My dad had the habit of listening to the same cd over and over again. It was inherited, I think, as I am a chronic repeat listener of the same one lp ad nausea whenever I get a new favorite band. It drove my dad nuts when I did it yet he subjected me to the same thing for as long as I can remember. Sometimes, these cds were boss (Like Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black). Othertimes, not so much (Why did I buy him a Barenaked Ladies album for Christmas in 6th grade? Why?). One such of these albums was Sam’s Town by the Killers. I remember how the Killers used to be good and I remember how awesome Hot Fuss was when it first came out but by the time Sam’s Town hit, I grew weary of Brandon Flowers’s cocky attitude and dissing of Franz Ferdinand as my loyalties did and always will lie with Alex Kapranos. Aside from a few track, Sam’s Town never clicked with me and I dreaded getting in the car with my dad. Now, however, it’s different.

It’s summer and I’m walking down the street in the rich part of town at ten in the morning. The houses here are towers with multiple balconies and heated floorboards. I don’t belong here in my scuffed boots, with my hair still knotted from the shenanigans of the night before but I’m earning my keep this week by walking a white fluffball dog named Lola. I have my headphones on and since I stopped being so devastatingly sad, I haven’t cried. In fact, I’ve done everything but cry as my lust for life turned into weeks on end of partying. I justify it with the logic that, as I’m entering my late twenties, I won’t be able to rage anymore. Not like I used to. So I might as well give my mid-twenties one last hurrah while they’re still here, clinging to me like the dirt and sweat and liquor of summertime’s disappearing.

Suddenly, my iPod plays a song I haven’t heard in years and I recognize it immediately: The closing track of Sam’s Town and my eyes burn.

Each lyric from “Exitlude” is heartwrenchingly apt, from the opening lines (Regrettably, time’s come to send you on your way) to the sentiments of the chorus (We hope you enjoyed your stay; It’s good to have you with us, even if it’s just for the day) and even the eerie inclusion of the word “daddy”, making it so perfect for my life that I’m pretty sure Brandon Flowers wrote the song specifically for me, as if he knew that I’d need it one day.

It’d been so long since I’d cried that it felt foreign; it felt like I’d forgotten how. I gasped and I sobbed and it was how I used to spend my days in the ‘before’, when I lived in that transitional time before ‘after’, when I hadn’t yet figured out how to live again. Only now, the tears were different. I wasn’t sad. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t even desperately want my dad here. I’ve accepted the fact that he’s gone. People die. It happens all the time. It just sucks when it happens to you.

It’s strange to cry for a skeleton from your past when you’ve made peace with the its role in your life. Before, I cried that my dad would never get to be at my wedding. Granted, before my dad had died, I’d never given much though to marriage. It wasn’t until after he died that I realized everything I’d robbed him of: He’d never get to tell me how dumb I was when I told him I was engaged; he never got to complain about making the drive to Iowa when I told him I wanted to get married in a barn; he never got to disapprove of the name I chose for the grandkid he never got to fall in love with; and he never got to see me grow up into this super strong pixie sized Amazon warrior I’m becoming. But it’s all about perspective. My dad died and I fell asleep for a few months and when I woke up, I was an adult.

We had some good times when he was here though. 

I fell in love with a band. They were sweat soaked rock and roll and after I saw them, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to any music that wasn’t theirs.

It’d been a week since I’d been home, going straight from vacation to Barnstormer, to sleep in guest houses and beach front cottages and on the floor of the living room of both my best friend and favorite local musician. I’m awake and alive and I’m drinking and smiling and wandering in fields and sitting on couches and kissing a new boy and it’s all electricity and suddenly, I live a life that isn’t mine – Cut off from my closest friends one day, making new best pals the next – and it’s a dream in which I play the part of the girl I used to be, before this sadness overtook my life and I realize – I’m not playing the part. I’m her again.

I’m finally at home after days of suitcase living turned into a week and my bathroom is in disarray. I have unpacking to do and a bedroom to rearrange. Get at it. And I do.

