When I first looked at this painting by Richard Diebenkorn, I thought it was a winter scene. Then I saw it was titled View of Oakland, and I noticed the palm tree and such, and realized I was probably wrong. But I already had it in my mind that it was winter, so I stuck with that theme. 922 words.
Her name isn’t important. She could be any girl. And I could be any boy, anywhere in America. Heck, anywhere in the world. I’m sure this sort of stuff happens everywhere. But the fact is my heart is broken. The last two years fall like the snow I’m watching as I stare across these dirty rooftops. What once was our flame is now ashes and dust. Everything goes away in the end. A bit melodramatic, I guess. But I’m a songwriter, so I reserve the right to be.
I remember the first time I saw her. It was at a show. Not one of ours, I was just there in the crowd. She had short black hair and a pierced eyebrow. She was wearing dark jeans, Old Skool Vans and a Social Distortion tee shirt. It was love at first sight, for me anyway. It turned out we had a mutual friend, who after much pleading on my part, introduced us. We hit it off pretty fast, and after the show we ended up going to a diner together. We sat there for a couple hours, drinking hot chocolate and lamenting the lack of passion in music.
It was a big deal to both of us. The bands we loved started out amazing. The first album, or first few if we were lucky, would blow us away. They would make us feel alive, like our spirits were still there, still keeping our hearts beating. But then something would change, almost inevitably. I don’t know the cause. I’m sure it wasn’t just one thing. Maybe it was because they became more accomplished musicians. Maybe it was because they hit the big time and didn’t want for anything. Maybe it’s because they were constantly touring, and forgot what it was like to live a real life, to have real jobs, wants, hates, loves, desires, to bleed the blood of everyday life. They forgot what it was like to experience the stuff the rest of us can relate to.
But it would start to creep in, album by album, and the next thing we knew, the music would lose its impact. They were still good songs, technically speaking. Some were even great. And they were still better than the vast majority of what played on the radio. But the music seemed like just a ghost of its former self, with only a glimmer here and there of the past. And so we’d move on, find a new band that had a new fire in it that we could tether our hopes to. I have to laugh at the irony of the situation. She might too, if she were here. In a lot of ways our relationship echoed just what I’m talking about. But we burned out far before we could ever fade away.
And maybe it’s better this way. Maybe it’s better that we brought things to an end, that we didn’t prolong what I guess is the inevitable. We could have gone on, pretending to love and care and share the same heart we once did. Or at least she could have gone on pretending. I never had to. Doesn’t make me a better person or in the right or whatever. It just means I held on to the love longer than she did.
I think back to the music. Maybe that’s just life. You get older and grow up and the passion dies. You get stuck in the day to day, and you realize it’s not a horrible place to be. You become content, verging on happy. You lose the desire to create and change and explore, or maybe you just don’t have the time for it. And it’s not a bad life, and everyone you know is living it. And you put on those old records and marvel at how young and naive you were. And maybe for a minute or two you remember what it was like. You remember the cold crazy winter days, the hot summer nights catching stars and fireflies. And then you put on the new records and think they’re not half bad at all. And you kind of agree with how things changed in the songs, how the people singing seem to reflect your changes as well.
Maybe it’s something we all go through.
The window starts to fog and I wipe it clear. The cold stays on my fingers for a few seconds. The pale reflection of myself stares back at me, at the empty place beside me where I wish she was. I know this is life. I know that nothing gold can stay. I know that the perfect day is followed by the perfectly average day, the perfectly average week, month and life. It’s foolish to ask for more.
But just as I think this thought, so close to believing it, a song comes on I that haven’t heard in a long time. It’s a song that touches my soul, reveals a breath or two of life still there. She’s gone, but life isn’t. And I know someday I’ll probably find myself content. Maybe even happy. But for right now I can still grasp the pain and love and joy and absurdity of the world and try to make something of it.
I grab my guitar and stretch my stiff fingers. It’s a pretty lousy silver lining, but at least my broken heart should make for a decent couple of songs. Maybe I can write a song that’ll stay alive longer than I do.