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The Madonna Timeline: Song #14 – ‘Frozen’

{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

 
You only see what your eyes want to see,
How can life be what you want it to be?
You’re frozen when your heart’s not open…

I had been hoping that the iPod would not choose this song for a while, as it’s one of the most emotional Madonna songs for me – the kind that perfectly aligns with a momentous time in one’s life, that both illuminates and shades that time, becoming a mini-anthem, dirge-like or not, and I cannot hear the song without being somewhat affected and reminded of that moment in my life.

You’re so consumed with how much you get,
You waste your time with hate and regret,
You’re broken when your heart’s not open…

It was the winter of 1998 – January – and I was living in Boston but searching, as always, for a break from where I was. Upstate, friends awaited me in Rochester, New York – and I headed there for a few days of carefree fun to dispel the wickedness of winter. We headed to a club for drinks and dancing, and in the darkness between the flashing lights, I saw him for the first time. A cute guy in overalls and a baseball cap – and a smile that was somehow, and unfathomably, meant for me.

My friend Gina went up to him and introduced us, much to my embarrassment, but he was nice and we talked. I’m not going to lie – when you’re 22 and single, every first meeting carries with it the possibility of being the first time you meet “the one”. (When you’re 35 and married, you realize that’s not how life really works.)

He must have known that then, but I did not. We went our own ways at the club for a while, but found our way back together at the end of the night. He wrote his name and number on a cocktail napkin and told me to call him the next day.

I was staying at Gina’s apartment, and when we got home she told me that he was a chef at a new restaurant. The next day we made reservations for dinner there, and he invited us into the kitchen to say hello. We agreed to meet up after his shift.

If I could melt your heart…
We’d never be apart…
Give yourself to me…
You hold the key.

The intervening time between dinner and meeting him is a blur, as is much of those few days. I remember being incredibly nervous until I saw him, as if I could never quite believe he was real, and whenever he was absent (which was most of the time), I felt panicked and desperate and almost manically hopeful. (Attractive traits all around.) I hid this as best as I could. There would be no crazy letters of self-saving ultimatum (not yet anyway – they would come later), and in those first few days I was free to imagine that this was the start of a great romance. That night it certainly felt so.

We went to the Avenue Pub – a local haunt less keen on style and more concerned with strong drinks. We sat at the bar and I met a few of his friends. At one point his hand rested on my knee – a sign of affection or camaraderie, I wouldn’t ever know – and though I usually cringed at being touched, with him it was all right, it was endearing, and it made me feel like I might be loved. Such a simple gesture, I don’t know how I could allow myself to believe it was so fraught with import, but there you have it. My state of mind. His casual carelessness. Our mutual desire.

Now there’s no point in placing the blame,
And you should know I suffer the same,
If I lose you, my heart will be broken…

I followed him back to his place, a rather lengthy drive through the cold winter darkness. In the dim light of a night that was suddenly filled with falling snow, we kissed and undressed. Shades of silver and gray swam among wrinkled sheets. It was warm next to him, and it was one of the only times I fell asleep without unease next to a man. What followed would do that to me. Not through any act of deliberate cruelty on his part, but in the absence of returned love – the debilitating draining that inevitably befalls unreturned affection.

In the early morning light, a layer of white snow covered the waking world. He got up to take the dogs out. I asked, jokingly, if he was going to wipe the snow off my car. He grinned before closing the door behind him. I dressed quickly in the dark chill of that morning, my body knowing even then that I needed to leave. When he returned, he asked me to stay, but I couldn’t tell if he meant it. Outside, I made the discovery that he had brushed the snow off my car.

For the rest of my stay I will call him daily, to see if he wants to meet up. He will hedge, say yes, then cancel at the last minute. I will sit, showered and dressed, in Gina’s apartment, for the next two nights – even extending my trip with the hope that he would be able to make it, and then when I absolutely had to return to work I made the solitary drive home.

Love is a bird, she needs to fly,
Let all the hurt inside of you die,
You’re broken when your heart’s not open…

Once back in Boston, I had a few phone conversations with him in which he explained that he would have liked to see me, but he just couldn’t schedule it with his busy work week. I understood, and mentioned I would be back in Rochester in a few weeks, so perhaps we could meet then. He agreed, and like a fool I believed, and returned – by bus to Amsterdam, then with my parents’ car to Rochester.

It’s strange, and a little embarrassing, to look back at my actions then, but whenever a sense of shame sneaks over me, I remind myself that I didn’t know any better. I didn’t understand that there were romantic rules of attraction, and to go against these rules meant certain ruin. If I liked someone, I let them know it. I didn’t wait three days to call, or act unavailable. If I was smitten, I didn’t hide it, and if I wanted to see someone, well, I drove six hours to see them.

Like most of the men in my life, I loved him – or thought I loved him – more than he would ever love me. As I get older, it sounds sillier and sillier for someone to say, but at that moment, in that time of my life, it was anything but silly.

On my second, third… fourth trip there, he didn’t even bother to return my calls. I sat in the car and cried, wrenching tears from a writhing shell of a body. In a rare moment of desperation, I called my Mom and simply told her that things weren’t going well. I didn’t give specifics, I just needed to hear her voice.

It was winter, and Madonna was gearing up to release her Ray of Light album, leading off with the single ‘Frozen’. The snow fell around me as I returned to my parents’ home, and I shoveled the driveway to keep from going crazy. Walking off into the backyard forest one night, I laid down on the frozen ground, letting the snowflakes tickle and melt upon my face. On a still winter’s night, you can hear them fall – tiny pings and rustling crystals – and if you wait long enough you can join in their frozen mass. I did not wait that night.

If I could melt your heart…
We’d never be apart…
Give yourself to me…
You hold the key.

There would be more tears, and more pain, and more feelings of doubt and insecurity, and always the wondering as to my own worth. I could gain the attention and enthrallment of any number of people – yet the ones I loved the most couldn’t be bothered to love me back. It would be the conundrum that informs my life to this day.

You only see what your eyes want to see,

How can life be what you want it to be?

You’re frozen when your heart’s not open…

As for the song itself, ‘Frozen’ marked Madonna’s masterful move into electronica, by way of Morocco. With its sweepingly majestic Middle Eastern strings and barren drum programming, it melded an icy chill with desert heat – exemplified by a Goth-like video shot in the desert night. The first time I heard it was on one of those obsessive trips to Rochester. Sitting in Gina’s sad little apartment waiting for him to call, I watched as the video came on MTV – and in the tradition of ‘Like A Prayer’, the first time I heard it I didn’t like it immediately. Soon enough, it was one of my favorites – the crux of yearning and learning, obsession and lonely resignation.

If I could melt your heart…
Song #14: ‘Frozen’ – Winter 1998
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