Since I’ve moved in, I’ve used my computer exclusively for music and let my record player, a hand me down from my dad, languish. Today, however, I needed it. I opened the cd tray to put in Strike Hard, Young Diamond, a burned copy from my best friend as I was too busy drinking and flirting away my Barnstormer to actually exchange goods for money. To my surprise, there’s already a disc in the faux-fifties all-purpose media player’s black plastic hull. I realize immediately what it is: The last cd my dad listened to in this record player. It was his, after all. It lived in his “man cave” and he used it fairly often. The day he helped me move in to my house in Ann Arbor, he brought it to me. He died a little over a month later. I regard the silver cd-r with wonder and nostalgia, a smile creeping across my face: This cd is the last gift I will ever get from my dad. I lift it up and look at the writing. In multicolored sharpie are words I’d scrolled on its surface some eight years prior and I remember. It’s a mix of Christmas songs I made for my dad when I was nineteen. We listened to it driving to the suburbs in the snow on the 25th, going to visit my grandma in the nursing home.

He’d always given me shit, the way dads are prone to do. My taste in music was never up to spec for him (I recant this to my best friend and she laughs. “Your taste in music is bad? Yours? Having good taste is what you do!” and it’s true.) but this testament, this one last tangible piece of my dead father, is proof that… My dad recognized my good taste in indie rock. And that approval was all I ever wanted from him.

It was worse than I let on, worse than I told anyone. It was worse than I even suspected it could ever become, the thoughts of suicide creeping up from behind me. I could see it from my periphery, the fog of sadness surrounding my line of vision until everything I used to be was enveloped in gray. Days passed in minutes, weeks in hours. He only died in February, how could it be four and a half months already? I laid in bed and couldn’t move, couldn’t cry. I laughed callously at my own pathetic nature, remembering when I longed to stave off tears for the duration of a whole day. You see, I’d assume that when the tears dissipated, they’d be replaced by a newfound sense of wholeness. Instead, they were replaced by a constant darkness, even on the bright days with my best friends beside me.

The depression was a rock slide that began the day of my dad’s wedding and didn’t let up until I was a heap of emaciated bones, laying on the carpet of my freshly cleaned room (Wasn’t a clean room supposed to make me feel less cluttered as well…?), thinking of ways I could gracefully kill myself without scarring my friends, my family, the people I work for. You see, I’d planned it all out: I had to be a nanny for at least another year and a half but after my obligation to the kids was done, I’d be free to die if I so chose, if my desire for death was stronger than my now non-existent lust for life. But a year and a half? With the next week seeming barely manageable, how could I be expected to make it a year and a half? To me, time was unfathomable. (Wasn’t I just fighting with my dad about what nylons to wear to his wedding? Wasn’t I just getting ready for his funeral? Wasn’t I just telling my ex-boyfriend how I never wanted to see him again? Wasn’t I just being comforted by my estranged former best friend, as I sobbed about how badly I wanted to fix things, fix everything?)

I slept restlessly until four p.m. every day, getting high to dull the bright lights and jagged colors of sobriety. At first, the drugs made life tolerable. Soon, however, they became necessary for me to function. Once so social, so vibrant, I was now reduced to a silent statue of the girl I used to be, and the only times I left my house were the times that I knew if I stayed home, alone, I’d do something drastic and regrettable. Even though I longed for death, the ember inside of me still remembered the heat of its extinguished flame and oh, how it wanted that back.

Internally, my narrative was split in two and I tried to logic with myself, to interject my false truths into the most comforting of sentences: I know you want your old life back, Amber. I know that’s all you want. But… You can’t have it. Ever. And you don’t want this life. So where does that leave us? What do we have now?

I didn’t love anyone. I couldn’t stand the idea of being touched. All my old anxieties and disorders came back to me like old friends – And the fact that I had so few friends these days made my bulimia, o.c.d., social anxiety, and fear of physical intimacy all the more appealing to keep close.

So when I left the house that day, I expected a day just like any other – I’d be there but not present, always staring at people with the blank, emotionless eyes of a girl behind the frosted glass of sadness that kept her from connecting with anyone. Instead, however, I found life waiting for me outside. I woke up from my hibernation and all my friends were here and they all loved me and they were all so happy to have me back. And that’s when I let it go – The pain, the sadness, the constant desire to die. I let it go. And ever since, it’s been gone. Suddenly, the world is Technicolor again. I can talk with freedom. And the sense of clarity I have about my sense of self is enormous. For the first time in twenty-seven years, I know who I am. And it ends up, I’m kind of a lovely person.

