Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly series showcasing an album, single, music video or performance of a bygone era and its personal and/or cultural significance.
It was summer of ’06. The sun baked the sidewalks. The breeze was crisp, and the sweat crested on my brow, trickling down my cheeks. I just came off the leading role in West Virginia University’s Bat Boy: The Musical, in which I played a mostly-nude bat-boy creature, and I had a lot of questions about my sexuality. For two years, I had had closeted, long-distance relationships with strange older men, bewildered about what it meant to be attracted to the same sex and ashamed I couldn’t be who I really was. Of course, my sexuality and gender identity proved to be far more emotionally-complicated and nuanced than I could have imagined ⎯⎯ I learned to accept all parts of myself and came out as an androsexual, non-binary individual four months ago. But I digress.
I was working as an intern at Greenbrier Valley Theatre, toiling away in the dusty workshop and learning prop craftsmanship. Still pretty green, I didn’t party much, fearful of letting my secret slip out between shots of whiskey. I could see only one real way to be happy and that was to confess my deepest, darkest secret. So, I dialed up my friend Allison, who was instrumental in my 20-year-old self’s evolution that summer. In many ways, she already knew. Like most people in my life, they had an inkling I liked men, but never had concrete evidence. For god’s sake, there’s a picture floating around of me and my sister in convertible-red lipstick holding a sign that reads “Don’t hate us because we’re beautiful.”
“I’m gay” fluttered from my lips, and it was as if the entire world shifted, no longer gloomy and grey. My eyes were clear and unstained by self-loathing. My mind was finally at ease. When I repeated that truth, my truth, later that day to several other people (and posted about it on MySpace ⎯⎯ LOL), I could feel something inside of me changing. My soul was lighter, and I inched closer to learning how to live.
Not two weeks later, I was struck by Cupid, of course. His name was Corey Shane (and looking back now, his name does sound a little douchey), and I had heard a few rumors about him. He was provocative, finely in-tune with his body and wasn’t afraid to go on the prowl for what he wanted. He was totally out of my league, by all accounts, but we were somehow drawn to one another. He was silk-skinned, a smoother talker and animalistic. We connected through a friend of his who had seen Bat Boy, and that summer, I lost my virginity…and then had my heart torn apart. It was also my first brush with a thing called ghosting.
Oh, what a summer of firsts.
Gavin DeGraw blasted onto the pop music scene with his 2003 studio album, Chariot, and his breakthrough hit “I Don’t Wanna Be.” I wore that record out that summer; the way he gritted his teeth and spoke about his brokenness and restlessness so freely hit me square across the chest. I would spend nearly every late night spinning such standouts as “Follow Through” (which still leaves me bleeding, even now as I’m writing this), “Just Friends” (a piano ballad which pounds harder than you might think) and “(Nice to Meet You) Anyway,” which would soon become tattooed on my skin as a reminder of my first broken heart. “I believe you’re very fine / Still, I haven’t got the time / ‘Cause I just found someone special, and that’s really something special / If you knew me, nice to meet you anyway,” DeGraw flips his tongue. My head was in the clouds. How could I have been so naive to think Corey Shane Rexroad (sp?) would be the love of my life? He was a mess ⎯⎯ and a year after he stopped taking my calls and texts, he hooked up with another tool-handle I had been chatting with.
Men, right? #Trash.
“I saw you there last night standing in the dark / You were acting so in love with your hand upon his heart,” DeGraw sings, sending me into a fit of hysterical crying. “You were just friends, at least that’s what you said / Now, I know better.” #deadalloveragain
The farmhouse, which served as housing for the theatre’s summer-only employees and interns, rose behind my shoulders. I could feel nature’s cool kiss bubbling on my skin. The volleyball court, late nights sipping beer on the front porch, my first time having sex ⎯⎯ these lingering memories often flicker into my dreams. Chariot intoxicates me. It was the age of innocence. The album, stacked with DeGraw’s gravelly tenor voice, which fused soul, pop and soft-rock into an invigorating hybrid, transformed my young adult life. Even the electric charge of “Chemical Party” and the soft wobble of “Crush” ⎯⎯ “I’m not a loser / Girl, you know I’ll be back again” rings in my eardrums ⎯⎯ sends goosebumps poking out of my spine.
Yeah, yeah. Sometimes, the cliches are true.
There are days I wonder where Corey is, what his life must be like and if he ever calmed his raging hormones and tendency toward infidelity. But then, I put this record on, remind myself I’m better off not knowing and relive one of the greatest times of my life. Heartbreak is necessary. If I hadn’t gotten my tender heart shattered that summer of 2006, I would never have known how to feel, how to love myself above all costs and how to recognize the bad men from the really, really good ones.
Corey, wherever you are, thank you.