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Why Sarah McLachlan Makes Me Cry

posted by B on 3/20/01

She always makes me cry.

Her name was Karla Jean Davis, a human being I never knew existed until the first day of ninth grade. I was walking angrily up a hill to wait for one or both of my careless parents to pick me up and saw her slight eighth grade frame sauntering up awkwardly from the middle school across the street. She looked like a mouse with stringy blonde hair and her book bag was about seven sizes too large for her. Since that day I've seen the school picture of her that she hates so much from seventh grade...I've seen a picture of her and her cousin in a hot tub when they were four. I didn't know that while I was falling in love with her at first sight from a hundred yards away I'd end up looking at her baby pictures.

If all the self-confidence in the world pooled up and poured from a giant fountain I would bathe in it confidently and nakedly. If "nakedly" is even a word. But it hasn't always been such a rosy world...in high school I was what you might call a "middle child of popularity." My Mom thought I was a "special little fella" so she stuck me in what was affectionately known as "Advanced Placement" classes without my approval. I never got good grades by being smart, I got good grades because I showed up and sometimes did my homework. Such is the public school system. I ended up as the "dumbest kid in the smart classes" and the "smartest kid in the dumb classes."

The kids in the smart classes didn't want to talk to me because I couldn't understand the relevance of Dickens in modern theology. The kids in the dumb classes didn't want to talk to me because they were too busy listening to Megadeth and sliding paper footballs down their sloped foreheads. I'd been raised by my Grandmother in a cold Sunday school room in Danville, Virginia, to look for beauty in the world. And since I wasn't catching any sweet video of plastic bags floating around, I had to look for the one diamond in the red clay...the shining beacon of hope and love breaking the soil and lighting up the skies of an overly repressed Virginia night.

She was in the grade below me, so once tenth or eleventh grade rolled around I at least got to see her wandering around in the hallways, the flair of her pants scraping against the back of soiled Sketchers....the big "rainbow" patch on her book bag catching my eye every single time and making me look like I had geek whiplash. I never wanted to look at her like that...I wanted to make her the beautiful thing in my life...because she was the most beautiful thing I'd SEEN in my life. And I've seen the Statue of Liberty. And Audrey Hepburn.

I was either too stupid or too smart (depending on which class you had with me) to say a single word to her. In my life I've dated a Mormon, a Wiccan, and a girl who'd been molested as a child...suffice to say I wanted to keep my beautiful vision of the girl in the hallways as just that...a vision. I know I was putting her on a pedestal...I was doing it on purpose, so she wouldn't become human to me and ruin my nice little organized adolescent dreams.

Standing in the record store is happy only when the music over the loudspeakers compliments the moment. On this particular day, a winter day, if I remember...the song playing was "Song For a Winter's Night" by Sarah McLachlan. It's a song so fitting to the situation that my sentence sounded grammatically incorrect. When the chorus of the song began to play...

"I would be happy just to hold the hands I love...on this winter's night with you."


...I stopped browsing through the old Snow and Ini Kamoze discount bin and made my way over to Sarah's sacred patch in the CD rack. I wanted to buy something that fit my mood...daunting lyrics, magical music, and a voice that belongs to an Angel of Compassion given the breath of life. Plus, being from Canada, you can make all sorts of great jokes about bacon, John Candy, or their regressive system of government.

There I was, at home, peacefully submerged in some borderline-lesbian folk rock. To my left, a young man stuffed a Lisa Loeb CD into his jacket pocket. I guess he didn't want to pay for it...but the better bet is that he didn't want someone to see him showing interest in owning a Lisa Loeb CD. It's hard to like music that others don't...if Lisa Loeb's big hit "Stay" and the subsequently overrated movie "Reality Bites" define his life, then I'm all for him. Except for the stealing thing. And to my right, flipping through the Radiohead CD's ....

Her. The rainbow patch.

Having never said a word to her, I flashed her a half-smile (out of embarrassment and sudden shock) and clutched my bowels as the syllables fell out of my mouth like marbles. "Hey."

I'm sure she doesn't remember it. To her, some guy in the record store was being polite. Or, if she's in a bad mood, "checking her out." She nodded her head and went about her business, chatting with her friends about which Spice Girl they most resemble and/or would like to beat up. I nodded back and went about my business, shuffling away quietly and stuffing the new Sarah CD into my jacket pocket, both because I didn't want to pay for it and because I didn't want anyone to know that borderline-lesbian folk rock was beginning to define my life.

"Angels transcend every religion, every philosophy, every creed.
In fact angels have no religion as we know it...
their existence precedes every religious system that has ever existed on earth."

