I spend a lot of my creative time thinking about the nature of memory, about how imperfect they are, how much of them we construct out of necessity. Even though I’ve managed to discard many of the mistakes I made as a teenager and younger man, it doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. Just because you didn’t know me then doesn’t mean I imagined them. However dull their impact may seem now, it doesn’t mean I live without regret.
You can’t have all of this story. But you can have some of it.
I was fifteen, sixteen. She was thrity-two. We met in a youth group, she was a nursing student from the university, she could get course credit by volunteering. She immersed herself in the group, and took a liking to me in particular. I was popular in the group, but always felt runner-up to my best friend, his tagalong, his second. She wanted to hang out with me, though, and only me. She felt strong affection for me, stronger than I knew at the time.
My parents knew, though. They found it odd that a thirty-two year old would want to spend so much time with a teenaged boy. It made no sense to them.
I went away to work at a camp for the summer. She took it…poorly. She wrote letters, multiple letters every week. Truthfully, getting those letters helped me through my first extended stay away from home more than anyone could understand, but I knew what my parents would think if they saw them. I threw them in a camp garbage bin before my father picked me up. But I missed one.
My parents now felt vindicated. They took their concerns to the youth centre staff, local clergy, the woman herself. They were told not to worry, the relationship was harmless, what was the big deal if I had an older sibling figure to spend time with?
But things happened. Things that shouldn’t have. Things she should have not allowed to happen. She was married. She was pregnant with her first child. I was sixteen.
I didn’t tell anyone for months afterward. How hard is it for a teenager to not tell his friends? When I finally did they congratulated me. It was a street-corner boast. But in later years, I blamed myself. I should have known better. She was an outsider to the youth group, she didn’t understand the nature of the relationships, I should have told her. What I put my parents through with my skulking around, getting dropped off two blocks from home. It took almost another ten years for someone to finally point out to me that she was the adult. She was the one who should have known better. I was a smart kid, but I was still a kid, and people have severe words for what she did.
Sarah McLachlan was her favourite performer and songwriter. This was my favourite song off of that album. I chose this recording because she explains what I think I already knew the song was about: stupid kids who don’t know a goddamn thing.
I fully expect to go the rest of my life without hearing this song again.