I was a college drop-out, working in a rundown, inner city self-serve gas station where the prices were usually so high the only customers we sometimes had were people limping along on fumes. They’d sputter into the gas station, put a buck’s worth of gas in and drive a block or two down the street to get some cheap gas at our always-busy competition. I’d often stop in there on the way home from work, myself.
My GF at the time was a smart, pretty girl who grew up in Bel Air (you know, where Reagan lived after he left the White House?)
She was in law school most of the time we were going out (though she had dropped out during the brief period we actually lived together… it must have been her bohemian period) and she often bounced what she was learning off me. So I found myself picking up a fair amount of legal jargon and half-digested theory and doctrine. (One man’s seamless web is another’s jumble of disassociated bits and pieces.)
Probably no phrase or piece of jargon from that era has come in so handy, over the intervening years, as the snip of Latin, mea culpa, which, of course, means my guilt — or in the stunted vernacular of our head-shrunken era, my bad.
It seemed to cry out for a song. A nice little song about doin’ wrong.
But, in those days, I just couldn’t seem to write a nice simple song about someone doin’ someone wrong, oh, no.
If we were going to be talking about guilt, we were going to be talking about cosmic guilt… and multi-layered cosmic guilt, at that. I’d recently read Fowles’ The Magus, and my head was filled with notions of the illusion of identity and personality and revelation. So, a little bit of legal jargon became a jumping off point.
Even then, there was a certain autobiographical irony apparent to me. (Like divine irony, yes? — we need not, I think, distract ourselves with a usage argument over the word irony.)
My long suffering first real girlfriend (henceforth to be known by the acronym LSFRG) was the victim of a makeover plot by me… not really a plot, since she was willing to go along for the ride.
I had decided that, given some appropriate raw material, I could remake any intelligent, reasonable looking girl into my perfect girlfriend. (And it should be noted that LSFRG was considerably more than “reasonable looking.” I thought she was the cutest thing I’d ever seen, even in her leftover geek-honor student clothes. Once I got her tricked out in tight-fitting jeans and floppy peasant shirts she was, in my proud estimation, just about perfect.)
This was, of course, the addled and spectacularly uncomprehending thinking of someone who had grown up with some serious empathy issues. I was sentimental — to be sure. I understood the concept of other’s emotional pain and suffering… but the reality of it often escaped me.
And, ultimately, the reality of the situation was that I caused this young woman — who in my own selfish, thoroughly tweaked way, I really loved — enormous pain.
I could only evade that reality so long.
Eventually, at what was supposed to have been the end of the relationship, we engaged in a marathon emotional debriefing (which, like other pivotal moments, I’ve discussed elsehwere in AYoS) and it finally hit me… for maybe the first time in my life, I think, I started really feeling someone else’s pain, not as an intellectual or an ethical consideration but as… pain.
In the end, it was me who pined for her, for years, even as I realized she was far better off without me. The dreams I thought I’d thrown away came back to haunt me again and again… sometimes they haunt me still.
And, so, ultimately, the “I” in this song may not be me…
Mea Culpa, Baby
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Mea Culpa, Baby
Mea culpa, baby
means I’m guilty, I’m the one
I’m the one who broke your heart
but it wasn’t just for fun
I watched as your friends turned away
when you turned to me
I laughed as I left you alone
I set your little soul free
I’m not going to tell you
where I hid your heart
you’ll just have to figure out who I am
You must go back to the start
I am everything you are not
I’m the other side of the line
Just a matter of push and pull
but the boundary always hides
(C)2007, TK Major