When you live with four other girls, it’s hard enough to find quiet. It’s all just five sets of class schedules, five different jobs, five breakfasts, lunches and dinners dodging and weaving around and through each other while everyone tries to justify living in an apartment with one bathroom. Add in the weight of semester’s end, carrying with it the knowledge that you only have twelve more months left to get this thing right before you’re cast off the edge without a net, and it’s safe to say that every unoccupied corner of our little city apartment often filled with anxiety. They were four of my closest friends, and we were fresh off a plane from halfway around the world - four months abroad that changed all of our lives, and sent us running toward our futures.
So, it’s safe to say that on this particular day, I can’t remember how we got there. There’s a vague recollection that one of us called the other four into the back bedroom, pulling each of us momentarily from our books and our term papers and lacing up our most comfortable black sneakers for the dinner shift. And then, there were five of us squished into the little room, curiously watching Maggie search for something on one of the laptops. Listen, she said, with the same incredulous tone a child would use as he held a seashell up to your ear.
I grew up on Billy Joel. My dad sang “Lullaby” to me when I was a child, and I had forever been puzzled by the fact that every time I fell asleep in the car, it seemed like I woke up to the sounds of “Big Shot” blasting through the speakers. More recently, I had spent the greater part of sophomore year dancing down Commonwealth Ave with “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” blasting though my headphones. So when the first trills of the piano floated out of those little computer speakers, I chuckled with immediate recognition.
In any other moment, it would have bordered on cheesy. With any other people, it would have turned into a joke. But there was something about the way our shoulders sighed into the silence, our tired limbs finding just enough space to spread themselves across the two small beds, that begged us just to do as we were instructed and listen. A mutual understanding born out of the gentle melody hanging in the air between us. Slow down, you crazy child…
Nobody moved. Nobody spoke. We all just sat, breathing quietly, and with the music drowning out the only other sound – that of your own heartbeat – it felt almost like the rest of the world had been turned off. Like there was nothing more necessary in that moment than just existing for a while.
I don’t believe I will ever have a more vivid memory of quiet.
As the final notes dissolved among us, our eyes opened with the quiet realization that we had all closed them in the first place. There was not a word, not a even a glance of recognition that the last three minutes had taken place, until Maggie’s golden curls bobbed with the quick, confident nod of her head. Okay, she sighed. Okay.
And so we pulled our legs from under us and planted our feet back on the ground to return to a land of Red Bull and thesis arguments, scripts and harmonies, production schedules and busy pre-game crowds. There were still battles to be won. There were still miles and miles of our journeys to be run. And you know that when the truth is told, you can get what you want or you can just get old…
— —— —
Months later, on a one-way flight to California, I would string my headphones up through my sleeves to hide them during takeoff so I could listen to that song on repeat. There are very few things that terrify me more than takeoff, except for maybe takeoff from a place you know you will have to get accustomed to missing. My dad, noticing my anxiety from the seat next to me, would chuckle and ask what I was listening to. I would tilt the screen of my iPod in his direction and he would chuckle once more, quieter this time.
“That’s always been your song, you know, from way before you were even old enough to know it. Every time I hear it, I see you. My little girl.”
I would manage a thick “Really?” before shoving my earbuds back in, hands covering my ears as the wheels left the ground. I would try to hold off the thoughts of where I was running to just a little bit longer. Sometimes, you just need the quiet.
Slow down, you crazy child, you’re so ambitious for a juvenile, but if you’re so smart, then tell me why are you still so afraid?
Scintilla, Day 3: Talk about a memory triggered by a particular song.
Part of The Scintilla Project: a fortnight of storytelling. Check out more info on the project here.
Note: There’s a two-day break in prompts over the weekend, so I’ll be back Sunday with some regular content to tide things over!