Spend your entire life loving music. During the summer before your fifth grade year, ride your bike down to the nearest used cassette store every Saturday to exchange a crumpled combination of your weekly allowance and money earned from mowing the neighborhood lawns for a pack of spearmint gum and new tapes to add to your collection. Keep the tapes on the top shelf of your bookcase where your sister can’t reach them with her sticky little fingers, and continue to build their ranks until they stack on top of one another and lie three deep on the shelf. When November finally comes and brings the Beatles’ new compilation album with it, beg your mother to drive you and your across-the-street friend Daniel into town to buy a copy. Cradle it reverently in your hands on the way home, then run upstairs to show it off with the rest of your collection. Return breathlessly to Daniel’s house an hour later to ask if he can spend the night, since you’ve only made it through half of your tapes. Stay up until ten o’clock on a school night playing air guitar and comparing notes on which rockstars you’d be were you able to trade lives for a day. Notice the next day that your News Of The World tape is missing. Confront Daniel at school, claiming that you know he stole it and refusing to forgive him until he returns it. Spend a full week telling anyone who will listen that Daniel Rodney is a dirty, rotten thief. Say it louder whenever he walks by and you know he’s listening. While cleaning your room later, find the tape in the gap between your nightstand and your wall. Feel too embarrassed to apologize to Daniel, and start watching out the window for him to leave so you don’t have to walk to the bus stop together. Avoid him until his family moves back to Arizona the following spring.
When your friend Hernan’s older brother begins offering guitar lessons, talk your parents into buying you a beginner’s acoustic so you can become the rock legend you always knew you were destined to be. Take lessons twice a week until the start of middle school, when you’re finally able to join a real band. Have your parade thoroughly and abruptly rained on when the only remotely rock-related instrument on the sign-up sheet is the drums. Put your name in anyway, and get assigned to the clarinet when it turns out that every other kid in your class had the same idea as you, along with the advantage of a name with higher alphabetic priority. Get seated next to a blond kid named Josh, who hears you muttering under your breath about the unfairness of the world and all within it, and offers to teach you the drums on the side in exchange for guitar lessons. Accept the proposal, and feel like something of a musical prodigy when you find yourself able to play three instruments at the presumably tender age of twelve. Become close friends with Josh and his girlfriend Sarah, who plays the trumpet and chews on her hair. Go with them to your first school dance— the winter formal, since a nasty bout of stomach flu kept you quarantined to your room during homecoming. Hang out with Sarah at the drinks table while Josh heads to the bathroom, and make her laugh by sticking straws under your upper lip and pretending to be a walrus. Keep your eyes open when she kisses you suddenly, straws and all. When Josh catches sight of you from across the cafeteria and starts yelling, defend yourself because it wasn’t your fault and you didn’t kiss her back and she smells too much like vanilla cupcake body spray besides. Try not to care when Josh stops talking to you until Sarah breaks up with him a few months later, saying it didn’t matter and that you were a bad kisser anyway.
Start hanging out with Kenny Ortiz the summer before you start high school, partly because you were in band together the year before, and mostly because he’s the only other person you know whose family didn’t go on vacation. Find out that you have similar taste in music and spend the summer searching for local concerts. Luck out in mid-August when his second-favorite band (some indie rock group you hadn’t heard of) makes an appearance at the county fair and you’re able to score some tickets from an on-air trivia quiz. Spend the day stuffing your face with as much blue cotton candy and sno-cones as you can afford, having way more fun than you expected for a day whose temperature forecast peaked in the high eighties. Crack a joke on the way home and notice for the first time that you really like the way Kenny looks when he laughs. Feel your stomach flip elatedly for a moment before you’re suddenly, inexplicably reminded of your extremely Catholic grandparents and the way your dad talks about that sarasa he works with at the car dealership. When Kenny asks you what’s wrong, immediately vomit all over the sidewalk, splattering blue onto the tips of your Converse and the front of your new shirt. Ignore him as he starts to laugh even harder while you continue heaving on the side of the road, trying to convince yourself that your stomach only felt weird just then because you had to puke. Realize as you feel his hand on your back as he attempts to comfort you and stifle his hysterics that you’re not actually all that convinced.
