Lovers Never Die
Her name was Bailey. She was from Venice Beach and in the biology class I would eventually drop.
I lived in Westwood which I didn’t know I hated at the time. I would stand beside my bike at the Wilshire-405 intersection and stare up at the V.A. building, next to a developing tent city. I’d think about how buildings didn’t have to look like that, and how it made sense that brutalism made me uncomfortable. I’d feel bad for hating concrete and for seeing myself in the homeless man next to me, then doing nothing about the fact that we were the same.
My name was Carly and I was 17 and I hated the way that my converse were falling apart in the sun. I no longer found comfort in my overwhelmingly youthful state of sonder. That was okay, I thought. I had just moved out, I was ready to be uncomfortable for a while.
This bike was my mom’s bike. I broke it and it was stolen the next day. I broke the bike in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Santa Monica, where I’d want friends one day. I popped the tire off of a curb, risking a laptop and dignity for a trick, and the quick release went flying. I lay in the street for a moment. In a script, it would’ve been an entire beat.
Beat. Carly gets up. Carly sees the neighborhood watching. All eyes on me.
For reasons unknown, I did not want to be locking my bike at Santa Monica College for the very first day of Biology 3 with Professor Brown. The one thing I loved more than school was the fact that I did. There was no evidence for my false sense of confidence. It was simple. It was a college biology class, I was not very good at it.
I hate quitting. It was the first class I ever dropped. Bailey stayed.
It was easy for me to like Bailey. She wore blazers and paper boy hats and spoke in silly malapropisms I was too afraid to call out. She was smart and thought that it was funny when I carried my electric guitar around campus with no case. She gawked at me; I wanted so badly to be her or be with her and that dichotomy was unfamiliar and upsetting. She told me about neighborhood bands and her Silver Lake bar and I wanted to be anything.
We were afraid of each other. Intimidation is only useful when it’s mutual, and it always is.
I went to a Jewish thrift store on Pico and bought pants that might help me become something if I tried hard enough.
I bought our coffee and went to her meetings then lost interest a month later.
I lost interest, then started a band and fell into a crowd that seemed to have a secret password for entry. I fell into a scene that I would one day make delicate fun of.
It was dusk on one night in April and now and I had friends in Sunset Park. I stood outside of some kid’s garage in Venice around a hundred strangers who could’ve been family. The girls handing out beers spoke in terse esotericisms.
It was a festival, with five or six bands on the lineup. Bands had themes, complete with berets or propeller caps and champagne bottles. They tore off shirts and sold sex on the stage. It was teenage heartbreak, obsession, romanticization of the insane. It made all of the sense in this little world; part of me still hated it.
It was a collective act, doing what I had done for months: trying to try to look like you’re not trying to look like you’re not trying to try. Of course!
But I couldn’t help wanting to be the young men on stage, breaking strings and ripping shirts and tricking everyone into lustful slight of hand.
For a while, I was the man on stage. That summer, my band played shows. And as the cycle goes, some other girl from the South Bay would be in the audience, thinking about how she wanted to do what I was doing.
I’d feel uncomfortable. I’d be unsatisfied every set. I’d always have someone to look up to, and my current performance of the self to look down on.
My bandmates and I would drive home, maudlin and a little histrionic. A little too focused on something that would never matter: a reverb pedal breaking, a string going out of tune.
During all of the wrong moments, something better was always happening. A frat guy brought out a flame thrower during a guitar solo. Everyone sang happy birthday to no one.
At the end of the summer, I had blazers and paper boy hats and funny stories to tell to people who were willing to listen. I had a drummer to kiss. She was a girl and came from a world without gender. I walked around UCLA in white boots that made me feel worse than everyone else.
I canonized the moments from the beginning of that year. I loved my friends. I knew that they were coming in and out of my life. Having friends and lovers- they are the same really- is kind of like ventilation. Ventilation, I learned in an EMT class I would take during the pandemic, is the movement of air in and out of the body. It is not breathing.
I keep meeting different versions of Bailey over and over. I saw her in the eyes of a callow bassist with red hair, in the water polo players at UCLA. She is someone who feels cooler than I will ever be. And still we are all so green and filled with light. But there is no more standard for this stuff, only provocation of the unknown.
And so, two years later, in Marina del Rey, sitting behind the wheel of a different car in the same city, tired and sunburnt from working on the beach, I see a bumper sticker. It was once bright yellow. It had block letters that read LOVERS NEVER DIE.
I tap the gas pedal, I almost tap the rear bumper.
In near 8 pt. font, the next line read, THERE IS A LINGERING LIKE NO OTHER IN THE MEMORIES THAT CHANGED YOU FOREVER.
These days I wonder if I will ever be concussed by the head of a sweaty high schooler with a Smiths obsession. I wonder if I will ever walk into a venue and feel too small to be there and have to remind myself that we all feel the same way. Or maybe we don’t. This is the lingering, and I’m just beginning to feel it.