Wild Young Heart: Steve Wonder, Heartbreak, and My Father

I was 17 when I experienced my first big heartbreak. I was in love with Carl Jordan*, a handsome and popular guy who went to another independent school across town. He was the student body president and a star student, and I was sure that I loved him more than any other guy I had ever met during high school.

I remember the first time I saw him. I was on an east coast college tour with my classmates and we were listening to an admissions presentation at Columbia University. I looked across the auditorium, and that’s when I saw him. He had locks like me, and was tall with a medium brown skin. He didn’t know it at that time, but he was gonna be my boyfriend.

Months later, I saw him at my church’s teen service. He had come to visit with a classmate of his. My heart leapt. This had to be kismet. I sauntered right over to him and asked if I could call him some time.

From then on, Carl and I hung out for most of the school year. We would go to school dances, go out for breakfast on school holidays, go to basketball games. It just so happened that he was a senior at his school and I was still a junior. I thought that perhaps I would have the chance to be asked to his prom, but I also didn’t want to push the issue with him and have him thinking I was desperate.

So, I decided just to ask Carl if he was going to take a date to prom. “Nah,” he said. “I think I’m just gonna go with my friends.” Fair enough. I was ready to move on and chalk it up to him not really being interested in bringing a date.

Then I found out through the grapevine — in some circles known as the Negro Network — that he had indeed taken another girl to prom.

I was devastated. It wasn’t just Carl choosing someone else that hurt, even though that part stung. I understood that Carl’s date to prom was his choice, and that he just didn’t choose me in the end. What hurt me most was the lie. Even if it was to protect my feelings, a lie was a lie. And I just couldn’t deal.

The night of his prom was particularly rough for me. I did the standard adolescent pout-and-mope for most of the afternoon and evening, knowing that the boy I was in love with was dancing the night away with some other girl. Why? Was she prettier than me? Smarter? Had bigger boobs? Lighter skinned? Curlier hair? And even if none of those were the case, why did he lie to me when I gave him the chance to tell me the truth? It was a betrayal I had never in my short life experienced before. I wouldn’t have wished it on my worst enemy.

My father arrived home from work at 7:30 that evening. I hadn’t even eaten dinner — I refused to eat what my mother had cooked. I laid on my bed, staring at the ceiling and listening to Erykah Badu. I was beyond crying at this point. My dad walked in the house after work, and my mother pulled him into the bedroom to talk. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but my mom must have told him about my recent heartbreak because he walked straight to my room.

“Hey Loryn Bear,” he said. “Do you want to maybe…go for a drive? Get something to eat?”

I sat up and looked at him. It had been years since he had called me that. Loryn Bear. I was prepared to tell him no, that I was too sad and too heartbroken to go anywhere and we’d have to do it another time.

But after he called me that special nickname he had given me as a little girl, I gave in. I reluctantly said yes. I hopped in the car with my dad, and we drove from our neighborhood in Inglewood to Marina Del Rey, where the Ruby’s and the Tower Records were. He bought me a cheeseburger and fries from Ruby’s. I talked about school and my finals coming up. He gave me all the church gossip. When our meal was done, he told me we were going to one of my favorite places: the big two-floor Tower Records across the street from Ruby’s. We bought three Stevie Wonder albums that night: Innervisions, Songs In the Key of Life, and Fulfillingness’ First Finale. When we got home, Dad took me through each album. He sang “All In Love Is Fair” to me, and then we sang “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” together. By the time we got to the middle of Songs In The Key Of Life, something happened: a smile spread across my face for the first time that day.

My dad didn’t bring up Carl once. He didn’t let me dwell on it. He just let Stevie’s music speak to me. That night I was introduced to the healing power of music. Of course I was sad and hurt that night, but my dad, with the help of Stevie Wonder, taught me how to dance and sing the heartbreak away.

No two heartbreaks are created equal, but personally, it is music that gets me through them all. Erykah Badu’s “Telephone” helped me get through the death of my grandfather about 10 years ago. When I left a bad relationship and moved back to my hometown of Los Angeles, “BaBopByeYa” by Janelle Monae was on repeat. Music can heal because it is often there for us when others are not or when words fail us. On bad days, when it feels like everything is terrible and I am not okay, I am taken back to that time I danced to Stevie Wonder with my father and forgot about the boy I loved.