A Lover of Attention

Twenty years ago James released what I humbly consider to be their best album, ‘Laid’. Contained within were some of their most moving, diverse, and brilliant songs, including this one, ‘P.S.’ At the time, the album was a lifesaver for a college Freshman just trying to survive. But deeper and more disturbing than that, this particular song was a finger pointed directly at me, an inescapable indictment of all that I would ever do – a warning that would go both heralded and unheeded – a catastrophe, a triumph, a failing, and an accusation. In the loneliest nights, the words haunted me, the melody taunted me, the undertow pulling everything down with it ~ and I let it happen, I let myself be pulled. It was easier to give in, to give up.

You’re a weapon of devotion
Keep the faithful entertained
You’re a lover of attention
Found a way to pawn the soul
Disposition may be fetching
But the world moves on and leaves you far behind

What had ever come of my love? Nothing good, nothing lasting. Nothing but mistrust, blame, anger, fear – and that’s not even touching on the romantic stuff yet. Family and friends were more than enough to throw any love back in my face, to make me wonder at my worth. It would never be enough. And why should it? Love should be limitless, unconditional, unwavering and unquestionable. It should be. It absolutely should be. But it’s not.

I hear you, I hear you, whispering such gorgeous stories
I see you, I see you, trying to break free
You liar, you liar, you can’t live the dreams you’re spinning
You liar, love to be deceived

They speak of me. When they think I don’t notice, I do. I am used to it. You learn to decipher whispers when they follow you from an early age. You know when they’re vicious, when they’re harmless, when they’re flattering, and when they’re horrid. You can tell the kind whispers from the cruel ones, the taunting from the admiring – but at their heart they’re all the same: whispers. Never meant to be heard by their subject.

Maybe I’m being paranoid. Or self-obsessed. Accustomed to both charges, I let them they roll off the armor of my outfits. I duck behind the gauntlets of Jean Paul Gaultier, I hide within the folds of Ralph Lauren, I defy in the crispness of Calvin Klein. Around my person an impenetrable and invisible shield of cologne waits to release its dangerous invitation. A pocket of Prada proves protection enough. And you – you see right through it.

You’re falling, you’re falling, falling from your god-like distance
You’re fashion, just fashion, fashion doesn’t keep
You’re sour, so sour, all is hope and trust is misplaced
You’re sour, now you are alone

In the last days of a winter that felt unending, my bed remained unmade. An absent roommate who had already found puppy love with a girl across campus left me alone, and gratefully so. I could thrash in solitude through the nights, tear-stained moments of terror ripping me violently from any hope of sleep, and unseen by prying eyes. If you don’t know what it is like to be alone…

Walking on fire, feel the way the world’s inclining
Walking on fire, hate to deceive
Walking on fire, now the world will keep its distance
Walking on fire, you rather than me

My pretty clothes hung in the thin closet. My outfit for the next day hung on the back of the desk chair. My daily organizer was open to the next list of what I had to do on the next morning. Everything was ordered, everything was set, everything was next. It was never now. It was only the reach for what lay ahead.

My son says, dear father, what did you do when the world turned over
Keep spinning, keep spinning, send us off to sleep
You liar, you liar, all your words are just dust in moonshine
You liar, love to be deceived

One night the winter just walked away. Left me there. I made the bed. Vacuumed the floor. Opened the window a crack. A pine tree waved in the wind. An unseen bird cried in the distance. The earth heaved in its thaw, releasing itself in a torrent of icy tears. I felt nothing.

Armed with the sustenance of my solitude – and you will never have that sort of power if you have never been alone – I walked out of the dorm and into the outside air. Saying hello to a few passing students, I mustered my smile. It was easier that way. It ended things faster. It caused less trouble. Less consternation. Less… discomfort. Because that’s what we’re supposed to do, right?

Walking on fire, found a place away from humans
Walking on fire, hate to deceive
Walking on fire, now the world will keep its distance
Walking on fire, you rather than me…
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