"Black Sheep Boy" and the sadness it brings... aka the guilt is overwhelming some days... Pt. III

As a refresher, this is the third entry in a series of blogs about "BLACK" BY OKKERVIL RIVER and why that song haunts me so much that I've literally blocked it out of my memory until recently.  Years passed and slowly one of my favorite albums of the mid-aughts was erased from my brain, which hardly ever loses something musically-related.  The notable exceptions being TWO SONGS THAT DROVE ME FUCKING INSANE FOR YEARS.  As it turns out, it's hard to find info on a song when you only have a sliver of the melody and no lyrics, no discernible musical reference points (can't hear the vocal in my head, who might be singing, other things like instrumentation or any other clue that can help) and are left just humming some random thing and hoping someone fucking loves that song enough to pick it up from there; which, of course, no one did...

 

But, I had completely forgotten about "Black Sheep Boy" until I was dicking around on Spotify and saw an Okkervil River song pop up in a playlist.  I couldn't even remember the name of the record and had to locate it by the cover.  That's how much I had drained my brain of the album, and all because of one song:  "Black."  To get caught up:

 

HERE'S PART I

 

AND HERE'S PART II

 

Anyways, let's get back into it.  As I've previously mentioned, there are two things that haunt me to this day about this particularly terrible episode.  One is something I did, and one is something I didn't do.  I've covered the thing I didn't do ("accidentally" murder someone, which is a probably a good thing).  Now, here's the thing I did that I regret:  I kept bringing this terrible memory back up to her...

 

I didn't know.  Again, I kind of knew, but I didn't really know.  I didn't.  I couldn't.  She never told me but I knew something happened.  I had no clue what it was.  I figured she'd kissed him or possibly more.  I shouldn't have ever brought it back up since I could tell it was something she definitely didn't want to talk about, but sometimes it would creep into fights we had.  Which, over the years had grown more numerous in nature, so the amount of times it could potentially enter into the "conversation" grew as well.  It was also something that brought out the worst in me and what I'd later learn to be my Asperger's.  You see, people with Asperger's (or, at least me) are keenly aware of peoples buttons and how to press them.  It's a skill I learned at a young age.  If I could get the other person all riled up and I APPEARED COMPOSED SO I WAS, I SUPPOSE, the other kid would always get in trouble and I'd walk away scot-free.  It was a handy trick in my youth that would later prove to be something that would get me in trouble later in life, kind of.  I'm not sure how much of this skill is attributed to the Asperger's but it's a fair amount, I'd reckon.  I hate that I can find and manipulate awful things in people and that sometimes I do it without realizing it.  I think a lot of people secretly know the exact wrong thing to say to other people but keep it to themselves, knowing the emotional pain it would bring.  I don't always have that option, though I'm much better now that I can, at least sometimes, identify that I'm about to say the most damaging thing possible just to win an argument and keep my fucking mouth shut before ruining another relationship.

 

I wish I would've known earlier.  I never, and I mean NEVER, would have ever mentioned it again, but I honestly didn't know and had always assumed that it was something that wasn't a big deal.  Which made it maddening as to why she wouldn't say.  For years, I figured after we had all gotten drunk, they had made out and she felt bad about it.  I even thought maybe they fooled around and slept together which bothered me some but it was right after we met and weren't living together or anything, so, again, I was bummed but I could move past it if she would just tell me.  But, the more she wouldn't say, naturally, the more curious I got.  I wish that I hadn't.  I wish I could've been a better person and just let it go.  But, my stupid Asperger's kicked in and now it was a mystery/riddle that needed to be solved.  So, at least once or twice a year, I'd ask her again about what happened, why she won't talk about it if it was nothing (clearly it wasn't), why she was so distracted/distraught the next time she saw him, and on and on.  It eventually, and rightly so from her perspective, not at all rightly from mine, became a burden on our relationship.  By then, we were living together and things grew tenser by the day.  It was all my fault but I couldn't stop myself.  I tried so hard, but even if they had slept together (which was the worst case scenario in my head), it wasn't that big a deal to me anymore so why wouldn't she just tell me?  She eventually copped to making out, to which I smiled and told her I loved her and I didn't care.  It was so long ago and before we knew that we loved each other.  But, the look on her face wasn't from admitting that she made out with someone.  I could tell it was more.  I kept telling her that I loved her and didn't care what happened (again, having sex with him was the worst case scenario I could imagine...) so she shouldn't feel scared to tell me.  It was borderline manipulative and I hated myself for trying so hard to figure this out.  But, at this point, I was obsessed with finding out exactly what happened.  I wish I hadn't been.  She didn't deserve that, no one does, and I was making it so much worse by not letting it die.  So much worse...

