Break Ups, Ben Folds, and Realizing Life Is Worth Living

Currently I am sitting at my job, wishing I was at a coffee shop, stewing in the unending mess that is my head after a break up. My mind is racing at about a 1000 words a minute, but I am going to attempt to put some of these thoughts down here in a cognitive way that will explain where I am mentally, while also telling you all another heart wrenching story about my life that changed the way I view relationships, friendships, and how to approach dealing with a break up. Here is the often heard of, but never truly discussed break up with Becky Gorman and how Ben Folds has a special place in my heart.

When I was in high school I was not the same person I am today. I was unsure of myself. I had little-to-no self-esteem. I was at least partially convinced that I was going to end up alone. I had trouble finding reason in why anybody would want to be with me. So, as you can see, I was essentially the exact opposite of the person many of you know, or at least read about on occasion.

I was in my senior year of high school (this was in 1996/1997 for those of you keeping track) and I still had not had my first girlfriend. I had kissed a girl once, but that was a throw away kiss after a random church event. I was so unsure about who I was as a person that there was no possible way that I could successfully maintain a relationship. I didn’t know who people wanted me to be and, making it worse, I didn’t know who I was. I, like many other teenagers, was completely lost.

That year I was on my high school swim team, and I was good. I wasn’t the best, but I could have been if I had wanted to be. My work ethic toward things like winning didn’t develop until I had begun to get tired of losing. Back then I won more times than I lost and that was good enough for me. Also, spending time walking around shirtless in a speedo covered by gym shorts around a bunch of girls in bathing suits was a great way to spend a Friday night.

I was at this one meet…well, it wasn’t a meet, it was a tail trial event with a couple of other schools. One of these schools was my coach’s daughter’s and I had known her as a kid I had never had any interest in her in anyway. In all honesty I thought she was obnoxious and stuck up. I never would have thought she of all people would have grown into the person who would break my heart for the first time.

I remember believing
I remember believing

I remember talking with my friends at the side of the pool and Becky was standing there talking with her group of friends and I noticed her. I noticed her the way that I imagined Lloyd Dobler noticed Diane Court in Say Anything…, or how Dorthy Boyd noticed Jerry Maguire in Jerry Maguire (even though that movie had yet to come out, but more not that later). Somehow I integrated the groups together, and soon all of us were talking. I remember joking around with her about stupid high school bullshit, making fun of her for things she did when she was six or seven, and thinking that all I wanted to do was ask her out.

Again, I had a complete and total lack of self-confidence, and I couldn’t see why any girl would have wanted to date me. After the meet I jumped in the car with my parents, and on the way home I lamented about how good Becky looked and was amazed that she had grown into this amazing, beautiful girl.

Sally, being Sally, told me to call her, and said her family was in the book (Kids: a long time ago there were these things called telephone books and people’s numbers were listed in them. All you had to do was know what their parent’s names were and you could call anyone). I was terrified, having never called a girl before in my life for this purpose, but the next night, while my parents and sisters were out of the house living the lives they had, it was exactly what I did, and we talked on the phone for four and a half hours.

She and I talked about everything there was for two teenagers to talk about before social media ruined the naivety and innocence of teenagers everywhere. We discussed our favorite band (Live), our favorite song by that band (Shit towne), movies (Say Anything…, well, anything by Cameron Crowe, the man who ruined the way I see relationships forever), school, homework, parents, and so on. By the end of it I had built up all of the courage in my stomach to finally be able to ask her the one question I had been trying to ask the entire time I had been talking to her: Do you want to go out with me sometime?

To which she responded with the often heard, “I’m sorry, but I have a boyfriend.”

I shrugged that off. After all, at the age of 17 I was expecting to die alone, so being rejected wasn’t anything that really shook me. I told her I understood and she asked if we could still be friends. I told her that would be awesome (I probably said rad, knowing how weird and awkward I was) and was ready to add her to the long list of girls who saw me as their favorite brother, the endless excuse used by women to make guys feel better about not wanting to make out with them (hint: it doesn’t work). We hung up the phone and I actually went to bed content. I was happy I had at least worked up the courage to ask a girl out. This was a major step for me.

A few days later I was hanging out at Becky’s school with some of my friends, and my friend’s sister told me I better be good to Becky, especially since she had broken up with her boyfriend to be with me. This news caught me completely off guard since Becky had not mentioned any of this to me. We had spoken a few times since then, and even hung out at a Young Life meeting once (Young Life is a teenage religious organization where kids can congregate with other believers in a way that isn’t boring and dull like church. As you can see, I’ve changed a lot since then).

