I am headed down I-75S towards Stockbridge, Georgia with my med school classmate Paolo, on our way to visit a housebound woman who was in a serious car accident some months before. It is an exercise for our Doctor-Patient small group, and I feel a little peeved that I am expected to drive 45 minutes away for my task when most everyone else in the class has been assigned someone at the local home for the elderly, or even people in the hospital right across the street. Paolo is driving, and has Sufjan Steven in the stereo: Illinoise. He has just been to see Sufjan in concert with several of our classmates, and I find myself wishing once again that I could be free enough to be a part of that scene—going to hear live music or grabbing a beer with my lab group after a particularly grueling anatomy dissection. But there is an 18-month old boy at home who sees far too little of me as it is, and any extra time I have is rightfully his.
Paolo and I talk for the first 20 minutes or so, but as the CD plays on we both become lost in our own thoughts, slightly nervous in our brand new and spotless student doctor coats, feeling a little like poseurs. What was this lady going to say to us? What will we say to her? I am grateful to Sufjan and his calm, unhurried voice as we pull up to her modest apartment complex. We weave around the parking lot, squinting at the numbers on the buildings until her door appears and we turn off the car, squaring our white-coated shoulders for the unknown inside.
Noah is still tiny enough to still be rocked to sleep, and L and I have searched out music that we can listen to night after night after night and not want to gouge our eardrums out with sporks. We’ve just purchased the soundtrack from the movie Garden State, and one of the songs is by Iron and Wine. We dig it. Their album Our Endless Numbered Days soon becomes every afternoon’s nap time playlist. It is peaceful and a little melancholy, but it fills the hours well as I move back and forth with the motion of the rocker, the weight of a small warm body nestled in the crook of my arm.
There is coffee with a generous helping of store-bought vanilla creamer in the cupholder of my Subaru Forester, and I have on tights—a piece of clothing I haven’t worn or even owned in a long time. I’ve just been hired as an assistant editor at a national magazine, and it feels so unbelievable that I have to remind myself it’s really happening to me and not someone else. I haven’t had a full-time job in five years, but now I’m driving the surface streets of Atlanta at 7:30 in the morning, slowly inching my way toward the connector, radio cranked up to blast on my honest-to-god grown up commute. Guster has just come out with their Easy Wonderful album, and I’m pretty sure every song has been written directly and explicitly for me. I turn on to the entrance ramp and start to accelerate toward my new building and desk and title complete with business cards as the song sings my life out the windows and into the traffic-filled lanes of the freeway that points me toward my future.
So take a breath and step into the light. Everything will be all right. This could all be yours someday. This could all be yours someday.
This is what music does. It keeps our memories and holds them, until the first few notes slip them seamlessly back into our mind and we live the experiences right out again, like we’re still there. Like we never even left in the first place.