Nerve Classics

Every Breath You Take

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EverY Breath You Take

There’s an interview with Sting someone told me about once. It’s the kind of in-depth rock star interview where they talk about their heroin addictions and their fathers, the illiterate coal miners; and the interviewer mentioned “Every Breath You Take” — how it’s one of the greatest love songs of all time.

Apparently, Sting was incredulous. How could anyone think that it was a beautiful love song, he demanded, when it was clear to any normal person that, hardly a tender communiqué from an ardent suitor, the song was intended as a creepy threat from a scary, scary stalker? Wasn’t that obvious?

I’ll tell you how, Sting. Look at that tight little yoga butt of yours in the mirror sometime. If Sting is sitting in his car outside your house watching you taking your clothes off in silhouette, you don’t call the cops; you invite Sting in to help. Personally, I’ve always felt a little apprehensive about the tantric sex thing — I’m somewhat fissure prone — but the man is best friends with Madonna, for Christ’s sake.

Imagine Meat Loaf singing that song, instead of Sting. Now you’ve got a guy who’s going to show up to your cousin’s wedding and tell your mother you’re engaged. Now may be a good time to notify the authorities. But Sting’s not stalker material, and neither is his song. I learned that in eleventh grade.

The navigation of your high school’s corridor at the start of a typical day of eleventh grade is an uncertain proposition at best. There’s so much to ponder, so much to worry about as your battered Converse trace the familiar path from parking lot to homeroom, the ball-pointed checkerboards on their once snowy toes a testament to a hundred study halls spent in obsessive contemplation of your inner turmoil. Will Joe Dietrich be here today? If he is, will he talk to me? If he does, will he acknowledge that I held his penis in my hand for seven full minutes on the screened-in porch at Allison’s on Sunday?

As any experienced terrorist or ROTC member with cystic acne will tell you, there are many different varieties of hand grenades. However, as someone who, the summer after tenth grade, sat through a two hour lecture on guerilla warfare by a one-eyed Israeli Army corporal, I found none of these so frightening as the folded leaf of notebook paper, rubber-cemented to my locker on troubled teenage mornings. Rubber cement, I tell you! Rubber cement! Was this the doing of the sane?

Letters, emails, voice mail messages; unopened, they are pregnant with possibility — affirmation of love, perhaps, a herald of opportunity. But hope is a fickle thing. Envelopes reveal your rejection from graduate school or the impending suspension of your electricity. Voice mails are sometimes from your mother.

These morning notes would be crumpled and strangely warm, as though on his way, the bearer had tucked them inside his underpants for safekeeping. They were inscribed faintly in frantic pencil — a mad scrawl, “the scrawl of a masturbator,” I once thought wildly. I imagined that the dampness on the paper was not simply the residual sweat of amorous adolescent palms but another secretion far more passionate and terrifying.

Jorge was not giving up easily.

Jorge, whom I quickly deduced was the author of these missives, sat a couple of rows to the front of me in homeroom. A skinny, unsmiling boy, his new mustache a striking black against his alarmingly colorless skin, I saw little of him for the rest of the day as he took most of his classes in the ESL room. Perhaps a kindly teacher encouraged him to write to the pretty girl who once (stupidly, patronizingly) smiled at him in the lunch line as a way to improve his English? Over time, the vaguely psychotic content of his correspondence grew slightly more accurate in syntax and vocabulary from “You hair as is wine/mouth for love tongue to me” to (after I rejected his prom invitation with a blatant lie — “I’m going with my boyfriend. My BOY-FRIEND. He’s in a band.”) “I think your heart it made from gold/now but I know your heart it black and evil.”

Alas, his drafting skills did not.

In a gesture designed to seem, I supposed, mysterious and romantic he signed each letter not with his name but with an alias — “The Rose.” Next to his signature he would draw a picture of…a tulip.

The Rose. Like the Scarlet Pimpernel. He could have signed his love letters “The Skidmark” of “The Smegma” for all the good it was going to do him.

Once, I unfolded one of his notes to find lettered, in his painstaking way, the complete lyrics to the popular song “Stay (I Missed You)” by Lisa Loeb. I was perplexed, until I realized that my friend Sara and I had sung this song the day before, our arms linked, as we tramped merrily to homeroom. God in Heaven! Did nothing escape this creature?

I went to the guidance counselor, badly shaken, and explained my predicament. Could nothing be done? Surely this boy could be suspended. Deported? Did she understand the kind of danger I was in? Didn’t she remember what happened to that girl from My Sister Sam?

