A springlike morning and an old song playing on the radio. The song came on the radio twenty years ago. They still play it all the time like it arrived yesterday. The song seemed like sentimental pap when you first heard it–the perfect ballad from the aging punk rocker who had seen his career reach its peak a few years before–you know the arc, you’re a nobody, then you have a fan base of the true fans who knew you when, then you get the mobs who know you from that song on the radio–that’s when you’re in your late twenties. And then, it’s time to start writing power ballads and milking them until the money stops coming in. Or so it would seem, with acts like Aerosmith and Chili Peppers. Of course, the band who made this ballad would go on to write some protest-y kind of punk for the Bush years.
But at the time, in 1997, I mostly ignored the song–it was background music to accompany me as I drove back and forth to college. It was a comfortable, familiar band that reminded me of my own brief attempt to be a punk kind of guy for awhile in high school and college.
They kept playing the song on the radio, though, and it would take on various meanings as my life went on. Saying goodbye to my little brother at his gravesite. Saying goodbye to Missouri. Moving on from the company I worked at for eight years after moving down to Austin. And so on. Then, today, it comes on the radio, and it was like a dense symphony of memories washing over me like some T.S. Elliot poem. Of course, it’s Austin, and so I might as well be mixing memory and desire throughout most of the fall, winter and spring.
A lot of times, when I hear the song, I think I catch my little brother singing to me–I hope you had the time of your life–he is glad for me that I got to live on and experience living in this world as a human male, growing into adulthood, getting married, having a child, growing old. I imagine him singing to me as I die and come over to see him again. I can’t help but start to cry a little. It’s so damn hard walking through life without him and my mom. It’s like the people I need to the most to have around and share childhood memories with are mostly gone or don’t care to have me call them up and talk about the old days. My older brother and dad have mostly tried to forget those days. But, I wish that I could be talking with my little brother right now about starting a family, about career choices, about where I should be headed next.
You have know idea how dim and dark the future looks right now to me–a dark path and trajectory out of whichever choice I make. A sense of guilt accompanying any given decision. A feeling that I can’t really do anything at this point without being self-centered, self-absorbed about it. Most people in my society would say that this is a good thing–make those fine, rational choices in your own self interest and go find a nice paying job and sock away some money for your son and potentially another child. But, there is no peace when I think about staying here at the seminary, and there is no peace when I think about leaving–it’s always just a lot of stress and uncertainty–and sometimes I just want a sounding board other than my wife…someone who knows me well and can listen to me now and then.
It’s weird how a song on the radio can do that–even one that you dismissed when you were twenty as being trite and sappy. The song can come on and produce layers and layers of memory and meaning…memories of the first roommate whom I scared away with my drunken stupidity. Memories of being back at home in 1998 with my little brother while my mom finished her treatment in Omaha. Memories of coming down here with expectations that I would conquer the city and move on to New York or San Francisco. Memories of falling into friendships and relationships that seemed to just be geared toward smothering, using and sucking the life forces out of me. I walked through 70% of my twenties and into my first year of my 30s working for a company that I thought held some kind of force field around me–every time I tried to get away, I couldn’t get away. The same thing goes for Austin…I don’t really want to die here. I would be open to living just about anywhere outside of Texas else at this point–I am so weary of Texas and even Austin–the way the two live in tension with each other, the way that so many people feel almost militant about needing to remain convinced that they live in the best city of the best state in the best country, even as they complain about all aspects of Austin and how it is not like it used to be. You hear people now complaining how Austin isn’t like it used to be, and they came down here in 2009! I’ve heard the refrain the whole time I’ve lived down here–I don’t think Austin has ever been like it used to be, but then what city or person remains like they used to be?
The more things change, the more they stay the same, they say. I say that you can find both in anyone or anything. Eventually, none of it matters. Except, Lord, I really don’t want to live out the rest of my life here. I could get excited about living in the Pacific Northwest, Ann Arbor, Florida, North Carolina–even perhaps Arizona. The old dreams don’t ever completely die…they just become muted with mostly the vinegar of sorrow and the tears of failure and lost opportunities, lost family, lost years.
But, when you pull up one of the old dreams, they look upon you accusingly, like, why did you decide to just leave me here this way? Why didn’t you try harder to realize me? I don’t know. I don’t know much of anything, anymore. As I get older, I feel like the amount of stuff that I knew about life and reality continues to diminish. Whatever I have ever written down in this journal should be taken with a grain of salt, but somehow, I half expect that if my writing is ever resurrected and used to define who I was when I walked this earth, that the editors of it will be rather unkind. And, why shouldn’t they be?