When the Music Returned
On the day the music returned, I drove myself to work as usual, steering my car into the seedy wasteland underneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct. To save $9 in parking, I stepped gingerly over the broken wine bottle shards and walked the mile into downtown.
I do not recall what I listened to in the car before the music returned, perhaps NPR or some type of news. Almost certainly I listened to the chatter of my children. Maybe I simply drove in silence. I cannot remember the soundtrack while the music was gone.
But that morning I clicked on the radio in my car and I turned on the music. There was a song playing just as I was about to park. Wow, I thought, it’s possible that is best song I’ve heard in my whole life. A refrain from the pop song stayed in my mind as I finished the long walk into work.
Do you want to go to the seaside?
I’m not trying to say that everybody wants to go
I fell in love at the seaside
I handled my charm with time and sleight of hand
The band was identified as the Kooks and I did a web search on them when I arrived at my desk.
At lunchtime, I overheard an Elvis song playing in the background of a diner. I thought ‘have they only now just started playing music in this diner? We’ve eaten here before — surely they’ve turned that music up because I never noticed it previously’.
The song, “Surrender,” evoked a sudden childhood memory of listening to The King on Mom’s vinyl. The album cover sported a young, handsome Elvis on a blue background, with a golden record surrounding his pompadour. Back then, my little brother and I had one purpose in life: choreographing dances for my parents and their friends to watch.
All the stars will tell the story
Of our love and all its glory
Let us take this night of magic
And make it a night of love
Over a plate of greasy fries I told my coworker about a problem on my computer at home — it appeared my hard drive was ruined. I had swallowed my pride and emailed everyone I knew asking for help, including some men I worked with years ago at a high tech company.
I dislike asking for help almost as much as I hate melted hard drives. But I was raising two small children by myself and I needed every penny for subsistence. Christmas was just around the corner and all of my photographs were on that computer.
My husband had left us two years previously. He had actually left a note on the counter like a horrible song from the 1960s, ending our nearly fifteen year relationship on a hot summer evening in July. He walked away from the kids, the house, and the marriage.
Grief comes with physical sensations that nobody talks much about. I felt like the loss of my marriage literally changed my body. I dragged my limbs heavily through summer and fall during the note-on-the-counter year, like wading through Jell-o. Is Daddy coming back? No. He’s not coming back. I’m sure it was dark and raining all that first year alone with my kids. And there was no music at all.
I stopped by the produce market on the way home from work. I weaved my way through the crowded market with a small canvas bag, choosing vegetables. Something suddenly occurred to me: Holy crap is that Debra Harry on the golden oldies station overhead? I gathered my produce, paid with exact change, and checked out at the nearest exit.
Once had a love and it was a gas
Soon turned out to be a pain in the ass
On Saturday, I opened the door to the faint smell of wood smoke and November cold. A friend who I hadn’t seen in over ten years had graciously answered my plea for help in sorting out my hard drive problem.
He stood there tall and reserved on my doorstep in the late evening sun, wearing a crisp blue shirt and khakis. In one hand he carried a small, meticulously organized computer-sized tool box. He immediately eased the awkwardness with a joke about his lateness, and trying to find my neighborhood.
Did he always have such blue eyes?
After determining the hard drive was truly a goner, he swapped my sad old computer for a machine he brought with him, working quietly and efficiently amidst the chaos of dinner and bedtime with small children. ‘I will set this computer up and you can use it for a couple weeks’, he said, ‘but I need to take your old hard drive with me. I have software and I can probably recover most of your data. I’ll be in touch’. I felt weak with gratitude at his simple kindness. I had no way to repay him for the hours he spent helping and I could not afford a new computer, nor could I pay someone to recover the years of photographs of my children.
That night I located an unused gift tucked away in my sock drawer. My cousin had mailed me a tiny lipstick sized MP3 player loaded with music, like the hundred mix tapes we lovingly created for one another back in college. After the children were in bed I plugged the MP3 player into my new loaner computer and figured out how to purchase the Kooks.
Then I listened to some Blondie. I fell to sleep that night feeling drunk on listening to Hank Williams.
I got a hot rod Ford and a two dollar bill
and I know a spot right over the hill
There’s soda pop and the dancin’s free
so if you wanna have fun come along with me
I felt swept away by a lifetime of memories linked to popular song. Everywhere I went, I heard music in the background. How on earth could I have forgotten?
Music came back to me. I dug through boxes of dusty flotsam and jetsam in my garage to locate hundreds of old CD’s from my college years. I danced with my children to Janis Joplin, their small naked bodies running hyper through the hallway after nightly bath.
Music showed up in almost every minute of my day and in the most unlikely places, floating across the street as I sat stopped waiting for a light to change, in the pharmacy waiting for my name to be called, in the halls of my daughter’s grade school.
One evening my friend stopped by again, armed with a restored hard drive containing thousands of recovered pictures and files. My six year old daughter decorated a take-and-bake pizza with inappropriate toppings as a “thank you” dinner for his help. He stayed and ate with us, gently joking with my children.
He called me to stand by the desk while he explained carefully where he was placing the recovered files and how to locate them. I leaned down close to him and smelled clean, warm, skin.
Later, I adjusted the squiggly two year old boy on my hip and waved at my friend as he backed from the driveway. I vaguely wished I had perhaps combed my hair or applied lip gloss.
Combing through my old music files, I selected Etta James after he drove away that night. I sat down at my newly repaired computer and crafted an email to him. I am out of practice. I haven’t been on a first date since college. I would like to spend some time with you. Would you like to have coffee with me? I clicked “send” before my courage disappeared:
Let me tell you now
I got a feeling, I feel so strange
Everything about me seems to have changed
At our wedding two years later the band softly played And I Love You So by Elvis. My new husband and I, with our children, danced to our favorite melodies late into the night, surrounded by family and friends.
The human heart is capable of regeneration, like a starfish or pounded down bread dough. And when you are healed, you may find yourself open to something familiar that you had not even realized was missing. Love can show up at any time without notice and provide a soundtrack to your life.
This piece was originally on Open Salon.