When we sang, my friend’s mom would twist the fork of her body around in the computer chair to lid her sobbing. She knew it would make us laugh and fall out of our harmony, break our flow. The three of us were tied by the strings of our guitars and the dialect of language, a love language, from braising music together. We spoke in a unique tune, a way that transported us to a private recording studio, with a record deal, where we were about to go on tour. That’s a song we hummed in secret, where you dream that you can “be someone” like Tracy Chapman promised. I think we just wanted to be happy. Together, we were happy. Away from the lockers, the bells, painting our faces, and trying to navigate the buried, shunned and often self-loathing hours of being a kid. Because the math textbooks didn’t have a formula for how to not hate yourself.

    So we sang. It was an elixir that couldn’t be administered by spoon. It was as elusive and intangible as trying to pack kisses into a jar. We were goosebumps and we were infinite within the growing pains of high school, the urge to hide under a hoodie of “not good enough,” the pressure to be something you know not yet, the terror that you’re different, and no one else carries this backpack full of grief in your peculiar way. We all felt it but not when we sang in the basement of my friend’s house. Not when we sang together.

    Twenty years and counting since we’ve performed on stages, at clubs, in a basement, or a garage and I finally understand why her mom cried. She adored the music, but she was witnessing love swaying, leaping through airwaves, tickling her skin and earlobes. Love that leaked an aroma from our voices and poured into a giant vat of Sunday sauce and noodles, slow-cooked, upstairs on the stove, made by my friend’s mom with the drippings of our voices. We were comfort food.

    The terror and demons rotted in the weighted bags on our backs. The stench of queer love fermenting in the hidden pockets, eating disorders eating away at the cloth, family trauma burning holes through the bottom. A symphony of agony. But we could go home, set the grief on the carpet for a few hours, and believe we were good. And we were so good. Not just the three-course meal of our voices, although our friends and classmates treated us like rock stars when we performed. I mean the way we harmonized to fill the wounds of ourselves, even if just for a two-minute song. We knew how to heal one another’s pain through the synchronization of an “us,” a belonging.

    Decades of dust have piled on my diaphragm, the guitar’s body warped from humid cries. If you don’t use it, you lose it. And we lost it. We are now notes in different songs and different states, the way some music leaves your life for a while.

    I wonder about her, and why she deleted me from her song. I wonder if the three of us knew it would be the last time we sang together whenever that was, and what we sang, and if my friend’s mom was there turning around in the computer chair to hide her crying. Like she knew. I sing the songs now, alone, through discordant chords on my guitar and a voice register that lives lower, that can’t reach those high notes. Can’t reach them. I crack through the ballads, the melodies missing the two other strings of harmony.

    But, still I do it because it beckons me, the way falling in love during childhood lingers flavor that you crave for the rest of your life, that you can taste without it touching your tongue, without it being there. And they crawl into my ear when I least suspect it, especially on a Sunday, when I just want to sit with a bowl of pasta. For two minutes, they are with me and I’ll never stop singing with them, because it will always remind me I can “be someone.”

    Voting starts June 17, 2024 12:00am

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