For the first time in my life, I cannot put my feelings into words.

It gets more and more frustrating every day, to be a writer staring slack-jawed at blank pages in notebooks, the white computer screen that signifies an empty Microsoft Word document. I barricade myself alone in my room with the sole intent of purging my mind of the emotions that it’s clamoring to communicate and my heart beats hard in my chest, as if my ventricles are making a vain attempt at breaking my ribs open if only to remind me that I am alive and I do have feelings and that these feelings must be documented, they must. So I sit. And I wait. And nothing happens.

People ask me how I am and I feel confused. I could think for hours about my emotions, examining them from various angles, with scientific skepticism and incredible attachment, and they would still be just as foreign to me then as they are at this moment. For the first time, the girl who felt everything feels nothing but a nonplussed resignation. I’m a spectator in my life, no longer experiencing anything for myself but rather living vicariously through the words of others, finding songs and books and poems that encapsulate what I think I should be feeling. It’s the next best thing to having a pulse, I decide.

Every day, I am happy. Or rather, I do things that should make me happy. I have good days, I have great days, and each one just leaves me once more plagiarizing the passion of others – I steal the sentiments of Tim Kasher when he can’t feel anything at all; I intone alongside Sad Brad Smith because no one will make me feel better for a long, long time; And when Frontier Ruckus’s Matt Milia yelps that he’s so lonesome he could drown and no one would kneel themselves down to fish him out, I sink inside because I literally couldn’t have said it better myself and the fact that I’m at such a loss causes me to tremble and ache, as raw as the burst blisters that have come to line my heels and toes after miles of aimless walking. I walk and I walk and I have no where to go, no where to be, and I think never in all my life have I seen eyes as empty as the streets of my city – Another stolen sentiment and my thievery leaves me ashamed of myself.

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The only ways I know how to feel anymore are as follows: Angry or Nothing At All.

Angry is easier to deal with than anything else. Much like everyone has told my stepmom, they’ve all repeated the tome to me as well: It’ll get easier. You’ll get on with your life. It’ll be okay. It’ll just take time. Worst of all, however, and most perturbing is when I’m told I understand. I hear those words, see them on my computer screen and I close my eyes, let them roll upwards in my head as I breath deep and steady. Count… One, two, three, four, five. Don’t yell, Amber. Don’t say what you want to say. Never say what you want to say again. The truth of it is that my words can’t be trusted. The truth of it is that the ever present “they”, with their insistence words and sad eyes, don’t understand. “They” can’t relate. And to hear that they feel they can is infuriating. You relate to my grief? Well, I can’t help but notice you live a fairly well adjusted life in which you have living parents and siblings and the only reason you “relate” to my words is because of your sick sense of self entitled sadness and depression. What have you to be sad over? I wonder and then I hate myself for belittling the ache of others, as if my pain is better than theirs in some non-existent contest of self importance.

It’s interesting, though, for all these people who claim to understand, the one person who actually understands, who did lose her dad, has not used those words. In fact, she’s gone out of her way to tell me she probably doesn’t understand but at least she’s been through it herself.

Nothing At All is harder. The biggest accomplishments I manage on the average day is to get out of bed and put on leggings, only to lay back down again, as if pulling black fabric over my thighs took too much out of me. My face is puffy and red and I stare. I stare at my computer screen, I stare at my phone, I stare at my wall, and I wonder if this chasm inside of me will ever fill.

It’s funny – I used to think I was empty inside, that I was to dysfunctional to feel properly. Now I realize that that girl had more love and light to give the world than anyone I’ve ever met. The fact that she was convinced she didn’t is the saddest truth I encounter.

