Whenever I hear Pearl Jam’s Black, it makes me think of being 17 years old and going obsessive compulsive on a jukebox at Rack’em Up Billiards in Oakdale, Minnesota.
My high school boyfriend had just dumped me because as the saying goes, “Cheaters never prosper.” I wanted him back so badly. I had tried everything including begging and praying to a Billabong sweatshirt he left at my house. When neither of those worked, I followed him home from school, convinced him to let me into his house, held a handful of steak knives I found in his kitchen to my arm and then fell to the ground and had a panic attack. Surprisingly, this romantic gesture didn’t work either. He was done with me and in my teenage angst; I thought that meant that life was officially done with me as well.
An hour later, after he had kicked me out of his house and told me to leave him alone forever, I had an epiphany on how to win him back. Sure he could kick me off his property, but he couldn’t kick me out of a public place like Rack’em Up, where he would be that night. It became clear what I had to do. I had to get there right before he did, pour some quarters into the jukebox, play our song, Pearl Jam’s Black and then leave before he saw me. Then when he arrived, the powerful, impassioned voice of Eddie Vedder would cause him to be haunted by the love we once had.
Thinking back, I should have seen relationship failure in our future after we selected Black, a song about unrequited love, to be our love song.
All the love gone bad turned my world to black
Tattooed all I see, all that I am, all I’ll be… yeah
Uh huh, uh huh ooh
I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life
I know you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky,
But why, why, why can’t it be, why can’t it be mine?
But in my head it would play out like this, he’d walk in; hear our song playing on the jukebox, which would trigger his favorite moments from our teenage love affair. He’d think the universe was telling him that we were MFEO (Teenage girl speak translation: Meant for each other). He’d then be powerless over the urge to call me and tell me he wanted me back. Of course this was before cell phones so he’d first have to ask the guy who worked behind the counter, Larry (I don’t know if that was his name, but he looked like a Larry), if he could use their cordless phone.
So there I was, standing in front of the jukebox that would save my relationship. I inserted a few quarters and selected our song. My plan was to play it about 3 or 4 times with a few different songs in between because I wasn’t a psycho. I had some boundaries. Unfortunately, after I selected Black the first time, my obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety kicked in. My mind told me that I couldn’t just select it once and then throw in a Love Shack. I had to keep playing Black. I just had to. I was convinced that if I didn’t, the building would catch fire and everyone would burn to death. Even Larry. And why should Larry suffer for a poor decision I made at a party after a few too many Zima’s?
Despite experiencing bouts of OCD in my childhood, I didn’t know what it was until I was an adult. I also didn’t know what an acronym was, but that’s more the Saint Paul School District’s fault than my own. When I was 28-years-old, I was formally diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder. The particular OCD I have is kind of cute because it comes in a superstitious package. In the past, I’ve had OCD behaviors where I’d have to touch every button on the television remote control in a certain order because if I didn’t, every kitten in the world would drown. Cute stuff like that.
So that night, I had no choice but to pour money into the jukebox until my mind finally reassured me, “That’s enough. They’ll all live.” I walked out feeling like a hero. I had just saved Larry’s life and he didn’t even know it. You’re welcome, Larry.
Once I got home, waves of panic and anxiety came over me. I estimated that our song would play approximately 20-25 times in a row. There was no way he wasn’t going to know it was me. He’d tell everyone at Rack’em Up and at school the next day how crazy I was. That was it. Life was now officially, officially done with me. I contemplated calling Rack’em Up and telling Larry that there was a bomb in the jukebox, which was making it play the same Pearl Jam song over and over again (because Pearl Jam’s the bomb). I’d explain to him that the only way to defuse it was to smash it into pieces – preferably in the shape of broken hearts. I realize how melodramatic this all sounds, but I’ve always had a close, personal relationship with melodrama. A relationship that led to more poor decisions like writing poetry for my college’s literary prologue. Embarrassingly bad poetry that now exists in the world FOREVER.
Ultimately, I decided not to call Rack’em Up. By the time I picked up the phone, I figured that the song had already played at least 10 times, which was 10 times too many. It was too late to save any image of sanity I had left. And Larry probably wouldn’t even answer the phone since he spent most of his time outside smoking bowls with his fellow basement-dwellers.
I don’t know if my ex ever showed up that night to play pool. I was too afraid to ever ask. We never got back together and I coped with it all by building huge walls of denial around the entire situation. I was able to convince myself that maybe I had never even went to Rack’em Up that night. Maybe it was all just a delusion that I could erase from my memory by obsessively smoothing the fitted sheet on my bed until all wrinkles and creases were gone. Because everyone with OCD knows that smooth bed sheets are better than Xanax.