“Just think…if this goes well…we’ll die like this,” he said, as they lay entangled in the afterglow of amazing sex.
She laughed, knowing exactly what he meant.
“Remember this moment after you leave me.”
“Who says I’m going to leave you?”
“My collective past.”
“Well, I am not part of your past.”
“Someday, you will be. And somewhere down the road, you will find yourself at a Kohl’s or JC Penney just before closing, and you’ll find yourself unknowingly standing underneath a speaker and our song will come on. And you’ll freeze beneath an audio spotlight.”
“An audio spotlight?”
“Someday, after we are no more, you will be shopping at Kohl’s on a Friday night just before closing – and quite possibly the highlight of your weekend – and unbeknownst to you, you will be standing directly beneath a ceiling speaker, as you are looking at comforters or Yankee Candles, and our song will hit you. Under an audio spotlight.”
He knew exactly what she was talking about and assured her that he would never have such a moment with her – at least not of the heartbreak variety, of which she elaborated was its most common form.
“It doesn’t have to necessarily be at a store,” she continued. “It could be in a restaurant restroom, coffee shop, or doctor’s office. Maybe while sitting in the dentist chair. Or, late at night at Big Boy.”
The memories invoked by an audio spotlight could be happy, sad, or somewhere in the bittersweet melancholy of in-between the two. The most powerful moments, of which were usually defined by loss – if only the natural passing of time, when the past is awash with rose-tinted, nostalgic perfection, which is why even the happiest moments were often tinged with sadness for a period of your life that no longer existed. Though memories could also be sparked by olfactory and oral senses, nothing hit quite like an audio spotlight.
No matter where it occurs, one thing is certain: transported to a nostalgic journey back to a memory attached to a song. Though most often tied to a relationship, it could be from any part of your past – or example, but not limited to: a family vacation, a childhood memory, a bonfire, etc. Though you don’t always have to be directly beneath a ceiling speaker for it to work, it is more often than not a final, necessary ingredient for it to reach maximum impact. And the moment it hits you, you freeze in place, as you become fully enraptured and blanketed by the music coming out of the speaker like a spotlight.
Transported back in time.
When the source feeling was new and immediate.
A feeling akin to being high on weed, or shrooms.
“And in that moment under an audio spotlight, despite how badly it will presumably have ended, you will be stripped of all the negativity and will instead only feel the loss of what once was beautiful and perfect. And in that moment, you will achieve the perfect monument to a love that once was.
No what couldn’t be.
But was now no more.
Preserved only in this moment.
When everything was possible.”
In this present moment, they were still in the GPS phase of their relationship – not just in terms of trying to figure out how to navigate one another, but in terms of still needing GPS to get to one another’s apartment (due to his awful sense of direction, he realized it would probably take longer than usual to memorize the route by heart (though, he probably could get there by heart if he tried…but mentally, he wasn’t willing to allow his mind to make that sort of commitment).
Most relationships rarely get past the GPS phase – a modern-day milestone, much like not only programming somebody’s number into your phone, but eventually changing it to an endearing nickname like “Love Monkey”, or some other such moniker.
Until recently, his inbox was filled with dozens of texts of unprogrammed numbers with different area codes from Bumble and Tinder matches from across the land that never evolved beyond the texting phase. There are so many “how are yous?” one can exchange with someone without going deeper beneath the surface?
Then there were the occasional exchanged pics, which provided a valid reason to lock his phone for the first time to keep out of the hands of his children. He was finally at the point where he could feel safe about unlocking it again. Keeping his phone locked always made him feel sneaky. He didn’t like it.
Getting out of the GPS phase certainly made things feel more…official. Some relationships would get right on the cusp of being GPS-free, but most never came close. Even first date that went well often went nowhere.
Of course, some dates were complete dumpster fires from the start and he couldn’t get done fast enough. There were so many, they all sort of just blurred together into a cacophony of nightmare fuel.
The endgame, of course, was getting to the point where our phone was convinced that your place of residence was actually the address of your special someone. Currently, his GPS didn’t even recognize his own bohemian apartment that he moved to after his separation as his residence. It was convinced he lived at the liquor shop kitty corner from it. If that didn’t say it all…
Looking back at his first date with Jackie just over a month ago, he remembered not having a real indication of which way things would go. But he was okay with this. He preferred when both parties went into it with a layer of casual ambivalence. A no-pressure date where it was clear from get go that neither party was looking for anything serious, but also open to anything. Most often translated as “down to fuck.” Perfect for a newly single father of two who could count on less than one hand how many partners he had been with in his lifetime.
