If there had never been a full break between us, then the night that strained our friendship closest to its breaking point, the one that propelled us farther away from each other than ever before, happened when I was twenty-three, on a visit to Lex and Jim’s Brooklyn loft, after I’d broken up with my first intense and long-term relationship with Maggie Bell. This was long after I’d moved into Philadelphia, after college, after the conversation on the bridge over the Schuylkill River going past 30th Street station that I mentioned at the beginning of this memoir, the one where I doggedly defended my decision to stay in Philadelphia against Lex. Even after that conversation, intensely combative thought it was, Lex and I had remained friends. We’d even discussed starting a band between the two cities, headquartered in their Brooklyn loft. I was going in the direction of becoming a writer. But even with twenty-some short stories under my belt, plus two (what I would now call practice) novels  in the bottom desk drawer, I hadn’t committed to it in a way I finally would six years later when I met my wife and decided to get serious about a great many things including her. It was only an hour and a half by train, I could go up on weekends, and now that I had a full-time job in publishing that paid me more than enough as a single man living in Philly to be comfortable, I could do it. But somehow it never came to fruition.

At the time, I was still serious about songwriting, convinced of an innate talent, but my belief had dampened. I played songs for friends and roommates, at parties and gatherings, original material, and they all seemed impressed. I’d get requests to play at our late-night post-bar hangouts and lead rooms full of partygoers in a chorus of The Band’s “The Weight.” But beyond this, I had no way of getting my message out. My voice wasn’t good enough to go the singer/songwriter route. I needed a band and couldn’t find one. But my songs were getting better. At least I thought so. Lyrically I was growing more sophisticated than I’d ever been while writing songs with Lex. When I first met Maggie, I’d written a song for her called, “There’s Nothing Wrong with Love,” a title I lifted from the Built to Spill record. She was the first girl since Lana who inspired me to pick up the guitar and write a love song. There was a sappy edge to it, but even then, the lyrics and melody had a wit to them that I picked up from listening to Elvis Costello. “You look like you could use a little rest/so why not build your shelter next to me/if everything don’t work out for the best/I’ll write a lullaby so if you’re trouble you can sleep.” I even played it for her, which was the first time I’d actually played a song for the girl I wrote it about. But I didn’t tell her that it was about her. “And if tonight your bed feels like a strange place to sleep,” I sang to her. “And you’ve got no one in your life to comfort you/’cause you’ve been hurt before by all the company you keep/I am here to show you that there’s nothing wrong with love.”

One of the things I experimented with in the song, despite its overtly saccharine lyrical content, was that I wrote a different melody for all three verses. Then I wrote a different melody for the first two choruses. For the third chorus, I recorded both overlapping. These were ideas I never would have thought of when writing with Lex in high school, and I was happy with the result. I then wrote her another song, a very quiet late night tune that sounded to me like something that would end an R.E.M album or something off the Velvet Underground’s self-titled record called “Hold a Candle,” and I played it for her and told her I wrote it for her and she liked it.

Though of course, when it turned out she loved me back, I had to turn to new subjects lyrically. Happiness isn’t great for inspiration, but I wrote another song, shortly after we got together called “A Different Point of View,” a song whose melody, born of a cross between listening to Beck’s Sea Change and John Lennon solo records, took me by surprise. I had started running into Nick Maldonado, an acquaintance from high school who’d been in another band, in Rittenhouse Square, and since Lex and I couldn’t get the New York/Philly connection going, I tried to start something with Nick. I’d cart my guitar from West Philly to his place in Center City and we’d sit in Nick’s apartment and try to write songs together. He’d play a riff and I’d try to come up with someone over it. And then I’d play him something I wrote and he’d try to sing it, and he was taken with “A Different Point of View” and liked to sing it while I played, but I still had trouble ceding control over the things I wrote, and when other people sang my songs it never sat right with me. I liked hanging out with Nick and playing with him for the short time we tried it out, but our styles didn’t mesh and after four or five sessions, I think we both recognized that, and the connection eventually fizzled out.

