She was a beautiful woman, that much I remember. Her dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and her pale neck was visible.
I was sitting in Introduction To Theater, a standard survey course at Kutztown University. Being a survey course, there were many students required to take it. KU is, after all, a liberal arts college. So about 250 of us were packed into the stadium seats of the Rickenbach Research and Learning Center theater. Since I was sitting behind this young woman (I say that now; she was probably 19 at the time, just like me), I was sort of looking down from behind her.
I remember clearly sitting down, noting the students around me in passing, and getting out my book and notepad (yes, we used paper back in those days…). Then something extraordinary happened. I saw the girl, saw her pale neck, her dark hair, and her headphones. She was playing a cassette tape on her portable Walkman (again with the age…), and I heard – through her headphones – for the very first time a sound that would change my life for ever. This discovery has echoed down all the years of my life and, to this very day, influences my thinking. That moment, burned indelibly into my mind, marked a before/after moment, and the discovery gave a voice to a heart that had been mute for 19 years. For the first time in my life I was able to understand that I wasn’t the only one who felt the way I did. I was one of many, thousands, millions even, who could feel both pain and joy simultaneously. I was one of many who understood life has so much good, but also so much bad, and they can both be beautiful in their own way. That day, in early September 1989, I heard the first band that empowered me to embrace my pain and to love it unabashedly. That band?
I sat there mesmerized for a while, listening rapt to this music. Then the professor came in, and the girl took off the headphones and stopped the music. It was like cold water in the face, but I had the presence of mind to bend down and ask her “What band was that?” “The Cure” she said. The Cure. I didn’t learn anything that class, and as soon as it was over, I walked across the street to a shop called “Young Ones” which sold used cassette tapes and records. This is another memory I can see as clearly as if I was right there. I didn’t even bother to look through the cassettes, I just walked up to the shopkeeper and asked where I could find The Cure. He showed me, and I promptly bought one of every tape they had. There were three as I recall, but the one I had heard was titled Disintegration, and remains to this day one of my favorite albums ever. Twenty five years later, those songs still speak to my soul.
Much has happened since then. I graduated from Kutztown, got a job, got married, had two amazing kids, got divorced, lost people, suffered, learned much about myself, got married again – properly – and realized I had a lifetime to write about. So here I am, moving into a new career, struggling to help my kids do better and wander less than I did. I wonder if they’ve found their “Cure” yet, or if that is yet to come. But it will. I think most people find something that ignites their soul. At least that’s my experience. Most of my friends have some of that spark within them, and I really would hope everyone could experience what I did that February day 25 years ago.
That moment defined who I was, by helping me understand I was what some would call “sensitive”, which is both good and bad, both positive and negative. In the very excellent Doctor Who episode “Blink”, the character Sally Sparrow says that sad is happy for deep people. I guess I’m deep, then. But whatever I am, I’m not the only one.