The Mountain Goats

No Children

By Mr. X

Does it say something about me that I hate love songs? That I hear the death knell of a relationship tolling when a partner suddenly announces, “This is our song!” That the roller coaster ride of emotions that a love song is supposed to present only leaves me queasy and barfing up cotton candy and popcorn by the port-a-potties?

Does it say something about me that this song, instead, with its lyrics of I hope when you think of me years down the line/You can’t think of one good thing to say and its refrain of I hope we die/I hope we both die! brings tears to my eyes?

I am not a cynic. I believe in love. I was in love, deeply. It was a fever which made my eyeballs burn and my synapses twitch.

Conversation Hears 3If I were to admit the amount of times I called her a bitch while screaming at the top of my lungs, I might be sentenced to state-sanctioned anger management training. But it could never equal the amount of times she called me “asshole”. Not by a long shot.

At the time, I thought I was in hell. But sometimes when I look back at it I wonder if it was just a rage-fueled version of heaven.

At any rate, she knew me better than anyone else has before or since. I want to say that she was my equal, but that’s not true. She was clearly my better. I liked to pretend I was smarter because I had been to better schools, but she had been to the school of hard knocks. The way that she would call me on every iota of bullshit, anyway, was worthy of a doctoral thesis.

But we were made of sandpaper. You rub two pieces of sandpaper together, and what do you get? A pile of sand.

I repeat, I am not a cynic. The reason this song moves me in a way that the “every night in my dreams I see you I feel you” drivel does not is that you get the sense that this couple really knows each other. They are either going to destroy one another, or spend the rest of their lives together. Maybe both.

We did not destroy one another. We never had the chance.

The reason she left had nothing to do with us, really, except it had everything to do with us. Her father lived on the other coast and was sick, and there was nothing to tie her here. Nothing, that is, except me. Which should have been enough.

But on the other hand, there was nothing to tie me here, either.

At any rate, she left and I didn’t. And that was the end of it. We didn’t try to continue the relationship; I for, one was too exhausted to try. Our last screaming match wore me out. She laid bare all of my faults with terrifying accuracy, but I could see in her eyes that she still loved me, despite them. Or maybe because of them.

Maybe that final screaming match, if we could have gone one step beyond it, maybe that would have been the last one, because we had exhausted ourselves into a kind of understanding.

Conversation hearts 4But I was too terrified to take that step. I was no longer sandpaper, I was the worn and wrinkled husk after the sanding has been done. Fragile to the point of translucence. Coughing up dust.

Which is what I’ve been trying to get at. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. I’ve been in a lot of indifferent relationships. I’ve only been in one which made me feel this kind of intensity.

And, ultimately, “No Children” is a song of hope. Almost every line starts with the words “I hope.” It doesn’t matter that what he’s hoping for is to cut himself shaving, or for their friends to desert them. He’s still hoping for something.

I guess I still hope that someday I’ll see her again, and that when I do I’ll be strong enough to take that next step.

The Mountain Goats