Fifteen years later and my temperature still falls when I hear the unmistakable first notes of "Have in Mind"; that consistent reaction is probably why it is one of my favorite songs of all time. Steve Masters Presents was an album which I've regretted losing for more than a decade; it was also my first exposure to the aural elixir wafting through my noise-cancelling phones right this second, on this airplane, via one Sanrio'd Nano. Bless you, iTunes for bringing the "Kalimba mix" back in to my life, after all this time.
SMP contained my favorite LIVE 105 DJ's hand-picked assortment of the music which saved my angst-saturated teenaged life on more than one dangerously miserable occasion; it was pure 120 Minutes-level satisfaction. Though I already had Cetu Javu on vinyl, I did not have this particular, haunting, beautifully melancholy version of "HiM", which was anomalous, because music-phile-me once obsessively collected every remix available, if I loved the song in question. And there were no questions, not about this singular single.
Oh, my memory.
Proust can have his Madeleines, I am pwn3d by something which isn't sold at Starbucks.
A spring afternoon from 1992 screens behind my eyes as if it were preserved on celluloid. My first crush, who would become my first boyfriend at a point sooner than I could have ever expected, looked at me in a way I wouldn't understand for years. It was March of my senior year of high school and I was just 17.
"There's a song I think you'd really like..." Think? He knew. He had molded my unassailable taste in music as if he were Pygmalion himself, creating a Galatea who would eternally worship at the altar of auditory pleasure.
He pressed play and I was ensnared. The chorus wound through my ears like one omnipotent neurotransmitter; it felt like all the traffic signal lights within my head were flashing red, instead of cascading through other colors properly.
"We...close our eyes...? Wait that reminds me of--"
"Oingo Boingo? Different song, but still good."
He continued to speak and I tuned out, I was so transfixed by what was emanating from my Uncle's ancient Sony portable. He couldn't play this perfection for me on the actual stereo system because my father was in the next room and my father would not have been pleased. I was allowed Opera, Classical and NPR. Nothing beyond those anomalous-for-a-teen categories. I would have laughed if Daddy had exploded over "Have in Mind", considering what was transpiring just beyond his peripheral and paranoid vision. Would he have ranted about musical "crap" if he knew that being near this boy made me want to throw up, pirouette and let my smile talk trash to the sun wrt brightness and light, all at the same time?
The song trailed away and I ached for it, for the way it had enslaved my feelings for three minutes. "Again," I murmured, and dutifully, a cassette tape was rewound so that it could play one more time.
"Look at you...I knew you'd like it, but I didn't know you'd appreciate it this much..."
I gazed downwards at my hands, which were half-swathed in "Race Red" cable-knit cotton with contrasting white-striped trim. My fingers clutched the slightly-too-long sleeves so that my palms were concealed, opposable thumbs made useless. What had girls done with their extremities before Belinda Carlisle made us all stretch out every knit top we owned? Any road, I was dressed in my favorite Esprit outfit. I thought my skirt with its single-flowered white peonies was such a genius choice, ensemble-wise, because the backdrop for all those blooms was the exact shade of Rosso Corsa as my sweater.
Though I was painfully shy and perpetually uneasy no matter what, I remember feeling extra lovely whenever I wore that outfit, an outift which, upon reflection, obviously makes me cringe slightly when I consider it now-- but that's what makes it sweetly perfect, right? I knew that I liked it, but what I recall even more was agonizing over if he did, if I measured up in any miniscule way to the glamazons he had mentioned over the past few years with such elegant insouciance: Cybelle, Dominique, Sandrine, Gabriella...every woman he had dated sounded like a Bond girl to me, a child who wasn't even allowed to wear flavored chapstick yet, lest it impart traces of color or shimmer to my naked face.
My imagination didn't have to expend any effort in order to punish myself with doubt over how I was consummately inferior to his past; he had taken moody, breathtaking black and white photographs of each of them, which later piled up around his room, just waiting for my timid fingers to sift through such dusty, abandoned piles of stunning images. College girls. How could anyone younger and more sheltered possibly compare to such gorgeousness?
