I can still pinpoint the exact moment I knew I had it bad for my lab partner.
On his MySpace page, Boston by Augustana was on autoplay, and I heard it for the first time as I hovered over the “Add to Friends” button. But I couldn’t click it just yet, because the song would stop playing, and I kind of didn’t want it to end.
It was an earlier version, lesser known, the one from “Midwest Skies and Sleepless Mondays” with the intro that sounded as though it were coming from a music box. I stared at his profile picture and thought about him making anatomy jokes in Biology and taking naps when it was time to pray the rosary, his hair flopping over his eyes as he rested against his desk.
I was a high school sophomore who submitted poems to the student paper and read Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies for fun. I was a goner — I never stood a chance.
I sent the friend request.
Greta Gerwig’s awards season frontrunner Lady Bird, which she directed and wrote, was based on her own youth. Set in Gerwig’s hometown of Sacramento, it is a love letter to 2002, when people called each other on flip phones and listened to Justin Timberlake (fresh off *NSYNC at the time) and Dave Matthews Band.
It reminded me of the books I actually read in the early 2000s, most of them by Meg Cabot, and the pop culture references that made them hip then but ultimately doomed them to become unintentional period pieces, tethered to a specific point in time: teen heartthrob Josh Hartnett, toe rings, Clinique Happy, and Tori Amos.
I think back to my 13-year-old self, waiting for my friend request to be accepted on a defunct social media platform that defined a generation. And it occurs to me that this image — along with all the other moments that would follow — is dated, something that would never happen today, an unintentional period piece in its own right.
He was written out of my life when we graduated from high school. In my head, we were frozen in time, rudderless teenagers doomed to make the same mistakes and have the same stilted conversations, never reaching a resolution of any sort. We were young adult fiction.
He was always going to be the way I knew him: messy and insightful and naive and sweet and distant. His stepmother picked him up after school and he never took notes on homework so I had to remind him over Yahoo! Messenger. He owned a Zune and he wanted to borrow my Juno and Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist DVDs. He invited me to his band’s first show — it was on Valentine’s Day — and I went, but I didn’t know anybody else.
He started dating a girl over text messages and broke up with her (also over text messages) after a month. He was always taking a break from love, and he was always in love with somebody else. We would never be on each other’s Top 8.
The last time I ever used a phonebook was to look for his number, flipping through yellow pages until I got to the Cs, scanning the tiny script until I found his name. And I hardly ever remember what I did last week, but his address remains. 12 Marigold Street.
When I worked up the nerve to dial, the prerecorded message at the other end of the line said the number had been disconnected.
I was 18 the last time I saw him. He wasn’t around for when I saw a band we both loved in concert, or when I got my first job, or when I moved away from the only town I’d ever known as home. We don’t talk, but I know about med school, the mountains, and the music that no longer rules his life. Only because of social media, of course.
I look at him now — he doesn’t look all that different — and think, Huh. So that’s how long a decade is.
We’ve been coming of age completely independently from one another. We’ve reached the aftermath. We’re old enough to drive, to pay taxes, to live on our own.
And I’m old enough to know better than to think of him when Boston comes on shuffle.