It’s funny how seemingly random songs come back into your consciousness. Then sometime later, you realize it wasn’t random at all. As I like to say, everything happens for a reason.
When I was younger, before I was a teenager, I somehow recognized enough that in the midst of the chaotic childhood I was living, there was something more beyond the limiting existence I knew. I always assumed it would come in the form of a man who would fall in love with me.
This morning, I thought about the song “Nobody Knows” by the Tony Rich Project. It’s a Grammy-winning song from 1996 that was a mainstay in my WinAmp playlist when I was in university. At the time, I romanticized the idea of this man who hid how he felt about a woman. His heart broke when she left. To hide his heartbreak, he wore a mask around everyone else, pretending everything was okay, presenting this version of himself that was impenetrable.
This is obviously not a new theme in popular love songs sung by a male lead vocalist. Two of them that the lyrics of “Nobody Knows” directly nods to are Motown classics “The Tears of a Clown” and “The Tracks of My Tears,” both written by Smokey Robinson and performed by the Miracles.
The difference is in “Nobody Knows,” he finally decided to go after her, praying that if he ever found her again, she would take him back. Such a strange concept for the young woman I was then to latch on to. I hadn’t even been in a serious relationship yet.
As part of an ongoing effort to clean the house on Friday, I cracked open a drawer in an unused room, not realizing what was in the drawers. My stellar academic records and numerous participation and award certificates from my high school and college days were in one folder. These pages told the shiny, sparkling side of the story.
Underneath, in another folder, was the other side. Buried somewhere in my mind, I was aware that I had saved a lot of my records from my most difficult periods, as they were part of my medical history. But I was unprepared at this time to deal with looking over my doctors’ typewritten progress notes.
I went through a lot of awful things as a young person. Terrible things I would never wish on anyone else. I want to have sympathy for people who are afraid of needles and getting a shot. I really do. But given the number of times I’ve had some part of my body stabbed with much larger pointy objects in the name of medical treatment, I find it difficult, and I’m sorry for that.
I had almost forgotten some of the medications, procedures, and treatments I went through. As an adult, I wish I could have looked at these documents completely detached and objectively. I wish I could have been a robot. Instead, reading through them, the memories and confusion came back.
I cried. A lot. I don’t think you want to know.
What struck me most was the ambiguity. The number of times I saw “apparently” appear in the notes from the hospital and my specialists. It is now 21 years after that summer that I was in the emergency room, and none of my doctors are any closer to explaining what happened to me that day. Or the many unexplainable things that occurred over a 15- to 20-year period. I was working in the lab on a hot July day in Maryland. This in itself was not unusual. But then I didn’t feel well, and my hand was acting funny, like it wasn’t following what my brain was telling it to do. And at some point that I don’t remember at all, I collapsed.
Doctors are supposed to be the smart asses. The knowledgeable, experienced ones in the room. How on earth was I supposed to process what was going on if the experts couldn’t even tell me what happened? If a doctor couldn’t explain it, my parents were hopeless.
After I collected myself and put the folder away for another time, I checked my email. I was trying to clear out some old inbox messages that I hadn’t looked at in ages. All by itself, the email client inexplicably navigated me away from the inbox and to the oldest, saved and sent message. It was a letter I wrote to my grad school advisor, thanking him for all his support through a very trying few years. Effectively, that letter ended my academic career. That broke my heart in a different way. But that is a separate story for another time.
I now have some idea why a teenage me was consumed by this song about lost love. That has to do with events in past lives.
I suppose what’s better now, 20 years plus on, is that I recognize that I’m not happy to accept that kind of story.
Real love is hard. Things that are too easy, the kinds of things that don’t have any roots, they don’t last because when the heavy rains come, the cracks show. Anything that isn’t nailed down washes away. Love requires mutual understanding. Compromise and a meeting halfway. Having the difficult conversations.
But love shouldn’t ever ambiguous, or uncertain. You should never be confused about or feel a mortal hurt from someone you love. And unfortunately, I put up with that behavior towards me too many times.
We don’t always have all the answers or the answers when we need them. But we should be confident in ourselves to know, deep down inside, what is good for us, even if it is not immediately clear.
I wish the university-aged me knew that then. The tears I cried then now make more sense.