 

I remember the night she finally told me.  We were about to break up, things had gotten that bad.  We were barely speaking to each other.  Everything we did or said ended up in a fight.  I became jealous and distant.  Asperger's makes it easy to not care sometimes, which is awful.  I was convinced she was having an affair.  There was no reason or basis for that but I became convinced there were more things she was hiding (there weren't).  I resented her for not being open with me which, in turn, made her feel, and rightly so, like she couldn't be open with me or I would get mad at her.  The less she said the more my mind wandered into terrible places.  Asperger's also helps bring about some of the worst thoughts from relatively insignificant things.  I was a complete asshole.  I wish I hadn't been but I was.  I know that now but I wish I knew it back then.  The more I pulled away the more she mirrored that.  She was protecting herself, and I get that now.  She didn't deserve to be in a relationship like our's had become.  No one does.  But, in my head, it was all her fault.  All she had to do was tell me one little thing (or so I thought) and it would all be back to normal.  My confidence would be restored in her and we could move on.  I once thought I would marry her and now one stupid, drunken night years ago threatened that.  God, I was fucking idiot...  So selfish...  So distrustful...  So unaware...  So mean...  

 

Then, after we (sort of) broke up, she finally said fuck it and told me.  I was devastated for her.  I was heart-broken for her.  I was so mad at him.  I wanted to kill him (for the second time).  I was so mad at myself.  I was SO FUCKING MAD AT MYSELF.  I held her as we cried together.  I couldn't believe what I was hearing.  I had never expected anything like this.  This was what I had tortured myself to find out.  This was what I was holding against her.  I couldn't have felt smaller at that moment.  It finally clicked in my brain how shitty I had been by bringing this up the five to ten times or so over the years.  Every time, every fucking time, she had to remember this and put on a brave face to get through my bullshit.  Needless to say, I never once brought it up again...  I was too ashamed.  My only hope is that some small part of her felt relieved to speak it into the world.  I'm not sure she had ever told anyone before.  I'm sure saying it out loud didn't make her feel any better nor remove any of the anger, guilt, shame, sadness, distrust, feelings of vulnerability, hate, or any other emotions but I hope releasing the secret didn't make it worse.  I never should've known unless she wanted me to know.  It was not my place and I never should have pushed her to tell me about it, and by doing so, bringing it back into her mind.  It was a painful lesson and I've learned that sometimes I need to shut the fuck up.  I don't need to know everything about someone.  That's not how it works.  I get to know what they want me to know and I need to be OK with that.  If I'm not, I can hurt someone I love...

 

I'm not sure why I've packed all that into "Black" by Okkervil River but my life is dictated by music and I associate most of my memories to music.  And, this just happened to be one I wanted to forget.  And did...

 

"Black Sheep Boy" and the sadness it brings... aka the guilt is overwhelming some days... Pt. II

I stressed long and hard to determine whether I should indeed tell this story, or, more specifically, what parts of the story I should be allowed to tell as my involvement is fleeting and merely a side story, so it's technically not mine to tell.  I decided to move forward but be very intentional on what is revealed.  I will not be talking any details, people, places, etc. and will actually skip most of that part and stick to why this memory is so indelibly linked to OKKERVIL RIVER'S "BLACK."  That's the only part I own and it's my dreadful memory/association which still haunts me to this day.  I wish I could shake it but the loyalty part of Asperger's makes this feel like one of, if not my largest, regret.  Well, I should specify "regrets" as it's a two-parter.  More on that in just a bit...