Still, I was looking around for options of people to play with. My roommate from my time in Rome had a band out in Pittsburgh. He played the drums, and one weekend, I packed my guitar and took Amtrak out to see him. Maggie and I were heading toward our breakup that weekend, and I’d already written “Where Are We Now,” and Matt and I spent the full weekend, just the two of us, in his band’s rehearsal space working on demos of that and “There’s Nothing Wrong With Love” and “A Different Point of View.” And I had a great time flushing the songs out, hearing them with drums, putting in extra guitar parts and bass lines and background vocals, though all the while a feeling of sickness crept over me, knowing that I was heading toward losing Maggie, knowing there was nothing I could do to stop it, worrying that she would start to date her coworker Dick. It occupied my every waking moment when I wasn’t playing music, so I tried to keep playing, to keep coming up with new melodic ideas. Matt had a computer equipped with Pro Tools, and I worried for a time that it would bore him while I tinkered around. The sessions usually started with me showing him one of the songs and him figuring out a beat. Then we’d record a track with me on rhythm guitar and Matt on drums, but once we had that down, I started working on bass lines or keyboard parts, and he just sat there, recording, trying to make it sound good.

“I’m not boring you, am I?” I asked.

But he shook his head.

“No man, this is awesome. I like to watch the way you work. With us, we write the songs as a band, so we just sit around and make every decision in like a committee, which works out well for us, but it’s impressive that you can come up with everything yourself and just make a decision about it and go with it.”

But that was also part of my problem, the reason I couldn’t continue playing with Nick. I could never cede control to anyone but Lex. And we weren’t writing together anymore, so I was left to make all the decisions on my own because I didn’t trust anyone beyond him. No one in my life had earned the right to critique or alter my music. Of course, I was still self-conscious in spite of his compliments. When we recorded “There’s Nothing Wrong With Love,” you can hear me say as the song begins, “You’ll find out just how gay these lyrics are when you hear them without the…[music behind me].” Because when I sang them, Matt wasn’t listening to the playback but just listening to me sing, which was somewhat embarrassing. But I was satisfied by the weekend, coming away with four recordings that I felt represented the songs I’d envisions when I wrote them. The thing was, I had started to just hear things. In high school, I always had to write with a guitar in hand, to work out a riff and then put music over it. Now I was leading with lyrics. I’d thing up a good line, a good verse, and then put the music to it. This might have been the result of my literary endeavors. Wanting for a while to be a poet, I’d written a poem every day for a year and sent it out via a listserv to college friends, professors, family, anyone who’d read, probably plenty who didn’t read but just deleted it and saw me as a nuisance. I didn’t ask permission beforehand; it was simply if I had your address, you got the poem. Some of them were godawful, some of them good and among my first publications when I started to send my writing out, but it honed my skill. It got me focusing on words, the accuracy of them, rhythm, meter.

The thing I liked about lyrics was that, when you got to sing them out loud, you could put an inflection in your voice that could change the meaning with tone. I didn’t fret about adding a cliche to a song lyric in the way I did when I wrote stories or poems because I knew that I could make the cliche new just by the way I phrased it, to wink at the audience, which I pulled off most successfully in one of the last songs I wrote before putting down the guitar called, “I Won’t Fall in Love with You Again,” about Maggie’s successor, a woman who broke up with me and came back repeatedly until I decided the cycle had to end (though she did introduce me to my wife and for that I’ll always be grateful). With that, over a country rhythm, I sang, “Now if you want to dance with me, I’ll dance with you so gracefully that some girls might mistake me for Astaire. And every time you come to town or tell me that you’ll be around I dress my best and put gel in my hair. But if you want to stay tonight, I’ll tell you that it’s not all right because I have a heart left to defend. You know you broke it once before, you broke it twice but nevermore, ’cause I won’t fall in love with you again.” In the end, they were probably my favorite lyrics of anything I wrote, though that’s tough to say. I always had a lot of fun in those days with lyrics. The more vitriolic but humorous, the better. “Your heart was like an open book, for anyone to take a look, and strangely almost everybody did. Or maybe an open can with contents in the frying pan for every hungry man to lift your lid.”  My tongue could get sharp when I felt let down, deceived. I’ll admit a certain bitterness existed at the time, but bitterness makes for a far better inspiration than happiness when it comes to songwriting. After I returned from Pittsburgh Maggie left me, and within two months, I found a band to play with. I think it was the only way I was able to make it through those first few months without her.

Maggie’s roommate Dana, during the time I’d been with Maggie, had been dating a guy named Tim, who played guitar. He had another friend named Tim who also played guitar, and they were looking for musicians to start a band. He told me about it one night when I ran into him at the basement bar Sugar Mom’s. Amidst the exposed brick and bomb shelter ambiance, he told me they needed a bassist and drummer to round out their lineup. I didn’t know the first thing about playing drums, but I asked, “Do you have a bass?” It turned out the other Tim owned a Fender bass. “Well, if you have a bass, I’ll play bass for you.” And as I left, a lot drunker than was good for me as happened often in those days, my mind was awash in the possibilities. I liked the fact I’d be joining as a bassist. I’d always had distinct ideas about how rock bass should be played. In our own songs, I’d asked Gabe to play root notes or else wrote a bassline for him and asked him to play that. But bass could augment and add to a song. And I thought, how nice I won’t be writing the songs but able to bring something to someone else’s music. And that moment’s elation, the idea that I’d be involved in playing music with people again, pushed aside the nausea that overwhelmed me in the weeks after I found out Maggie had started dating her coworker Dick.

