“Courage is when you’re afraid
but you keep on moving anyway
courage is when you’re in pain
but you keep on living anyway
It’s not how many times you’ve been knocked down
it’s how many times you get back up
Courage is when you’ve lost your way
but you find your strength anyway
courage is when you’re afraid
courage is when it all seems gray
courage is when you make a change
and you keep on living anyway”
-Orianthi (via The Strange Familiar), “Courage”
This song has been following me around lately, most recently finding me on the way to Fish’s at a time I was starting to feel particularly haunted again. One of those “awareness is never enough” moments to be sure, even though it seems sort of innately silly that such moments can come with frequently heard radio songs. I remember finding significance in every time “The Freshmen” by Verve Pipe came on, even though it was probably #1 in the country for most of that summer. I also remember a time just after when “Brick” by Ben Folds Five came on at precisely the right time and my counterparts and I shook a late-night hotel parking garage with the reverberation of speakers echoing against our plaintive sing-along cries. That was a night I balanced off a fifteen-story interior balcony and later ripped up a dollar bill to post, ticket-like, under the windshield wiper of the most expensive car I could find. I would long call it the best buck I ever spent.
It’s easy to feel like the radio is speaking to you, especially at nights when you’re alone and the power of your feelings is so great that it feels like it’s almost extracting penance from whatever DJ is on the other end of the signal. I’m using the second person not as a crutch, but to convey the singularity of feeling spoken to that the radio itself provides at such times. You can go around and around as many have about whether pop songs reflect our emotions because they are trite and corny but have manufactured similar shallowness in our hearts or whether they reflect fundamental truths that cut to the core of emotions we try to complicate and mystify in our own minds when, deep down, people are really quite simple. I don’t have a horse in that race, but you might. I just feel and react as sincerely as I can when it feels like the world is talking. And I’m listening a lot lately, especially.
Driving back from Fish’s house has involved late nights on Second Street in Albuquerque ever since my family first moved from the place on 12th Street to the current location on Silver in the midst of luminaria central. I’d long discovered 2nd’s superiority to 4th, the slightly larger street more famously close to Fish’s windy back-road domicile. It’s got higher speed limits and fewer lights and way fewer businesses with drunk and/or distracted drivers pulling out into traffic without looking so much as one way. So for nigh on a decade or so, I’ve been wandering back from late nights and early mornings at the place long lovingly dubbed “The Tank” (where does a Fish live?) between the straight-shot painted lines that demarcate Second.
Early on, Second Street is as much hinterland as anything, but as it approaches downtown, there is an eerieness that creeps in, especially in winter. I forget about it almost every drive, or more accurately every first drive of the season I’ve returned home concurrent with Fish. Albuquerque’s downtown buildings tend to be lit in various colors at night, especially during December, and Second is particularly partial to purples and greens. Additionally, Civic Center shows up on Second, a wide-open expanse of paved space that’s so clearly designed for throngs of people, yet so often empty. Needless to say, the confluence of lights and buildings, against an often misty frigid backdrop of winter sky creates an aura of presence and even prescience rarely felt in vehicular transit.
But it is the echoes of such prior experiences and revelations, many themselves already documented on this page in one place or another, at one time or another, that really compounded the feeling tonight. I remember early trips down Second in the green Kia, blasting music of my own choice wrenched from any awareness-yielding fates lingering at the touch of a far-flung jockey. “A Murder of One” at top volume, with thoughts of at least two different girls vying for my heartache. The liberation of loud music belted along to in the company of self alone, the release of such insane frustration at one’s personal state, the glinting possibility of the dead of night contrasting against the vast emptiness of darkness itself. “Change, change, change!” And things, they did. Later trips down Second Street (memory lane?) with Emily herself, even relating the stories of my lonely angsty nights years prior, warmed and heartened by having finally secured love and having her fall asleep to murmuring stories of yore after a long night with friends and games and camaraderie, the throes of knowing exactly how lucky and happy I was in the moment I was feeling it. An awareness that seemingly could only come with the totem of the asphalt beneath us and its solidity, its unflinching sameness, the constancy of the buildings and the environs and even the lighting that evoked resonance. And now, full circle, back again and alone, raging against wrongs present and imagined futures in a quieter, hollower, aged way. Only to pass Civic Center and discover that it was precisely past two, the bars of Central emptying themselves of short-skirted revelers and their bravadoing cohorts, all spilling in an overdressed but underclothed mass into the damp night air. The concern that one or another might trip and fall into the path of the oncoming gray Kia, the fourth car utilized in this unending lifelong procession from one home to another.
I have no conclusions for this nighttime series of visions, only the sinking feeling of being thrust into a hologram, of seeing the shadowy ethereal nature of reality blinking back at me but being no more able to seize it or control it than I could hold down a phantom and demand the answers. It’s a little like a Ray Bradbury story, “Night Meeting”, but I am the Martian I am colliding with, blending the story almost into “Night Call, Collect” as well. But I am not here to torment my past or future, either, just to nod at it, to sagely wave as I pass through versions of myself, stalling and humming at red, sailing along through green.
Time is an illusion in this world, a well held and reinforced one, but a fraud nonetheless. To be able to see through it, to capture the constancy of what underlies our lives, surely that must be what most of this metaphor is trying to show us. Damned if I can see it, or how, or why, but I can detect the underlying attributes, the essence of what is being shown. Hello, Storey. It’s Storey. You will live and love and feel pain and mostly, even between friend and family, you will be alone. You will feel alone. And no matter how well or much or deeply you connect, no one will ever understand. Not really. Not fully. This is your lot. And it will be okay. For maybe in the manufacturing of multiple selves through time, you will find the understanding from another that you crave so deeply. Even if that other is merely yourself in another mirror.
But tomorrow is luminaria day and now you must rest, if only for a little while. Good night.