My Runaway Train over the Rainbow
Certain scents hold sway over me. The smell of cinnamon, for example, propels me back in time to where I hover just outside my childhood home’s kitchen in wait of my mom’s proclamation that her heavenly cinnamon rolls are ready to eat.
It’s not only scents that have this power over me. Certain songs, too, yank me straight out of now, depositing me firmly—as long as their strains whisper their magic in my ears—in times and places that would, without music, be strictly memory.
I walk up to my mom’s house and see that she’s out working in her yard. I greet her, give her a hug and tell her I have to “powder my nose,” but that I’ll be right back.
When I step back outside, my mom is smiling while explaining to a passing stranger, “My daughters introduced it to me. Isn’t it so hopeful? When I listen to it, I feel like anything is possible.” I stop and savor the moment from the porch, unwitting to the fact that a song already much beloved by me will someday be one of two roads that lead me to a place where I again stand in my mom’s presence.
I hop off the bus on which I have pretended to study law all the way between UCLA and Hollywood. I do the same as I wait for the music to begin. Once it does, I sit through song after song, hopeful that one of the songs Gary sings will be “Mad World.” When I hear the song’s first notes, I suppress the urge to exclaim my delight. In the candlelit darkness of The Hotel Café, I close my eyes and am lost to the haunting melancholy of that song. If I am very lucky, I do so with the knowledge Mack will be driving me home soon after I reopen my eyes.
I tell Eric I’m sad I missed his last show, but that my youngest sister wouldn’t have been too understanding if I went to a concert instead of her wedding. Eric hands me a CD of the show and tells me it’s not the same as having been there, but that this way I won’t have missed it completely. He then asks with endearing awkwardness, “Is that weird?” I reassure him it is a lovely gesture, not weird.
A handful of days later, I think of this exchange after I pack my dog into my car and begin a sixteen-hour drive that will, if I am lucky, lead me to say a final goodbye to my “Grampa G” while he is still alive. I put Eric’s CD in my car’s player and skip straight to “Bitter Honey,” which is my bittersweet company through that day’s drive.
I stop for a few hours of sleep in Williams, California. I walk my dog for a few minutes before we return to the car. As the sun rises on that walk, I take this picture. Minutes later, I continue my flight northward. I pray I will be in time to hug a man who took many years to accept hugs, and more years still to welcome them.
I drive southward a few days later, weeping as I try to understand how Grampa G can no longer have a physical home on earth. I listen to “Bitter Honey” and understand that in a song and a picture, I will always be able to find my way back to the blessed moments where I clasped one of Grampa G’s hands between my own as I thanked him for waiting for me.
My family and I are attending a church conference in Montana. I am so captivated by this song that I stake out the TV room on my dorm floor in a state of constant anticipation for its next play. I scowl a wordless threat at anyone who so much as looks in the direction of either the remote or the TV’s control panel. I issue politely couched threats to anyone who tries doing more than justlook at them. In doing these things, I retain dominance of the room save when I am forced out by pesky community-building gatherings.
I am sixteen years old. I have moved out of my mom’s house, again. I have just enough money to pay rent for a bedroom out in the boonies, but not enough money to buy myself a bed. As I lie on the floor trying to sleep, I am as terrified as I am exhilarated until To Go Beyond II starts playing. I hear it and know the thrill of being, for its duration, carried straight to heaven.
Sixteen years later, I continue to believe for so long as the song plays not only that there is heaven, but that my mom dances there eternally. For a few minutes at a time, I am able to bask in the light of her peace, a kind I understand she could never have found on earth.
What songs move you, and to where?