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A day before their actual anniversary, he decides to start the CD he's making for her with Full Circle, by Aerosmith. It's more of a difficult decision than it would seem, since she didn't even like that band until they listened to it together in his truck on that trip to Salina. Still, when he listens to the song it sounds like strength to him, mostly, strength and love and a little bit of wisdom -- he's pretty sure that she will like it.

Almost the only time they fought, a real fight that he doesn't want to remember too clearly, he listened to 3EB almost continuously the whole weekend. Poke fun at the mainstream as you will, but it was the song Deep Inside that broke him down every time through his tracklist, and it was hearing it one last time that convinced him to call first. Pretty soon everything was okay, after that. He told her about this, but didn't really know how to put it into the right words, had to sort of mumble it out all redfaced. He puts the song second on her CD, knowing that they will listen to it together on her bed, and that he will look over and tell the story to her again, and this time she will remember.

Two songs now to lighten things up, classics, popular music that either of their parents may have listened to. Don't Worry Baby and San Francisco Nights, each a smile to light up her eyes, he hopes. Maybe when they have enough time to go on vacation, and if she has enough money, they'll go to San Fran themselves; its a remote thought, but part of the process.

Somehow those old hard rockers can express things with a clarity most of what's on the radio today cannot; he is a young man, but he has figured this out already. Patience by Guns n' Roses, like the Aerosmith before it, is the only way he can say what he wants to without feeling silly, and it goes on the CD next.

Going to see Phish was easily the most fun he had ever had with her group of friends. They partied a lot harder than he had even in high school, seemingly all the time, and she had more than kept up with them her first few years in town. Every once in a while he got a feeling she wouldn't mind if he kicked back for a few months instead of taking the business school's 16 hour/semester recommendation. He was kicking back that night, to be sure, in one or two ways that he ever had before. During This is a Farmhouse their hands moved all over each others' bodies with lysergic liquid touchsense, and they kissed, and became as one within the swirling, echoing guitar. Her CD could never be complete without it.

These next two are all hers, just for her, because he doesn't like them and knows that she does. I Hope You Dance is too country for him, but always makes her eyes well up just a little, even at the mall or in the car. Sitting on the Dock of the Bay is too old-fashioned even for him, but he found this great live version on the internet that she might enjoy, and that is the purpose of this exercise after all...

He's in the home stretch now, and needs two more songs to make an even ten. For the penultimate song he chooses Don McLean's American Pie, a bittersweet favorite that they both agree shouldn't have been slaughtered in any number of modern cover versions. Yes, of course they sing this together whenever the opportunity comes.

The last track he chooses is by any reasoning a strange choice, a song that doesn't fit with the rest of the mix at all, perhaps even distracting from the message he's trying to send. Maybe they have some history to go with it, or maybe he ran out of time and had to throw something on, or maybe -- and this is a disquieting one -- he made the CD for an anniversary after they had already come apart. At any rate, the final song is another from Third Eye Blind, a song about breakups named Dammit.

He gives it to her the next day.

And then some time passes.

When she sees the CD again, unmarked disc in an unmarked case, she isn't sure what it is, so she pops it in for a listen on the highway into town. It strikes her almost immediately that the lack of writing on the CD could be a metaphor for what he was to her, unknown contents without so much as a word of explanation, or even the recognition that an explanation was necessary. She skips past most of the tracks, largely songs he liked and only a few for her; more possible metaphors are showing themselves every moment. She's in town ten minutes later when she finally ejects the CD, placing it in the blue plastic jewel box and moving to set it back under the seat. At the last moment, she laughs short and harsh, a bitter little laugh, and spinflicks the case out the passenger side window. It shatters convincingly on the curb.

And maybe, a little while later, somebody walks by and sees the CD lying there scratched all to hell in the street. And maybe, thirsty as always for data, he picks it up to see if anything survived upon its surface. And maybe that person listens to it and hears what it's saying, what message it once (may have?) had for somebody else sometime in the past. And maybe he transmits a representation of the message one step further, now a noisy and distorted fourth-generation dub, out into the aether for the enjoyment of whoever is listening....

I actually did find a discarded CD. The rest is purest fiction. As if I would listen to Third Eye Blind and Aerosmith ;-)

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