We talked influences before we played. Tim One had followed a similar trajectory to me. The Smashing Pumpkins to Radiohead. Branching out in the early aughts. He liked Spoon and Modest Mouse, and he wanted to play guitar like Johnny Greenwood, experimenting with sonic textures, which I was on board with. Tim Two, who I didn’t meet until our first session in his apartment in Fishtown, adored shoegaze, a genre I’d listened to only tangentially, but Tim One and Tim Two gave me an education. I’d leave our sessions with ripped CDs of Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine and Jesus and Mary Chain. Best of all, they could both play, which hadn’t been a given when I agreed to join. Of course, they too were likely relieved when it turned out I could play bass. These things go both ways.

From the first session, it was clear we had chemistry, but already I overstepped the bounds of my promise to myself to hang back and only contribute basslines. Both of the Tims had come equipped with loaded pedalboards. Reverb, phasers, delay, and a host of other sounds dear to shoegaze. They played me a song they were in the midst of writing, but because of the wall of sound, I couldn’t make head or tail of it. I listened for the melody in their chord progression, thinking of how to add a bassline, but I was lost.

“Why don’t you guys turn off the effects?” I proposed. They both had acoustic guitars there, and I suggested they pick them up.

“If the song’s any good, it’ll work with the effects and without. Let’s strip it down to its essential elements.”

I had told myself beforehand that I wouldn’t do this, that it was their band and I’d go along with their flow. But I couldn’t stop myself. It was compulsive. To take control and lead. I couldn’t avoid doing it. And yet, because it was our first session together, Tim and Tim agreed to it. They strapped on their acoustic guitars and played a riff that I now recognized as moving, beautiful. I went against instinct and started to play a bassline that was more like guitar, strumming two notes, and when they came to the chorus I wrote a melodic overture to the chords they strummed. Midway through, Tim One suggested it needed something else, like a bridge, and they fooled around a bit and came up empty. “Hand me the guitar,” I said. “This is the main riff, right?” I’d been watching them and had learned the guitar part visually. “And this is the chorus?” I tinkered, variations on the theme, and wrote the guitar part for the bridge and followed it up by adding another bass part. It came natural to me to assert myself when ideas weren’t readily coming to the group (the way my Pittsburgh friend Matt described his band writing songs as a group was entirely foreign to me), but the Tims adopted the bridge and seemed to like it. Tim Two had already named the band A Certain Smile, and over the next two weeks, he wrote lyrics and we recorded a version of it on Pro Tools. That they’d taken my suggestions about acoustic guitars and incorporated the bridge I wrote made me emboldened. When Tim Two had laid his vocal track down, I asked if I could try to layer backing vocals behind his lead. I could hear a counterpoint, not so much harmony as an alternate melody that fit. So I used lyrics to a song I’d written with Lex and plugged them in the background, which I felt made the song more dynamic, gave the nostalgia of Tim Two’s lyrics—the song was called “Scrapbook”—a darker undertone.


Maggie had been the first girl who loved me back, and whenever we weren’t playing, I suffered her loss acutely. Would anyone ever love me again? She was beautiful. Would anyone that beautiful ever love me? I was scared of getting mired in self-pity, so I drank a lot and swung to the opposite pole: overconfidence. And being overconfident, I was blind to the problems this might present with Tim Two, who was, by nature, insecure. For the first month or so, we got along fine, our bond solidified by a minor catastrophe. We had been playing in the finished basement space of Tim Two’s apartment. I had brought over microphones and a small bass amp, and as we sat, rehearsing, I noticed a brown line of water coming in underneath the floor where his washer and dryer were.

“Um, Tim, is that supposed to be happening?” I said.

He was facing away from it and turned and said, “Oh shit.”

