To the Extreme: More Than Words

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The chain link fence ran the length of the bridge, preventing anyone with half a heart from climbing over and jumping into the slumbering Mohawk River below. The wind whipped through it in typical unapologetic and unrelenting fashion. We walked single file; there wasn’t really room to do otherwise. As dusk settled over Amsterdam, we made our way across the bridge that linked the southside with downtown.

To the right was the Amsterdam Mall, that low monolith which divided the once-whole downtown into two uneasily disparate sections, and then slowly emptied into hollow cement corridors of faded storefronts. In 1991, there was still a spattering of places that struggled to stay open, but the mall had been a bad idea from the beginning and was limping on its last legs. We eyed it as a teenage destination, and pulled out jackets closer in the night wind.

In my head, the song of the moment was playing on endless repeat, this acoustic ditty by Extreme:


Sayin’ I love you
Is not the words I want to hear from you
It’s not that I want you
Not to say it, but if you only knew
How easy it would be to show me how you feel
More than words is all you have to do to make it real
Then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me
Cause I’d already know

My best friend Ann was walking ahead of me, leading the way as she often did. I followed  a little behind, perpetually in awe of her steely courage, sky-high hair, and uncanny ability to give the world the middle finger with attitude and Guns ‘n’ Roses. I leaned on her in more ways then she knew.

A few other misfits joined our less-than-rowdy crew: Jessica, Autumn, Amy, and John. The latter was the wild card of the bunch – prone to mischief and fits of crazed, maniacal laughter in between moments of melancholy and something much deeper. There were whispers of a troubled family life, but we were all part of such whispers to a certain extent. No one had a perfect familial existence; no one ever will.

We began the slow descent onto the ramp that dropped us in a parking lot littered with the glitter of broken bottles and stray weeds poking through cracks in the pavement. Such a sad set of surroundings, and yet I couldn’t have been happier, Free from my own angry family, on a Friday night with my friends, I felt the first tugs of young adulthood pulling me forward. I also felt the warm heartstrings of friendship emboldening my otherwise insecure countenance. Here was a group of people that accepted me, misguided hair and questionable fashion aside, with all my mood swings and unlovable attributes.

What would you do?
If my heart was torn in two
More than words to show you feel
That your love for me is real
What would you say
If I took those words away
Then you couldn’t
Make things new,
Just by saying, ”I love you”
More than words,
More than words…

I carried my camera everywhere in those days, with a six-pack of 35-mm film bulging out of my coat pocket. I was forever waiting for the big capture, the shot that would change our lives, or simply make me laugh on a later, colder day, when I’d be missing my friends and longing for a night like that. I posed for more than a few pictures myself, trying to find someone in that gangly little boy who was all unruly hair and baggy clothes and silly grins. Some days I still find myself looking.

We turned onto the tiny Main Street, burning yellow and supremely surreal beneath the buzzing street lamps. Conover’s, the office store I remembered visiting as a little kid, still had a faded green sign above its fuzzy glass front. A few doors down, a band was setting up. We peeked in the back door and I snapped a quick photo before rushing out from fear of our ridiculously-underage status. We were a good group, staying clear from booze and other teenage explorations. Christ, we were Honors kids more afraid of a B+ than practically anything else.

Still, being out on our own, in a part of town that my parents would surely not approve of me traversing after nightfall, felt like a grand thrill. A little forbidden, a little adventurous, and a whole lot of what I needed. I don’t think I realized then how lonely I was, how much I needed those friends. It would have crushed me, and I was already pretty beaten down at that point.

Now that I’ve tried to talk to you and make you understand
All you have to do is close your eyes and just reach out your hands

And touch meHold me closeDon’t ever let me go
More than words is all I ever needed you to show
Then you wouldn’t have to say
That you love me
Cause I’d already know

The night ticked on. I didn’t go out enough to even have a curfew. (See, I really was a good kid.) The minutes flew by and soon it was time to step back onto the bridge. We climbed the stars and rose above the river, the tiny city behind us. Cars whizzed by, engines roaring, light beams blinding us from the other side. I zipped my coat up, the wind whipping even more viciously, colder too. I didn’t mind in the least. My stomach was sore from laughing, the corners of my mouth aching happily from uncontrollable smiles. A joy I could never feel at home – the joy of fitting in, even if it was in a group of outsiders – resonated from within, and it was something I’d hold onto when things got really bad. We’d done nothing but walk around and goof off, and it was better than any fancy night I could have imagined.

What would you do if my heart was torn in two
More than words to show you feel
That your love for me is real
What would you say if I took those words away
Then you couldn’t make things new
Just by saying I love you…

More than words.

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