As Tall As Cliffs
About once a month, usually around the time I’m listening to Jason Isbell’s Southeastern and nursing a half-empty growler, I fall into the deep, swirling chaos of nostalgia. It comes suddenly, without warning—in the midst of an otherwise mundane day.
And yet, for many minutes, and sometimes hours, I can’t escape it. Typically, it seems, I am usually catapulted back to my senior year of college, a time where I was both dreadfully sad and treacherously happy in practically every waking moment. A boy I loved too much had broken my heart, and I’d fallen quite effortlessly into the half-drunken arms of a handful of unsuspecting friends.
Suddenly, the memory of crying on Garret’s bed at 4:30 in the morning while making fun of his Thai tank top seems like a moment I want to revisit over and over and over, though in that frozen piece of time I would have wished it long gone. I can recall the brown jersey sheets from which I snatched my phone (yes, a blue Nokia being held together by neon green duct tape) to see that it was 4 in the morning. Even in Oxford, Ohio time this was relatively late, but I knew Garret would be awake, and I knew he’d let me come over if he wasn’t in the midst of some weird Internet stuff.
He let me lay there and cry about something silly I’d done that night, and since Ben was out creating art more meaningful than all of our lives, I slept in his twin bed on the floor amidst the graffiti and the photographs and the walls that were bursting with genius.
I woke that morning only a few hours later, walked home, and, if I know myself at all: I likely spent the rest of the day watching The O.C. with Maggie and Annie and Chelsea, waiting for Garret to tell me more about his mysterious brother whom I knew was going to be my brief foray back into emotional stability.
We’d unlocked the fourth bedroom door to our apartment with a hanger and a mirror so that Chelsea could stay all the time, because whenever Chelsea left the place got just a little bit sadder.
In 2014, when the song “Traveling Alone” comes through the same speakers on which I used to blast Margot and The Nuclear So & So’s “As Tall As Cliff” in my college apartment, I realize suddenly I haven’t seen Chelsea in two years. That one day she lived in a room next door to me in Nashville where we could talk about our unfathomable fears of mystery diseases and debate the coolness of Jon McCauley. And then, one day, she didn’t. And with a strange sense of speed: we are several states apart and many years removed. I think of where I will want her to stand in my wedding, but isn’t it strange that she’s never met the boy I hope to marry?
And then I think of Ben and his graffiti and art and wise, incomprehensible words and insatiable curiosity and creativity and Garret with his fierce intelligence and inspiring ambition and infectious awkwardness and giggling. Marielle and her talent and strength and discipline that I didn’t even begin to respect and admire until years after we could have been the best of friends. Chelsea and her scathing wit and kindred spirit and loyal friendship I wouldn’t be able to breathe without. And Maggie, Sniggles, and her levelheaded wisdom and ceaseless support. Sean and his broken neck and neon swimsuit. Jess, Jess, with her cackling laugh and endless spontaneity and ability to teach me everything and nothing at the same time.
How bizarre it is that the people who carried me on their shoulders through years of my life haven’t met the people I spend my days with now? That maybe they haven’t seen the city I’ve lived in for nearly five years, because isn’t that just what happens? That in ten years we’ll probably all still live in different cities and maybe there will be husbands and wives and kids and nephews that we’ll never meet. Our parents will die and we won’t be there to carry each other through the night like we used to do so often. We won’t be there to drink until our puke turns black or pile green jello into plastic bags. We won’t be there to bounce beach balls off of concrete walls or eat Chipotle in front of The Graduate or House or The OC or Friends. We won’t be there when some people get married, because work will get in the way.
Maybe, just maybe: that is simply a part of growing up. Time carries us swiftly away and nostalgia careens us back together whenever the music is right.
[Please note: nobody died. Except Marissa Cooper]