He got up and ran over. The water kept seeping in. It surged through the basement floor and receded like the waves at the beach. It moved over tile and carpet. “Hit the breaker,” Tim One called, and Tim Two did it, and we started to haul our equipment upstairs as more and more water swept under the floor. It came in brown waves, and didn’t stop as we hauled our amps up the stairs. It came so quickly in fact that we couldn’t get everything, and even though he’d thrown the breakers, I felt a surge of electricity as I grabbed one of the mics, and at that point, we had to stop. We huddled upstairs as the waters reached a foot, two feet, three, as they made it to the top of the stairs. We called emergency serviced and found out that a water main had ruptured. We didn’t the lose all of our equipment, our guitars were fine, as were the more expensive amps, but the mics were fried as well as my little bass amp. The water in the end made it up to about two feet below the stairs, a murky swamp of brackish water filling the first floor. So Tim Two was out of a house, but insurance put him up in a hotel and paid for the lost equipment, and the ordeal of us rushing everything up the stairs as the water poured in brought us together. A good story to tell others, a good myth about the foundation of our band. But it wasn’t to last. Two things happened that created tension between me and Tim Two, and a third came and broke it apart.

The first was that I took Tim Two to a party. My friend George was celebrating his twenty-fifth. The band had played that morning. The insurance company was putting Tim Two up in a hotel and after practice I’d gone back with him to hang out, watch a movie.

“What are you doing tonight?” Tim asked.

“Hitting my friend George’s birthday party,” I told him.

“Mind if I tag along?” He asked.

“No, not at all.”

The party was at George’s apartment off South Street. It wasn’t going to be a big party, but it wasn’t a small intimate gathering either. One more person wouldn’t hurt. We got there and George was talking to this girl Ashley who he’d met online. He was good at that, presenting himself online, pulling girls with his profile. At the time it was MySpace. She was cute, so I greeted him and shook his hand and steered clear and got a drink. When I got back, I found that Tim Two had honed in on their conversation. He was interrupting George, stepping between him and Ashley, giving a routine I’d seen him give once before, the sad guy routine, the guy who gets girls by insisting no one likes him; sad sack reverse psychology bullshit, using low self-esteem to bag girls with low self-esteem. I’d hardly heard what he was saying before I pulled him to aside.

“Dude, you can’t do that.”

“What? What am I doing?”

“You came to party you weren’t even invited to, and you’re cockblocking the birthday boy.”

“What? We’re just talking! It seems like she likes me.”

“I don’t give a shit what it seems like, look around and choose someone else to talk to.”

I was distracted then by a few mutual friends of mine and George. I lost track of Tim for fifteen minutes or so, but when I looked back over, he was back at it. George caught my eye, shrugged, gave me a look like “What the fuck!” Above the heads of the partygoers, I mouthed the words, “I’ll take care of it.” I came back over and pulled Tim aside. I wasn’t as subtle this time.

“Tim, we’re leaving.”

I pulled him toward the exit.

“What? We’re leaving already?”

“You’re fucking up my boy’s shit, and now you’re fucking up my shit,” I told him.

“But I’m lonely,” he whined.

For a moment, I just looked at him. I pictured Marlon Brando slapping the shit out of Johnny Fontane in The Godfather.

“I don’t know what to do, Godfather…I don’t know what to do…”

“You can act like a man!”

Backhand, forehand, backhand. 

I pictured it but didn’t do it. We left and went back to his hotel and watched something on Cartoon Network and then I went home.

The next thing that happened to cause strain was that Tim Two signed us up to play the talent night at Temple University. We had fifteen minutes to do a set, but we only had the one song. I’d played both him and Tim One “A Different Point of View” and they liked it, but it didn’t really suit the shoegaze sound they were going for.

“Mind if I try writing something for us? Something that sounds like you guys want us to sound?”

At this point, Tim Two was still amenable to things like this. I went home that night and listened to some of the CDs Tim Two had burned for me. I had an idea for lyrics and a melody I’d been kicking around. It was a song about Maggie. It was official that she had started dating Dick, and this drove me insane. She’d insisted and insisted she’d never go out with him. She had told me that he was like a brother. And so my lyrics went at her, called her out on this deceit. I even had a title. But I need to write out the chord structure and make it sound how Tim Two wanted to sound. I didn’t like My Bloody Valentine all that much. The soundscapes were alluring, but the songs themselves left me cold. They weren’t really songs to me so much as excuses to play with effects. I liked the first song on the Slowdive record he’d burned for me, “Alison” with its hypnotic longing, but the rest of the record bored me. What I loved was The Jesus & Mary Chain albums, Psychocandy and Darklands.

The next night we met up to practice and I’d told them I had it done.

“What’s it called?” Tim One asked.

“You’re Always Welcome Under My Umbrella.”