“Why do you always come here third period?” she asked. “Don’t you have…TRIG third period?”

Bitch.

I should have had sympathy for the Rose. I too was ensnared in the merciless throes of unrequited passion. The object of my adoration was a Catalano-esque Adonis of few words. Laconic as he was, he did play the guitar — surely a sign of depth and sensitivity. He would read my poems and set them to music — we would be famous, admired — we would engage in reciprocal oral sex.

Though my beloved rarely spoke to me, he was close to a girl in my art class with whom I was friendly. In a foolish rush of imagined sisterhood, I took her into my confidence.

“I don’t know,” she said, frowning as she fiddled with a stick of charcoal. “There’s, like, so many girls who like him.”

“Like who?”

She paused lengthily, and applied some highlights to her guitar still life with white crayon.

“You’re such a good artist,” I added hastily.

“He’s different, you know?” she said. “He doesn’t like girls that throw themselves at him. He, like, respects women.”

“Totally! Don’t you think we’d be a good couple?”

She looked at me doubtfully. “I don’t know. Do you like Led Zeppelin?”

“Why? Would it help?”

“I think it’s compulsory.”

My music collection at the time consisted of two crown jewels: the Velvet Underground’s eponymous debut album, and the original Broadway cast recording of Camelot, starring Robert Goulet.

That evening, to take my mind off killing myself, I flicked through some old magazines that were lying around my room, and suddenly, the answer appeared, as though God himself had spoken to me through the pages of Rolling Stone. My path was clear. Fate had smiled on me. It was only a matter of days before the loveliest male tongue in the whole school would be planted firmly in my . . . mouth for all eternity.

Space and interest do not allow me to recount the labyrinthine machinations that went into ensuring the owner of said tongue gave me a ride home from the party that night, but as I smugly sat shotgun in his pale blue Honda Civic and heard the first strains of “Black Dog” stream from out his stereo, I was ready, and I said it, just as I’d practiced it in front of the mirror and into the tape recorder, just as Tori Amos said it in her 1993 interview with Rolling Stone.

“You know, I remember first hearing Robert Plant’s voice when I was about ten years old, and it made me get wet for the first time ever.”

What makes us think we are worthy of love? What gives us the temerity to think that we are less repellent than those that repel us?

The look on his face was not cruel. He smiled vaguely, like a senile grandparent who has no idea who you are.

“Oh, yeah?”

He looked back at the road, and I was filled with hope. A positive sentence. John Lennon said that he fell in love with Yoko Ono when he saw a piece of her art, a stepladder leading to the word “Yes.” What was the word “yeah,” after all, if not a corruption of “yes?”

I began a sequence of hurried calculations. How long would it take to thread my arm around the gear-shift and with what degree of velocity should I pull down his zipper? How many seconds would it take him to stop the car, undo his seatbelt, and crush his mouth to mine?

I was about to make my (second) move when I noticed a faint trickle of red creeping up his neck and deepening to crimson as it encircled one glorious cheekbone. With a stab more painful than a gear-shift embedded in my sciatic nerve, I had a sudden flash of clarity. He was embarrassed, and worse, he was embarrassed for me.

The “oh, yeah?” that had seemed so inviting moments before would be the last thing he would ever say to me.

Unfortunately, outside of that car, he had a pretty fucking big mouth.

I thought about Jorge a lot in the weeks of humiliation that followed, when my beloved started dating the treacherous minx from my art class, when a dateless prom came and went, and I cried a little, for both of us. Jorge and I had both believed in the omniscient sexiness of rock n’ roll. We both fucked up.

But with abject mortification at the hands of your draconian peer group comes wisdom. I learned that it helped to have a conversation with someone before deciding he’s your soulmate. I learned that beauty is not necessarily a sign of depth, but if you’re going to be shallow, it’s a guy’s package that counts, not his jawline. And I learned that if you’re going to decide to amend your musical tastes to match the man in your life, cover your tracks. Rather than claiming Tori Amos’ lubricative tendencies as your own, do the smart thing: When your paramour asks, “How did you get so into Tom Waits/Pere Ubu/Run DMC?” just smile and off-handedly say, “Oh, my dad, I guess.”

My fellows danced and laughed that junior prom. They fumbled with bra-hooks in bathrooms and experimented with methamphetamine. I drove past my ex-love’s house. Tears glistening bravely in the cool spring night, with my music on the stereo, I realized I had found the true song of the stalker.

And its voice was Robert Goulet’s.

This article originally appeared in Nerve’s True Stories.