Helplessly Aware


Once upon a time I was a romantic.

In the summer nights between seventh and eighth grade, on the verge of adolescent angst and leaving boyhood brilliance behind, I wrestled with the bedsheets as the outside breeze rustled the curtains.

The red glow of a digital clock and the yellow light of numbers 87 through 108 from the radio illuminated the inner-sanctum of the room, while shafts of a street lamp fell in through the finely filtered cross-hatching of a wire mesh screen.

Seventh grade had been rather dismal for me, as I struggled with algebra and allergies – the latter of which knocked me out for weeks at a stretch, further alienating me from school-mates who were already feeling distant and less-than-friendly. It didn’t help matters that I was suddenly allergic to cats, and the few whom had found a home with us were slowly being shipped out all because of me and my sickness. The arrival of spring that year marked a new beginning, as our last cat was given away in the cruel month of January.

Now, in the summer stretching out before me, in the darkness and the humid heat of a night in which the screeching of an insect matched the buzzing of the search for a proper radio station, I felt relief and release. The treacly opening chords of a Richard Marx power ballad came through the haze:

Just when I believed I couldn’t ever want for more

This ever changing world pushes me through another door

I saw you smile

And my mind could not erase the beauty of your face

Just for a while

Won’t you let me shelter you

I sensed, even without having experienced the sensations yet, the loss and desire in a song like this. My heart felt something far in the future reaching back and connecting, some foreshadowing of pain and heartache that was soon to come. How I knew to access and fathom that sadness made no sense, but beneath the dim light of the night, I held on for dear life.

Hold on to the nights
Hold on to the memories
I wish that I could give you something more
That I could be yours

I didn’t like boys or girls then. I didn’t know what I liked. Stirrings of fraternal connections made certain body parts tingle, but it wasn’t yet sex or even love I was after. It was closeness. I craved a kindred spirit. I didn’t want to be so alone. And yet I kept a safe distance from kids my age, lazily usurping my brother’s friends when I wanted a bit of adventure. We’d ride our bikes beneath the leafy canopy of Pershing Road, popping wheelies on mismatched sidewalk ledges and skidding out over grassy islands, leaving dirty scars in our wake.

Most boys realize their boyhood in the sun of summer, and though I was no exception, I sought out something more in the night.

How do we explain something that took us by surprise
Promises in vain, love that is real but in disguise
What happens now
Do we break another rule
Let our lovers play the fool
I don’t know how
To stop feeling this way

I breathed in the air in the space between my bedroom and the lofty boughs of an old hawthorne tree outside my window. A dog barked in the distance, a lonely plaintive sound that echoed my own loneliness. In later years, I’d combat that sinking feeling by opening a book, but at that age, in that summer, I listened to the radio and found solace in the noise that masked the heart while revealing it at the same time.

Hold on to the nights
Hold on to the memories
If only I could give you more…

Fleeting moments of friendship flashed across my brain from the previous school year: sitting next to Ann in art class as she created an epic Bon Jovi collage, sharing answers with Jeff for a health test and trying the wrath of a very scary health class teacher, walking to band with Tim and laughing as he mentioned how a certain person was surprised to see the sun come up in the morning.

It dawned on me, earlier than most I suppose, that I wasn’t just trying to hold onto the nights, I was trying valiantly to hold onto my youth. As dismissive as I was of the silliness of being a kid, I knew it was a realm I’d regret having to leave. As much as I wanted to grow up as fast as possible, I was cognizant enough to know how much I would miss it. That awareness was childhood’s greatest – and quickest – killer.

Well, I think that I’ve been true to everybody else but me
And the way I feel about you makes my heart long to be free
Every time I look into your eyes, I’m helplessly aware
That the someone I’ve been searching for is right there.

I had a few more years before I’d leave all that innocence behind. For that night, the summer felt a little endless, and somehow there was comfort in that abyss. We never know what is in store for us. That’s the beauty and the rub. Though I’d never be one to really hold on to anything, I was still just a boy trying to find his piece of the kingdom. “You may know what you need, but to get what you want, better see that you keep what you have.” One midnight gone…

Hold on to the nights
Hold on to the memories
I wish that I could give you more…

Hold on to the nights.

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