It was a title I took from my day’s in Rome. One night we were out and my friend Sara had forgotten her umbrella. I told her she was welcome to share mine, and she said that sounded like a song title. Maybe a Burt Bacharach chamber-pop song. But while listening to Darklands, I thought it fit The Jesus & Mary Chain template. Something like “Happy When It Rains,” which was my favorite song of theirs, or “Nine Million Rainy Days.”

Tim Two rolled his eyes. I knew how the title sounded to him.

“Just give it a listen,” I implored. I took Tim One’s guitar and turned on the distortion pedal, fiddling with the knobs until I found the right crunch, and I started to play. I sang, “But you’re always welcome under my umbrella, that’s the lie I’ll try to sell ya, for a short time. ‘Cause it’s raining, but you said, you find my love draining, you should look at it as training when I hurt you.”


When I finished, Tim One was enthusiastic.

“I could hear a lead part over that while you were playing,” he said. He picked up Tim Two’s guitar. “Here play it again. I have an idea.”

Tim Two shrugged.

“Yeah, I guess it’s all right. We could use it at the show.”

And while Tim One and I worked on it, he stood and left the room. I glanced his way as he went out. It was obvious he was upset by something. Maybe he really didn’t like the song. But I had a sneaking suspicion it was more that I’d overstepped my bounds and done it well. He’d agreed, likely thinking that he could say it didn’t fit their sound or that it would be bad, but it wasn’t bad, and it sounded like they wanted to sound. I’d gone from thinking that I’d just play bass and contribute to their songs to thinking that maybe I’d do a George Harrison type of thing and everyone once and a while contribute one of my own, and this was obviously a step too far for Tim Two’s comfort, but I didn’t care. I pushed his feelings to the background, equivocated. “We have a show coming up and we need songs,” I told myself. “He can’t complain if he’s not going to write them quicker.” My confidence in my songwriting abilities at that point was at a high. I felt as if there was nothing I couldn’t do, and that, combined with the artificial cockiness I’d mustered to help me get past Maggie’s leaving me, must have been absolutely obnoxious. But I could only see it later, when I came out of it, in retrospect. We wrote another song called “Earthbound” and played the talent night, and all went well until I met a girl.

The band had been together for almost three months when this happened. We’d found a drummer and a rehearsal space that could fit us all and were planning to play more shows. It was March, and actually, I had met two women. One lived outside the city, and we hadn’t hung out yet. The other I had set up a drinks date with at Mad 4 Mex near Penn. Her name was Cass, and she lived a few blocks away from me. Though I’d never seen her in person, she was attractive in her pictures. My type: large brown eyes and dark hair. One of her favorite artists was Bjork, and Cass kind of looked like her. In both cases, I had followed George’s lead. I’d set up a MySpace profile with the picture in which I thought I looked my best. I listed a range of the stuff I was into. I wrote a few blogs to show I was thoughtful, sensitive. And in both cases, the women I was talking to, complete strangers before this, had emailed me. It was a new method of meeting women, and one I liked because I didn’t have to approach them cold, knowing nothing about them. Here all their interests were laid out and I could judge if I was compatible before risking anything. And of course, I always assumed that I made a better first impression in writing.

If I’d doubted that other women would be interested in me after Maggie left, my hopes were being revived online. Cass had messaged me because I’d listed one of my favorite movies as “Singin’ in the Rain,” a shared interest. The other woman, Desiree, would later admit she had written because of my profile picture. I had chosen a photograph my other study abroad roommate, Jon, had taken in Amsterdam. I was sitting next to one of the canals with my backpack hovering behind me, flat cap fixed firmly to my head, looking off into the distance. Jon had had a photography show when he returned to Haverford after Rome, and I’d attended. One of his girl friends approached me during the show and said, “I asked Jon who his hot Italian friend was, and he told me it was you.” So I figured it couldn’t hurt to make this picture my online representative.

When I got to Mad 4 Mex, I was happy to find that Cass was just as cute in person. The hostess showed us to our seats, and we ordered two frozen margaritas. The frozen ones were big and stronger, and as we drank our conversation flowed. She was studying film at Temple, and we liked a lot of the same movies. At the end of the evening, I walked her to her door, and we hugged, but it wasn’t a friendly hug. It was clear that she liked me, and I asked if I could see her again. I was still a bit hesitant to make a move so quickly, but she agreed that I could come to her house that weekend and watch a movie. On Thursday, the band had rehearsal, and I showed the two Tims her profile pic. “I went on a date with her last night. We’re meeting up tomorrow.” Tim One nodded, “Cool,” while the other sat there looking at her.

