How do you begin to tell the story of a relationship that does not exist?
Do you start with a life's worth of one-sided memories, or the countless dollars and hours spent chasing a stranger across borders and time zones?
Do you explain that you are okay with being comrades from afar, or that your children are befuddled by this devotion to someone whom you'll never meet?
Or do you simply say this:
Bruce Springsteen is in town, and later today I'll be the middle-aged man pumping his fist and awkwardly shaking his rear somewhere near the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre stage.
And, yes, I know how sad that sounds. I knew it two weeks ago when I flew to Nashville for a show, and I knew it Saturday morning when I drove to Atlanta with one of my bosses for another.
If you have never watched Springsteen attack a concert stage for three hours or more, then there are no words I can offer that will convince you that my lunacy is earned.
If you have never sung an a cappella version of Thunder Road with a group of drunken sportswriters in a campus bar, if you have never stayed up until dawn with a friend listening and relistening to a new release, if you have never cried while hearing the Boss' odes to the lost souls of 9/11, then I sincerely understand your skepticism.
All I can say is that I have never regretted a minute lost or a dollar spent.
Springsteen's music raised me through high school, entertained me in college and helped me understand the missteps everyone takes on the way to becoming who we someday hope to be.
At different times in the past four decades, I have travelled to watch Springsteen perform in New York, St. Paul, Minn., Chicago, Washington, D.C., and a handful of other places. Some shows have been better than others, but none has ever disappointed.
Not the time my friend and I waited all day outside Madison Square Garden for the "drop" of extra tickets that often preceded sold-out shows, only to be next in line when the music started and the box office closed. We wallowed in misery for two minutes before another window opened and someone handed us two tickets.
Not the time we had seats behind the stage in Minneapolis and Bruce came ambling back toward our section midsong. My friend's wife — this demure college librarian — made a beeline toward him only to be intercepted by security guards. My friend later asked his 10-year-old son how he had enjoyed the show. "It was good," he said, "but Mom kind of embarrassed me."
And certainly not the time my teenage daughter's eyes lit up when Springsteen played Growin' Up, a then-35-year-old tune that he had played only twice in his previous 58 shows but was the one song she was desperate to hear.
In more recent years, Springsteen's shows have begun to resemble family reunions, albeit families of 15,000 or more. He routinely plucks children and others from the audience to join him on stage, and fans have started bringing signs with obscure song requests.
I've never done the sign thing before, but if I did, all I would want to say is this:
Bless you, Bruce. And thanks for everything.
(And — aw, what the heck — I wouldn't mind hearing Where the Bands Are. Or Janey, Don't You Lose Heart. Or Countin' on a Miracle.)