I figured, when all this started, that I’d be overcome with guilt and regret but I really only have one regret in all of this and it’s that I never dated. Part of that is because I wish I had someone constant here that I could fuck because at least then I’d be feeling something but for the most of it, I just wish that I had fallen in love before my dad died. I wish that I had been able to bring someone over to his house for dinner to receive unspoken approval that for once in my increasingly longer life I wasn’t fucking something up. I wish I’d been able to talk to my dad after a fight with my significant other just to hear him tell me that I’d better fix it because he didn’t want to hear me complain about this. I wish I’d fallen in love and gotten engaged and I wish I’d gotten to see how this guy had interacted with my dad, how he’d reacted to my dad’s perverse and brash sense of humor. I wish I’d had to argue with my dad over the fact that I was going to get married in a barn in Iowa and I wish he’d made the trip out anyhow, to see me start a new life, barefoot in a thrift store prom dress. I wish he’d seen that and I wish that I still believed that all of those daydreams would come to fruition.  Now, however, I get to be alone and that crushing realization is the worst thing I could feel.

All I want out of life is for someone to hold me and let me cry and assure me that they can help.

But no one can.

And it’s not that no one wants to help. It’s just that no one knows how.

Home Sweet Home.

03/11/2011

I’m in the suburbs, in the basement I used to spend so much of my time when I lived there, when my phone tells me that my text messages are full. I accept the option to clean them up and as they’re being deleted, I realize the last conversation I had with my dad – The last few texts we’d exchanged the day he died – are amongst those being erased. I wait, with the precision of patience, for the fleeting feeling of being submerged underwater – The usual precursor to my panic attacks – but it doesn’t come. And I realize that no matter how long I hung on to those text messages, or the bracelet my dad bought me that had broken earlier in the day, that it doesn’t matter. He’s gone. And holding on to those mementos will not bring him back.

Later that same night, I am standing in the kitchen, bare legs, cigarette in hand, wrapped in the same coat that I’ve come to identify with this week of death so, and I remember the constant disappointment I was to my dad, the conversations that we had about how I could never support myself as a music journalist, that I should throw in the towel because I’d never be a self sufficient adult the way I was living. Sure, that big magazine job had come through once but it had gone under three months after I packed up my life and moved for “the sake of the job” and economically, reasonably, a person can’t live as a writer these days, they just can’t. Some people are lucky enough to have their march into adulthood punctuated with a wedding, a birth – My transition from “post college layabout” to “fully functioning adult” was instead marked by my move to Ann Arbor, only three months ago. And that move, to my dad, signified that I was okay. I remember this and I go outside and light a cigarette from the last pack I’ll ever own, and I realize: My dad died and he was proud of me when he did.

It’s this realization that calms my taciturn nervous system, always so close to the edge of sanity these days, and lets me know: Everything will be alright.

I come home and everything’s in disarray – My living room is still strewn with bottles and lighters from Bri’s twentieth birthday. It seems so long ago but it was the day before my dad died… And I’d never bothered to clean up before I left that night for Gray and Melissa’s to be delivered the fateful news that everything was about to change. I put down my bags and I walk into the bathroom to find my toilet’s broken and my bedroom is still a pit of laundry, just as I left it. It’s cold and it’s lonesome but it’s mine, this place, it’s mine, and coming back, even though I’ve only been here moments, restores all the order to my life that I needed. Everything’s okay. And right now, that’s all I need.

The worst is over.

So, in a pathetic fit of desperation, I recently realized I am the patron saint of dating within my social circle but cannot date anyone I already know. My aforementioned “social circle” consists entirely of people I work with: Bands I manage, kids that write for me, the staff of my PR firm. Sure, I’ve been fine in the past with dipping my proverbial pen in the company ink but in those days, I was only writing about people, not managing them. As alright as I am with, say, boning a dude who’s band I love in a cornfield, I am not okay with getting a little less appropriate with my hands when those hands book the shows of whomever they got a little less appropriate with. And so it was that I entered the world of on-line dating. This has spawned much hilarity and made me come to the realization that I can be alarmingly bitchy to people. This has also spawned a forthcoming meet up. It’s been a while since I had to put my best foot forward for anything – And the last time I did have to put my best foot forward, at my dad’s wedding, that foot ended up without a shoe, covered in spilled Jack, and attached to a crying bridesmaid. So, in an attempt to help me help myself, I’ve made the following list of things NOT to discuss on this “date” thing.

Ex-Boyfriends. “Hey, guess what? I have exes that are not only more famous than you but  also might better musicians!” does not break the ice in actuality the way it should in theory. Additionally, “Have you seen that one commercial? You know the song in it? I totally slept with that dude!” doesn’t work wonders.

