THIS THING THEY CALL LIFE: NON-LINEAR STYLE.
– / –
you were born on august nineteenth, exactly two minutes after your fraternal twin sister, and you made a point to kick and scream as if your very life depended on it. from that moment on, you became a statistic. to the state of georgia, you were just another number in the census – another face in the sea of the five hundred and seventy-two other faceless people that resided in crawfordville. to your parents, you were just another mouth to feed. and you? well, you were less than an hour old and it was like you already knew this, because the world was not a friend of yours right from the get-go. in your opinion, it was too loud and too bright, and there was some irritating woman screaming way too much for your liking – so you put your lungs to the test, and you cried, and you wailed, and if you knew how to stand yet, you would have stomped your feet. it was painfully obvious that you would become a force to be reckoned with in the future, if you weren’t one already, and the first thing your father said when he saw you was, “god almighty, listen to the voice on this one, would you, lavern?”
that would be the first time you ever heard those words, but it certainly wouldn't be the last.
in the end, it took almost an entire week of doctors at the hospital calling you “screaming boy” for your parents to finally decide on what to call you. terence tate cavanaugh – that’s what it says on your birth certificate and, quite frankly, you don’t need anyone to tell you how remarkably unremarkable it is, thank you very much. you were named after your great grandfather on your mother’s side, and that’s all fine and dandy really, but it hasn’t stopped you once from saying that you never really liked it much. your mother always frowned, and told you that saying things like that was disrespectful – you just crossed your skinny arms and said it was the truth. and it was, with good reason too. for years, you had been called “tiny terry” by all the kids at school because of your lack of all around height. you were blond, with abnormally large front teeth for a kid of your stature, and you were scrawny and awkward on your feet – you stumbled your way through the majority of your young life, until you finally got your growth spurt the summer before you turned fourteen. it seemed to happen all at once: you grew into your front teeth, you stopped stumbling, and your voice finally cracked. you grew an entire foot and a half, which put you at a startling 6’3” by the time you went back to school in september. you became attractive
. you’d be lying if you said you were disappointed.
needless to say, they stopped calling you “tiny terry” after that.
– / –
here’s a secret: you outgrew crawfordville, and everyone in it, by the time you were eight years old. even back then, you were smart enough to know that life in a small town just wasn’t for you – so you took matters into your own hands by packing up that little blue suitcase of yours, and you even managed to drag it all the way down the stairs by the handle… only to find your mother waiting for you at the front door with her arms crossed. “where do you think you’re going?” she asked you gently in that voice that mothers often use, and it was in that moment that you realized that you didn’t actually have an answer. you didn’t know where you were headed, really. you just knew that you weren’t about to find whatever you were looking for in georgia.
it probably goes without saying, but your first escape attempt failed in the end – however, that didn’t stop you from dreaming about places that were far beyond your reach for the next six years of your life anyway.
your parents didn’t understand. they didn’t look at the world the same way you did, and with six other kids to keep track of constantly, they didn’t exactly have much time to sit you down and pick your brain either. you’d be lying if you said that it didn’t bother you a little when they would brush you off to talk to one of your brothers instead, but at least you got
it – i mean, you were just a kid with big dreams, but the rest of your siblings? well, they kept their feet on the ground, and they actually did things
that were sure to catch the attention of your parents; wyatt played football, and harlon james played the flute, and nash could draw, and cheyenne did ballet, and cj could play the guitar better than almost anyone else you knew – even twyla was good at something, even if that something was sulking and being rebellious. with competition like that, you didn’t really have much of a choice but to fade into the background; you were happy, but you weren’t.
and then one day, you decided on a whim to enter the school talent show, and just like that… everything changed. you’re still not too sure why you did it, but by the time you finally came to your senses, it was too late to back out – so you sucked it up, and when the time came, you dragged your eleven year old limbs up onto that stage, cleared your throat, and opened your mouth. the audience held their breath. you missed your cue and the track had to be restarted twice, but when you finally got the words out, you ended up singing “missing you” by john waite in perfect pitch. nobody was quite sure what to make of you at first, but in the car on the way home, your father clapped his hand down on your shoulder and made a big show of saying, “see, lavern? didn’t i tell you that he had a voice on him?” you just smiled, and when your brother offered to teach you how to play guitar later on that night, you jumped at the chance. it came easy to you (as did playing the piano, you found out later), but you worked hard. you didn’t want to wonder anymore – you wanted to know
you were only eight years old when your mother laughed and steered you away from the front door, thinking that you were only joking when you said that you wanted to leave.
but here’s another secret: you weren’t.