The problem going into single life was that he was a hopeless romantic who fell in love too easily – or, at least convinced himself that he was in love. It took months of therapy to finally built a defense shield around himself that (he thought) was impenetrable. He sealed himself off, which was progress for someone who was always a little too open and vulnerable. If someone were able to somehow penetrate him (for lack of a better description), then (for another lack of better description) it would be like Cinderella’s slipper.
And only then would he know.
And then it hit him like an audio spotlight.
Cut to one month later. They were out of the GPS phase. And for somebody with no sense of direction like himself, he took at it as a sign how quickly he memorized her route.
It only took a couple of weeks to realize that it was clear that they had something.
(Who was he kidding – more like after the first date).
So much for the defense shield. But maybe…the defense shield actually worked.
Maybe she was truly the one?
Both had been heartbroken too many times to have full confidence in what they were feeling, as much as they wanted to believe it. They were both especially convinced that it was only a matter of time before the other grew sick and annoyed with the other. And though they both reminded one another that the past was the past, they still couldn’t help but feel the past was very much alive in the present, no matter how much therapy they both had. They both had to learn how to trust not only one another, but themselves. And though they had both made progress, there was still a long way to go.
As much as he tried to re-assure her that they would never have to worry about having such a moment in the context of an ending, he also knew that deep down, she was probably right, just based on the odds alone (as much as they both hoped that it wouldn’t be the case). But for now, things were going great, so it was possible they were both wrong.
“That won’t be me. That won’t be us.”
But as it turned out – as it always, most likely turns out – it did become them.
A beautiful thing – a seemingly invincible, beautiful thing – would die.
Such a delicate flower love is turns out to be more often than not.
But as they acknowledged, the spirit of love doesn’t die. It lives on. In the memories you take with you. And then someday, it will find a new host. And the cycle begins again. A cycle that rarely has a happy ending. But arriving with the naive hope that one will come.
And maybe this time, you will get it right.
You vow to get it right.
Until some day, you find yourself alone in a Kohl’s.
Just before closing.
Looking at comforters, or shopping for a Mother’s Day or birthday gift.
Under a ceiling speaker.
And it doesn’t matter how many years have passed.
Or, how many relationships have come and gone.
You will find yourself sucked into the undertow an audio spotlight.
And it would be in this moment that you finally fully realize that it is over. And how much you lost.
And how much you had gained before your lost.
That you were in denial that the relationship was not over, but rather on pause, or hiatus.
And even though you already knew this, there was still part of you that refused to accept it.
You were in denial that something so beautiful and pure could turn to rot and crumble apart.
That the future that you thought was set in stone has evaporated. And that there is no going back. There is no fixing things. Maybe once upon a time, there was. But you let that moment pass, as you helplessly watched it sail past you, thinking that every ship eventually returns to port.
Until you find yourself under an audio spotlight.
And even though you have gone down this road time and time again, you are likely to go back down that road time and time again.
Even when you thought your convinced yourself that you were done searching.
That you could be happy single for the rest of your days, until the next person comes along that penetrates your defense shield. Because this time, it would be different, even when you know deep down that it will probably never be.
And it would be in this moment, you accept that it is truly over. And that the hope you were clinging on to is set free like balloons accidentally released, when all you can do is watch them disappear forever into a blue sky-turned gray.
And now you know with a certainty hitting you like a brick wall that person you built your word around was no longer yours. Just as you were no longer hers.
How is this possible?
How could everything that once felt so perfect and beautiful, and secure rot at its very core?
How do we allow to happen?
Over and over again?
How can something feel so in our control, yet feel so out of control at the same time?
These were the moments tailor made for audio spotlights.
Time portals that take us back to when everything was great.
And everything was perfect.
And all that is left is hope and potential to once again find somebody someday that will inevitably once again catch you off guard at a Kohl’s just before closing.
Under an audio spotlight.
About the Author
R.J. Fox is the award-winning writer of several short stories, plays, poems, a memoir, and 15 feature length screenplays. His first book – a memoir entitled Love & Vodka: My Surreal Adventures in Ukraine was previously published by Fish Out of Water Books. His debut novel Awaiting Identification was placed on MLive’s top 10 Michigan books of the year. Both books – which were initially screenplays – are currently being developed into feature films.
He also recently published a collection of essays entitled Tales From the Dork Side.