The next night, I went over to Cass’s apartment. I can’t remember what the movie was. I’m not sure I cared. Shortly after I got there, we were both sitting on her sofa in the dark, and I took her hand and kissed her. As the evening proceeded, we moved to her bedroom, but she put the brakes on. “I don’t want to go to fast,” she said. “I liked you a lot. I don’t want to screw this up.” I smiled. I’d heard this line before from Maggie. I nodded and agreed, “That’s cool,” I said. I was all right with taking things slow. I got up and she saw me to the door, and I left. When I got back to my apartment, I sat at my laptop and saw that she had messaged me.

“You know on second thought, why don’t you come back,” she’d written.

I almost leapt from my seat and ran back over.

“I’ll be there in ten minutes,” I replied. “No, five. Honestly, I’d be there now if teleportation was possible.”

My blood surged, my heart was full. I was elated in the way I imagine most men feel when they go from the prospect of spending a night alone to realizing they might be getting laid in the next half hour. I grabbed my jacket and ran for the stairs. Our apartment was on the fourth floor, and it was only when I reached the second that I realized I wasn’t prepared. I check my pockets. I didn’t have protection. So I raced back upstairs and grabbed condoms from my desk. As I did, I saw that she’d written me again.

“I’m not just going to be a rebound for you, am I?”

I stood there for a second, wondering where this came from.

“What do you mean? I don’t understand.”

This might have been a mistake. Maybe I should have just turned and gone over and talked to her in person.

“Your friend Tim,” she wrote. “He contacted me today on MySpace. I saw that he was friends with you, so I chatted with him a little. He wrote to me just now, and I told him you were on your way over, and he mentioned that you just broke got out of a pretty serious relationship.”

I opened another window in chat. I didn’t need to ask which Tim.

“Dude, I ought to come over there and kick your teeth through the back of your head! I can’t believe you would do this.”

“What? What did I do?”

“Do you really need to ask me that? Cass. You told her about Maggie. Is cockblocking a profession now?”

“We were talking, I might have mentioned it.”

“Why are you even talking to begin with? Why on earth would you look her up and write her?”

“What? I can’t have a friend?”

“I can’t believe you would do this. I’m out. I don’t want to be in the band anymore. I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to be near you.”

“Good. We were going to kick you out anyway.”

“I’m sure you were.”

“And your song sucks. You’re Always Welcome Under My Umbrella. What kind of title is that?”

“It’s the title to a better song than you could ever hope to write in your life. I’ll contact Tim and swing by to get my gear tomorrow. Please don’t be there. I don’t even want to look at you.”

I’m not sure if this is exactly how the conversation went. It was something like that. Tim One tried to remain neutral. I explained what happened. He’d been friends with Tim Two for a long time and understood how Tim Two was. He shrugged and accepted it. I was out. It was a shame, but it had been their band in the first place, and he’d side with Tim when it came to music. I’d tried to explain to Cass that it had been three months, that I was ready to start again, that I liked her. But she’d gone back to being cool, and I didn’t go over.

I was irate. I paced the room like a caged tiger. I wanted to pull Tim apart, use all the pent-up energy I was planning to expel in fun and tear him limb-from-limb. But I was disheartened too. I sat and stared at her words, “Maybe we should hold off.” I was way ahead of myself. Here I thought I was getting a new girlfriend. I had no reason to think that. It might have been a fling, but in either case, I’d lost my chance, and it Tim who’d fucked it up for me. I was alone again now. I felt I’d always be. Maggie had said she wanted to marry me and I’d screwed that up and let her slip away, and now there wouldn’t be another. I got my stuff the next day when Tim One drove me to our rehearsal space to pick it up, and I slumped through the week. But the melancholy was short-lived. The next Friday night, Desiree, the other woman I’d been talking to online, called me.

“Hey,” she said. “I was just coming into town tonight to look for something to do. I was wondering if you’d like to get together.”

“Sure,” I said. “I was just gonna hit this show. My roommate’s boyfriend’s band is playing the Mill Creek Tavern. You should come with.”

That night we hooked up. We were on again off again for the next year and a half. We fell into it so easily that it almost seemed fated. At least, that’s what I convinced myself of for a time. The one thing I couldn’t find as easily was another band, and I already missed playing. Still, I had six songs recorded. Six songs of my own. Four from my sessions with Matt and two from my time with the Tims. For before I’d left the band, Tim One had purchased a sampler. I had asked him to take the drum beat from Sinead O’Connor’s version of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” loop it, and I recorded another one of my angry at Maggie songs called “Not Everyone’s a Thief,” in which I channeled my best, at least lyrically, version of The Smiths, aping the dark humor of “Girlfriend in a Coma.” I didn’t even pretend at that point I was writing for the band. I told them both that it was just for me, and I played all the other instruments.

