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nostalgic anxiety
of hummingbirds and feathered hair
by jeff miller (@jmillerboston)

My last Intrepid column was published one year ago yesterday. A day that also happens to mark the birth of my old school, cruisin' for chicks at the ol' Putt-Putt behind Mickey Dee's, U2 and RUSH cover band buddy Stephen G. Cook (Intrepid Member since '00.)

Intrepid founder and suspiciously patient (given that I haven't written anything in over a year, that is) Joe Procopio will certainly have no trouble recalling the endless racks of Marby Reds, the sweet-sticky taste of those disgusting wine coolers we used to drink, and the way the florescent lights in the Putt-Putt parking lot highlighted the wrinkles in our Chess King shirts (although Steve was more likely to be wearing a tie-dyed tee.)

Joe, Steve, and I go back. Not all the way back, because I suffered the scabs an' bruises an' dodgeball fights an' bad haircuts of grade school a whole town away from my high school pals. But we go back a ways. More on that in just a bit.

Somehow -- when life is at its most fast-paced, and change is chasing me around every corner, disturbing my equilibrium just when I think I've perfected my little balancing act -- somehow in these stretches of unmeasured time, I find myself looking back, reflecting, reminiscing...whether for the comfort nostalgia offers or to add some perspective to my current circumstances, I can't be sure.

I've had a friend pass away recently. She was about my age and pretty, like a brunette hummingbird fresh from a dahlia buffet. Jen was girly -- but in a headstrong way that's unique to Central New York women.

Since Jen's passing, I realize that the same memories I used to take for granted as "The Good Ol' Days" are more often than not creating a strange new lump in my throat.

Images of old friends, and the old silliness we used to get up to, used to come in flashes, like little bursts of fiction. Glowing, sepia-toned photo negatives from the past, peeking in and out of my consciousness while most of my attention was focused on what lay ahead.

Now, even my good memories come bearing backpacks filled with anxiety, regret, and the occasional tear. I guess a lot of people would call it "Emotional Baggage." I'm not so sure. The phrase implies a weighty mixture of conflicted feelings that would prevent an otherwise capable person from from leading a happy life.

I know that ain't me. Back to Joe and Steve...

Friendships that are built around making music are unique. You get to know folks on a deep creative level, but you may spend years never knowing who they are inside. The relationships feel meaningful, but you might end up wondering later just who the hell that person sitting across the table from you really is.

Lucky for us, we were kids, and kids tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves. We didn't hide what were were going through from each other, and we focused a lot of our energy on creative pursuits while simultaneously becoming real friends.

We played a lot of music together in various garages, basements, living rooms, and sometimes even nightclubs. Our sound was all over the place, and it wasn't uncommon for us to play a Police song (Joe's pick) next to a U2 song (Steve's pick) next to a Doobie Brothers song (yeah, that was mine.)

We also had girlfriends, breakups, breakdowns, and fights.

It was all very serious business.

So where does the anxiety and regret come in? Why do I feel choked up when I look back on those days, rather than pleasantly reminded of what adds up to a pretty damn good time in my life?

Maybe a part of me would give anything to go back and really appreciate what I had when I was seventeen years old. Maybe a part of me is just aching to re-live it all, much in the way I just have to watch Blade Runner sometimes.

What's really happened, I think, is that when Jen passed away, I was reminded of another friend -- a friend Joe, Steve and I shared -- who died too young. Another pretty, headstrong Central New York girl who had the best '80s long, feathered hair in the world. Her name was Rachel.

If my life is a library, with dog-eared chapters in time marked with notes and bits of paper stuffed here and there to help me find the best passages in the most memorable volumes, then it seems like new bookends have formed. Rachel on one side, Jen on the other.

In between are years through which I've hurtled myself forward with only the most cursory glances back.

Maybe I've looked ahead too much, and looking back just isn't as comfortable as it used to be.

Emotional baggage. Hmmmn.

I think it's okay for me to miss the naivete of youth and the thrill of being an undefined character with lots of rough edges. My reflections on my past have changed their nature, just as surely as my face has changed in the mirror -- but that doesn't mean I shouldn't take a good, hard look.

