This is a long story that starts with a friend’s Facebook post. In the middle is a horrible mini-lesson of “how NOT to break up with someone.” There are multiple endings. Pass it up if you don’t like relationship stories. Read if you do, friends.
I’ll start with the first ending of our relationship.
In the first semester of my junior year in college, my music producer friend called to tell me excitedly that he was applying to audio engineering school in NYC, so he’d be able to see me more often on the East Coast. He was always like this: open-hearted and unafraid to show it.
What was my response to him? To panic. To freak out. On top of that, back at school for the fall, I’d run into an ex, my first official “boyfriend” ever, who had stalked me after the break-up. I was breaking out in a cold sweat from the mere thought of relationships.
So, what else to do but make a totally natural decision? Swear off relationships for a full year.
And how else to break the news, but logically? A mass email.
A mass email.
It was a “Hey friends, here’s an update!” mass email. In it, I recounted details of my new favorite album, quotes I liked. And I added the tagline at the bottom:
“I am also proud to say that I am going to be loser-free. No dating for me for the next one year!”
The “loser” was a reference to my sociopathic ex, not my darling producer friend. But how was he to know that?
The break-up story is not explosive. He sent me a short email. I ignored it. Then I didn’t hear from him ever again.
And here are the rest of the endings:
Yesterday, a music video of a popular Oakland hip hop artist popped up on my Facebook news feed. This sparked a long stalker-ish Facebook search to find the man I’d dated when I was 19 years old, this local music producer.
The first time I’d ever heard of this Oakland emcee was because of him. An aspiring writer, I was hired out-of-my-league with an arts organization to teach writing, alongside a group of local artists whose ranks I did not deserve to be in: a muralist, a singer, a dancer, a music producer.
The other teachers were in awe of the music producer: “Your shit’s tight, man,” one of our colleagues said one day, jaw open, when first learning his favorite song was produced by this man. I was in awe, too. I was 19. I dreamed of being a professional artist. But I could hardly match my right sock to my left, much less do my laundry every week. Yet over the summer, he and I became friends who philosophized about politics and art after-hours. He’d play rough cuts of the new beats he was making for that Oakland emcee & other local underground artists, many of whom have since made it big. We started dating. It was a natural rhythm moved by the conversations we’d shared about West Oakland, poetry, and education.
This would be a FAR better story if the next sentence was, “We fell madly in love.” But the reality was, I was 19 and super confused. I could hardly feed myself 3 meals per day. I could hardly make it to my 2:30pm Wednesday seminars. Understanding how to be good to someone else was beyond me, when I couldn’t take care of myself.
He leaned forward, and I stepped backward. You already know how I ended it.
I found my ex on social media six years after I’d broken up with him. On a whim, I emailed. He’d just had his first child with his new wife. In perfect character, he was thrilled to hear from me. He harbored no ego nor resentment. He wrote that he was touring the world with a new music project, and about to DJ for a party in NYC. He told me the name of the A-list celebrity. We wrote a few times. We lost touch again.
Here is Ending #3. Yesterday, that Oakland emcee’s video sparked yet another social media search for my old friend.
I discovered that he had suddenly died this year.
I know that death is inevitable, and so are endings. But in my youth, I didn’t imagine I’d witness an ex-lover pass away so soon.
My old friend left behind two children. That popular Oakland artist wrote him a beautiful tribute, calling him “brother” and reminiscing about ciphering with him when they were young. I spent several hours reading my old friend’s Facebook page, which was filled with friends reminiscing about their first/last meetings with him. Photos of people toasting in his honor. Heartfelt messages of “thanks for changing my life.” I was not surprised.
And I am tempted now to link this post to this tribute, or to his beautiful music, but I don’t want my post to muddy the relationship my old friend had with his wife. I don’t want to seem like I am claiming him as my ex because he has passed away, when I was absent for so long.
And here is Ending #4:
Which is that our relationship continues. The tie that binds me to him in my thoughts is still vibrant. My mind has replayed our phone conversations, his stories about freestyle battles and community organizing, the light in his eyes whenever he saw me (“I can sense you in the air” he said once), and his complete lack of ego in embracing me to him for as long as I was willing to be held, and in whatever capacity he sensed I needed.
I am incredibly sad. Because so much of the world missed out on an amazing spirit, a whole lotta heart, and a shit-ton of phenomenal music he had left to make.
You wanted to build a school. You wanted to travel the world. You wanted to have a family with a woman you loved. You wanted to make music that moved people. You accomplished almost everything you dreamed of when you left us too soon.
Thank you for showing me an artist lives with daily practice and faith. Thank you for teaching me to shed fears even in the face of failure. You are gone. But you present. You are present in me, in the way I hear rhythm in a street, dream big without self-judgment, and remind myself that love is possible no matter what the odds.
Rest in power, beloved friend.
See you on the other side.
PC: drawing by nolita jpn