– / –
your ticket out of crawfordville came in the form of thomas jefferson boarding school. you were fourteen when you found out that you were to be enrolled there just like your father, your uncle, and both of your older brothers before you had been – your parents were thrilled to pass on the news to you and your twin sister because they wanted you to “have a future,” so you made a point of humoring them, even though you weren’t really all that surprised. in your house, being shipped off to st. louis to attend thomas jefferson was a tradition, and cavanaughs didn’t break tradition
, don’t be preposterous. you went quietly, and you slipped upstairs to your room and packed up that little blue suitcase of yours for real this time, because unlike your sister, you were excited to see what life in another city was like. you craved it, even.
and you were certainly not disappointed.
from the moment that you stepped off that plane, st. louis became your home. it represented everything that crawfordville was not, and for that reason alone, you found that you loved everything about the city before you even got a chance to really live
in it. you spent the weekend after your arrival dragging your sister around to go sight-seeing, and when monday eventually reared its ugly head, you found that your high spirits began to dwindle as you became confined to a desk for the day. you’ve never been academically inclined, so you kept your mouth shut and your head down during your lessons, and you spent your time writing lyrics in the margins of your books to keep yourself busy. by the time your first week of classes ended, you were thoroughly convinced that your days at thomas jefferson would be monotonous at best, until you ran headfirst into a girl as you were leaving your music class.
you very nearly managed to take her head off with your guitar, but she smiled at you anyway, and you ended up helping her pick her scattered notes up off the floor. without knowing that she would eventually become your best friend, she introduced herself to you as lori, and in a move that you hoped would leave your hometown behind you for good, you opened your mouth and told her that your name was “ren.” the name stuck, and when you accidentally managed to stumble across a coffee shop on their open mic night later on that week, you ended up referring to yourself as “ren cavanaugh” there too before you grabbed the mic off its stand. it was there in that little coffee shop that you really got a feel for performing regularly, and before long, you found yourself scoping out the rest of the city for bars and nightclubs that would hire you to play your music. you weren’t even in it for the money (though let’s be honest, getting paid was nice) – all you really wanted was the experience, and it paid off because you were barely sixteen when you ended up getting discovered.
your mother’s head practically spun right off her shoulders when you told her, because in her eyes, you were dropping out of school to chase a dream that wasn’t ever going to happen. to be honest though, you could care less what she thought, if only because that was right about when your world stopped spinning and started revolving around your career instead.
– / –
in a move that both startled you and managed to set you back quite a bit in your work schedule, your parents decided to call an “emergency family meeting” and proceeded to make a point of flying you and twyla back out to crawfordville for the occasion. according to your mother, the urgency was because they were hosting a party to celebrate your father’s recent retirement – you didn’t buy that for one second, but you packed your bags and boarded your flight on time anyway, because your mother also made it very clear that this was not an optional get together and quite frankly, you weren’t about to subject yourself to getting angry phone calls from her for the next two weeks, thank you very much. you spent the plane ride talking to your sister about conspiracy theories, and wondering if you were about to become part of one.
in the end, you were right to wonder. you could tell by the way your mother was fidgeting with her skirt when she came to pick you up from the airport that she was up to something, and you barely even got to step over the threshold when she opened her mouth. “you’re arranged to be married,” she told you both, before throwing her arms out excitedly, as if what she said hadn’t just thrown your entire world out of orbit. for a second, you could barely even breathe – and then, the questions started flying: what
? you’re joking, right? to who? why are you doing this to us? you can’t be serious? we’re probably on punk’d, right? does that mean we get to meet ashton? honestly though, your opinion didn’t seem to matter much because no matter what you said, your mother remained adamant on her decision, and when people started showing up later that night for the party, you were immediately thrown together with a blond girl that barely even came up to your elbow.
"hi," she greeted you shyly, and when she smiled, you were maybe just a little bit afraid that her face would break right down the middle from the sheer extravagance of it all. "i’m cordelia."
"ren," you supplied her with a simple nod of your head, and it was at that point that you realized her smile might have sort of been contagious or something, because you found yourself smiling back despite yourself.
you talked to her for the remainder of your father's party, and it didn't take long for you to realize that you kinda liked her. she was sweet, and she was funny, and you certainly couldn't deny the fact that she was pretty. in theory, she was actually kinda perfect, and if you squinted just enough, you thought that you could kind of see a future with her – one filled with three beautiful blond children and the standard white picket fence that your mother wanted so badly but never actually got.
there was just one problem though: no matter how many times you looked at her, you still couldn't feel a goddamn thing.
