My entire life, I’ve only received two mixtapes, and given the same amount. Neither is anywhere near as emotionally weighted as Sheffield’s. Yet, I know what it’s like when music is forever linked to a time, person, or place. I can’t hear Katy Perry’s “Firework” without being transported back to watching Pittsburgh’s Fourth of July fireworks with a girl by the name of Julie, the two of us cuddling and, when we could tear our eyes away from the show in the sky, kissing.
Were I Rob Sheffield, though, I would have perfect recall of everything about that night, as well as that girl. I envy him for his memory capabilities at the same time as I pity him. Because, were I him, I also would remember the day the first girl I ever truly loved dumped me. I was naked when it happened, as she’d had sex with me one last time mere moments before. I’ve had the good fortune of remembering mainly the happy moments I’ve spent with the girls I’ve dated; they’re sad in their own right, but it’s better than the alternative.
For Sheffield, though, even the good memories are poisoned with the knowledge of the horror that would come. His wife, of only 5 years, died, and every mixtape is a field of landmines. Even if he sidesteps them all, just the knowledge that they’re there, and will always be there, is enough to inflict its own sort of pain.
And Sheffield describes these memories of his so vividly, so extensively, it makes Love is a Mixtape as close to being in his head, to living through all that he has, that one can get without actually being him. The result is a memoir that gets pretty dire and hard to read, yet is so raw that you feel like turning away would just be adding insult to injury.
Sheffield may’ve come out okay on the other end, but he fought a war to get there, and it doesn’t sound like he’ll ever outgrow the horrific flashbacks it’s left him with. That he can live with that, however, is as life and love affirming as one can get.