US IN TAPES • by Jessa Marsh

The day I met you we walked to the train together. While our feet hit the wet pavement I hummed a little out of nervousness. Recognizing the Hank Williams melody, you said you didn’t like any country music, no exceptions. I stopped and we were quiet for a while. You broke this silence, an uncomfortable, unfamiliar one, to ask me where I lived. I said off the blue line but I was staying at a friend’s tonight. I was really going to my boyfriend’s house. I lied because when you spoke in class your voice reminded me of a boy I knew in high school, back when it was easy to fall irrationally in love. He had the same kind of lisp, hidden mostly, escaping only on the softest of syllables. A week later I handed you a tape filled with voices that twanged the way mine does when I’m drunk enough to sing. You looked at the hand-written track listing, chuckled softly and raised your eyebrows with doubt. I told you that you’d like it, regardless.

The second tape came after we first slept together, on my couch, my roommates gone and Conan on too loud. I didn’t hear your noises and your face glowed TV blue. This mix was cautiously romantic, not one song containing the word love. I made sure of that, looking at liner notes, listening over and over again to each track.

When my roommate moved out, you moved in and the mixes became blatantly sappy, like the soundtracks to indie movies about the first time you fall in love. We listened in bed, bodies exhausted and eyes heavy.

After a while the tapes became silly, an extension of our inside jokes, a secret language that only you and I could speak. There was the song that we’d sing while brushing our teeth side by side in the morning, toothpaste drooling down our chins, the words indistinguishable. A song that you danced to once at four in the morning, when two bottles of wine were in the garbage can and my stomach and cheeks were aching from laughing so hard.

Then it became harder to think of songs I wanted to give you. Mixes were started, but not finished. Eventually I stopped making them. I thought that it meant that we had settled in, we knew each others’ albums, and we had fully integrated our lives. In a way, I thought, it was a good sign. It showed a comfort level that I hadn’t reached with anyone before.

I didn’t believe that for long.

I never gave you the last mix. I made it one night while you were away. You had started going away, a day here, a day there. I didn’t know what to do with all of the space — my cluttered apartment had never seemed so immense. I sat on the floor, CDs spread around me, a blank tape in the stereo. I filled it with songs that didn’t make me think of you, songs with lyrics that I could recognize myself in. I listened to it when you weren’t around, which was happening more and more. The magnetic tape thinned, slowing down bridges and verses.

The first week after you left for the last time, the tape didn’t leave my stereo. I hit repeat and when one side finished, the other started. Day after day. One morning I woke up without pausing to think of where you were, if you would come back.

I got up and turned off the stereo.

Jessa Marsh‘s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Word Riot, decomP, Storyglossia, Knee-Jerk, and Pank. She is the web editor of Monkeybicycle.

This story was sponsored by
Camilla d’Errico: A character designer and artist who dances on the tightrope between pop surrealist art and manga inspired graphics. Explore her paintings, characters and comics: Tanpopo, BURN and Helmetgirls.

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