Cetu Javu evoked emotions within me I could barely identify, and I suddenly felt lost and filled with despair. My eyes grew warm and I desperately wished away potential tears which threatened to ruin an already weird and anxiety-fraught moment. "Stare at the wall and you won't cry," I told myself. I had read the useless advice in a Judy Blume (Are you there God? It's me, Anna), Cheerleaders or Girls of Canby Hall book and I urgently needed it to work right now. It obviously didn't.
Just when I thought I'd explode from all the ridiculously tumultuous inner emoting I was doing, he said, "Hey."
Oh, eep...it was written all over my face, wasn't it? He surely thought I was a freak. I'll bet Cybelle never emoted. Her name was too aloof and pristine for such vulgar humanity.
"I forgot to tell you, you look really nice...you look good in red. It suits you."
What? Javier Revilla's voice was once again fading away through the dusty plastic speakers and I was mute from astonishment. No boy had ever complimented my outfit before, partly because I had worn a uniform to school during every previous year of my life, but mostly because I went through a legendary awkward phase which endured from age 8-16 and boys wanted nothing to do with ugly-duckling-me.
He smiled subtly, then he added, "You really are loyal to Italy. I'll try not to hold it against you."
I stammered that recently I had become partial to Bugatti blue and his eyebrows arched with approval.
"GT or SS?" Was he testing me? Unexpectedly, I felt a surge of nerve at his arrogance.
"S...S. That way I could get there 1.3 seconds faster," I snapped. Who was this brazen wanna-be bitch and when and where did she learn to flirt like THAT? Once I became aware of it, my haughtiness immediately subsided and I returned to insecurityville, via an express train.
I was confused. Could this actually be happening to me? Dominique drove a Corniche convertible and carried her books in an Italian bag with a tell-tale bamboo handle. I had just reluctantly received my license and was known to use, you guessed it, the sort of Esprit tote bag every girl in Northern California had during the late 80s. Was he hallucinating a better outfit on me? Envisioning some femme fatale inhabiting the spot where I was trying to sit still?
"Do you want to hear 'Have in Mind' again...you seem to really like it. Or do you want to hear that Blondie tape you loved so much when you were three?"
"You brought 'Parallel Lines' with you?!"
"It was a long drive up..."
"Um...yeah, I'd love...to..."
"It's...in my car." True to everything else intimidating about him, he drove a perfect white BMW. He looked at me and I felt unbearably warm, then confused again. Then I realized that this moment was my cue to follow him outside, which I normally would have done anyway, because I had always been slightly awed by the fact that when every other Indian kid was driving some ancient, hand-me-down piece of crap which could possibly lose in a race to a lawnmower, my longtime crush worked two jobs to pay for his dream car. After his parents offered to bribe him with it in exchange for perfect grades during his Freshman year of college, he told them he'd definitely have a BMW but only one without such odious strings attached. What a badass. Such disciplined insolence was (and still is IMO) unheard of in our privileged community.
I crossed stretched-out sleeves over a tachycardiac chest and commenced following him when my Father's irritated voice boomed through the entire ground floor.
"WHERE are YOU going?"
Oh, shit. He sounded furious.
"Uncle, I was just telling Latha about the Pirellis I put on my car."
"Oh, very nice ada. When did you get them?"
"Last week." I was in awe of how smoothly he was handling the entire exchange. My father had visibly relaxed, his voice dropping to the decibel level of a mere shout.
"Pirellis are very good tires. Excellent choice." Daddy eyed me suspiciously and as his brow wrinkled, I grew more terrified.
"Don't get any ideas, kunju. No performance tires for you." I nodded meekly, I was nearly safe; exhilaration waited for me just around the corner of a very short hallway. This was unlike every other time I had ever trembled in a certain someone's sophisticated presence. THIS time, he was intently looking at me...and he was doing so in a way I had never experienced before. Was I actually going to have the unprecedented opportunity to be alone-alone with a boy for the first time in my life, ever?
Seconds after the front door was opened for me in a most courteous and thoughtful fashion, I had my answer. My squire hadn't pulled it shut behind him when that voice came barreling out, to settle effectively and thoroughly between us.
"Wait, ada...I want to see them, too. I may not care for BMW, but I appreciate your interest in cars. I'm proud of you for being so independent."
I locked eyes with someone who, to my utter surprise, looked more disappointed than I was at this denouement. He managed a half-smile and mouthed, "almost" just as my father swung my Uncle's front door wide open...