It is fall and I am upstate, driving west on Route 17. Mid-afternoon sunlight saturates the car, tumbling unfiltered from a brilliant blue sky that is trimmed at the bottom with riotous leaves: some still green, but most yellow, orange, and the deepest, darkest auburn red. I guide my boyfriend’s car—a very responsible sedan—off the highway and towards 208, checking my speed just as a 30-year-old who is more concerned about car insurance than looking cool should. At the stop sign, the car is silent for a moment as my iPod switches tracks, and in that pause I hover between present and past, between the time I am in now and those years I spent on these roads as my character was shaped and formed. The speakers open up and a pop punk song from high school spills out, filling the car as I make that hazardous left onto one of the most familiar roads I know.
Suddenly, I am 17 and behind the wheel of the boxy, hopelessly dorky white LeBaron that my parents insisted on and that I was both embarrassed by and enamored of. It’s very hard to hate the vehicle that is your means to freedom and possibility, but it’s also very hard to love a practical white car with a thin blue and red stripe running along the length of it. It was just so wholesome.
My shift at the Bugle Boy clothing store—at the bottom of the social hierarchy that is life as an employee at the Woodbury Commons— is over and nothing else matters but getting to my best friend’s house. The night, the world, and my whole life unfurl in front of me as I round a bend and dive into a straightaway, and my entire body pulses with joy. It’s not the actual plans for the night that make my heart sing, but the possibility of what will be. This could be a night where something actually happens, and to a suburban teen girl, the possibility of something is everything.
For a moment, self-awareness takes hold and I am fully alive to how young and fresh I am, how little I have lived and how much time I have ahead of me. My adrenaline spikes and giggles involuntarily escape from my lips and I am simply—and please forgive the cheese—high on life. I crank the volume knob, knowing the music can never be as loud as I need it. I want it to surround me and suffocate me, seeping in until it’s sweeping through my veins and coming out my pores. It should be so loud that I can’t hear myself belting out the words, so loud that my ribs vibrate to the bass line, so loud that the car can’t contain it and the music pours out through the cracks. If I could just make it loud enough, the song will overwhelm me and permanently infuse me with its magic.
In the present, in my 30-year-old body, I wonder at the power music from adolescence has, its ability to transport you. I can feel the youth and naïveté of my younger self, that skin I shed years ago. I can reach out and touch it from enough of a distance that it seems sweet instead of sad. It makes me a little wistful—not enough to actually want to be 17 again, but enough to remind me how powerful music can be and how what you experience when you are young affects you in ways nothing ever will again.
[I think I need to lay off dashes for awhile...]