 

This story has caused me to not only give away my Okkervil River albums (I may have thrown them out, but I swear I donated them to a less musically diverse friend.  But, then again, I can't count all the brain cells I've destroyed over the years, so maybe I'm remembering that incorrectly, or more likely, it doesn't fucking matter and I'm already rambling...) but to completely forget about them until last week.  I literally (yes, literally, not figuratively, or "literally," as the kids say) blocked out the band, the albums and the songs.  I couldn't remember the lyrics to a song I used to cover at shows.  I know I "knew" these songs but, for the life of me, couldn't bring them back out.  It was weird.  It was like going back to your hometown, population 3000, and forgetting where the baseball fields were that you spent almost your entire childhood playing on.  Or, forgetting where the pool was even though that's where you spent literally (again, fucking seriously literally) every fucking day in the summers.  I remember waking up each morning, eating a Pop-Tart (for those too young to know, put butter on the brown sugar flavor as soon as it comes out the toaster.  Ooh, fuck yeah.  It gets all melty and the sweet and savory all mix together for oohh, yeah... oops I came...) with a bowl of Corn Pops (shit, so much "pops" in the 90's) and speeding off on my Huffy to my best friends house for a few rounds of 2-player TEST DRIVE: OFF-ROAD (the original muthafuckers!  Chevy Z71 was my jam, fuck a Hummer) on his PC.  After we complained about who cheated to win and some various back and forth, it was off to the pool for two or three hours, back to his for lunch (since he lived closer) and then back to the pool for the afternoon to stop in the slides, piss off the lifeguards, flirt with girls, trying desperately for just a kiss and finally some swim-tag.  Afterwards, it was a quick rinse off (miss that chlorine smell.  I often step into the pool at hotels for a fond remembrance of time gone past...) and onto roller-blading or basketball (and flirting with girls, again) until dinner.  After dinner, more basketball, roller-blading or maybe some three on three or five on five football (trying to impress the girls watching but pretending not to) until it got too dark and someone inevitably got hit in the face with a ball and maybe broke their glasses for the 19th time...  Luckily, we had that glasses insurance (free repairs/replacements for two years if they should break) which the store in the Beaver Dam mall tried to revoke after our fifth redemption.  Fucking insurance, always trying to fuck you over...

 

Wow, sorry.  That was way off track.  Also, not sorry, not sure why I said that.  Congratulations, if you're still reading this nonsense...

 

BUT, back to the story.  The things I regret from this story are two-fold.  One is something I didn't do, and one is something I did.  For the sake of time, let's break this up (again) into two parts and start with the thing I didn't do:  murder someone...  (ominous sounds)

 

I wish the actual story was less dramatic than that but, unfortunately, it's not.  I'm not a particularly violent person.  Yes, I'm prone to Asperger's freakouts and meltdowns (just ask my poor girlfriend who happened to be home after I got a terrible haircut...  I asked for, and I quote, "an inch off and to clean up the back so it's not so mullet-y."  She made the first two cuts and my heart stopped.  "Kind of like that?" she asked.  It took everything I had to only say "not quite that much but it's too late," where I wanted to say "WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?!  YOU MUST BE FROM ANY OTHER COUNTRY IN THE WORLD BESIDES AMERICA CAUSE YOU CERTAINLY DON'T KNOW WHAT A FUCKING INCH IS!") but I'm not normally angry or violent.  Seriously, despite that all-caps rant, I'm actually being serious.  Lot's of things perturb me and I enjoy getting riled up about things, but rarely feel legitimate anger towards another human (the members of Grouplove excepted.  Stop trying to ruin my one of my all-time favorite shows with your GODAWFUL CREDITS SONG.  Even the whole world hates Grouplove, JUST WATCH THEIR OWN FUCKING MUSIC VIDEO.  God, that songs sucks so much, how could you let this happen?).  