Lose your virginity to Hannah Charles when you’re sixteen because she’s the most attractive girl in your grade and thinks you’re deep because you carry your music notebook wherever you go, and according to Kenny and his other friends, only a complete moron would say no to that. Agree to meet her when she invites you to the football field on a Saturday, even though you know what’s going to happen. Comment on how hot it is because you can’t find anything else to say, and shrug noncommittally when she suggests going under the bleachers for shade. When she takes her shirt off, try to notice the perfect contour of her Coke-bottle curves and the sparkle of the diamond stud in her belly button. When she wraps her legs around you, try to notice the pale tan line left behind by her bikini bottoms and how it nestles in the groove between her thigh and her waist. Try to notice anything about her, but end up paying more attention to the Freudian scribblings on the bottom of the benches, spelling out in Sharpie such prophetic phrases as ‘penis’ and ‘Jason was here’. Count the colorful wads of gum stuck to the bottom of the seats like half-chewed, rainbow stars dotting an aluminum sky, and laugh to yourself because this is probably the least romantic place to pop one’s cherry. Try not to let your eyes water too much when Hannah slaps you, thinking you were laughing at her, and cover the sting in your cheek as she stalks off, shirt buttoned crookedly and hair falling in long strands out of her Scrunchie. When your friends ask how it went, deflect their questions with the vaguest answers you can, and hope that Hannah was too embarrassed to share the full story. Never let on that you didn’t even really like her in the first place.
Play as many instruments as you can get your hands on, mastering them all to varying degrees. Expand your music tastes beyond classic rock, and fall in love with the sound of your fingers sliding along the strings of your acoustic guitar as you change chords. Hum Elvis and Johnny Cash in the shower, listen to Queen on full blast when you’re home alone and can try to hit the high notes without anyone giving you sideways glances. When Jeremy Greenway from homeroom mentions that you’d be a good candidate for Sacramento State’s music program, seriously begin considering music as a potential career path. Receive a brand new Katana bass guitar from your ever-supportive parents for your seventeenth birthday, and start a garage band with Kenny, Jeremy, and a few other starry-eyed band geeks you manage to enlist. Play at talent shows and local grange concerts, then leave eight months later after getting in a fist fight with Kenny because he fucked your sister even though she’s barely even fifteen years old. Slam your bedroom door and fall onto the bed as you rehash the fight in your mind, remembering how good it felt when his perfect nose broke under your fist as you punched him with every jealous bone in your body. With his blood still on your knuckles, tear the band picture to pieces until Kenny’s stupid, handsome face is no more than a few unrecognizable shreds littering your messy carpet. Find out six years later that he died of a drug overdose. Don’t go to the funeral.
Surprise your parents and yourself by being accepted into Sacramento State with a partial scholarship. Bring nothing from home except your purple bedsheets, your guitars, and two weeks’ worth of clothes in the form of faded band T-shirts and other, less essential items. Spend a respectable amount of the term avoiding loud social events until your roommate drags you to a house party to celebrate the end of finals as you curse yourself for being so easily influenced by peer pressure. Let yourself get a bit too drunk on the marshmallow vodka that someone’s supplied, and spend your birthday dancing to some high-pitched music from an artist you can’t and don’t care to recognize with a guy in wire-framed glasses and a Canucks jersey whose name you couldn’t quite hear over the music. Kiss him while your breath reeks of alcohol, and wonder if the dizziness is from the drinks or the fact that he’s actually kissing you back. Wake up the next morning in your dorm, another year older and with a pounding headache and no way to identify the guy from last night except for ‘Fleetwood Mac Sex Pants’ scrawled on the back of your hand in green ink.
Over the next year, grow increasingly bored with the tedious details of music theory and history, and become generally disenchanted with college life in general. Crave the passion you once had for playing and listening to music without having to write reflection papers. Attend university for only a year more before suspending your scholarship and moving out of your dorm to open your own recording studio. Blow all of your life’s savings on a beat-up old Winnebago and spend whatever’s left on recording equipment. Pick up full-time shifts at the car dealership where your dad works, paying rent with commissions and penny cash from playing your guitar out on the streets. Think about how much easier things were when all you had to spend money on were cassette tapes and gum. Wonder who’s mowing the neighbors’ lawns now.
Go home for Thanksgiving and finally muster up the courage to tell your parents that you’re gay. When your own mother refuses to make eye contact with you and tells you to get out of her house in the ‘because, Travis, I am your mom and I said so’ tone that suddenly feels so cold and unforgiving, try to maintain your composure and dignity by taking your plate to the sink before you go. Stare down at the picture-perfect floral pattern of the china saved just for special occasions, like Easter and Christmas and Thanksgiving and disowning your son. After a moment of deliberation, drop it against the freshly-mopped linoleum.
Feel a tug on your arm as you storm out of the house and turn to see your sister, who heard you screaming and cussing at your dad over the plate but missed what the initial fight was about. Try to get the words out, but feel them piling up in your throat as you look at her worried face, her faded pink Converse high tops, and the KISS shirt Kenny gave her. Decide there aren’t any words at all besides goodbye, and watch her waving out the rear view mirror as you drive away. Keep a straight face until you’re back in your shitty old trailer, then sink against the door and cover your face as the tears begin to sting the back of your eyes. Sit there for a moment, in the awkward limbo between crying and not, breathing heavily into your closed hands and staring at the ugly stain on the carpet until the pinpricks in your eyes begin to fade. Wipe away the ones that escaped and stand up, swiping your sleeve across your nose. Pick up the newspaper. Look for a new job.