sweet baby james – james taylor
the wild rover – the dubliners
let the river run – carly simon
daydream believer – the monkees
easy from now on – emmylou harris
jumpin’ jack flash – the rolling stones
night moves – bob seger
everywhere i go – caitlin rose
cherry bomb – john mellencamp
mr. tambourine man – bob dylan
famous in a small town – miranda lambert
hungry heart – bruce springsteen
landslide – fleetwood mac
My mother or anybody will tell you I was an easy baby. I was first and I was good. The opening twenty-five minutes of the movie of my life will show a solemn little girl who likes television and shirley temples with five cherries and two straws getting taller without making any trouble for anyone. Most mornings I was dropped off to my grammy who worked nights and we got back in bed together for hours with no fuss. Stories flatten the weird sharp shapes of memory, by necessity, and mine says I was watchful, quiet, unneedy, a little fat but pretty good at basketball, into Jane Austen by age six. A cookie-cutter oldest child who taught herself to read. The only thing is how I’d always cry when it was time for a party to end. How sometimes I still want to.
I’m a big fake. I’ve made a whole self around pouting and scratching at my neck, “I have to go.” That’s not to say I don’t mean it when I say I want to run away to anywhere, that it hurts in the marrow of my bones, and makes the simplest things hard, to know I haven’t, to feel still far from when I will. I have plans and I had plans like everyone and like most people–or maybe just some people, depending on my mood, depending on how ready I am to stroke my own cheek, you’ll be okay, kid, you’re all right– I am sad and sorry so much of the time, waiting on the beginning of a dream, surveying the futures I sketched in purple pen, self-indulgently sure they’re all half-ruined. I’ve already spun my wheels out so much without making any moves, muddied myself up with revved engines in spring. It’s not to say I don’t want to leave. The wanting is the point, which is the problem. I’ve been bracing for goodbyes like they’re a coming torture for so long that I think, I know, I hate, that I’ve started to like how it feels. You watch the videos of the dogs greeting soldiers because you like that heavy heaving ache from the crying. When I can’t take a breath around myself having a feeling, I feel good. Slick throat, full lungs, I’m so tired all the time trying to decide what to be sad about. When I tell you I’m a crybaby what I mean is: I’m greedy.
There is an experience of Place that becomes suddenly not about you at all. I am Here because of Here, I am an entity not in this place but of this place. Something stupid like that. I get to thinking I’m no different than dark green booths in corner with the cracks in the plastic duct taped shut, and I don’t mind. What I want to explain, I probably can’t. I’m good, sometimes, in a certain circular, snotty way, at remembering a moment and speaking of it so that it seems worth being remembered. I don’t know about the whole. I don’t know how to say why I hold in me a sense of debt to a place and to people that made me something I’m not even sure I like. I waiver and I’m always kinda weepy, I’m always too messy. I want to tell a story but I only have pangs in my stomach like adjectives, like I hope I’ve sussed it out in time to write a barely fictionalized novel about the town where I learned to be at least two or three people. There are bars I drink at now in new shoes where I used to make myself purple with wailing and stomping small shoes because there had been men with guitars that afternoon and parents in slumped huddles making lots of laughing noise while kids chased each other in circles all wearing same-looking sweaters and I didn’t want to leave. The particular trouble of my one soggy heart among the millions has always been the way I get sorry about the end of things before they’re over. Inconsolable on the last day of vacation even with an ice cream cone in hand. I wanted to cry each time I looked at the nicest boy to ever like me because I knew that we were playing inside numbered days, that I’d never be able to forgive his good teeth for making happy seem like nothing, like breathing. It was purely and truly a happy relief for college to end so of course I spent the final month in a heavy, morose fog. I’ll never take this bus again.
I keep every pink-cheeked memory tight to my chest in snarled fingers like anybody wants to take them away. In college, sometimes, I said, no, but you don’t understand. You don’t know what I come from, and that’s not true. Anywhere is like most somewheres I think and everyone was small in certain buildings near certain people who gave them hard candies from their pockets and said go outside. When I am on these streets I get sugary and when I am describing them I get riled up. It’s hard for me not to think the gold-hued tumblings of twenty years were special– my mother who pulls all the light in every room then reflects it back brighter, and she’s just saying hi, a hundred not quite cousins of unclear relation sharing secret beers in parking lots then twirling around into tables every time, to feel famous out of nowhere, my streets and purple sweatshirt, magic –because my taste for sentimental splendor gets stepped on any other way. The bitterness rises, rust tongue, what have I been doing? Funeral lines that wrap around the whole block are not worth the stolen lives but you remember anyway, that everyone was there.
Sorry, sorry, for how I get silly and soupy. I’ve always been melodramatic. From the first I was a poor drunk. I need it and I want it. An alley to yell in, a microphone to yell in, a mouth to yell in. I don’t approve, I only. I only. I only write a first entry in any diary because when I look back even the truth sounds like a flowery lie and I get embarrassed. I’ve always liked Scott Fitzgerald best or his flourishes and the lampshades metaphorical and not on his head as a crown for the drunken prince of poetic self-pity. Something in the prose and the man that made you feel as if the story were skating out of his mind and hands faster than he could control them, pirouetting by their own will, and only happened, incidentally, to be beautiful. I think when I was twelve, even, something there felt sort of kindred. Gross. I am grandiose in wrinkled skirts. I’ll tell you I’ll tell you I’ll tell you something, zig every zag back over the over while making sticky lipstick rings around the top of a beer bottle with the label picked clean. That’s just dancing. You do it for a few hours when the sound is still clear and then maybe you cry. I like the words but I don’t make them. I would like to become a person who tells the truth but I don’t even know what that means.
I have been trying I think in every word I ever wrote–even when I called them fiction, even when they were typed on a cell phone to someone with big hands, lies, “I think,” I know it is the case– to tell somebody what it feels like to be always afraid that everywhere you go and everything you do you are one step off from what you’re supposed to do be. I’ve always thought I was missing it. Just barely. Just it. The grand something. It’s the squirrely sort of worry that makes you cling onto everything. I hate goodbyes maybe I should not be going. I want more and new but also old. I want to open myself up so I can have everything I’ve ever seen and everyone I’ve ever spoken to living inside of me in case they might ever become part of what I want. Wild and selfish and sad is what sentimentalism is and I consider myself a sentimentalist before god or country or baseball, you know. I’m sludge with ambition. I’m saying my prayers and making crosses not because I believe but because I like the performance. It feels like something I stole from somebody else and makes me feel like I have glittering glass bones.
This was a mill town but they’re dead now. It’s funny cause we still say ‘paper city’ and in the sad romantic way about pretty hollows it’s still true. Not that it’s pretty unless you know how to look. That’s the romantic part. The buildings down past the high school are on fire some days. The canals are pretty. I got sick in the park on a too warm March Saturday when I was young with lime colored nails. I like the library because it always smells the same. It smelled that way when I was six and my dad’s Jeep was brown. I grew up with a good golden dog and when he looks tired I start crying in both hands. I still know which street curbs took skin off my elbows and what so-called members-only social club downtown serves anybody free drinks if you order in Spanish. I will go away and take the parts that make my rib cage ache, because I have lungs and wherever I am I’ll have to breathe. I’m a liar and I love it here; at some point I decided that these songs sound like home.