Driving Music

The radio in my car doesn’t work so well right now. For awhile, it was only static—a humming white noise that would make you shake your head in buzzing frustration. It disappeared the last time I drove into town, just up and vanished; no sound, no vibrations—just a cacophony of rioting airwaves.

The lack of sound disappointed me; on the drives to and from work, my car was—like my apartment—far too quiet. Just last week, however, I chanced it and pressed the sunflower-colored power button. I was surprised—music. Subtle, quiet … but there. Though I quickly discovered that the volume could be no louder than one-fourth its potential, I was satisfied.

You see, when I’m driving, when I’m on those long and lonely trips, I listen to music. I sing loudly and dominantly, afraid of no one.

Afraid of everything.

The beat of a Stabbing Westward song previously unheard by my ears pounds through my veins, my fingertips. I want to level the accelerator, propel myself up and over the hills. Rush through and blend with the natural beauty of a landscape forgotten and unchanged.

Florence and the Machine, Shakira, The Killers, Beirut. Vagabonds and devils, I sing them all, sing them proudly. Sing them obnoxiously, like I did the endless stream of Christmas carols just a few weeks ago. It was awkward driving, I’m sure, to pass me on the road and see me exaggerating the lyrics with contorted lips, bopping my head and mimicking “A Night at the Roxbury.”

Each song I listen to reminds me of something else—of someone else. There’s the crooning voice of James Taylor and the lyrics of “God Only Knows” that remind me of Brent, a friend who I once lusted after. There are the melodramatic creations of Muse, a band introduced to me by D.J. who, one summer, dueled with Brent for my attention. There are songs from my brother’s darker days, from my mother’s teenage years. Music from my childhood makes me weepy and nostalgic, though not as angrily sad as the tunes that remind me of my last relationship—a three-year courtship that did not end pleasantly or expectedly.

The songs remind me of everyone who isn’t with me, of everyone who still is. They are in my thoughts, my mind, my heart, my feelings, my memory. In fact, it is when I am driving that I think of them most often. My sudden recollections of memory remind me of two words that Ty—an old soul whose reclusiveness warrants surprising bits of wisdom—associates with driving: reflective and relaxing. Indeed, I may not have my best thoughts while propelling “the beast” through the Midwest, but I certainly have better ones.

Having songs to listen to is certainly better than resorting to the music inside my head, for it is far too unharmonious. Jumbled thoughts and racing ideas and should-I-do-this-es and I-need-to-that-s and I-can’t-do-this-this-is-too-much-es. I think and I ponder, meditate until, like the Grinch, my “puzzler is sore.” I realize how easy it is to think when you are alone, how easy it is to remember the past. I look around me, at the hills and fields, and believe that the land cultivates to the people’s thoughts. They don’t distract me from my own memories, and I am often reminded of how easily I have fallen in lust.

I count, aloud, how many interests I’ve had, discover that I’ve had sixteen. I have not loved all, nor have I even dated half, for the sixteen include the crushes of a five-year-old, as well as the grade-school of-course-I’ll-play-Mortal-Kombat-at-recess-with-you “love interests.” I am embarrassed at my ability to admire a former boss. My easy infatuation even allowed me to envision my fifth-grade teacher as a father figure. I did the same with my sixth-grade teacher, calling attention to myself; subconsciously, I knew I needed the guidance and support from two parents.

It amazes me how easily I can care for so many people. In the end, I wonder if anyone remembers me—even the strangers who, for a just moment, I passed by. Surely, the elderly couple at the mall—the one who always wore matching polos, including ones of a vivid canary-yellow—do not remember me. Do the people to whom I once offered a ride remember? Does the saleswoman at Target who I made laugh return home and tell her mother/sister/brother/husband/boyfriend/roommate/cat the same joke? Any of those people—the sweet couple, the busy sales clerk—may have been having a good day, a bad day. They may not remember my name, my business, my smile … but my face, still there, still remembered, may appear in one of their dreams as the face of a stranger.

All these things weave and worm through my brain as I drive, as I criss-cross the countryside. I don’t mind the sun sometimes, the images it shows. I can taste you on my lips and smell you in my clothes. Cinnamon and sugary and softly spoken lies… I sing, I hum, I move. I drive. I reach for my CD case, grab a disc at random and surprise myself with melodies as I feed it into the reader. Coldplay, the soundtrack to Shrek 2, a Phil Collins mix for my brother, Shiny Toy Guns.

“Who does remember me?” I ask myself, happy that the music is not just in my head. “What do people think of me when they are driving? Do they think of me at all?” I go back to singing.

You never know just how you look through other people’s eyes.


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