In late July, I often get the urge to burn down my life. As the adult child of two addicts, I am attuned to the signs of impending meltdowns, including my own. I feel like I’m watching weather approaching over the water from inside a glass-walled room. Okay, it’s coming, I think, as though there’s nothing I can do about it. Lightning might strike soon. The signs are subtle but sentimental: a sudden overflow of poignancy while biking across a bridge, a restlessness for long drives on highways, a desire to drink white wine outdoors in the afternoon, a noncommittal gravitation toward Catholic churches.
The summer when I was twenty-one, I was spending a lot of time in bars in Boston with someone who wasn’t my boyfriend. I was writing for the arts section of the local newspaper and believing I had found my dream job. Perhaps I had, but I would learn later that no such job really exists. I was driving constantly around New England: up and down the thin highways of 90, 91, 93, 95 to Worcester and Sudbury and Prudence Island and Yarmouth and Scituate and Lenox and Lyme and Old Lyme and Burlington, crossing porous state lines and stopping often for coffee. I was sitting on porches in Somerville in the humidity drinking beers with other newspaper interns and talking in circles. I was composing long emails and not sending them, then sending them, then waiting for answers. The days felt endless, though in reality they were getting shorter while I wasn’t paying attention.
I drove to Providence in the rain to interview a man whose job was to pick all the music that played over the loudspeakers in Logan Airport. He lived in a butter-yellow house with a dog named Felyx. He showed me the hardware that hooked his living room up to the airport. He told me about how he considered his work the largest art installation in New England, his songs heard by millions of passengers every day, and about how people are sensitive in airports so he tried to find a place in between happy and sad. Then he put on Guy Clark singing “Dublin Blues”: Well I wished I was in Austin, mmm hmm, in the Chili Parlor Bar, drinking Mad Dog Margaritas and not caring where you are…
I put on the whole album for the drive back to Boston. Clark was singing from one city where I’d never been about another where I’ve yet to go. Still, I found myself moved to tears. The yearning to be somewhere else, the ghosts of other places and people running like a current under reality—was there anything I felt more strongly than this? I listened to the rest of the album and the songs blended into a crescendo of longing that matched my own: I blew a kiss through your keyhole, just to let you know I’m breathin’. The rain cleared as I merged onto I-93, into the network of tunnels around Boston, along the river.
This summer, I’m back in Boston after a long time away. I’ve been taking aimless walks along the river, listening to Clark and letting the past run underneath the present. He sings, I’ll face up to the truth, I can walk away from trouble but I can’t walk away from you… It has been a year of imagining other landscapes from inside our small rooms. Some people have been visualizing futures, trips they might take to unknown cities. I am always imagining myself backwards instead, into other apartments where I’ve lived, other long drives on highways I know well, other times when the weather in my mind was turbulent and it felt like my restlessness and my summer would never end.
That last summer in Boston, I was on the verge of a lot of things. Soon I would break up with my boyfriend. Soon it would be fall. Soon I would crash my car outside New Haven, doing minimal damage but narrowly missing disaster. Soon I would be reckless with a lot of people’s hearts. But when I think of that time, I always imagine that drive and Clark’s voice, articulating my specific suspended ache. Is there anything more incandescent than the moment before a meltdown? Is there anything more tangible than the places and people who are elsewhere?
— Sophie Haigney
Boston, day 142