70. Mix Tape

THE LAST TIME I saw Z, he took me out to dinner. We ate at the Minotaur, as we had done so often. He was even more remote than usual. He told me he was about to drop out of sight for a while, but that he’d made me another mix tape, for old times’ sake. This wasn’t anything new. He’d been dropping in and out of our lives for so long now, we were used to it. To be honest, sometimes it was hard to recognise Z in the old photos from first year Jewish Law Students’ Club. He was funny then, a razor wit, with the arrogance to use it whenever he wished, which made friendship with him seem a kind of compliment, affirmation even. After university, he started spending longer and longer periods overseas, usually but not always Israel. He never gave much away, although over dinner he told me he had half a dozen passports and just as many mobile phones. Over the years, he became increasingly enveloped in layers of solitude, so that even the most basic conversation became stilted, made awkward on account of all the topics we could not broach, including the most important topics of all, those that constitute a friendship. But throughout it all, he had always continued to make us his mix tapes, every year or two. They were always good – mixes of the old and new, the popular and the obscure. Although they were usually given as birthday presents, this dinner at the Minotaur was too early for my birthday. Z told me apologetically he wouldn’t be around for my birthday this year, nor maybe next. I didn't have the heart to tell him, but I’d stopped listening to his mix tapes a long time ago. Z always seemed to choose songs with the most heartbreaking lyrics, and seeing as we’d been lovers, and seeing as ending things had been his idea and not mine, and seeing as I had never really stopped being in love with him no matter how many others took his place, seeing as I'd since married and had two children, listening to the songs he chose for his mix tapes, songs with lyrics that described one heartbreak after another, I could never quite shake the feeling that each song was a message specifically meant for me. And that just hurt too much. So you can imagine how it felt when I read in the newspaper that Z had killed himself in an Israeli prison. Or maybe you can’t. It was like the floor had suddenly swung open and I had been plunged down a bottomless tunnel of ice, only I couldn’t feel the cold because I myself was frozen solid. I tried not to read the details. Z was not the suicide kind. He was incapable of that kind of vulnerability, and always too angry at everything to despair of anything. Still, the headlines were hard to ignore: he had, apparently, been on the verge of becoming a whistleblower, blowing the lid on whatever organisation, or bunch of organisations, he had been working for all that time. All that day, I was disconsolate, but the phone wouldn't leave me alone. First Wendi called, then Solly and David and Rachel, and finally we decided to meet at the Minotaur. So we drank, and talked, and drank, and talked. Late that night Solly and David began to compare notes on the various mix tapes we had received over the years: from the early ones, so heavily influenced by the Beatles, to the later, more eclectic ones that Z insisted on calling tapes even though they were now recorded on CD. It was finally agreed after much debate that tapes one to three were just early throat-clearing, more or less predictable homages to John Lennon; four and five were the zenith of the genre; six was forgettable (none of us could remember a single track); seven was the sexiest; eight was the most spaced out (lots of Eno - obviously a stressful time for Z); but it was agreed by everyone other than me that mix tape nine, the last one, was the best, every track an opiate. I confessed I hadn’t listened to it, and I was given a sound dressing down, so when I stumbled home, with Nik and the kids asleep, I started searching for it. After some bangs and crashes, I found it. He'd called it Revolution Nine, a reference, I'd supposed, to his idol, John Lennon. The cover was a photograph of all of us at some Jewish Law Students Club fundraiser in first year that I'd since forgotten. I opened the CD cover and written in black marker on the disc were the words, 'To A, real love, Z'. Lennon again, I thought. The disc disappeared into the laptop and the screen sprang to life, but instead of the usual list of a dozen or so songs, what displayed instead was a folder called, 'To disseminate in the unlikely event of my early demise - instructions inside, xx Z'. I clicked on it and the screen filled with files, the first one of which was a letter, from Z to me, a long letter, which must have taken him days or weeks to write, not to mention great effort, so unusual for the late, silent Z, but so redolent of the early, talkative Z I'd fallen in love with. The letter told the story of us, with all of our ups and downs over the years, which made me cry more than once, I'm not ashamed to say, and some apologies and unanswerable questions (more tears), and then, at the end, the voice flipping over into late Z mode, detailed instructions on what to do with the information contained in the thousands of other files burned onto the disc, instructions that I began to follow then and there.