I laid all these tracks out as a demo to try and search for others to play with, but first I took it to New York to show Lex and Jim. I’d told Lex I was playing again, that I was writing songs, but he hadn’t heard any of the material I’d written since he moved. I was excited for him to listen to it. My skills had grown, and I was sure he’d be impressed. Over the course of the evening, I kept pushing for us to listen to it, and when we got back to their loft, Lex put it on. The first track was “Where Are We Now?” followed by “You’re Always Welcome Under My Umbrella” and “Not Everyone’s a Thief.” It finished with “A Different Point of View,” then “Hold a Candle,” then “There’s Nothing Wrong With Love.” I thought that the sequence was good. It reversed the course of the relationship that had inspired the songs. The greatest bitterness was in the middle. It ended on a note of optimism. Six songs written in the course of a year. All good. And yet Lex simply sat there, with an unimpressed grimace.

“The drumming is weak,” was the first thing he said.

This wasn’t what I expected. I had hoped by bringing the songs here to revive the idea that we might start a band between cities, that it might rekindle his enthusiasm. That seeing what I’d done, he’d be so ecstatic to start again, we’d make plans for the following weekend. That I’d bring my guitar up and we’d jam again. Instead, this. Instead, “The drumming is weak,” he said. I was pissed off, not just for myself but on Matt’s behalf. I thought his drumming was good. He’d had two days to learn three of my songs, and he’d learned them and done a fine job, and here Lex, whose opinion had always mattered to me, was impugning his technique. But instead of defending Matt outright, I took the middle road.

“Well, he learned to drum in jazz band in high school. His touch is lighter than yours. I think he did a good job, given that we recorded these songs in a day. But what about the songwriting? I mean, I think I’ve gotten a lot better.”

He shrugged.

The loft where they lived was a wide-open space like a warehouse, separated by a wall into sections for Lex and Jim to paint. We were on Lex’s side. They’d built raised sections at the back of the space for bedrooms with a staircase leading up. At the foot of the stairs was a table where each of us sat. We were drinking, getting drunk. I watched Lex, confused. I couldn’t tell if he really didn’t like the songs and saw no potential there, or if he was jealous that I was still playing and writing and he wasn’t. His paintings hung on the walls, large paintings of bathing bodies with azure skies behind them. I liked his paintings and had told him as much already. He looked to be doing well. But secretly, didn’t he want to play music again? I know I did. That was why I was here. Couldn’t he see that? I was trying to reinvigorate him. But I didn’t want to push or try to feel him out. Most of all, I didn’t want to let him know how much his reception had hurt me. I decided to let it go. To move on. I’d brought a few CDs from new bands I thought he’d like. The first was Spoon’s “Gimme Fiction.” I put it on after my demo. This music didn’t move him either. He sat rolling a joint. I thought of all the times in high school he accused me of sulking, of being in a foul mood. He was doing the same thing now. He was dour.

“Do you hate everything now?” I asked him outright. But he didn’t answer me. He passed around his joint. We all kept on drinking. I was pretty drunk by that time and wasn’t used to being stoned, but I figured I’d indulge with them for once. I’d never done so back in high school. I kept myself clean, but I was going through a rough time and thought, why not? He’d been standoffish all evening. My rapport with Jim was better, so Jim and I started talking. Over the course of the evening, the talk turned to women and we started laughing and telling stories. Lex hadn’t dated anyone since moving to New York, and I was tired of his holier than thou I hate everything routine, so I decided to poke at him. I brought up Nora. I brought up Rita. He’d considered marrying Rita, but didn’t. I wondered if he ever thought about her now that he was alone. I was becoming increasingly stupid as I got drunk and stone. I deliberately told stories I knew he didn’t want to be reminded of. Jim joined in with me, and I’m not sure if I did it on purpose or not, but he said something funny when I’d just taken a sip of water, and being stoned, I laughed so hard, I spit out my water. I spit it out all over Lex’s shirt.

“Oh man, I’m sorry,” I said, after I realized what I’d done. But was I? Or had I done exactly what I’d intended? Had I wanted to disrespect him right then as he’d so often disrespected me, as he’d already done that night by insulting my newest songs.