Okkervil River. While this would be a great topic of conversation were I anyone other than me, I am me and my word-associative brain will connect such far reaching things as the phrase “for real” or any mention of “Will” to Okkervil River, forcing the evening to devolve from pleasant conversation to hours of gushing about how no man will ever understand me like Will Sheff, which is funny enough until you realize I’m only half joking.

Timber Timbre. See above. In fact…

Let’s Just Try To NOT Talk Too Much About Murder Ballads. Ends up not everyone thinks killing is as interesting of a discussion topic as I do. In fact, most people find it unsettling.

Also, Don’t Mention Your Extensive Collection of Crime Scene Photos. Once more, see above.

It Might Be A Good Idea To Neglect Mentioning Your Pet, “Bathroom Spider”. Apparently, living alone and being single is lonelier than I originally anticipated. The spider that lives in my bathroom? That’s my pet. His name is Bathroom Spider. I talk to him sometimes. That’s normal, right?

Aforementioned “Corn Field Boning”. Save that tale for the second date, at least.

The Fact That You Know Every Word To Justin Timberlake’s Solo Debut, Justified. Show me a girl that wouldn’t let J. Tims “rock her body” and I’ll show you a militant lesbian.

Shaving. Menstruating. Other “Gross” Topics. Fact: When I accepted the offer of “going out for a drink or something” my first thought was “Godammit… Does this mean I have to shave?”

Social Circle Comprised Mainly Of Ex-Boyfriends and People I’ve Slept With. Hey, I did say I date mostly within my social circle, didn’t I?

Knowing me, I’ll discuss most – If not all – of the topics above. But at least I’m trying!

So last night my wallet got stolen. Right out my bag. Granted, yes, I left my bag out but you know what? Venues need to maybe do their job and not let random people in the green room to do drugs… Unless they’re with the band in which case, they can knock themselves out with whatever substances they want because it’s the GREEN ROOM which is where bands can do whatever they damn well please.

That means, in the past week, the following events have happened – I got stood up my dad’s wedding, thus forcing me to evaluate some very dear friendships and professional relationships and resulting in the “five days straight of crying hysterically 2011”; I cut off  a sizable chunk of my right thumb; my omelet turned into a traumelet with the addition of two tiny, partially formed beaks; baked goods, likewise, turned terrifying in another egg-tastrophe with some unwanted blood clots; I’ve gotten an alarmingly little amount of sleep this week, what with waking up god-awful early, and this resulted in liquor becoming my enemy last night when I damn near fell asleep at Coney Island; and my wallet got snagged!

But instead of moping about any of the above things (In particularly, um, whatever son of a bitch stole my grocery money), I am going to make a list of ways I can turn the gigantic lemon that has been the past week of my life into a huge pitcher of lemonade.

– What was the first thing I was going to do with my money today? Buy a pack of cigarettes! It’s been one of my top “Better Version of Amber” goals since moving to quit. Aside from the chain smoking I did at my dad’s wedding last weekend, I’ve barely been smoking at all and when I have been, it’s resulted in an unpleasant light headedness that I’d rather do without. So, as I’ve been robbed of the funds to feed my unwanted habit, now is as good a time as any!

–  I’m broke. But you know what this doesn’t affect? Rent! Working in exchange for sweet digs in Ann Arbor was the best decision I could have made.

– Additionally, I’ve been eating kind of like a pig (Read: Regular person) since moving but given the fact that I eat all vegetarian and organic now, as well as take long walks regularly to go downtown and to pick the kids I nanny for up from school, I somehow have managed to lose a significant amount of weight. I don’t own a scale because, after twelve-ish years of bulimia, I’ve decided I don’t want to know how much I weigh anymore because I don’t care, but given the fact that I’m wearing a dress today that was uncomfortably tight over the summer and it’s loose today, I’d say I’m bordering on at least ten pounds. Without even trying! That’s sweet!

– In other stupid vain news, I’m cute as a button. And that’s something to smile about for sure.

– People, in general, tend to not suck. Sometimes people do shitty things like, you know, snag someone’s wallet, but you know what happened when I told the bartenders about that shit? Free drinks! So many free drinks!