I rushed home as quick as I could and called one of the only five numbers I still have memorized today, (703) 36*-8*6* (numbers omitted for fairly obvious reasons). I probably dialed that number 1,000 times over the course of my life. It is burned into my brain for the rest of eternity. If reincarnation is real I am certain my next life will one day dial that number because it swims around inside his or her head and maybe, just maybe, someone will answer and they will be happy together for the rest of their lives.

I asked her if she wanted to go out that weekend. I came up with ideas of what we could do. I recommended food. I thought of movies. I thought of anything I thought would be fun that 17-year olds could do, that was also within the range of miles away from my city. I just wanted to go out on my first real date at the embarrassing age of 17. We decided to go to a movie, Jerry Maguire (there is a reason this is in the top 10 of my all time favorite movies and it has nothing to do with Tom), but her friend had to come with us. I said that was fine, and I was beaming with excitement, happiness, and outright and utter glee.

I’m not sure what it’s like now a days, but back in the 90s the carding policy for rated-R movies was rather lax, in fact it wasn’t until the South Park movie that I remember them cracking down on that so severely. So on Saturday, December 14th, 1996, I bought tickets for myself and two 14-year old girls to a movie that I was barely old enough to see.

Quickly, let me tell you a little bit about this movie. One, Cameron Crowe was 220px-Jerry_Maguire_movie_posterreaching his stride with this movie. Say Anything… was one of my favorites already, and Singles was on my list of must watches. He truly peaked with Almost Famous, but Jerry Maguire at the time was his magnum opus. The script, while on the surface being a simple rom com, was smart, funny, and complex enough to garner multiple Academy Award nominations, winning Best Supporting Actor before Cuba Gooding, Jr. disappeared for a decade or so before coming back to play OJ Simpson in the made-for-TV miniseries, The People VsO.J. Simpson.

I know this because I have seen this movie hundreds of times since that day. On that day though, I barely saw a single frame of that movie. Becky and I started making out shortly after the opening sequence where the Earth is shown and Jerry begins talking about how there are 6 billion people living here and stopped basically when (SPOILERS for anyone who hasn’t seen a 20 year old movie) Dorothy says the oh, so famous line “You had me at hello. You had me at hello.” It was the greatest movie going experience of which I had ever been part. Not since then have I ever done that, and I am certain that now that I am truly entrenched in my thirties I would be judged much more harshly than I was back then. Back then I didn’t care. Whatever the people next to me, or in the row behind me thought didn’t matter; I was finally making out with a girl at a movie, something I had wanted to experience ever since I saw a couple do it when I was at the easily impressionable age of eight.

Now, Becky’s and my relationship was like every other high school relationship out there, including, but not limited to, the fact that I thought it was different. It was hot and crazy at first. We tested boundary after boundary never crossing that final line, even though I was willing to throw away the stupid abstinence pledge I had signed years before, because, you know, she was the one. 

We dated. We fell in love. We saw each other naked with all of the awkwardness teenagers possess when allowing someone to see them naked for the first time. We went to prom. I graduated. She went to 4H (or the mini-mafia) camp. She met someone else. She broke my heart. 

Wait…that doesn’t seem to really tell that story right. We dated. We fell in love. We saw each other naked with all of the awkwardness teenagers possess when allowing someone to see them naked for the first time. We went to prom. I graduated. She went to 4H (mini-mafia) camp. She met someone else. I learned that it was possible to feel what it was like to have your heart ripped from your chest, stomped on, chewed up, run over, and found out that is possible to cry for what seemed like a year.

It would be a slight understatement to say that I did not take it well.

I have a certain number of cigarette burns on my body. Six of them, and I know which six they are, are because of that break up. Basically, what I am saying is that I was emo before emo was cool (not that I’m bragging, I wish I didn’t have to cover my scars with tattoos to try unsuccessfully forget about the reasons I put them there).

51u7o7+57HL._SY300_A few years before this happened Ben Folds Five released their album Whatever and Ever, Amen. I listened to the shit out of this record. I had to record it onto so many tapes because I continually tore the tape it was on, from over use (Kids: a long time ago before downloading music, and carrying it on phones, or streaming it from things like Spotify, or iTunes, there were CDs. They were small silver discs that would have an album on them. Many cars back then couldn’t play them, and we had to transfer the music over to a little thing that was about the size of cell phone called a tape. It had enough room for almost one album on each side). Now, after Becky taught me about broken hearts and allowed me to discover that I was actually a very weak person (which is something I had suspected for a very long time before this moment) I listened to one song on repeat, meaning I went through a lot more tapes. This song was Song for the Dumped.

