t; I downloaded the album, which I’d never heard before, and listened to it at the airport and on the the plane, the whole way home.)
A year later P found out how much I liked Jeff Mangum and promised to burn me a copy of When It All Caved In; it took him something like a year to do it, and he handed it off with a note and a drawing acknowledging how long it’d been. I don’t listen to it very often; I couldn’t tell you why.
Last night I sat in the dark next to AK, the two of us thrilled, absolutely rigid with joy, while Jeff Mangum sat on a chair and played song after song, each one rippling and resonant. “I didn’t realize how well I knew those songs,” he said afterwards, and it was true: the tunes meander and the lyrics are knotty and surreal but we could chant right along with him, and water rolls on off the round captain’s belly who’s talking to tigers with his cafeteria tray.
It didn’t occur to me then how much of it had been given to me, all these boys saying here, take this, and my own unquestioning acceptance. M & I talked recently about remaking yourself in the image of the man you love, or hope to love, adopting his tastes and attitudes; certainly there’s a little bit of that in this. But mostly it’s that I got lucky: that what they handed me was so good, and that I love it so fiercely as my own, now.