It’s Summer, 1997. I am 15 years old. For a summer job, I am babysitting for four children, ages 9, 6, 6 and 2. All day five days a week. I have successfully negotiated for one dollar per kid per hour.
So…four dollars an hour.
I am excited about this job because it allows me to leave the house, which doesn’t happen much unless I ride my bike around the empty country blocks. I have exactly two chances to see people other than my family every week – both at church. I listen to whatever music my mom listens to in the public space of our home and I have just been allowed to own a walkman in order to do personal listening, as long as I only do it while I ride my bike. I listen to Rebecca St. James and DC Talk’s “Free At Last.” I ride my bike, I jump on our trampoline and I obsess over how badly I think my lanky, well-proportioned body looks in swimsuits and shorts. I eat as few grams of fat as possible each day, mostly bread and twizzzlers, and a sensible dinner. I have flirted with an eating disorder, had a long-standing crush on Mark Olson – the most ripped man I’ve ever personally known – and been “on tour” to several Christian camps with our church teen choir. The established facts about me are that a) I have a full and precocious singing voice, b) I am not one of the popular kids and c) only the geeky boys will ever be interested in me. Plus d) that I have already blown my shot at olympic glory by not becoming an ice skater or a gymnast. My best friend is Bethany, full of grace and truth and not too prone to silly teenaged fantasies.
At the house where I babysit I have discovered that there is cable TV – something we have had at home only once or twice for a month. This means I can, and do, watch music videos with the kids. Music video watching is a guilty pleasure of my mother’s who, God help her, has had to do all of her pitiful guilty pleasuring in front of us for as long as we’ve been alive. She has, in the past, had a lunch-hour music video habit, which we shared until the cable got shut off. There were one or two videos she had to turn off because of sex but then she would turn it back on once she thought the video would be over. We’d sit there for the three minutes in communal silence, pretending we weren’t imagining the sexy video happening behind the blank screen. But this phase has passed. There has been no afternoon delight for some time. So, babysitting.
I am doing a little mid-day viewing with the elementary kids when it happens: the electric guitar arpeggio starts up – the one I still can’t hear in my mind’s ear without a twinge of pleasure, sadness and embarrassment – and I think, “this is that new song. I think I heard this in the car.” The camera cuts to a young blonde woman singing and playing the keyboard. I can’t understand what she’s saying. But wait. That’s not a woman.
Let’s just remind ourselves, shall we?
It’s a flash of lightning to my gut, mortifying damage done the instant I realize what I’m seeing. (For years I would wonder why these boys, why this year of my life? Why? I felt like I’d fallen down and was looking at the world from a prone position; everything tilted sideways. Their very presence in the world was a torment.) They’re beautiful. teenaged. boys. They are on the television. They have a record deal. They are famous for something I thought I was good at. I feel silly for thinking he was a woman. I feel silly for thinking I was a musician.
Within a day or so I know their names and their ages and some random facts. Thanks pop-up video.Isaac.Taylor. Zac. I will not be able to have a whiff of a crush on anyone else for years (and years, and years) without comparing him, just a little, to Taylor Hanson. I have a secondary crush on Isaac. Zac is 11. They are brothers. Home-schooled. From Oklahoma. I can feel the feels thick in that room containing four girls, ages 15, 9, 6 and 2. We don’t say a word about it, but I can tell we’re all in just about the same boat.
I’d like to say the rest is history.
I asked my mom to take me to Walmart and I bought “Middle of Nowhere.” All Summer long that album played in my head when not – to my constant mortification – in our living room. I snuck upstairs to the radio in my parents’ room every night at 9:30 for weeks to listen to the “top 9 at 9” on U93 because I knew it would be number 1. People started to talk about it for being so ubiquitous. I had several opportunities to pronounce, with admirable calmness of manner, that I liked the song and thought these three nice young men were very talented.
I couldn’t quite pretend to my family as I did to everyone else around me that nothing had happened, but I didn’t really talk about it with them. I did notice, however, a remarkable uptick in the amount of hawkish watching that was done of me by my mother. She’d been watchful since the Jonathan Brandis era. For several months while we lived at my grandparents’ house, I’d faithfully taped Sea Quest if we were away from home the night it aired. I had a sci-fi buddy in my dad. He was my screen. At all costs, I must hide how badly I wanted and needed to see his face every once in a while. Jonathan Brandis. Not my dad. The voyeuristic fruits of teenaged girldome – Tiger Beat and its ilk – were forbidden to me as much by my own refusal to stoop to that level as by my mother’s disapproval. She was the one who’d read an article about him in line at the Walmart, not I. Not in a million years. Not though everything in me screamed to pick up the magazine and devour that article. In those days I had been half-awake at all times, only living in my body as much as I couldn’t help it and in every other waking moment striving to make his presence in my fantasy as real as possible. I wanted to recount his features and their expressions in vivid detail. The world my body occupied was grey, harsh, dark, sad and silent. With Lucas, I could be loved and I could do something great. In the future, under the sea, anything was possible. By Summer of 1997, however, Jonathan Brandis had been upstaged by Christian Bale, Kerri Strug (non-romantically), Mark Olson and Christian Bale again – in that order.
