the things that matter

I wrote this on an emotional whim yesterday and posted it to Facebook. It's received quite a lot of positive feedback and some well-meaning but off the mark comments about me and him and not about my writing or his music. Those comments, while very much appreciated, were deleted to stop perpetuating the idea that this was written as a love story and instead to encourage people to click through and listen to what I link to at the end. Because while this story is true and personal and one of my favorite things about the last three years and so many months of my life, I didn't write it to bring attention to my ambiguous but lovely relationship with this person but to bring attention to something that has largely gone unnoticed for many years and shouldn't have. This is about me, yes, and us, true, but mostly this is my attempt to help him find a bigger audience, because if anyone in this world deserves some recognition for being a beautiful person with a beautiful mind and having a beautiful voice with a story to tell, it's him. I edited and updated the post from Facebook to here.

When I first moved to Portland three years ago, I had just gotten out of a confusing but defining short lived quasi-relationship and was going through a difficult time in my life. I had no (steady) job, had just left Seattle, a place I truly loved but realized was doing me more emotional harm than good, was running out of money, and was trying desperately to spend every possible moment with my mother, who had recently been diagnosed with Stage IV ("it's not going to get better; you're going to die soon") cancer from halfway across the country. I knew almost nobody in Portland at that point and had hours of free time every day to dwell on all the things that had gone wrong in my life while trying to keep myself put together and find a new job - a hard thing to do when your life seems to be in shambles and you can barely keep yourself on your feet.

I spent four months in this state of raw, painful, honest, open reflection, but I had met someone the year before who quickly became my closest friend and confidant during those difficult months. I like to say that he became my rock during that time, the person who kept me hanging on and getting up each day when I didn't know where I'd find the strength or motivation to do so otherwise. In all the time we spent getting to know each other, hours upon hours of conversation, the kind you stay up all night to have, day after day, he left one detail out about himself, wanting me to get to know him for him instead of for this other thing I didn't know about yet. Until there was one day, early on in my time in Portland, he randomly sent me an untitled mp3 in response to a question I asked him that wasn't even about music.

I listened to the song, not knowing who it was or why he had sent it. I listened to it a few times and wondered why I had never heard it before. It was really good, you see, and I couldn't believe it was a band that had gone under my radar. I tried to figure out who it was; I Shazamed it, and I Googled the lyrics. It didn't exist anywhere. I found nothing about this song or the artist on the internet. And then after a few times on repeat, I sat straight up in my bed, my heart rate increasing the way it does when a realization overwhelms your senses, as it suddenly occurred to me - it was him. This was his song. It didn't exist on the internet because he had never released it, and I was a special fortunate soul to have been given such a beautiful gift, a part of himself he clearly didn't share often or with just anyone.

Over the next few weeks and months (and years) he continued to send me these untitled mp3s. Hundreds of them. Some original. Some covers. Some silly ("Don't Let Jack Palance Stay At Your House" (he'll ruin everything)). Some serious. Some that he'd done that day. Some that he'd done years earlier. Some as a result of me saying "you should sing that one song by that one band." Some that he'd previously shared with all of his friends, and I was just the last in a small group of people to hear something so beautiful. Some with a softly spoken message at the beginning before the music started, clearly meant just for me.

Those first four months in Portland, months I spent mostly alone except for his company, months I spent on my feet, walking around SE for hours a day, stopping in different stores and coffee shops, applying for jobs every time I saw an ad that fit me, trying desperately to fill the long hours of a day with nowhere to be or go or see in an attempt to keep my sanity, and I did it with these songs as my soundtrack. On repeat. Soaking in the music of my new favorite person and the best friend that seemed to come out of nowhere when I needed him most (and I dare say he'd say the same of me). Now when I listen to those first few songs, they are so atmospheric that they take me back to my first months in Portland, months that were truly terrible and threatening and the most difficult time of my life, but the songs are so nostalgic that I'm reminded of the good things. I remember the conversations he and I had. The tears and the laughter and the comfort of finding a person you were meant to find. I remember the friends I gradually started to meet. The job interviews I went to that reminded me of my value and skills. The quality of the sunlight filtering through the trees after a fresh Portland rain. The paint on the walls of buildings I walked past on my way to nowhere. The way the breeze felt on my face as I explored new neighborhoods and sat in parks to read books and write letters to my friend. In hindsight, those songs paint a different memory, one that not only was bearable in a trying time, but that I look fondly on, those moments when the music, when his music, his voice, made my life better, made my life happy, for moments at a time.

He has since released some of those songs. They were never meant to be released; honestly they're just demos and not professionally recorded. He doesn't think of himself as a performer but as a songwriter. His ideal would see him hidden out of sight, writing songs for other bands to play. But I begged him to. I helped him organize himself and his music. I pushed him to keep working. I flew across the country to see him, and I kept returning to Asheville to be with him every chance I could get. And then I finally left Portland, and I regret none of it. I don't regret the journey I took that led me through some difficult and lonely times, because it was a journey that led me here, to him, to all the beauty and happiness he has brought to my life.

I rarely share his music or talk about him publicly because it is personal for us and we are ambiguous, and it's difficult to share something that means so much to him as well as to me, only to see no feedback. No love. No response. Pictures of food get more love. Jokes and memes get more likes and comments. There's very little evidence that anyone, including people who say they are, is actually listening to his music. It makes me cry. It hurts me as much as those first few months in Portland did, when I see him put his soul into something, something that isn't just a another forgettable tune by a starry eyed dreamer, something that has been so influential in my life and my path to finding healing and happiness, and nobody seems to care.

He says I'm biased. We're best friends. We do everything together. Clearly I love him and his music, and this music has become a part of my life these last three years. Maybe I am biased, but I think back to that first untitled mp3 he shared with me when I had no idea it was him, and I knew then, immediately, that I was listening to something incredible.

If you're wondering what that first song was, it's Walk 'neath the Moon.

I'm sharing this now, stepping out of my own comfort, because it's a shame that someone like this hasn't been heard by more people, and I don't want to be silent about my best friend. This is Joseph. He and his music mean everything to me. I hope it's music that can mean something to you too.