When you’re 15 and you find a cassette tape lying in perfect condition in the middle of First Avenue; when you don’t know it, but you’ve been looking for a sign— any sign—that, despite your circumstances, someone is still watching over you; when things until this moment have been moving at breakneck speed, and you can’t find the pause button anywhere— when all this is going on, here’s what you do: You pick up that cassette, rescuing it from oncoming traffic, step onto the sidewalk and read the strange name of the band that’s printed on both sides; you decide to take it home and play it on your bedroom stereo, and as soon as you hear the music coming from the speakers, you realize two things: 1) that you aren’t alone, and 2) that you are the one, not the cassette, who has just been rescued.
A few weeks later, you arrive at your dorm room at Yale, where you’re enrolled in a high-school drama program for the next month, where everyone is a stranger, including your two roommates from California, who have no idea who you are– you from New York City, with your big, unruly hair, your thrift-store fashion, and your unpronounceable name; you, who have just been baptised into a church that will keep you from behaving like most teenagers would who are away from home for the first time. They don’t know that you’ve already had your wild time, which happened, like everything else, way too soon—that you’re now a “reformed” version of the free spirit you once were.
That summer, you meet Nathan, a tall, expressive boy who wears headbands and Birkenstocks, whose tee-shirts reek of incense, and who always, always, has a cigarette in hand. When you’re not in class, Nathan sits for hours in your window seat, wistful and intense, flicking ashes onto the courtyard below. That summer, he teaches you all kinds of things: that rules are meant to be broken; that poetry is meant to be read aloud; and that the music from “South Pacific” should be sung at the top of your lungs in the middle of a crowded New Haven street. Nathan is a gift sent to you during these weeks before senior year— a mirror, reflecting the girl you’d thought had drowned at baptism, the person you are now spending twelve hours a day in acting class pretending not to be.
One night in your dorm room, you’re feeling restless and bored. You pull out that cassette tape, press play and turn the volume way up. You and your roommates start to dance, and before you know it, all the students on your floor are dancing with you, laughing, jumping on furniture, having the time of their lives, and for a little while—until the campus police come to break up the noise— you forget everything: that you have to be up early for church the next day, that your best friends at school won’t even look at you since your conversion, that you’ll be only 16 when you graduate and will have to make even more decisions about your life. Right now, for just a few stolen moments, time does not exist. Only the music, the dancing, and you.