I was afraid of cursing. Technically that’s an understatement because at the time I was afraid of almost everything, but I was especially afraid of cursing. The first time I heard this song, in the summer of 2000 (kids who are afraid of cursing are not the kind who actively seek out Eminem albums) the Tourette’s and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that I had always shown minor traces of had begun to flare up in full force. I became stricken with fear, paranoia, and had developed an awful series of facial, body, and vocal tics.
Despite how much I hated myself at the time, I became acutely afraid of turning into other people, and this manifested itself in strange ways. I thought that if people stared at me for too long, lasers would shoot out of their eyes, turning me into them. I thought that if I brushed up against people I didn’t like or was afraid of, I would go to sleep that night and wake up as them the next morning. I also became completely unable to control my thoughts, imagining myself murdering my family and then thinking that because I thought about it, I would actually do it, and then I would be wracked with guilt about it, even though I hadn’t actually done anything. In fact, I would become wracked with guilt about pretty much everything, whether I had done anything wrong or not.
I became obsessed with the idea of being “good,” which is why I was afraid of cursing (I didn’t actually say the word “fuck” out loud until I was 15). Even though my parents never put any restrictions on me in terms of what I could watch or listen to, I had never heard anything as violent or as angry as “Guilty Conscience” before (I was still watching Rugrats while most kids my age were watching South Park) and it terrified me. As my friends started growing older and getting more into rap (Long Island starts its rap-loving white-boy phase at a very early age), whenever this song played, an irrational fear and panic seized me. When it came on, I would leave whatever I was doing (most likely I was sitting in my friend Kevin’s basement playing Goldeneye) and sit in the bathroom washing my hands or stomping my feet in compulsive patterns until I figured it ended. I can now rap almost every word.
That 70’s Show –
When I entered my 6th grade class, in the fall of 2000, I was not particularly cool or well-liked (shockingly). In my class there was a kid named Brendan, who was one of the few people in the class who was considered less cool than I was. I both despised him and was afraid of turning into him. If I accidentally brushed against him in any way, I would have to run to the bathroom to scrub my hands until they were raw. If I looked at him for too long I would have to violently jerk my head away and perform a series of different compulsions – usually some form of vocal or facial ticing – to do what I would consider “cleansing” myself. In a group discussion early on in the year, he mentioned that That 70’s Show, was one of his favorite TV shows. I never watched an episode until high school.
Not that there really ever was a reason to actively try to watch Fox’s short-lived sitcom Titus, but if there was, I wouldn’t have been able to do it for the exact same reasons as above.
The Fast and the Furious –
In the middle of that year, a kid named John moved into my town, and into my 6th grade class. As hard as I’ve tried, I cannot remember what this kid looked like, but what I do remember is that at the time I considered him to be a massive dirtbag. Whether a 6th grader can actually be a dirtbag is beside the point, at the time, he did terribly in school and talked about drinking and doing drugs constantly (I was the kid in your class who would complain when a teacher didn’t assign the class homework that day, so if I’ve ever given you homework on a day where you weren’t supposed to have any, I’m profoundly sorry), and because of my obsession with being “good,” being associated in any way with someone who slacked off in school was off-limits. He always talked about how he never saw his dad anymore, but that he was a drag racer. From that moment on, I avoided any and all things that had to do with drag racing. As an 11-year-old on Long Island it shouldn’t have been that hard, except for that summer, when The Fast and the Furious came out. I changed the channel any time a commercial for it came on, and when my friends all went to see it, I pretended to be sick. To this day, I still can’t bring myself to watch it or the sequels.
“Because I Got High,” Afroman –
At the time I was incredibly afraid of drugs – not necessarily drugs themselves, I don’t think I would have known what to do with drugs even if I wanted them, as usual it was more the idea of turning into the type of person who does drugs—and this being middle school, whether or not anyone actually did drugs, people would talk about it to try to seem cool. I was once outside playing basketball in the summer of 2001, when this song came on. I immediately became afraid that if I listened to the song, I would turn into one of those dirtbag kids who smoked pot and got bad grades. When I asked my friend to change the song, he asked why. When I couldn’t give any sort of reason as to why I wanted him to change the song and started to become visibly upset, he called me a fag. I ran home crying.
I’m not going to necessarily say that I was afraid of bondage at the time, because I didn’t actually know what it was, but even still, something about the poster for Queen of the Damned, put a fear in me that I am still not quite sure how to process. To this day I have never knowingly heard an Aailyah song.
Avril Lavigne, “Complicated” –
It was the lyrics, I think. The ones about change, and pretending to be someone you aren’t (which is most of the song). I had such a little established sense of self, and such a fear of any change that 2002’s catchiest song was completely off-limits for me. Because it was so inescapable at the time, I wasn’t able to completely ignore it, so instead when it came on in someone’s car or at someone’s house I would stiff-upper-lip my way through a panic attack by twitching semi-discreetly and hoping that no one noticed that I was on the verge of crying. I do my best to avoid the song if I can today, and if I’m ever forced to endure it (fuck you, budding 2000s nostalgia), I can still stiff-upper-lip myself through a much smaller panic attack.
Pretty much anything by Ja Rule –
By 2005, when I reached the 10th grade, my OCD had stabilized a bit. Because of this, I was able to make friends and be somewhat normal in most social situations. Naturally, because of this, my OCD reared up again and began warning me that if I didn’t listen to it, I would revert to my old, unlikeable self again (I am George’s fear of success). I was fortunately able to bargain myself down to being unable to listen to anything by Ja Rule. I consider this one a draw.
The Left Behind book series –
Growing up, I was really into science fiction books. My mom, knowing this, once bought me the Left Behind books, thinking they were regular science fiction and not the end-of-times fundamentalism tracts that they actually were (had she known this she never would have gotten them). Even though I understood at the time that this was some form of religious series, I read them anyway, because I found the concept of almost half the world being taken away incredibly interesting.
When she later found out that the author was an evangelical Christian, she asked me if the books that she had bought me were super religious. Because of the constant guilty feelings I had, I was always lying about little inconsequential things, including this. I told her no. For some reason, through all the other lies I told – I would regularly lie about chores I was supposed to do even though there was never any consequence for not doing them – this one stuck with me. While she was on her deathbed from colon cancer a few years later, I considered confessing, but ultimately decided the embarrassment of bringing up a lie from years before that she had most likely forgotten about was worse than the guilt. For reasons I don’t understand I carry that guilt around with me even today. I don’t often come in contact with the Left Behind book series, but when I do, I avoid it.
“Drops of Jupiter,” Train –
It is two weeks after my mom has just passed away. I am in gym class, and this song comes on. I have no idea what this song is actually about, but when it gets to the part that says, “Tell me did you sail across the sun/Did you make it to the Milky Way to see the lights all faded,” I associate it with her death.
I’m not sure why I do this, but when I do immediately shame myself for associating her death with such a crappy song, and that by doing so, I’ve tarnished her memory. I need to stop listening to the song as soon as I can, aside from admitting to my gym teacher that I’m about to have a nervous breakdown, I can’t think of any reason to get out of the class. To stop myself from completely losing it, I bargain. I tell myself that if I can just be allowed to keep running in circles in this gym class while this stupid song plays, I’ll keep the memory of my mother intact by never listening to the song again. I don’t.