Artist Spotlight: Imogen Heap

It is 2003, and you have invited me into your living room.

We’ve just walked to your house after school, and your pleasant nature has so far done nothing to allay my fears, my suspicions of you. I was a loner, an outcast at a new school, and on the first day, you took a shine to me. You were willing to push your tray next to mine in the lunchroom, and I was nervous (and hopeful) enough to not question this. But now, sitting alone in your beautiful home, I have become keenly aware that this is the first time since early childhood (and, more importantly, since becoming “aware” of the opposite sex in the way that boys my age tend to do) that I’ve been alone with a girl. And what a girl to be alone with. Your flowing auburn hair is almost unnaturally straight and flows effortlessly down to your taut shoulders, and your vividly brown eyes are nearly opalescent in how they reflect nearly all shades of what they take in. They gleam along with your smile, which must be the same smile Helen of Troy had. You sit next to me, and I manage to resist every nerve in my body which screams at me to recoil from your body grazing against my arm. I must not think that I’m worthy of such contact.

My nervousness must be palpable, because you immediately lean back and ask “How much music do you listen to?” I, with an admirable effort on the part of my rigidly locked body, manage to eke out a tiny shrug. “Well,” you continue, “I’ve been listening to a lot of Imogen Heap. Have you heard of her? She’s an English singer, and her voice is to die for.” You abruptly stand to head over to a CD player in the far corner of the room, and I, with all the subtlety and grace my body could muster, manage to deflate into your couch without making too much of a scene. My muscles are screaming with the pain of having been coiled for so long, in preparation for a fight-or-flight response which could be needed at any moment. You put on the music, and then I forgot everything about my tired muscles, or my nervousness, or even what my mother must think, having not heard from her only child an hour after he left school on his first day there. Because Imogen’s voice has brought an eerie stillness to the entire room.

It is 2005, and you are crying. I’ve never heard you cry before, and I am not sure what to do. You tell me that your boyfriend has just broken up with you,and you’re not sure if life will be worth living anymore. I pat your back, in what I think must be a comforting gesture, although I’m just repeating movements and words that I have absorbed from movies. I don’t really know if this is the thing to do, but I suppose that it is better than nothing at all. I ask you if you want to listen to some music. I’ve just purchased the new Imogen Heap album, and I ask if you’re managed to give it a listen yet. Through misty tears, you laugh bleakly and shake your head. I walk over to your CD player, and through the ethereal tones of Imogen Heap’s first few songs, you slowly but surely calm yourself. By the third song, you smile wanly and tuck your head into my shoulder. You tell me that I’m the best friend a girl could ask for. I laugh mirthlessly, because I suspect that you and I both know at this point that I want more than friendship. But such things go unsaid. Now’s not the time for such things, because Imogen Heap’s icy vocals wash over us, and for a moment, we pretend that we’re both happy right where we are.

It is 2008, and I’ve shown up on your front door for the first time in a year. I’ve recently acquired a driving license, and the first thing I’ve done with my new-found freedom of mobility is drive to your doorstep. I’ve moved to a different high-school across the district, and we have since drifted apart. You flash me your Helen smile, and usher me into your home. As we take up our usual positions on the couch, I notice a bruise on your left shoulder, mostly hidden by your PINK-branded tee-shirt. I ask tentatively where you got that bruise. You tell me that you don’t want to talk about it, and how have I been? Fine, I tell you, just fine. Not at all tortured. Not at all ruined by not being able to talk to you, by not being able to bask in your smile’s glow for over a year. Christ, how pathetic I must seem. But such thoughts must not come to you, because you keep up the kindness. You now have that mischievous grin that tends to spread across your face when you’re about to utter profanity or suggest something that you think sounds particularly clever. “How’d you like to…listen to some IH?”I’d love nothing more than to go back to that moment on the couch after your first boyfriend dumped you, that moment where we melded, however briefly, into one soul, one vessel. So of course I say yes. We sit on the couch, and slowly we revisit the warmth of our mutual platonic touch. I’m on the verge of crying, because I suspect that this is the closest I’ll ever get to being your lover. Once again, we do an admirable job of keeping up this charade.

It is 2009, and we’re both in your hotel room in New York City. We’ve both elected to go on this Choir trip for our respective schools, which includes a Broadway showing of Chicago and a performance at Carnegie Hall. The rest of the girls in your room have elected to skip out and hit the town, and you and I sit alone.We have grown so close in the last year since our re-connection, and we’re both so incredibly comfortable with each-other. I tell you that the first time you invited me to her house, I was so dreadfully nervous that I was probably on the verge of soiling my pants, and you laugh and ask why I’ve never told you that. I tell you that there are a great many things that I’ve never told you.

That seems to take all the air out of the room, and you stare blankly at me, as if I’ve just confessed to murder. I move closer, and you don’t retreat, but you seem to tense up. I’d recognize that tension anywhere. It was the same tension I felt back in your living room 6 years ago, when I was so terrified of you that I might have fled at any moment. I tell you that…

I tell you that I love you.

The tears start swelling in my eyes, and yours.

I tell you that you’re the most important person in my life, and that I’ve always loved you.