Even at the cost of a few lumps in my throat.


Brown eyes, brown hair, bluejeans and a T-shirt. Digs loud guitars and good design. Easily hypnotized by green-eyed blondes, shiny leather, B-movies, and brightly packaged foods. He's got a bustle in his hedgerow - but he is NOT alarmed.

more about jeff miller


if a body catch a body
thoughts on catcher in the rye
by jeff miller
topic: general
published: 6.16.06

rock of ages
rise up, gather round
by jeff miller
topic: general
published: 10.15.01


juli mccarthy
5.6.05 @ 12:21a

Oh, great - now *I* have a lump in my throat.

The loss of a friend, particularly one in your age group, is a real wake-up call. I notice as I get older, I am more shocked when people my age die than I was when I was 17 or 18. I think it becomes more real to you as you age. My condolences on your loss, and my compliments on a beautifully-written column.

stephen cook
5.6.05 @ 2:06a

Holy Shit.

dan gonzalez
5.6.05 @ 9:17a

That's just a hard thing to deal with, but you put it to eloquent words. I lost a buddy last year, but I don't have the other bookend from earlier. It's too young anyway.

Maybe you do have emotional baggage, I don't know you, but I doubt it. I think that's just life, that's how it feels when you sit down and really think about it.


jeff miller
5.6.05 @ 10:55a

I feel lucky to have a forum to express my feelings. I usually keep this kind of thing to myself, but there's a great community here - and I figured there's be some folks who could relate. Thanks for the comments.

joe procopio
5.6.05 @ 10:56a

One thing I think benefited us all considerably was moving far, far away for long, long periods of time and, with the exception of Steve's recent sorta-kinda return to CNY, never going back.

Man, I loved those days, but don't forget, each one of us was begging, bleeding, scratching, and clawing for a way out (up?). That's why we had the guitars on our shoulders in the first place.

I still think about Rachel often. Quite often. I learned a lot from her death - as... morbid as that sounds.

jeff miller
5.6.05 @ 11:15a

I agree - getting out and away for many years has changed me for the better. They were great days - and I'm glad I'm not the only one remembering them.
And I don't think there's anything morbid about learning from Rachel's death. These types of experiences are supposed to make us wiser - That's what it says in the "Getting to Be a Cranky Adult" handbook anyway.

tracey kelley
5.6.05 @ 5:43p

Damn, Jeff, we miss you around here.

A young woman of 19 committed suicide last month. She was in a writers' group I don't frequent, so I didn't get a chance to meet her, but just hearing of her marvelous writing and incredible wit combined with insurmountable pain reminded me of all the souls that have passed through my life and moved on much sooner than I expected.

When you're 17, and growing up hard, the world is both a blank page and a rock on your head. I carefully pick out the shining moments and put them in a heart-shaped box.

The rest, I've tried really hard to throw away.

stephen cook
5.6.05 @ 11:28p

Well here we go...
Rachel and I were very involved. I was called out of high school more than once to go "save her". We were very tight. She was a one of a kind and I still shed a tear in her memory from time to time. I found her in the middle of the woods with blood all over her hands and followed her to remote places when the family car she stole was out of gas. She was troubled and a sparkle of light all in one. She had a very high IQ. Jeff mentioned her perfect 80's hair. (so soft but the right Sassoon hairspray to keep it in line with the blow dry effect) I miss her every day. I want to talk to her and have the deepest conversations like we used to. When I was at her wake and I walked through the line to hug her Mother, she said, " Steve, I wish you were there to save her this time." She sent me a letter about a month before her death and told me she was sick of trying to figure out my circles. I wish it said I love you.


jael mchenry
5.10.05 @ 10:59a

Man, you guys give me a heart ache and I didn't even know these girls.

Beautifully written, I have to go hug someone now. Anyone.

jeff miller
5.10.05 @ 11:54a

I'm glad some of you have been moved by this column...I certainly didn't want to bring anyone down. I consider myself lucky to have known the people I've lost, and even luckier to have the friends and family I've still got. Thanks for reading.

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