The summer before 6th grade, my mom and dad took me shopping for new school clothes. For many people, clothes-shopping before the new school year was a normal part of the summer, but not for me. Our limited family finances meant that for several years, my wardrobe consisted of hand-me-downs hemmed to fit my proportions and nicks-nacks bought at discount stores that came together to create “my look.” It was unique, and I liked it.
That summer, however, we went shopping for new clothes, and I was able to replace many pieces of my existing wardrobe. I walked into the first day of sixth grade at a new school wearing a pair of too-baggy (knock-off) Paco Rabanne jeans, a Georgetown Hoyas jersey, an (unauthorized) Mets baseball cap, and the pièce-de-résistance: a silver and purple Koss portable cassette player.
By then, many kids had moved on from owning Walkmans and instead were carrying Discmans, but I was proud of my Koss cassette player. It had large purple buttons on its silver body, a fancy auto-reverse function so you never had to flip your tape, and most importantly, it was mine.
It was a piece of consumer electronics that I could call my own, and I would wear it on the public transit bus every morning and afternoon as I went to and from school. Bootlegged copies of Keep It Comin’, Inner Child, Sons of the P, C.M.B., The Chronic, Forever My Lady, Step By Step, Check Your Head, The Revival, and Don’t Sweat the Technique came through the headphones. I was happy.
I met MH a few months into sixth grade. She wore torn jeans and t-shirts and said the occasional curse-word and was nothing like me, but we got along really well. As the months went on, I would walk her home before hopping on the bus to get back to my place, and some days we would hang out at the 7-11 or shopping plaza after school.
One day, MH came to me with a cassette in her hand: “I made you a mixtape.”
Nobody had made me a mixtape before. I was perplexed. She repeated:
“I made you a mixtape of songs that I really love and that I thought you would like because I thought of you when I listened to them. I hope you like it.”
I listened to that mixtape non-stop for weeks. Unlike my regular rotation of hip-hop and r&b, the mixtape was full of tracks by Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and other groups that I had never heard before. I was fascinated.
My fascination with the mixtape was much more than just an interest in the new kind of music; I was enthralled and touched that not only had MH thought of me while she listened to music, but that she wanted to let me know that she was thinking of me so she collected that music and gave it to me as a gift.
Observing, remembering, collecting, sharing.
The things we share with others are usually small, but can mean so much: a small hand-written note on a card you know someone really liked; mix CDs full of songs that you both can enjoy and sing along to, together; a cameraphone snapshot of a sign or landmark that reminds you of a certain memory; a quick message with a link to a video that you think will make the other person laugh.
There are many ways to show someone that you care. Most of the best ways contain the words, “I thought of you.”