– / –
after months and months of unsuccessfully trying to put off your impending marriage, you eventually resigned yourself to the fact that you were running out of time. you were only twenty years old – you had barely even lived your life, and at this point, it seemed as if you never would. cordelia made a habit out of calling you once every other to check up on you. your mother kept dropping hints about your future marriage, making comments like “don’t you think that harlon james would make a wonderful ring bearer?” and “spring weddings are nice, don’t you agree?” it didn’t take long for you to realize that there was only so much you could say to placate her, so you eventually just stopped trying. instead, you would nod your head whenever she asked you a question, and when she asked for your opinion on something, you would rattle off the first thing that popped into your head. after all, it was bound to happen eventually, whether you fought it or not. you chose not to fight.
and then, you were given a way out – a temporary one, that is, but it didn’t really matter much because you were quick to jump at any opportunity that allowed you to get the hell away from the soap opera that you called a life. a buddy of yours up in las vegas called to ask you if you wanted to come to his wedding, and within just a few hours, you were packed and ready to go, with your sister riding shotgun and lori sprawled out in the backseat of your ash grey prius. in the end, you almost crashed your car twice due to lack of sleep, and it took a little over a day to get there, but it all went off without a hitch once you did. as a special request, you ended up videotaping the ceremony (though to be fair, the first six minutes of the tape were of you talking about what you named your shoes because you didn’t realize the camera was on) and you even made a toast at the reception – but that one drink that you made your speech with was gone quickly, and was then replaced by another, and then another.
needless to say, you got drunk. very
drunk. technically, you were still underage at that point, but it was a wedding and nobody could care less about what you were doing as long as the bride and the groom were still intertwined like that in the middle of the dance floor. the last thing you could really remember was lori’s face before everything got too hazy for you to comprehend, and when you woke up the next morning, you were in a cheap hotel room with nothing but a monstrous headache, a blue ring pop on your left ring finger, and an empty bed. as you began to gather your clothes, you could hear lori crying in the bathroom as you passed by the door, and just as you were about to pull your pants on, you stumbled across what looked like a marriage certificate lying by the foot of your bed… and then it finally clicked.
you got married. eloped. hitched. you tied the proverbial knot, and to make matters worse, you did it with the wrong person. your stomach lurched, and you threw up in the trash bin.
in that moment, the watch on your wrist sounded an awful lot like a bomb.
– / –
lori disappeared two days after you got back to st. louis. just like that – gone
. to be honest, you were completely floored. you had just seen her the day before, and the very last thing you could remember saying to her was something along the lines of, “don’t forget to call me tomorrow, okay?” and she had just nodded her head and smiled that perfect lori smile of hers, before turning to walk away. you never got that call. honestly, the only reason you didn’t automatically think she had gotten kidnapped or something was because you found the annulment papers that you gave her in your mailbox that morning, unsigned, along with a folded up piece of paper with the words, “i’m sorry,” written on it in her messy scrawl. you didn’t even know what to think – hell, you didn’t even know if you could
think at that point. you just turned around and threw up in the bushes. when you managed to compose yourself, you went back to her house to talk to her parents, and all they said to you was that lori needed some time to herself and that they didn’t know where she went. they were absolutely no help, and having grown up with six siblings, you could tell a lie when you heard it, but you had no other choice but to turn around and walk away.
besides, she was always just a little bit out of your reach, wasn’t she?
after that, you buried yourself in your work. you spent most of your days sleeping, and you spent your nights sitting at the kitchen table with a notebook in front of you and a pen in your hand. you wrote song after song, but nothing sounded right to you anymore. to put it kindly, you were in a slump – it was like you were standing still, but unfortunately for you, the rest of the world just kept on spinning. cordelia still called you every other day, and your mother still dropped hints about a wedding that only you actually knew was never going to happen. you had no idea how to tell either of them that you had already gotten married, so you just didn’t
– in fact, you stopped answering their calls entirely. you began to erase your voicemails before you even listened to them, and it got to the point where you would panic whenever the phone would ring, so you just ended up dropping it into the fish tank.
for the first time your life, you could honestly say that you felt lost – but like a compass, the music had a way of leading you back. you got asked to be an act on the end of the world tour and before you could think twice about what that meant, you found yourself saying yes. it was the perfect opportunity to get your music more publicity, and you would have been a fool to turn it down. you packed your bags, and you started to feel more like yourself again. the lyrics you wrote began to flow better, and you even bought a new phone. on a whim, you called your sister for the first time in weeks, begging her to come with you – she denied you three times and even threw a shoe at your head once, but you somehow managed to wear her down in the end. you got her a job as a stylist, and the night before you were set to board your bus, she came at you with a pair of scissors and told you point blank that she needed to do something about your hair before you got up on stage. you didn’t honestly see the problem with how you looked, but she insisted – and when she was done, you looked like a completely different person. gone was the boy with the innocent face and the long golden locks, and in his place was man that looked like he had something to prove. you liked it. new look, new attitude.
and in the end, maybe it was for the best, because this was your dream
, and now nothing was going to stop you from living it, thank you very much.