Though I imagined the disapproval radiating off of her, I wanted the album too badly to forego it. I had birthday money. She gave one last-ditch effort: I thought you wanted Blues Traveler. I know, I said, but I thought about it and I really like this music better. I really like it a lot. The years of my supposed fandom after that are very hazy. I had no way, would take no way, of knowing if or where the band was on tour or if or when they would be appearing on TV. One time, when my dad was testing out the modem in his new laptop in our kitchen phone jack, I asked him to type in the “web address” I found in the liner notes from “Middle of Nowhere.” Hanson.net. I looked for a few minutes.
I would sometimes read things by accident in the modest publications lying around our house: Taylor and Isaac’s birthdays – which I have forgotten. I saw an appearance on Rosie O’Donnell by accident. Another accidental viewing when they appeared on Saturday Night Live. I would steadfastly avoid looking at the hundreds of magazine covers and t-shirts bearing their images when I was taken along to the store or the mall. How could these girls be so brazen, I thought. I would never make myself look so foolish. At home, I would read the song lyrics and try to avoid looking at Taylor’s face.
And after all this time, this is the part of the memory which can bring me to tears. They are tears of pity for my sad, lonely little self so consumed with a huge, inarticulate desire embodied by two (and a half, sorry Zac) teenaged boys that I couldn’t name and couldn’t dislodge from a place in my chest – which I both wanted with all my might and wanted desperately to be rid of. That I would, in the privacy of my own bedroom, have to hide from myself such that I couldn’t even look at a picture of Taylor Hanson straight on. And to top it off, they were real musicians – at their ages – and I was…just a high-school girl who got the solo in church choir.
And, I don’t have to tell you but I will: Oh the fantasies. If only I had worked harder, had gotten better at piano, had been more driven, could somehow gain their attention in an unusual way. I was home-schooled too…maybe there was a way to work that angle. Could I be discovered, somehow, by Hanson at some sort of national homeschool event? Do those exist? I made them all dance to my bidding in my mind. Such empty work.
So when, a few years later, I came home from camp and threw it away, that was all I knew how to do. And it took a whole contingent of my friends throwing away all of their secular CD’s and me throwing away all of my other CD’s at camp to finally get rid of this one, which was the only one making my life miserable. I hadn’t even been able to bring it to camp.
Almost 20 years later and it finally came to me that Jesus has been there in my head wanting to talk to me about Hanson. He’s been trying to give me permission to be a fangirl. “So, you didn’t think you could be silly back then. You couldn’t accept you’d have crushes on boys. Let me be a fangirl too. I’ll watch the videos and giggle at the jokes and be filled with nervous joy next to you. Let’s just face facts: boys are super cute. It’s really going to be okay. You can be stupid about it and I won’t judge you. In fact, I’m pretty into it too.” Somehow, imagining Jesus as a teenybopper made something deep inside me unclench. So I watched a bunch of Hanson things on Youtube. Starting with the music videos from the 90’s that I never let myself watch. So. Cathartic.
And here’s what I know so far:
- I was a total, fucking, neurotic, prideful snob.
It’s actually endearing that they all married girls they met at their shows. I had, at 15, just assumed they were too cool to be interested in a girl who would go to one of their concerts. I was trying to be a Hanson fan without associating myself with Hanson fandom.
Nope. Gah! That’s not even true.
2. I didn’t even want to be a fan!
I wanted THEM to be MY fan! I was deluding myself into thinking that I wasn’t like all the other girls, in my heart. In my heart was where I was exactly like all the other girls. It was only in my behavior that I wasn’t. Actually, I was way worse.
In one interview Taylor tells a story – maybe 10 or 15 years after the fact – about rolling into a parking garage late at night that they’d blocked off so the band and crew could unload efficiently. A few girls got the intel and snuck in to the garage before they closed it, hiding under cars until the band arrived. They expected, according to Taylor, to jump out in their cute outfits and be folded into his arms but forgot they’d slept under a car and were covered in grease. I think he was recounting it as a funny story and not trying to make fun, but he just seemed a little disdainful. I can imagine this kind of thing would get old after a while, so at first I missed the point. I felt disdainful too. I would never have done, never would do, something like that.
