Orlando, Florida, Summer of 1990

Let this heart break the spell that you’re under

Heaven tried to take her life in 1990. I was 14 and knew what suicide was but, until then, hadn’t known of anyone who’d tried it. And I barely knew Heaven. Driver was her boyfriend. He was my best friend. At that age, for them, being boyfriend and girlfriend meant mostly French kissing under the basketball goal in her cousin’s driveway. Driver said so, I took him at his word. Heaven’s cousin, Prairie, lived next door to me. Driver’s house was over the fence. You just climbed the makeshift ladder up, over, down the other side of the fence to get to Driver’s house. It was convenient, especially for Heaven and Driver. Everyone hung out in Prairie’s driveway, Driver’s driveway, or my driveway. I had Guns ‘N Roses’ It’s So Easy playing loud on a boombox sitting on the raised planter box next to my driveway one day when Driver’s parents walked by right at the part where Axel Rose says, Why don’t you just…fuck off. They were Presbyterians. They looked at the music, then at each other. l smiled from a hidden perch, amused I could do that to someone else’s clueless parents.

One of the romantic things Heaven and Driver did when they weren’t Frenching in the driveway was make mix tapes for each other. I helped. One summer afternoon, Driver and I made a tape for Heaven:

Don’t Call Me Dude, Scatterbrain

The Power, Snap

One, Metallica

Madrigal, Rush

La Villa Strangiato, Rush

Bang, Gorky Park

Mission, King’s X

Buttermilk Biscuits, Sir Mix-A-Lot

I was good at making mix tapes. I spent many perfectly good evenings recording songs off of the radio, like many kids did in the 90s. I remain convinced this was a perfectly good use of youth and life. The local college radio station, WPRK 91.5, supplied most of my fodder. I was just discovering “alternative” music in 1990. WPRK was where I first heard Scatterbrain, The Smiths, Camper Van Beethoven, Bob Mould. And much more. So much melty-soul-beauty. I thought I was a metalhead before that. It shows. But, as with everything else it seems, I leaned into the weird side of metal. The lead singer for King’s X was a black guy, with a mohawk. Gorky Park were fucking communists. What’s more antiestablishmentarian than Soviet metal?

The alternative, the weird, is the story of my life, I will reluctantly confess, and the 90s are a cornucopia spilling anthemed memories out across all subsequent decades. The condensation dripping down the stem of my goblet, nearly empty now. The formerly endless Florida sand pine scrub living yet still, a little beyond today’s errands. I daydreamed of laying dead in such a scene. That was in college, not the local college with the cool radio station, still the 90s, the closest I ever came to wanting to end me. Heaven’s effect wasn’t Werther’s, or I might have tried to effectuate the daydream. The pilot light perhaps became the lighthouse. The sadness, itself, satisfied.

Heaven is somewhere far away. But I remember her. I did not love Heaven. But I loved making her mix tapes. Awesome mix tapes. Driver’s sister Mike left for college that summer. I had a crush on her. Might have been obvious to everyone, or my secret ‘til now. As crushes will do, Mike gave me music. That’s to say, she let Driver and me take our pick of her tape collection before she packed it up into the trunk of her boyfriend’s VW Beetle. One of my picks was Lowen & Navarro’s Walking On A Wire album, just released. I was very sad when I heard that Heaven had tried to take her life. I sat on the floor in my room that evening and listened to the brand new tape Mike didn’t want. I didn’t understand the taking. But understood it was definitely a taking. There’d’ve been no gift in her death. That death, as imperfect as Heaven herself.

Heaven’s attempt to take her own life was, unaccountably, a taking from me. Her boyfriend’s friend, her cousin’s neighbor. A boy with no claim on her happiness, who felt responsible anyway. Would that look silly to her?, I sat, thought. What if I told her we belonged to the light, the thunder, the sound of the words we’ve both fallen under? That was weird. I leaned in. What if she took a look? Could I break the spell she was under? She’d turn 15. Then 16. She’d meet people. Fall in love with some of them and, one day, if lucky, with everything. Some feelings do last forever. Hopelessness isn’t one. Not in 1990. Not now. Heaven on earth isn’t so bad.

Stereo Story #581

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Brian A. Salmons is a writer and translator from Orlando, Florida. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Eyedrum Periodically, Ekphrastic Review, Arkansas International, Levee Magazine, Mantis, NonBinary Review, Memoir Mixtapes, Sunlight Press, Poets Reading the News, O:JA&L, The Light Ekphrastic, Eratio, and others, including anthologies from YellowJacket Press and TL;DR Press. He also hosts The Ekphrastic Review's podcast, TERcets.