This story was originally published on Tumblr, January 8th, 2016.
Eight or so winters ago, I took a solo road trip from Pullman out to Salem, Oregon, and then Seattle to catch two Ryan Adams and the Cardinals shows. It was one of the first long-distance-drive-motel-stay trips I’d ever done by myself, and though that type of thing is de rigueur these days, at the time it felt like a grand adventure. And so, I suppose, it was. Salem was beautiful, Seattle was…Seattle, and the shows were great. If I’m remembering right I must have had a Monday off of school/work (or maybe I just had a TTH schedule that term) because after the second (Saturday) show, I spent a few days in Bothell with an old friend of mine who at that time was working for Microsoft.
Long story short, we realized in the course of my stay that my ailing Mazda was coughing up blood, and as my friend just happened to have a full-service auto repair bay in his garage (no shit), the visit turned into chipping away at my car problems over the course of two days while being pretty consistently intoxicated on various substances.
Over the course of these two days, I found out one way or another that a colleague of mine who I’d fancied for awhile was in town, visiting her family over the long weekend, and we resolved to caravan back over Snoqualmie Pass together: a snowstorm was forecasted to blow in on the morning we both planned to leave and I think that we both appreciated the thought that if something should happen to one of us the other one would be out there nearby and reachable by cell phone.
In my usual way back then, I had spent most of the previous year working and hanging out with this girl, not communicating my affections in any clear way, but obsessing over how they might be received if I should do so. We didn’t really have a lot in common in some ways, her being a little bit the glitter and pop music and Ugg boot type and me being, well, me, but I felt like we had a connection nonetheless and I think in a way the notion of being somewhat dependent on each other for safety while undertaking a potentially dangerous adventure (of sorts) really appealed to me. It wasn’t a context I was used to seeing her in, and was a bit closer to my preferred milieu than our other interactions.
Well, long story short, my old friend and I didn’t finish the repairs on my car until late the morning of the storm, and after a few unnecessarily dramatic phone conversations, my colleague left town about three hours before I did, the storm on her heels. By the time I dragged my hungover, exhausted, and now somewhat heartbroken ass into the seat of my car, I was headed right into the teeth of it.
For whatever reason, the only CDs I had in my car during that trip that weren’t Ryan Adams were the first two Band of Horses albums, and so those played on loop for the eight hours or so it took me to do what was normally a five hour drive. Ever since then, I’ve associated those albums with feeling spectacularly alone, tired, cold, and a little scared on the road, but in that sort of achy, nostalgic way that makes you want to listen to them and remember for some reason instead of burning them to forget.
I’m not quite sure what happened on her end as a result of our failure to coordinate on that particular drive, but we were never really as close afterward as we had been before, and I’ve remembered that day (and the music) for a long time as markers of a sort of lost opportunity. Honestly, it only occurred to me earlier this week that rather than that being the moment we fell out of what might have eventually been love, it was likely the moment when I realized, somewhere deep enough in my brain that it took eight years to excavate, that we weren’t meant for each other at all. It’s weird how being apart can feel more like love than being together, sometimes. At least if you’re me.
That was why I was so down during that whole drive, I think, and why I carried the memory of the trip around for a long time after like an emo albatross: some part of me was smart enough to recognize that if she couldn’t wait a few hours for me to get on the road, she probably didn’t care about me as much as I did about her (I would have waited, stupidly, with no questions, for as long as it took), and that adventurous streak that I so badly wanted to see in her was really just wishful thinking on my part. I would keep trying for awhile afterward, and, later, keep wondering if I should have kept trying after it should have stopped mattering anymore.
It’s funny, though, how sometimes your brain fixes those things for you once you’re far enough away from them to see the big picture. It’s sort of a given that Band of Horses will always be a little haunted for me, but now only by the ghost of that drive and not by other ghosts that are better off having been set free.