I once heard that the place in your brain that houses memory is right next to the storehouse of smells. Which explains why you can sniff something, anything, from years ago and have an immediate memory for it.
I have these.
But sometimes I feel I have greater ties to music and memory. Smells will take me back, yes, but music … wow … music will catapult me into memories I didn't even know I had. Some songs are storehouses for me of good and not so good memories. Some tunes will trip me up the moment the first notes fly from the speakers.
What's interesting is I hardly ever expect it. More often than not, I will throw a cd in the player – a cd I've recently uncovered – and turn it on not expecting anything other than to hear the song. I expect to hear it through my ears now … not to hear it "then". Now. I guess I expect Hear and Now. I don't expect the tsunami of memories that comes along with a forgotten tune. I'm blindsided ... er, deafsided. I don't expect it, but out of the back of my brain, the memories come.
One such song is "Raining in Baltimore" by the Counting Crows. It is on their August and Everything After CD which I'm pretty sure was their first CD. I can remember seeing them perform on Saturday Night Live and the very next day, my friend Kristy stopped by Karma Records and spent way too much to buy the CD. She then brought it to my house and we listened to it while we scraped old wallpaper off the walls in the dining room. Now, normally upon buying a new CD, I would listen to just one or two songs that I knew over and over again but since we were scraping wallpaper and busy with our hands, we just let the whole CD play. And as it played, we talked. We talked about this. We talked about that. We talked about hiring someone else to scrape this blasted wallpaper. And somewhere along the way, Raining in Baltimore came on. And it played. And despite our conversation and our scraping, I heard it.
That's the not memory, by the way.
The song is just vocals and a lonely piano. I have a soft spot for lonely piano as it does to my heart what a good dose of painkillers does to my brain. Makes it all leery and weary and useless for the next 4 to 6 hours. As with most times I first hear a song, I didn't catch all the lyrics. I only caught some. But I grabbed a hold of enough to know I'd be listening to this song again. And again.
This circus is falling down on its knees
The big top is crumbling down
Its raining in Baltimore fifty miles east
Where you should be, no one's around
Later, I sat by myself and listened intently to the song. I sat at my dining room table. I sat alone. The Man Who I Was Married To at the time was out of town and so I could sit for long periods and do nothing. I could drink a highball glass full of bourbon. I could scratch poetry out onto a spiral notebook. I could do all of these things. And I did. And as I did, I listened.
These train conversations are passing me by
And I don't have nothing to say
You get what you pay for
But I just had no intention of living this way
I need a phone call
I need a plane ride
I need a sunburn
I need a raincoat
Each line dripped. Fell. Worked on me. I need a raincoat. Every time that simple line was repeated (and it was repeated in the song many, many times) I felt something grow in me. Like each repeat of this line was creating stalactites and stalagmites all around me making it both impossible to move and intolerable to stay. I forced these growths inside me by playing the song over and over, hitting the repeat button on the stereo before the last line had completely faded.
And I get no answers
And I don't get no change
Its raining in Baltimore, baby
But everything else is the same
It worked on me. Into me. Like a canyon being carved each phrase of that song slowly uncovered so much … the thing I was afraid of, the words I never spoke, the conversations I feared, the wall I was building, the woman I was becoming … the woman I'd never become.
I need a phone call
I need a raincoat
I really need a raincoat
I really, really need a raincoat
When The Man I Was Married To returned from his trip, I kept playing the song. Not continuously but I played it often. And when I did play it, I always repeated it. This was especially true one night as I sat, again, at the dining room table. With the music. Without the bourbon and notebook. I hit repeat on that song again and again. And at one point after countless times through the song, he called loudly from the distant room he was in to ask me "Hey, can we buy that guy a raincoat so he'll stop singing about it?" which is a hell of a line and funny to me now but then only further reinforced how much he didn't know me, understand me and how impossible it would be for him to ever navigate the topography of my heart.
That's the memory.
Sometimes people ask me how I knew it was time to leave my marriage. Or, if daring, they'll ask me why I left. Or they may even ask if something in particular caused me to leave. I have a lot of answers for these questions and depending on who is asking, I choose the appropriate one.
There's the fundamentalist answer
The friend who is considering leaving her own marriage answer
The friend who is considering getting married answer
The stranger I met on a train in Italy answer
And the answer given over guacamole and margaritas … I think we all know that one is the best!
The thing about answering that question, the "why did you divorce" question is that no matter what answer you give, you are judged. It's true. And it's okay, I suppose. It just is what it is. And that's probably why I've worked so hard at answering the question in the past. Why I've come up with different – all true – reasons for leaving the marriage … to tone down the judgment. But lately, I have to tell you, I really don't care as much. Lately, I care far less about protecting him and making myself look okay to you. Lately it doesn't matter to me if people understand or get it. So much so that I think the next time someone asks why I divorced I may just say …
Because I couldn't be married to a man who wouldn't at least ask, "hey babe, why are you playing that song so much?"
There's things I remember and things I forget
I miss you, I guess that I should
Three thousand five hundred miles away
But what would you change if you could?