I started college when I was 17 years old (I turned 18 a couple of weeks later). I was not the international sex symbol I’m known as today (oh god, I’m so hilarious I just snorted, even though I’ve made that joke before IT NEVER STOPS BEING FUNNY). I was… how should I put this? A dork. (Also funny: that I called myself a dork in the past tense.) I had bad hair, and I wore overalls a lot. Perhaps the overalls are forgivable since it was the 90s, but still. I was, in pretty much all ways, invisible to the opposite sex. I’d been invisible to the opposite sex throughout high school (and if there were any points in my high school life when I wasn’t invisible to the opposite sex, I was entirely unaware of them), but I thought, you know, college. I was sure that when I got to college, I would be cooler somehow. I’m not really sure how I thought I was going to be cooler, but I believe that was a thought that drifted around in my brain at the time, that once I got out of high school and in classes with people I hadn’t known since kindergarten, I would be transformed. I changed a lot in college, in several ways, but that invisibility to the opposite sex wasn’t one of them, as it happens.
Anyway. Maybe about two days into my college career, I saw this boy. He was a musician, so he was therefore hot. You know, with the jeans just so, and the white t-shirts just so, and the carrying around a guitar just so. (I’d spent half of high school pining over a green-eyed drummer who wasn’t interested in me in the slightest; it kind of set me up for a life of digging musicians, I think, and no, I’m not going to dissect the psychology of that.) I’d seen him around; he lived over on the next hall. He knew some of the girls who lived on my hall, and in those early days of my freshman year, geographical proximity to people meant forming friendships with them, whether or not we had anything in common at all. At the time, I didn’t know much about music or bands — I pretty much only listened to Tori Amos — but I had a copy of Tricky’s Maxinquaye in my CD collection that I’d listened to a lot the summer before I started college. RANDOM UNNECESSARY FACT ALERT: I liked to put it on and then take bubble baths.
So, this boy. He kind of hung out on the fringes of the group of friends I was forming in those days, and he seemed so smart and cool and there was this issue with the guitar, so I basically had an insta-crush. Every time I’d see him, I’d get all doe-eyed and stupid. And then one afternoon, I think it may have been raining, even, and if it wasn’t, let’s just say it was, I was sitting with him in another person’s room, and we were talking about music. I had nothing, basically. I’d already asked if he liked Tori Amos and gotten a look in return, so in this particular game, I knew I didn’t really have any cards in my hand. I asked him who he did like, and he said that right then, he was really into Portishead. I didn’t know Portishead at the time, because of course I didn’t. (I’m not kidding — if you weren’t Tori Amos, I was largely unaware of your existence, so how did I wind up with a Tricky album? I don’t know.) So he left and went to his room and came back with a copy of Dummy. (Great album, by the way.) He put it on and we listened to the whole thing. Oh my God, right? We were sitting on the floor, listening to Portishead, and I was fairly certain that we were totally falling in love.
I mean, we weren’t, but I was 17, and also kind of painfully stupid about anything having anything to do with dating, so cut me some slack.
But I was totally falling in love. I’m pretty sure that by the time the album got to the last track, my internal organs had all melted entirely into goo. Perhaps that sounds unpleasant, but it’s not, really. It’s like if you had cut me open right then, you’d have found my insides to be made entirely of brownies, fresh from the oven. Could there be anything more divine than being made of warm, oven-fresh brownies?
Yes. But at the time, I didn’t know that.
Anyway, you know the last track on Portishead’s Dummy? “Glory Box”?
Yeah. I love the song, loved it from the first minute I heard it, sitting there in that dorm room, my insides all gooey. And then my brain kicked in and I realized I knew something. I wasn’t so hopeless after all. “Glory Box” and Tricky’s “Hell Is Round the Corner” sounded the same (turns out they both sample the same Isaac Hayes tune, but I didn’t know that at the time, I just recognized the similarity of the sounds). “Hey, do you like Tricky?”
“No,” he said. “I hate rap.”
“They kinda sound alike, though.”
He rolled his eyes. And then he launched into some explanation of how I didn’t really get what I was listening to, and my insides, previously so warm and gooey, started to de-goo, because there are few things in life that are less sexy than someone telling you that you’re stupid. I wasn’t made of brownies anymore, just liver and spleen and stomach and gall bladder and intestines and, you know, I’m not going to list all my organs, but they were back, anyway, is the point. I wasn’t in love anymore, and he wasn’t hot anymore.
It was the first time in my life I learned that people can transform right before my eyes from being magic and beautiful to being… people. And even though I was invisible to him, with my enormous, untamed hair and overalls and combat boots, I felt just the slightest bit of irrational superiority, because even if he had fallen in love with me there on that dorm room floor, I just wasn’t interested.