In 1996, in service of my first obsession, I stuck some money into an envelope and mailed it to an address I got from the back of an issue of Rolling Stone. Some weeks later, an envelope containing two glossy 4x6 photos of Alanis Morissette showed up in the mailbox of the condo complex where we lived. One of the photos was a medium close-up on a red carpet; in it, Morissette wore a brown leather jacket and a beaded necklace and looked just to the right of the photographer. The other was a neon-lit concert shot that showed her mid-headbang, hair like a gravity-defying weather diagram around her head. I put up the photos in my new bedroom, which, in its all-mineness and newness, felt cavernous and luxuriously private. It was that part in the timeline of my growing up that anyone whose parents split recalls as the moment everything changed. It wasn't altogether bad for me — I was learning how to be a person, and I needed a lot of room to practice. In my new room, there was no nine-year-old sister snoozing in a twin bed on the other side, and there were no shared walls with our mother, which meant there was no need to turn down Alanis.
Jagged Little Pill came around at the right time to become my best friend. I was twelve and lonely. In the weekends, I roamed the neighborhood tearing Pepsi Points off of people's paper recycling, sometimes with my kid sister and sometimes alone but always paranoid and checking over my shoulder to make sure nobody caught me. Or I searched for muscovy nests in the shrubs around the artificial lake in the middle of the complex, hoping to go unnoticed (although one time someone did throw a football at me, so I guess I wasn't entirely a ghost). But when I was home, I put on Jagged Little Pill and let the anxiety I held about being seen while out in public dissipate out of my body and into the room. At school, I was the girl with no personality, but with Alanis, I was someone complicated, someone who opened a conversation by asking "Do I stress you out?," as per the album's first line. I played the songs over and over, reeling from their power and their seeming connection to me even though it would be years until I understood most of the lyrics. At night, I had dreams where Alanis and I were just casually hanging out, talking and laughing about nothing.
Her voice was extraordinary to me. I now know it was the practiced instrument of the career musician, and that was why she wielded it like someone who never questioned its potency, but at the time I understood only the changeability of it: the way it broke and whined when she wanted. The yodely extra notes she let out on the inhale after she finished pronouncing a syllable (like on the stuttered "you, you, you" in "You Oughta Know"). And the way her wails were built into the main vocal line, not to show off her chops while backup singers sang the chorus, as was so much the fashion in the '90s, but to try to express something inexpressible, something you really want. I learned all the album's words because the power that her voice held over me made me vibrate, and I wanted to sing along with the sound waves. I looked at my pictures of her and sat with the feeling the way you sit with a crush: I just let something bigger than me overwhelm me, and I didn't question it.