Buried in a box in the cupboard, under notes and letters and other written breadcrumbs of our early relationship, is a mixed tape. I made it for my husband way back when. In those early butterfly days, I was striving to impress him more than anything else, but there is still a significance to each song, a metaphor in the Modigliani print I used as a front piece, telling clues in the A side/B side titles. Seventeen years later that mixed tape is still there: a tangible relationship artifact.
In the museum of our love, it would be in a little case with a spotlight.
It occurred to me recently that my kids will never know the stomach plummeting emotions that come when someone hands you a mixed tape. They will never sit on their beds listening to a tape made by a crush. They’ll never hold it, examine the handwriting, interpret the scratchy silence between songs. Who reading this doesn’t remember the painstaking process of hitting pause and record simultaneously? The lengths you went to to avoid large, gaping moments of silence while you switched tapes or waited for the radio to get back to its regularly scheduled Top 40? What we did for love, eh?
I assume kids still put songs together for their friends and crushes. Somehow however, the notion of a Spotify playlist stored in the Cloud looses something in translation. It exists, but that whole Cloud thing makes it ethereal, less real. In twenty years there will be nothing to physically occupy the little case with a spotlight in their personal museums.
Similarly, my kids will never know what it’s like to sit with their legs up on the door frame, the phone cord stretched to its limit, pulled taut as a clothesline while they gossip and dream and whisper into the mouthpiece.
They will never giggle into a receiver tucked into their chin, or hold it on their shoulder while they promise they’ll be off in a minute.
They won’t know even know what it’s like to wait. They have grown up with pause and fast forward, with broadband and box sets and binge watching.
They won’t know what it’s like to sip ginger ale in the nurse’s office because Mom isn’t home to answer the phone when school calls.
They’ll never know the sharp scent of freshly mimeographed paper. They won’t know to wait a moment while it dries or risk spending the day with purple ink smeared on your fingers.
They’ll never know what it’s like to fly into the air when someone bumps you too hard on the see-saw. Or to swing by the ankles suspended seven feet above the asphalt at recess.
They won’t know what it’s like to race to grab the house phone in case it’s the girl you just gave your phone number to on a scrap of notebook paper torn from your Trapper Keeper.
They’ll never know what it’s like to send film canisters off in the mail or risk a summer vacation’s worth of photographic memories with Billy at the FotoMat.
They’ll never take a typing test with a trash bag over their fingers or listen to the swing of the carriage return. They won’t know the smell of Wite-out or the excruciating pain of pulling the page out to start all over again.
They’ll never know the sound of a dial-up connection, or a busy signal.
They’ll never know the gilded pages of an Encyclopedia set or the sweet torture of a card catalog.
They’ll never have to get up to change a channel or tune a station or hold their pee until the commercial.
They’ll never go into the store with a note from their mother permitting them to buy a pack of Pall Malls, they won’t flip through LPs in a record store, know how to rewind or have a librarian use a date stamp that’s been manually changed that morning.
They’ll never appreciate the hi-tech graphic exquisiteness that was Pong.
They’ll never know the exhilaration of accidentally on purpose pegging the girl you hate playing Dodge ball in a school sanctioned moment of rubber ball revenge.
They’ll never know the smell of Noxema on a sunburn or slathering baby oil on to get a base tan. They’ll never know the stink of an Olgivy perm the smell of Love’s Baby Soft, the oil slick of watermelon Bonne Belle, the hours spent perfecting the flick of the wrist that led to the perfect feathered bang.
They won’t know who Ponyboy Curtis or Jake Ryan are. They won’t know what happened one Saturday morning in detention when a jock, an athlete, a brain, a princess and a basket case all got together.
It’s entirely possible they won’t have a life that isn’t tracked, tweeted, texted or electronically tailed.
Oh, there is plenty they will know. They will know love and friendship. They will know new and better ways. They will know more and faster. They are connected in a way that we never were; to each other and to the world around them. They are growing up in a world where most don’t think twice if a fourteen-year-old walks down the hallway with his boyfriend or a black man is elected president of the United States. They’ve seen how a hashtag can mobilize a country. The world is getting smaller, change is happening faster and they are a part of it.
Perhaps their personal artifacts will be stored in the Cloud somewhere. Maybe their museums will be accessible by GoogleGlasses and Zuckerberg bucks. But they’ll never have a mixed tape.
I’m glad we still have ours.