If you haven’t heard this song the opening lines are as follows;

So, you wanted to take a break,

Slow it down some,

And have some space….,

Well, Fuck You, Too.

It quickly became my favorite song. There was even a moment I fondly recall when Becky and I were on our way to a concert in DC, the day she told me we would never get back together, where I played that song on repeat to the point where she threatened to jump out of the car on 66. My sister sat in the backseat awkwardly, as if there was any other way she could sit there in that moment of pure and total heartbreak, anger, and just pure hurt. All of this was slightly touched on and talked about in my story Sex Ed, Video Stores and V-Cards. You should probably read that one too, you know, while you’re here.

Since that moment every break up I have gone through I have listened to Ben Folds. I have everything he has ever done. I even sat next to him at the Frothy Monkey in Nashville one day and wanted to thank him over and over again for his music. Instead, being that I was in Nashville and there was an unspoken rule that you just let celebrities be) I made a friend call me so my ringtone, “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” would go off so Ben would understand I am a huge fan. If I am listening to a lot of Mr. Folds it is because I am trying to see the beauty he sees in everything. I am trying to find the peace he seemingly has found with the world. I am working on being happy with who I am, and realizing that I am able to let go of whatever it is that is bothering me, or I am just in the mood for some amazing music.

Right now, I am in the middle of my Ben Folds experience. Anyone who is a regular follower of mine knows I rather recently went through a tough break up, and after my initial decent into the entire Dashboard Confessional catalogue (another band I fall to whenever I am heartbroken) I have progressed to Ben.

What makes this more amazing is that after 20 years of wanting to see him in concert I finally got my chance. Leigh was supposed to come with me to this show, but after the break up I asked my friend Atom to come with me instead. He is also going through some stuff, and I would be lying if I said I thought about that when I asked him to replace Leigh at the show. He is just a truly good friend whom I am forever grateful for being in my life. The circle of friends I have now is one of the tightest, most close-knit groups I have ever been a part of, and they have all been rocks while I have been crumbling on the inside. If I could have just a fraction of strength they do I would never worry about my future again.

Homepage Banner Image_1170x450_BenFolds_0Atom and I went to the show and I can say with absolutely no hyperbole it was nothing short of transcendent. Every care, every issue, every problem I had washed away as I watched Ben on stage with YMusic. Even though I still was dealing with the issues of my recent break up and the seemingly never-ending cycle of depression I go through after one, I realized it wasn’t as important as I had made it out to be in my head. I even realized I had been too wrapped up in my own stuff that after the show I asked Atom how his life was, putting aside my problems. What he said to me was this, “You know, I have been through a lot in my life and the one thing I have learned is that I am always going to be ok. No matter what happens, I am going to be ok.”

It made me think when he said that. There were so many times in my life when I would feel like nothing was going to be ok. It felt like life was going to end and the only way to get through it was to drink myself into a stupor, or snort cocaine until I couldn’t feel my brain, or eat so many pills of ex that I loved everyone and it didn’t matter who had just dumped me. This one sentence from a friend I have known for less than a year, and a sentence I am certain many others have said to me before, resonated with me that night.

I know that what I am feeling about losing Leigh is authentic, but what I can see, what took me 20 years of break ups and heart breaks to realize after I finally got a chance to see Ben Folds in concert, and after a fantastic conversation with someone I proudly call my friend is that I am going to be ok. I will persevere, as I always have in the past and I will learn from this, in ways I never have before.

So, thank you, Atom, for coming with me that night.

Thank you, Leigh, for allowing me to love you as much as I do.

Thank you, Becky, for the same, and for starting me on the journey that lead me to where I am today.

And most of all, thank you, Ben Folds, for Whatever and Ever, Amen, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, Rockin’ the Suburbs, Ben Folds Live, every other album you have ever put out, every album you will put out, and the concert you put on at the Mahaffey with YMusic and special guests Dotan (who were fucking amazing if you haven’t heard them) in St. Petersburg, FL on 4/20/2016. You have had a greater impact on my life than you will ever know because you will probably never read this, or sit next to me at the Frothy Monkey in Nashville ever again, but if so, and now that I don’t live there…I’m breaking that unspoken rule.

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