Lex went up the stairs to change, and as he came back down, he said: “All right, do you want to know what’s really bothering me? Do you want to know why I’m really upset? It’s the last time you came up. You were a shitty guest, so I wasn’t even sure I wanted to have you this time. We hosted you and your girlfriend, and we pulled out all the stops for you. We took you around the city. We made you dinner. And you never once thanked us.”

He was right, of course. I couldn’t deny his version of events. Maggie and I had taken a trip to New York City at the very end of our relationship as a last ditch effort to try to save it. At least, that’s how I saw it. She might have seen it as our goodbye tour. In any case, Jim and Lex were living way uptown in East Harlem at the time. They’d taken over the lease on an apartment from Lex’s sister, who’d moved there with her Cuban boyfriend who taught art at one of the local schools. Things hadn’t worked out for them, and they were moving again, and Lex had seen the chance to make his transition up there easier (though the apartment wasn’t suited for painting, which is why he and Jim had moved to Brooklyn later). The two of them had met us in Washington Square. Maggie and I had taken the Chinatown Bus up from Philly. We hadn’t spoken to each other much the whole way. We hardly spoke on the subway to Washington Square. We hardly spoke to each other all evening. I was worried about how much time she was spending with her coworker Dick, how she was drawing away. I knew she was planning to leave me, and I kept trying to draw her out, make her part of the conversation. I’d hoped that having Lex and Jim around would make her talk, and it did. She talked to them. But she still didn’t talk to me. We slept on a futon in Lex and Jim’s living room, and as we went to bed, she simply turned her back on me and still didn’t speak. Lex was right to point it out. He had every right to feel like he did. In the past I would have been conciliatory. I would have apologized. Asked his forgiveness. But I was done apologizing to him. My life had become so detached from his after he moved to New York that I wasn’t going to take his shit.

“Yeah,” I said. “I was breaking up with my girlfriend. I was a little preoccupied with the fact that she was going to leave me. And look, she left! So yeah, I didn’t say ‘Thank you.’ Maybe you could just absorb it. Let it go. How much shit have you done to me over the years that I just let go? Elisa, Nora, Rita. Jennifer Mills and Natalie Calder. How many times have you ditched me for a girl, treated me like dog shit, just disappeared from my life? I wanted to play the talent show, we made the talent show, it was important to me, but I dropped out of it for you. They said you couldn’t play, I could find another drummer and play, and I said, ‘No thanks, not without my boy.’ I start to have anxiety attacks, you’re dating Rita, you disappear, you write me off. And again, I let it go. I’ve let so many things go over the years. You were always first. And then the one time I need you to let something go, you act like a spoiled son of a bitch. You lead the charge to leave Steve behind. You decide I’m never going to get out of my parents’ house or over my anxiety so you leave me behind. As soon as anyone shows weakness or stops looking up to you, you’re done with them. So I’m not gonna say sorry, not this time.”

Maybe I didn’t say that. Maybe it’s an abridged version, and I rambled. Maybe it’s changed in my mind over the years, and the message was garbled. I was drunk and stoned. I couldn’t have been so articulate. But I said at least part of this. It’s what I felt, what I meant. It was my truth, as this whole entire exercise in recounting my life story has been my truth, a truth that’s evolved over the years, a truth that might not be true. It had all come down to this, he had always counted on me needing him and coming back and being deferential, and I felt I’d outgrown the need for him. I didn’t need to consult with him anymore. I didn’t need his validation. It wasn’t that I didn’t care for him anymore, I still did. But the dynamic between us had to change, and it wouldn’t. As long as we remained friends, we’d always be those two kids who’d met in French class in the seventh grade: big brother/little brother.

The next morning, I woke, and without saying anything to either one of them, I slipped out of the apartment. I was hung over. My head was throbbing, I needed water and bought some at a corner store. Jim had explained how to get back to Grand Central, and I took the F train back to Manhattan. This time, instead of the Chinatown bus, I’d taken Jersey Transit, and on the train back to Trenton, I reflected on the night before. It was over, and I didn’t mind. The fight had happened. It had been brewing for a decade. We’d come to blows in high school, and even that hadn’t ended us. But I felt that this might. Over the next year or two, the phone calls between me and Lex became less frequent. There was an iciness between us, and then the calls stopped completely. My news of Lex came only through Jim, and then Jim stopped talking to Lex as well. They reconciled and fought. Just as we had. And I watched as Jim got an apology and forgave him. I had wanted him to apologize to me too, but maybe he didn’t need to. I forgave without an apology again. I was always willing to forgive and likely always will be.

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