It’s the first crisp, chilly morning of the season, and I’m driving alone down the highway with my iPod on shuffle. The combination can present some powerful memories.
Living with a married couple in Nashville, I was just one year out of high school, and they were about to separate. We lived in Bellevue, a community on the westernmost edge of town, in a big fancy expensive two-bedroom apartment just off the second-to-last exit of Davidson County on I-40. The university Charlotte and I attended was near downtown, so it made for a lengthy drive each morning, and I can remember all the new music so vividly: Deana Carter’s Strawberry Wine, Leann Rimes’ One Way Ticket, Tim McGraw’s She Never Lets It Go to Her Heart, Vince Gill’sWorlds Apart. They were all over the radio then.
Charlotte and I were instant friends when we met a year earlier. All of 25 years old, she’d fallen for a boy with a pretentious name at our college who I didn’t find particularly attractive or interesting, and spent every moment with him, avoiding her husband John while he worked two full-time jobs to support the two of them.
In November we sat at a Waffle House not a mile from that new apartment complex that we’d moved into only a few months before. Along with a mutual friend, Mary Beth, she told us of her plan to leave him. Her reason, whatever it was, obviously didn’t ring true but, nonetheless, I figured because I was her friend and because I didn’t really know John that well it made sense that I leave too. She scolded me, telling me I was being selfish by abandoning him, that he needed someone around. Dumbfounded, I went home for the holiday a few weeks later and, when I returned, the lock on the front door to the big fancy expensive two-bedroom apartment had been changed.
I didn’t really get to know John until she moved out. He told me he changed the locks because she’d left, and he was concerned she might take everything while he was at work, that my abandonment was unintended. We sat on opposite sides of the bar in the kitchen, him facing the appliances and me looking out into the living room, and he told me he knew why she left. Blunt but never cruel, he said he’d met with a counselor who told him I was the problem.
Wide-eyed, I stayed silent and let him continue. He was working two jobs and was never around or available. He knew all about Jefferson and resented him, and hated her for choosing him. “But I wonna winna’ back,” he said in his thick Australian accent. It was admirable.
“I need to letta’ know this is owwa’ home. So you can’t stay.”
We had a winding, great conversation about marriage, America, Australia, post-secondary education, country music. He was obliging. In my head I was so much younger than them, callow and self-interested so I took my time finding a new place, with unattached roommates this time on the opposite end of town. It was a cheap, small, ground-floor two-bedroom apartment with a shared bath that we kept reliably filthy. Dare I admit the weather was warming and spring on its way by the time I moved in.
So even though it’s one of thousands on my iPod and though I may skip over it every other time of year, today I repeated the song over and over on my way to Belleville on Hwy 401 this morning. Somewhere in my mind I was 19 years old again, driving east on Harding Pike past Belle Meade, between Bellevue and Belmont University, inevitably late for class.
I can see exhaust from the cars before and around me evaporating into the chill of the fall and winter morning air. John said he hated it because Charlotte sang it all the time, like she was trying to tell him something with it. He said he understood now and I genuinely wished him well, but I was naive. And he was too, so it turned out.
(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on September 17, 2013)