It was the summer before my senior year in college and I needed one more science class to graduate; so I decided to stay in my tiny college town. A friend from my residence hall was also staying in town and had the hook up on an apartment to sublet. It was pretty bare bones as I recall. A few things the full-year tenants had already moved in; some kitchen stuff and a bit of living room furniture. Someone’s family’s ancient couch and a chair. There was a definite sense of impermanency, that in retrospect seems appropriate for the summer before the end of college.
Among the scant items there was a TV (that matched the ancient couch). We plugged in the cable and watched a few glorious nights of Friends re-runs until the cable company left a pleasent little note on our door about theft. So we turned instead to music, since there was no doubt that the two small boxes of CDs in the living room clearly belonged to us (one of the few items we had each brought to our temporary home).
We spent many an evening sitting in the dark (there was no AC and it was July in Virginia), holding cold water glasses against our wrists – listening to music, telling our stories and talking about the future. It was that summer that I first discovered Rusted Root. To this day I can’t listen to When I Woke and not be transported to that apartment. Sometimes I listen to it for that express purpose; to remember what it was like to be twenty-one and on the verge of something that felt so huge and infinite and bottomless as life after college.
About two years later I was living outside Washington, DC and the band’s tour stopped at a small venue in the city. My roommate and a friend were going, but for reasons I can no longer remember we weren’t able to ride to the show together. Even then, I wasn’t much of a driver and I have never, ever had anything resembling a sense of direction. I always took the Metro into the city, but the metro didn’t go to this particular part of town. I was on my own and nervous about getting lost, but I cranked up the music and drove.
When I got there I knew immediately it wasn’t going to be easy to find my friends in the swelling crowd. That tension that happens just before a band goes on stage was already palpable. Looking for my friends would cost me a prime spot close to the stage to see my favorite band, so I called off the search and took my place near the stage. The lights went down and the musicians took stage. They played song after song after song I knew and I sang along at the top of my lungs in a sea of strangers until I was hoarse.
I think back about those two experiences, connected by the same music, and realize how simultaneously small and huge they are. Little moments that were early lessons about the importance of connection, of unplugging the noise and really listening to someone else’s story. The first flicker of knowledge that sometimes it is okay to chose myself over others. It is okay to be alone. I love that there is a soundtrack for these moments. Something to remind me of these essential truths: sometimes you just have to be quiet and give yourself time just for you.
I would love to hear a story about your soundtrack in the comments below (and I promise, my TV is off).