 

But, on this day so long ago, I met her old friend from high school.  Normally, I enjoy a glimpse into someone's past and meeting people from other dimensions of time and space (time revolves around relative to me so everything before and after exists in alternate dimensions and nothing exists outside my realm of understanding.  Asperger's is weird sometimes...) but something was off here.  Long ago, I'd learned that I have a strange knack for understanding people extremely quickly.  It could be the Asperger's but there's so much you can tell about a person within a few seconds if you're really looking, which I always am.  I don't use this power for evil (read:  to manipulate people) very often, but more for my own good (read:  determine whether this person is interesting, talented, kind-hearted, etc. and I should spend more time with them or the opposite and I should JUST WALK AWAY...).  Yes, like most people my age, I learned more about this by reading Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" though I try to block out the actual person/Bill Simmons occasional cohort Gladwell as he annoys the fuck out of me.  He is a very smart man, but does not always wear it well, to put it mildly.  But, give me six seconds and a greeting and I can probably tell you all you need to know about someone.  Insecurity, manipulative behavior, etc. or honesty, kindness, talent, etc.  I've been proven wrong so rarely that it usually seems like a willful mistake.  I can't tell you how many times I've shaken someones hand, made bold predictions, and sometimes weeks, sometimes years later, was finally proven right.  It's a great skill of mine, particularly when I used to debate people.  You assess, find their weaknesses and poke at it until they come unhinged and you can become the reasonable, logical one to their insane person, thus winning handily.  It's a good skill to have unless you value interpersonal relationships, then sometimes it can be a drag.  Not for me, mind you, but for those who get angry at me frequently, not for out-debating them on the facts but for outsmarting them personally.  What the fuck am I talking about??  

 

Back to the story, I instantly fucking hated this guy.  He walked in, to my apartment no less, where we were hanging out.  I gave him a beer, Miller Lite, naturally, and we casually introduced ourselves.  They began to catch up and I joined in, trying to be nice as I got that "don't be a fucking asshole like usual" look from her.  I asked pertinent questions and maintained conversation like a normal (read:  not like me/a person with Asperger's) person.  From the outside it seemed perfectly normal and jovial.  I positioned myself in the only chair (my Hampton desk chair from Office Depot, which I stole, allegedly.  Just kidding, no one ever knew...  Maybe it's not true.  Nudge, nudge, wink, wink...) so they would sit by the window on the ledge/chunk of wood over the steam radiator which heated my apartment.  In the summer, when the heat was off, it doubled as the only other seating in my apartment.  To set the room, I had a computer on top of a small TV stand against the left wall, my recording interface (Mbox 2) and random mics/stands next to it, my Martin D-15 acoustic guitar in the closet behind me, my stack of books (Kurt Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champions," Woody Guthrie's "Bound for Glory," Johnny Cash's "Cash," etc.) that I always traveled with, on display to prove I could read, my portable 5" DVD player and DVD's ("Pulp Fiction," Bruce Springsteen "Live at the Garden," Bewitched seasons 1 and 2 and Monty Python's Flying Circus collection, an odd bunch, for sure) on the floor next to the computer desk and, in the closet next to the guitar, some blankets I laid on the floor at night to sleep on.  It was a bachelor pad for sure.  So, again, I'm in the chair by the desk, they're on a chunk of wood that's been painted white to hide the fact that it's just a chunk of wood over a radiator next to the window.

 

Now, this window did not have a screen on it, which is weird, but it did not.  So, in the summer my windows were wide open, five floors above the street.  There was a moment where she went to the bathroom and he was looking out the window onto the street below yelling crude things to the girls as they passed by, beer in hand.  

 

"You want another?" I said as I got up to head to the kitchen.  "Sure," he said, "why not."  I stood for a moment and slowly made my way towards the kitchen, which was right past him sitting in the window.  "She would never know," I thought.  "No witnesses."  Tear off a piece of his shirt and it looks like I tried to catch him.  He was drinking and fell.  It was a dark thought.  I felt weird but it also somehow felt right.  I felt torn between what I thought was right and what I thought was "right."  I was confident I could get away with it but was reluctant for some reason.  I should have, probably, but I didn't.  In a moment of weakness, I hesitated too long and she came back out the bathroom.  I barely knew her and she barely knew me.  Why did I care so much and why did I hate this guy so much?  I didn't "know" but I knew.  And worse, I knew that I knew.

 

She came back and said "What were you guys talking about?"  "Just grabbing another beer, you want one?" I asked.  "Sure," she said.  I should've known.  I did know.  That was the worst part.  That's the part I live with.  I just didn't do anything...  The next day, it happened...

 

(to be continued...)

