I know that the road to California will be filled with sights and sounds that I have never seen, could have never even imagined, but part of me still worries what will happen when I get there. How will I find her in such a large city? What will she say if I do?
Too many questions, and too many frightening, impossible answers.
For now, it doesn’t matter though. I’ve got an endless highway stretching out in front of me, and I don’t have anything else to do but to travel west.
I drive for an hour in silence before I reach over to the seat next to me and grab David’s disk. I look at it before sliding into the car’s stereo deck. The only label on the disk is green marker, written in David’s chicken-scratch handwriting. One simple word—MIX—is scrawled across the front.
I assume that the disk will be filled with old favorites. Pearl Jam and Ben Harper and Dave Matthews, a collection of tunes from the old days. To my surprise though, the first track is a song I’ve never heard. A heartbreaking and slow little ballad called ‘Cherry Wine.’
I have to pull out my phone to figure out the artist. The song is by Hozier, off his self-titled debut album.
I’m familiar with a few songs from the album, the ones played regularly on the radio, but I’d never heard that one. I’m not surprised that David has heard it, though. Like Tommy, David has always been a passionate advocate of finding the ‘deep tracks.’
I spend the next few hours listening to the tracks on David’s mix, thoroughly enjoying every song. Despite everything that has changed over the last few years, he still knows me so well. In the same way that I always know whether or not Tommy would have liked a song, David has picked out a collection that he knows I will like. A personalized sampling.
Driving hours and hours to nowhere at all with a person will foster a friendship, but it goes beyond simple friendship. Those endless days listening to music and wasting our hours. So many trips without any destination.
Just before I crossed the border into Iowa, I reached the last track on David’s mix. I loved it instantly, and when I hit the chorus, I knew, finally and for certain, that everything was going to be ok.
I found out later the name of the artist. His name was Leon Bridges, and his music had a kind of old-school feel to it. Like a modern-day Sam Cooke or Marvin Gay.
…Been traveling these wide roads for so long,
My heart’s been far from you,
Ten Thousand-miles gone…
I listened to the song as I approached the state line, ready for the first time in my life to travel on my own past the Mississippi. Past the edge of the far bank, past the horizon that I had I stared at for so long.
…In my darkness I remember,
Momma’s words reoccur to me
“Surrender to the good lord,
And he’ll wipe your slate clean”…
I reached the chorus of the song as I crested the I-80 bridge, crossing the Mississippi into Iowa. I heard the song, and I knew that Tommy, and his moments of synchronicity were still alive. Wherever I went, no matter how far west I drove, he was always going to be sitting on the seat right next to me. Riding shotgun and listening to the next tune.
For so long, I had told myself that I had walked away from all of them, but they were with me the whole time. All those memories, the good ones and the bad, they had felt like ghosts when I traveled back home. Spooks and sprits, and haunted dreams. Those were the demons that drove me from my home in the first place, and I didn’t think it was possible to face them again.
After everything, I know now that you don’t ever run away from anything, and for the first time in my life, I was ok with that. For the first time in a very long time, I didn’t want to forget. I wasn’t afraid. I wanted to feel every last memory, experience all of the moments like a flood, let them wash over me like the cool air spilling through the cracked windows.
At almost the exact point where the bridge crested, where the imaginary state line switched from Iowa to Illinois, I heard the chorus of the song…
…Take me to your River,
I want to go,
Oh, go on,
Take me to your River,
I want to know…
I heard the words, and I looked over at the seat next to me, and I could feel Tommy riding next to me, laughing and singing along with a chorus that he was discovering for the very first time.
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