– Also, yes, perhaps those last couple free drinks were not the best of ideas considering how hard they hit me, my friends are awesome enough to take pretty damn good care of me when I’m, you know, barely able to stand.

– For real though. My friends are the best friends a girl could ever ask for. Although I do think that I understand why Ted on How I Met Your Mother has had such a hard time meeting a steady girlfriend for the past six years: It’s hard for him to find someone he likes spending time around more than his awesome pals.

The Michigan winter held an unshakable  grip over me. Tense, like brittle bones held across a fleshy throat with an alarming amount of strength, sending me into fits of seasonal depression too jarring to shake off. It’d been that way my whole life – The chalk of the salted snow leaving it’s imprint on my shoes, clothes, and disposition. I keep my turmoil hidden away most of the year and I do a good job but come December? It’s noticeable. And it lasts until spring, sometimes spreading it’s ill in the vapor between seasons, poisoning the air with it’s spoils. The derelict buildings of Detroit and the superficial pretense of it’s suburbs only show their imperfections in the snow flurries at dusk and my routine of walking around aimlessly until the thoughts of my head expelled themselves in a tangible way was interrupted – I wasn’t happy here. Not anymore. Not that I ever was.

I packed up and I moved, from the suburbs to Ann Arbor, and suddenly, there was a shift. So unlike the initial shift I felt when I first moved back to Michigan, which was the shift of malcontent to a begrudging love to the state who’s grip I cannot shake no matter how hard I try, how far I run. This shift, instead, was sudden: All it took was for me to place a booted foot onto the white dusted pavement that lead away from my house, my house, mine, and suddenly, like a princess in a stone tower, first feeling a kiss from a man she’s never laid eyes on but loves anyhow, I was alive.

The shift was visible in the Christmas light twinkle of the small city skyline. Tangible in the embrace of friends I no longer had to drive to visit, only to return home to my self-imposed quarantine of boredom, drugs, and thoughts more morbid than I let myself confess to friends or lovers. It was audible in the sigh I breathed, contented, my cheeks flush red with the frozen air reminding me that all my friends, they said there’s warmer days ahead.

One month backwards in time, a girl stood in front of warehouse apartments on Woodward. She shivered and shook and kicked at the snow as the flurries blurred her vision, stung her eyes until she cried messy mascara streaks down her cheeks and she would’ve thought “Oh god, I’m meeting new people, I shouldn’t look like I’ve been crying” but she just couldn’t manage to care. Instead, she blinked and sneered, her round, European face contorting into what she hoped was malcontent, but what was really just a Cabbage Patch kid frown. She hated her surroundings even though she loved her city but she hated the sight of it, tonight, it was like a funeral. A boy answered the door and she went inside but it didn’t make a difference. Despite the spike in temperature, she was still cold.

Tonight, she was frozen. A thirty minute walk from her doorstep, past the arboretum, past the campus and the 7-11 and the bookstore, to Liberty Street had left her legs shaking and, she later found out, frostnipped to a bright red hue. But she didn’t care. When she saw the streets of her city alive in gusts of white and blurs of black, she saw her life and it was beautiful.

For the first time,  I didn’t see a snowfall marred with memories and unpleasantness and the overwhelming desire to barricade myself inside. Instead, I understood the mentality of a screenwriter who would have his leading man first meet the girl that would save him on a blizzard-tinged street corner.

It all made sense.

2011 has included (in no particular order):

The most amazing night of my life, drinking at my favorite bar until I blacked out and then drinking some more, almost confessing my undying love to exactly the wrong guy, feeling professionally satisfied for the first time in years, urinating in public, illegal activities in back alleys, packing up all of my earthly possessions, changing locations, unpacking all of my earthly possessions at said new location, sleeping in a foyer on a bed made of couch cushions, no less than eight near-nervous breakdowns, being overcome by fear, being overcome by joy, a gnarly encounter with a bathroom phantom, uprooting my entire existence, and finally, after 26 years, making my dad proud of me.

This has been no small feat, considering that 2011 has only consisted of four days thus far.

My name is Amber Valentine. I used to just be a girl who wrote about music. And then I started to grow up.

Gotta Start Somewhere by amberaudravalentine