 

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"Black Sheep Boy" and the sadness it brings... aka how terrifyingly common sexual assault is... Pt. I

Every once in a while (OK, maybe more than once in a while, thrice in a while?), a song will stop me in my tracks.  Not because of its' beauty or familiarity or awesomeness but because of a powerful memory that's associated with it.  I know this happens to other people too, but it's so strong and overwhelming for me due to the way I process time.  Time, as we all know, is infinite, strong-willed and unrelenting while also being short-sighted, moldable and relative.  Time for me is usually defined by records.  For example, I don't think of 2004 as "2004" but more of the year of walking through Tenney Park in Madison, WI listening to the Arcade Fire's "Funeral" on my Sony Discman (with Sony MDR-7506 headphones.  Yes, I was, and still am, a headphone snob.  And, even now I own a second pair of Sony MDR-7506's since I gave my first pair away.  Seriously people, the 7506's are $99 while people pay two to three times that for Beats...  I don't get it...) while I had Sun Kil Moon's "Ghosts of the Great Highway" and Great Lake Swimmers eponymous album in the pouch of my hoodie, ready to put on after my first lap through the park and while sitting on a bench watching Lake Mendota roll in and out against a starless summer night, the pitch black water aching for you to listen to her song as she lulls herself to sleep, with the occasional duck or seagull interrupting our slow dance but doing little to shake our intense gaze deep into one another, remembering all the times we shared and the moments of insecurity revealed with such timidity, and relief, that only those who've experienced tragedy (read:  all of us) could relate.  Wait, what the fuck?!

 

But, sometimes there's a song.  And this song brings back memories we no longer want, that we no longer enjoy.  Sometimes, those memories are too much and we actually block out both the memory and the associations.  Sometimes, we can't forget...

 

So, this weekend I was filming a quick intro to my Youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/bradleywik.  No, the video is not up yet, hold your horses.  Later this week...) when I suddenly felt sad.  I didn't know why.  I finished the video and immediately starting tearing down my video setup.  I didn't know why.  I still had other videos I wanted to film.  Why take down the lights and backdrop and camera when you just need to set it up again.  It didn't make any sense but I wanted to.  And, while I packed things up, I wanted to put on some music to help get me out of my funk.  I instinctively grabbed my phone, fired up Spotify (though my Pro-Ject turntable and vinyl sound better, as does iTunes through my KRK monitors), linked onto my bluetooth speaker and fired up "Black Sheep Boy" by Okkervil River.  This record was the year after "Funeral" and "Ghosts of the Great Highway" and "Great Lake Swimmers."  It consumed my ears and stole hour and after hour with its' rugged beauty and heartfelt tales.  Well, I guess it was more painful tales than heartfelt.  One in particular...

 

Okkervil River's "Black" is a song that I have literally loved and lost.  The moment I heard it, I felt such a strong connection to it.  The upbeat music, the tragic (seriously fucking tragic) lyrics and the earnest vocal crushed my baby, eighteen year old heart.  To convey sadness, depression, pain, terror, sorrow, empathy, sympathy, anger, resentfulness, forgiveness, avoidance, passion, hope, and all the other "human" emotions, into one song as wonderful and simple as this, well, then fucking congratulations, you goddamn nailed it.  And Will Scheff did.  He really fucking did.  I couldn't stop listening that song because of the range of emotions I could interpret (Asperger's baby!).  Little did I realize I would eventually come to understand the sexual abuse overtones (undertones?), which I would decipher much later in life, of that song.  Again, with Asperger's, it's difficult to understand the meaning of things that are not explicitly laid out for you (well, me, in this case).  Things that are said metaphorically are way over my head.  I don't get them and I don't care.  That's why I've always been drawn to songwriters like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Neil Young, I need clarity and beauty in the simplicity of honest, personal storytelling.

 

But, I now understand the singer's point of view.  I've watched someone struggle with the, sadly, all too familiar pain of sexual abuse, someone I've loved.  And not one, but multiple woman.  Unfortunately, their stories are not uncommon.  It's depressing to think about the amount of women who have to deal with this shit.  It's terrifyingly common.  And, one time, I saw all the ramifications up close, as it happened to someone I loved.  I can't imagine what it was like or any of it, but I do know what it feels like to want to hurt someone immensely for what they've done to someone you love...

 

(to be continued...)

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