The tears are cascading freely down my face, but my voice never falters, because I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life. I love you.

You lean close, so close that mere atoms separate the tips of our noses. You whisper the sweetest words I’ve ever heard in my life.

“I know. I just wish you’d told me earlier.”

You whisper “I love you too.”

Our bodies slowly glide over each-other. We meld together. We complete each-other. In this moment,we are the only two people who exist. And Imogen Heap is playing, a life-long soundtrack to our protracted courtship which has culminated in this perfect moment, as the lights of the city twinkle through the window and the din of traffic noises had faded out, as if the city knows that we’re not to be disturbed at the moment. And I have never
been less tense in my life.

It is 3 months after that fateful day, and you are once again crying. I have been unable to get a hold of you for 2 days, and when I finally do, I am greeted with the harshest words I have ever heard you speak. I ask what is the matter, and you continue on with your diatribe, pointedly ignoring any words I may have to offer. I finally get fed up and hurl invectives at you, words that I’ve never called anybody but my worst bullies. You’re taken aback that I would speak to you this way, as am I. I sheepishly apologize, and ask again what is wrong. You start crying, and even though I thought I was familiar with your tears, this crying jag has a completely different tone to it, a distinct cadence that I’ve never experienced. I hug you closely, and you go limp in my arms and fully give yourself into your bawling. Struggling through fresh tears of my own making, I ask for the third time what is wrong. You draw back, and hold my face in your hands. You whisper the words, and I draw back, aghast at what you’ve just uttered.

I ask you how far along you are.

You say about 6 weeks.

I ask if you want to keep it.

You don’t respond.

It is 2012, and in a familiar situation, we have not spoken for over a year.

We simply couldn’t bear to look at each-other, and lovemaking was awkward and forced, because we both knew our hearts weren’t in it anymore. You told me about how you wanted to be a doctor, and I told you that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. You took this opportunity to point out what a lazy sadsack I am, but I didn’t
take you to task for this insult, because I myself had hurled plenty your way. We vacillated between thin cordiality and screaming matches. We finally agreed that this THING, whatever it was, could not continue, and then we…just stopped. I retreated to my home-life, since my mother was starting to be come more and more ill in recent months, and you moved to New York City. You had fallen in love with it while we were there on that fateful trip, and Fordham had offered you a scholarship to study there. You were always the smartest person I knew, and you had now just proven it all over again by no longer being willing to put up with me and my shiftless life.

I glance at the phone, and notice a text from my stepfather. My mother is at the hospital, and her new prognosis is not good. I drive to the hospital not terribly worried, since she had been to the hospital before and nothing truly bad had ever come of it. By the time I get there, they are already handing my stepfather a Do-Not-Resuscitate notice. He signs it, and as if on cue, as if some Grand Creator was up there pressing the buttons, my mother’s heart monitor flatlines. As I look into her now-lifeless eyes, I see the light in them fade away, as if all the vitality that she had shown in life was slowly being turned down by a switch. The woman, for whom I had been the last chance for her to have a child, who had raised me through 2 lousy husbands and one great one, was now ascended to a nebulous Beyond, a vague existential Otherland that I had begun to doubt the existence of in recent years. I realize that this is the last time I will ever see her. This is the hardest I will ever cry in my life.

On the way out of the hospital, I pick up the phone and call you. I’m mildly surprised when you pick up the phone after one ring. I tell you that, even though we can never be together, that you will always be truly special, and you are the guiding light of my life. I tell you that my mother is dead. You burst into tears, because my mother had always liked you, and indeed had always asked me why I hadn’t “sealed the deal” with you. Despite being a deeply Christian woman, my mother was never bashful about sexual jokes or profanity, and she had indeed made you burst out in uncomfortable laughter on multiple occasions. Perhaps sensing that I was not in the right mindset to be having this conversation, you promise that you’ll call me later. I tell you that I’ll always love you, and you say the same to me.

It is 2016, and I have been tasked with writing a Music Spotlight for a pop-culture website, and like every other aspect of my life, I have shown a determination to make it as complicated and unnecessarily hard on myself as I possibly could. I look at my phone, and I look at the pictures I took while on that trip in NYC. We looked so happy; someone would think that we were the smuggest, most insufferable couple if they had never met us. We had our arms around each-other, and we were smiling the widest, dopiest smiles that we were physically capable of wearing. A thought comes to me: even though I have since lost about 40 pounds since this picture was taken, and I have considerably less hair, this is still the best picture that I have ever taken of myself. I am once again on the verge of tears, but I know that this time, things will be okay. You and I are of one kindred spirit, no matter what may come down the road for either of us. And I will always love you.

I thumb through to the other photos I have saved, and our daughter shines. She was taken in by a loving older couple, and we both know that she is far better off than she would have been had we elected to keep her. I think back and remember that, even though I had put 3 years into Debate class in HS, that argument that I had with you on that August afternoon in your house was the most convincing I had ever been in my life. My greatest performance, gone unnoticed and unknown by anybody besides you; then again, you were the one who had to be swayed by it. No matter what roads life may take me down, her and you will always be with me. I smile another dopey smile, and my future smiles back at me through the screen.