Scribbles in Red
The difficulty of dating your artistic collaborator is that when you call it quits, you're bound to leave with them something you urgently need. Such was my case.
Robert was a really nice guy and, wow, did he write the most God-awesome lyrics! His wordplay had the accuracy of Cupid himself. All I really wanted at first was to just learn from him. The next thing I knew... There.
He was nice where it counted. At least, for anyone who wasn't into music. As a teacher, he was brutal. He wanted everything handwritten. The secret is in the intimacy of the paper and pen, of the pen and the hand. According to him, I should feel the quality of my lyrics from the movement of my wrist, hear it from the scratching of the pen's tip on the paper. I still don't know what he meant with that. He was never really concrete with his lessons. I nevertheless did my best to follow his advice. What can I say? I trusted him completely.
Though he had the surgical precision in the way he crafted lyrics, when he critiqued someone else's work... let's just say, it's best not to put your heart into your lyrics. He'll tear that apart too. The red marks he left on your lyrics with his red pen… what can I say but bloody red?
That, I learned the hard way. And, admittedly, I'm such a slow learner. The pages in my notebook testified to that. Robert never realized how much he made me cry. He'd catch me tearing up sometimes, and then he'll just be so sweet... He just wanted me to come up with something that I'd be really proud of. He didn't want me complacent... I understood that. I committed it to heart. Committed it to heart.
Eventually, having him go through my attempts at lyric writing became just too toxic for me. We still dated—music enthusiast aside, Robert really was nice as a boyfriend—and I still wrote in my notebook. But I gave up having him teach me. Instead, I studied his finished output, his numerous drafts. He was meticulous. He'd try dozens of words, varied combinations. He'd list, I think, all the possible phrasings he could muster. For Robert, if it wasn't the best, it wasn't good enough.
And watching Robert at work... that's when he really transformed. From that sweet, warm person that he is, he becomes a cold, quiet word processor: tapping his fingers to the music only he could hear, mumbling inaudibly to himself... Now that I recall, he'd be so hard to read and sometimes he scared me. The way he'd flip through the thesaurus. The way he'd shuffle his notecards. Such cold precision. It felt like mortal sin to take him out of his zone. He'd snap at the slightest distraction.
It was wonderful, though, when he finished. He'd take me out for coffee—as if he hadn't had enough yet—and as I'd sip hot black coffee, he'd read out his magnum opus. Just listening to him... And then he'd say I was his muse.
Such a nice guy like Robert... Lyrics brought us together, lyrics tore us apart. My lyrics, for that matter. I was probably lucky. Or, I'd rather think that it was the result of everything Robert taught me. Now that I look at the grant I just won last July... Robert should have been happy for me, right?
It's such a bitter pill to swallow to realize that Robert probably wasn't interested in my growth as a musician. Did he see me as a threat? Or, worse, as his personal groupie? Our last conversation was filled with a lot of curses and, even then... just wow... Robert was still at the top of his game. The best I could muster was a dramatic walk out.
Which would have been cool, until I realized... I left my notebook in his apartment. It took me a week to muster the courage to get it back.
Robert was... Nice. Again. Remorseful. He wished me the best for the artistic grant. I was surprised with how smooth it was, getting my notebook back. Had he asked me to get back together with him at that point, I probably would have said yes. Luckily, he didn't.
As I was walking home, I skimmed through my notebook. For the first time, I looked at my earliest pages. Imagine that: it chronicled my growth as a musician. Inadvertently, it was also a memorabilia of what our relationship was: full of red scribble… red cross outs, and red comments. Even on the lyrics I wrote for his birthday, for our anniversary...
On the last page, I noticed a poem written in red. From Robert. Well written, no doubt. Soulful. Convincing. But I thought of July and realized that I had no plans reading his stuff anymore. Instead, I tore the page off, crumpled it, and threw it away. Then I continued walking down the concrete pavement.