Oh, the injustice.
There she was, standing next to him. She was smiling, he was laughing at something she said. She was inches away from where he stood, and I was miles.
I zoomed in on the picture on my phone, if only to torture myself.
So he was real. So I didn’t just imagine him. She had met him. She was the proof. Though I hadn’t seen her in months – wait . . . years – she hadn’t changed at all. Still the tattoos. Still the same signature ‘come hither’ smirk she was now using on him.
I tried being reasonable.
I hate her, I thought to myself. I hate her stupid face. I hate everything about this day!
I blinked back tears and looked up from my phone. The scene was more than I could bear. I was nothing short of trapped at an airport, waiting to get on a plane that never came, while my favorite band was about to take the stage just miles away. And an old acquaintance of mine had just met the lead singer.
There was more than jealousy going on here. This was some kind of twisted metaphor. This was the story of hopeless defeat and crushing disappointment.
I was supposed to be on a plane, comforting myself with the knowledge that I was going on vacation and they probably weren’t that good anyway and the likelihood I would have been as lucky as the woman in the picture was next to nothing, and they were only just a band.
But the plane was delayed. Then the flight was canceled. Then the crushing disappointment finally got to me. I officially lost all common sense. The rest is history. It is Madness.
There is a loneliness to being in love with a band that no one has even heard of. It is not the same for people who love The Beatles or The Killers or The Rolling Stones. If you put ten people in a room, there is a one-hundred percent chance they have heard of those bands, and the odds are just as great that two out of ten of those people will like the same band. A kinship is then born. What’s your favorite song? Favorite album? Who’s your favorite band member? How many times have you seen them perform? Why does that particular band speak to you?
You get my drift.
Instead, when I’m in a group of two or ten or even a hundred people, there is a ninety-nine percent chance I’m going to hear “The Airborne Toxic Event? Who is that?”
So for months, it was just me, by myself, alone.
Then my best friend ran into an old acquaintance at a music festival. She was glowing and excited, having met Mikel Jollett only minutes earlier. She had the pictures to prove it. My best friend sent me her pictures while I was feeling sorry for myself at the airport, with the disclaimer (or warning) that “she’s just as obsessed with the same weird band as you are.”
It’s like being an only child and then finding out you have a twin somewhere.
Once I got over my petty jealousy – and met the man himself at a show two days later – I decided we were long overdue to get back in touch. After all, she was in her mid-twenties and I was just a stupid teenager the last time we hung out. Back then, we didn’t have very much in common. Now she had a family and I was a bereaved mother. Things had definitely changed. But somehow, for some reason, we liked the same obscure band. I wanted to find out why. I wanted to know her favorite song, her favorite album, her favorite band member. How many times had she seen them perform? Why does this particular band speak to her?
Later, through the magic of social media, I went from having a twin to an entire family – a whole group of people who shared the same kind of obsessive love for the same band, for reasons not unlike my own. We are a kind, empathetic lot. Most of us have experienced the uglier side of life. But at a show, all of us remind me of happy children, laughing and singing and smiling in spite of our circumstances. We have more in common than we even realize. And we are sharing a moment. We are making memories. These concerts are snapshots of our lives, and we’re all in the front row, smiling like we have never felt pain. But more than likely, we smile and sing and dance like this because we have.
The acquaintance in the photograph is now a friend again. We are each other’s devil’s advocate, plotting ways to get ourselves to Airborne shows, be they a hundred miles away or a thousand, perhaps to the chagrin of our long-suffering husbands. It could be said I am grateful to her, for without her I never would have gone to California once or Chicago twice, and we never would have hung out backstage with the band That One Time.
But at the end of the day, I was right the first time. They are just a band. She and I, however – we are friends. And I am grateful to the band, because I know so much more than her favorite song. Without them, I might never have known what a kind, selfless, passionate, funny, and fascinating person she truly is.
I might never have stood in the pit of the Chicago venue with her, several feet away from Mikel Jollett. We were not in the front row. We didn’t have the chance. My obsessive-compulsive need to be in the front row would just have to get over it.
Oh, the injustice.
But there we were, standing next to each other. She was smiling, I was weeping during “The Graveyard Near the House.” She was inches away from where I stood. Then she closed the distance between us – all those years we were out of touch, all the space and time we could have been friends but weren’t – and she put her arms around me and held me as my shoulders shook and the tears poured down The Airborne Bird on my cheek.
I love her, I think to myself. I love that she is here, and that I am not alone.
So many of us are waiting for friends like her. The next time you go to a concert to see your favorite band, take a look at the people around you as you share a moment and make memories. You have more in common than you realize. Such friends are closer than you think.