After leaving The Newburyport Daily News, that job everyone has that makes them what they're going to be when they grow up, I took a job writing about technology because it was only 20 minutes from my house. Newburyport was about 50 miles. Fifty highway miles. It took me a long time to get there, and sometimes Victor would wonder if I had a night meeting and call me to make sure I was still coming to work, when really, I just lived so far away that being late was, well, a huge pain in everyone's ass. But I did my work, and I did it well, and even if I showed up real, real late, I got my shit done on time.
Swift writing is one of my gifts.
When I moved to TT, as we'll call it, I began writing about Microsoft and my drive came between let's call it 8:30 and 9:30 in the morning. I would wind my way through Cambridge, across the river and up Memorial Drive into Needham. I remember mornings when the winter sun would hang low and create such a glare on my Honda Civic's windshield that I would nearly have to close my eyes to see. I remember weaving through Needham, through Cambridge, listening to WERS, 88.9 FM, the Emerson College radio station.
It was the winter of 2004/2005. The last winter I would spend in Boston. The winter my best friend withered. The winter I spent with Tony, who I broke up with then let move in with me, because I needed to have something to do with my mind. I gained weight. I drank pinot grigio by the gallon. I cried all the time.
And every morning, every morning as I drove to work, drinking coffee in my travel mug, I listened to WERS. That's where I first heard The Decemberists, a band who I've loved enough to see on consecutive nights in cities 100 miles apart. Their morning show, The Coffee House, was folk and indie rock and singer/songwriter pieces. The commute home was reggae and then it turned hip-hop after I went to the gym. It's still the best radio station ever.
I made a mix recently of the songs I first heard on that radio station during those morning drives to Needham. The names you won't recognize: Mia Doi Todd, Antje Duvekot, Meg Hutchinson. Shivaree.
But those songs still carry weight. Their lyrics are still powerful, uplifting and can still bring my whole body back to a freezing Massachusetts morning, when I'd totter over to my car, warm her up, and sing along the whole way to work.
You were looking for an orchid,
and I will always be...
You were looking for a tealight,
and I will always be....
A forest fire. A dandelion.
Last week I had to erase my Mac, and restore just my music and photos and documents (I think I forgot the documents, but... I've got backups?) but I digress. I had to choose new music to sync with my iPhone, which I use as an iPod for my commute. I chose the WERS mix.
Today, I woke up late. As you've read, I've been having some trouble with my employment situation. I'm trying, but I don't know what to do right now.
I got dressed, washed my face, brushed my teeth, gathered my things... But today instead of putting on a podcast, I put on the WERS songs. "I can fall in love again, I believe the curse you've cast is over... No more, no more casa nova..." and then "But you're still the one by which I chart my course..." (Meg Hutchinson's beautiful, heartbreaking song True North. Go buy it.)
Can't you feel we're moving in new directions...
Can't you feel the pull?
But you'e still the one by which I chart my course.
You're still my, still my, true north.
I stopped in the Blue Sky Bakery and spent too much money on an iced coffee that I would drink on the train and on a blackberry cherry bran muffin that I would eat three-quarters of while pretending to concentrate in my office.
That song came on -- "True North" -- as I was walking from the bakery to the N train. I took a sip of my coffee, and the past seven years melted. I was back in my Civic driving up a frozen hillside into the sunlight on a January morning outside Boston, and I had no idea who I was going to become.
I didn't know that in six months my best friend's cancer would take her life, and that just two months later I'd have a new job and an apartment in Manhattan, four blocks from one sister and nine from another. That I'd move to New York ten days after my one and only job interview there for a job that I stayed at for three years, where I made good, good friends and learned how to really be a reporter. Where I would learn about office politics, where I would adopt Harold, the old-man butler of a cat, who would die on my Brooklyn living room floor five years later from liver cancer. That the people that would still be with me fifteen years on were those people. In retrospect, of course. Of course it was them. But then again, nothing ever is what it seems at the time.
I walked listening to Antje Duvekot's "A Long Way," remembering that night Phatiwe and I sat in my car, smoking cigarettes together, parked in front of my house, because it felt like some kind of rebellion. And she cried, talking about her surgeries and her scars, and it was the one and only time my battered body and my years of reconstructive surgery made me able to make someone else feel better. She felt like a freak, I told her to shut the fuck up. She was beautiful and perfect and we would buy a duplex house in Brookline and live happily ever after, and I knew how much it hurt to have your body pulled apart and moved, and how much it hurt to have your skin pulled so tight it felt like breathing would rip it.
We sat in that car, talking talking talking so late I don't know when we decided it was silly to be still in the car, and went back inside. Slept. Went to work. She died a few months later.
And if you don't love me let me go...
And if you don't love me let me go...
The Decemberists' "The Engine Driver" was playing when I slinked into the Subway this morning. Songs and songs later. And I remembered the night, after a session with my therapist Esther, who made it ok for me to cry and for me to talk about everything, eventually, this song came on. "And if you don't love me let me go..."
It's the kind thing to do, she said. But sometimes you have to let what you love go too.