- St. Thomas

The second time Sarah and Karla met, Sarah was on the "Surfacing" CD sitting inside a boom box I borrowed from a friend in the back-seat of my 1979 Toyota Carolla and Karla was sitting (in a tacky yet endearing brown thrift store jacket) in the passenger seat. I'd promised her a picnic the night before on the phone...

It turns out that I finally got the nerve to talk to my dream girl about two weeks from my graduation. Not a big deal, right? Of course not, except that my graduation date coincided with the same day Karla's family was moving to Chatsworth, Georgia. I'd waited and waited and waited for the right time to say something to her. To bad Sarah only puts out an album every three or four years, or maybe I'd have harnessed all the balls from the Lilith Fair vibe to say something.

I wasn't sure if this was going to be the last time I'd ever see her, or if my fledgling attempt to offer up a meaningful friendship would blossom into what I'd always dreamed it would be...someone to hug every now and then. Sure, it'd be great to make out with her and have like 10,000 of her babies, but looking into her eyes between wisps of excessively curly hair I just wanted to put into words how much her existence meant to me.

I had no idea what I was talking about. I'd only known her for a few weeks officially...they don't count creepy time as official "know you" time. I couldn't give her a picnic outside that night...it was raining heavily outside, and there was a cold breeze...so as Surfacing played tracks one, track two, track three...I began to make one last effort to prove to myself that my deluded, stupid feelings of love and admiration weren't completely unfounded. And Sarah was providing the emotions for me.

I put a candle on my emergency brake. There were little dishes of watermelon and condiments lining my dashboard. And, in my glove compartment, two gingerly-placed footlong subs from Subway. BMT. Her favorite. Hey, I didn't know her, but I paid attention. My mind was racing...it was every dork's fantasy come true. The most beautiful girl in the world...the one person who could make your life complete, was sitting there, in a floppy leopard print bucket hat, eating a BMT sandwich and listening to Sarah McLachlan. Okay, maybe that's not EVERY dork's fantasy. It didn't involve Tomb Raider. But regardless...

The big arrangement and surprise came with my going away present - if this was the last time I ever saw her...and I couldn't give her my heart...I'd give her something else. That day at the mall I searched for the perfect thing to represent who I am, what I was feeling, and how many days I spent listening to "Possession" on loop and trying not to be a weirdo about it. And I found it.

Spend all your time waiting
for that second chance
for a break that would make it okay
there's always one reason
to feel not good enough
and it's hard at the end of the day


As Sarah spoke the words I handed Karla the box...inside, was a glass angel that I'd found at one of those cheesy stands in the middle of the mall for about thirteen bucks. It was precious to me...I'd spent all day with a paper towel and some Windex primping the freaking thing like a psychopath. I wanted to buy her an angel made out of diamonds...something huge, that could fly us away somewhere by ourselves where I could sit at her feet, next to the soiled Sketchers, and just listen to her talk for the rest of my life. Learn about her, about her beliefs, about her family and what she liked for dinner and which Spice Girl she looked the most like/wanted to beat up.

I loved her for existing. And I wanted to exist beside her.

I need some distraction
oh beautiful release
memory seeps from my veins
let me be empty
and weightless and maybe
I'll find some peace tonight

Since those experiences I HAVE gotten to know Karla, and she's one of my very best friends. I don't get to see her much, or hear from her much...but I've got a little picture of her in my wallet that I pull out at work sometimes so I can make specific time to miss existing next to her. When people come along who change your life you want to hear every word they have to say...simply because you appreciate them.

Not in the way you appreciate Burger King for the Rodeo Cheeseburger or Jack Tripper for making you laugh on "Three's Company." That night in the car, her eyes full of tears, her fingers slipped and broke the glass angel at it's base. It never got fixed...it's sitting on a shelf or in a drawer somewhere in her bedroom I hear.

I'm the best guy friend she has in the world, but she doesn't love me. I've always felt like I loved her, but I guess it was something to look for and hold onto. After all, being the "middle child" of life is pretty difficult. You're never the one who gets the fancy ribbon but you're always there to see what happens. To this day I've got a piece of that rainbow patch in my grandfather's wallet tucked away in a safe place...I pull it out sometimes to remind myself why I feel things like this in the first place, and why Sarah McLachlan sings these songs.

It's like she's standing behind me with her hands on my shoulders, telling me that she's there for me when it hurts. If all of the strength and all of the courage come and lift me from this place...I know I could love you much better than this.

She always makes me cry.

I hope I get to see the love of my life from the top of a hill again someday, and I hope I don't lose my footing and fall on my ass trying to be so melodramatic about it. I'll hold her close to me, laugh at her baby pictures, and hope that Sarah's got some new material waiting for me.

I feel like such a wiener.

b
My next post is about how much I hate Blues Clues. I'll be negative, I PROMISE.
swan@whatever-dude.com

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