One morning in the summer of 1981, I was sitting in a small cafe on the West Bank of the Mississippi river, eating breakfast with my girlfriend, L. Someone went over to the jukebox and put on Neil Young’s version of the Ian & Sylvia song, Four Strong Winds:
I remember the eggs I was having, L’s face and voice, the odd wedge shape of the room, and the way the morning light poured in.
It’s February in New England now, and I’m sitting in a Bruegger’s munching on a poppyseed bagel, but when that song came on the speakers, I was right backin Minneapolis so fast it made my head spin. Just the opening notes were enough.
It suppose the memory is all the stronger because that took place only weeks before I pulled up stakes and moved to Chicago. After that move (my “going out to Alberta”) I never saw L again. Those were the days before the web and email, and letters were slow and telephone calls expensive, and neither of us had much money. I wrote a letter, a sort of apology, and sent care of some mutual friends, but I never heard back. I don’t know if it was ever delivered.
So each of us moved on; I found (after many tries) love and a family and a series of interesting events in my life. I suppose L did the same (thanks to the internet, I know she got a PhD a few years ago). I hope she’s happy, and I’m sorry for the pain I caused her (not the leaving; that was somehow suddenly mutual, and besides, I was a typical male of the time and that made me, as much as I thought of myself as a feminist, a real asshole with regard to women). I was so very young and stupid–younger and stupider than my years. So it goes. It wouldn’t be the first (or last) time I hurt someone I loved.
Paul Fussell writes in Doing Battle (his autobiography) that we underestimate the ability of certain senses to stimulate memory, especially sounds and smells. Sitting here listening to that song (now it’s James Taylor on the speakers, whose Millworker also was something that connected L and I) I know he’s right.
Still I wish you’d change your mind/If I asked you one more time/But we’ve been through that/A hundred times or more…