Wednesday, July 30, 2008


When I was in grade thirteen, which is something they had, in Ontario, in 1993-94, I went to this weirdo public school called SEE. This converted elementary school with its too-small toilets and coat hangers offered me a lot of things my more conventional and teenager-sized high school, Martingrove, had not. Not the least of which were the mornings I spent luxuriously indulging my newly acquired bad habit - smoking cigarettes - whilst intentionally creating an authentic and romantic space for myself and myself alone within my great big world of friendships and crushes and pining and feelings of unworthiness. Amidst the soundtrack of these years that screamed significantly and appropriately and synchronously from car stereos and ghetto blasters and not-yet-mastered guitars in friends basements, I found this one song or else it found me, and I made it my own through this repetitive, ritualistic process that I kept for myself.

Mom and Dad and Geoff and Ted would leave for work and school like regular people at least an hour before I rolled out of my bed, the house and the hours before my twelve o'clock class to myself. I would sit in the living room with my coffee and my cigarettes, which I could smoke secretly because my dad smoked there too, and the lingering smoke would certainly be attributed to him. I would place Automatic for the People in the stereo, skip ahead to track 11, and press play as I smoked my cigarette on the comfortable armchair in the corner, blinds closed, lest I expose myself and my secret habit to my neighbours. It is the best personal indulgence I have ever had, and maybe that is something I could use now - a secret ritual that no one else knows about, that I enjoy so wholly and repeatedly. For years I refused to tell anyone how much I loved this song. I would leave the room if someone else played this album in some other room, as soon as I heard it begin. I did not want to associate this with any other person in the world. I greedily hoarded this song.

Automatic for the People had come out the previous year, when I was in grade twelve, and I listened to it in its entirely a lot that year. I had a part-time job working at one of my dad's stores, and after school I would ride the Martingrove bus all the way up to Steeles Avenue. "Everybody Hurts" killed me. It made me think about the friends I felt I was losing, growing distances and little betrayals. I suffered a minor depression I think, maybe it's a high school thing.

I did not feel amazing in grade thirteen, but I felt a little more sure of myself, like I was on the cusp of something. I had this awareness of going new places and leaving some old things behind, and I had no idea how I would reconcile the two. But really, I don't think I thought about it too much. I was pretty optimistic, despite being so easily hurt, when I was eighteen.

I played "Nightswimming" for myself and I loved the strings and the piano and I loved that part about the photograph on the dashboard, driving somewhere with something from before right there in front of me. Nightswimming seemed like the perfect solitary event, and so I played this song in the morning, in my dry living room, and I felt a lot of things that I couldn't and can't explain.
Nightswimming - REM (Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe)
Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago,
Turned around backwards so the windshield shows
Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse
Still, it's so much clearer
I forgot my shirt at the water's edge
The moon is low tonight
Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
I'm not sure all these people understand
It's not like years ago,
The fear of getting caught,
Of recklessness and water
They cannot see me naked
These things, they go away,
Replaced by everyday
Nightswimming, remembering that night
September's coming soon
I'm pining for the moon
And what if there were two
Side by side in orbit
Around the fairest sun?
That bright, tight forever drum
Could not describe nightswimming
You, I thought I knew you
You, I cannot judge
You, I thought you knew me,
This one laughing quietly underneath my breath
The photograph reflects,
Every streetlight a reminder
Nightswimming deserves a quiet night, deserves a quiet night

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