Are you noticing it though?
Those girls who hid were at least being honest with themselves. They knew, in a way, how needy they were; that they weren’t going to get the guys’ attention any other way. That behavior – directed toward Taylor or Isaac or Zac Hanson – might be idolatrous but that’s not why it made me recoil. It made me recoil because it looked pathetic. I believe that I have not asked to be loved on anything other than my own merit.
My refusal to be a fangirl is not virtue. It’s pride.
I was right to throw away that CD in high school. I couldn’t see any other way to get free. It felt like a presence had left my life after I did. I’m not sorry. But I am sorry, now, that I’ve missed out on so much in life because I mistake pride for embarrassment or virtue.
So, back to Jesus. “Look,” He said, “imagine there’s Taylor Hanson in the parking garage and you are there, covered in oil. No…actually, you’re at home refusing to look at his picture. But he shows up at your house, says ‘hey we’re in town. We’re playing tonight and I want you to come.’ He shows you his backstage passes. ‘Actually, here’s the deal: I don’t just want you to come see us play, I want you to sing with us. On tour. Join the band. I’ve heard your voice and it’s really beautiful. And yes, I know you are kind of in love with me. And I want to tell you…I love you. I’ve loved you for a long time. I want to marry you. I want you to be part of my family.’
“You’ll just have to take my word for it if you won’t believe it,” says Jesus, “but I think you will now: What I’m telling you is that you wouldn’t go. You’d persist in disbelieving it was for real – even when shown the proof – and then even if you did join, sooner or later you’d resent him. You’d blame him for tricking you into marrying him and making you be in his band, for curtailing your freedom. Whether or not you’d actually act on it, you’d want to be free from his love, free from the thing you were convinced was the only thing that could make you happy.”
And I do see it now. Holy fuck. He’s right. I can think of the many small times I’ve done this to my (dear, sweet) husband. My basic orientation to reality is that I will have it on my own terms or not at all. And those terms are subject to change whenever the hell I say they are. That I’ve never really gotten the things I thought I wanted with my whole being is beside the point. Everything I ever thought was the entire point is…worthless.
something in me is broken.
I have had, over and over again, something akin to that moment of sublime connection for which I longed then and thought Taylor Hanson and only Taylor Hanson could supply. (I might have accepted Mark Olson or Christian Bale in a pinch) I had one a few weeks ago. It filled me to overflow. So exquisite was it, I felt it would ruin me. In my moment alone with Jesus, I could barely breathe or glance up into His face; there was so much…so much…there aren’t even words for it. In moments like this when I can remember how it was, even the memory of it is…Life itself. Like standing next to the sun and not burning. I can’t explain it. And I’ve been told, and shown, over and over again HOW I am loved. The depth to which I am loved, a language is spoken to me which I thought I had made up but it’s spoken better, more fluently. I have been wooed and wooed.
And I forget.
No. Be honest Jenn.
I don’t just forget. I feel those things and know them to be real and then I turn around and I HATE the bestower. I hate him when he gently suggests that I am his. I am fully loved by him, fully known, deeply wanted. And I hate him. The problem is me.
“They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘we played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'”
Some of this isn’t going to get healed this side of heaven. It’s written right into the man/woman curse that lives in my bones. I like to hope that one day, in the new earth, Taylor and Isaac and Zac will be there and somehow Jesus will have made it okay enough to say all of it – all of the things ever – and they would get it. Or that none of us has to say anything because there would be a wholeness that is, as things are now, totally elusive. Not even able to be imagined by me.
I like to hope – and as I hope, hope it’s not wrong to hope – that I will see in the new heaven and earth all of the men I’ve ever idolized. I hope they’ll all be there. I hope they choose Jesus for so many reasons I don’t have time to write about now. I pray for that so hard. And I pray for their wives and families. But I hope one day I will see them as they are, not as I have imposed upon them. I hope I can talk to them without fear and without a trace of the pride and self-loathing that has characterized my life. It’s always this hope that supersedes everything else, that shocks me out of my own daydreams with a new kind of lightning strike: Maybe someday this, too, can be made new. Not denied or erased, but made clean. Set in order. Beautified in Christ and able to be enjoyed without pain or regret. Yes, My soul says. Somehow, that’s the answer. I don’t know how, but I know that if the longing is there, it’s meant to be fulfilled.
“The reason we want to live forever is that WE WERE MADE TO.”
“Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it — tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest — if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself — you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say “Here at last is the thing I was made for.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
I’m just going to add as a postlude here that these guys are really good. Henry thinks I should be sent to a Hanson concert some day. We’ll see. But damn.