I know how this starts. First, I play “Streets of Philadelphia” on repeat. It’s the song I listened to over and over again on the plane to Boston to visit my mother in the hospital, the one I blared in the car driving to see her every evening of that summer, when she was sent home to die. I play it until I can’t picture her lying there with her nightgown twisted around her anymore. What song do you listen to when you’re sad? After “Streets of Philadelphia,” I then move back to track 6 on Bruce’s Greatest Hits, “Atlantic City,” except, I don’t know how to fix my hair up pretty. Or, at least, there is no one who has asked me to fix it up or to put makeup on, no one who wants to meet me tonight. Fuck you, Bruce.
After this, I listen to something different, a variable song in the lineup. That’s when the tears usually start, around song three. That’s when they start today, listening to Harper Simon’s ”Wishes and Stars.” ”I’m plain like water or like rain,” he croons, “But I shouldn’t complain cause it don’t matter. There are more wishes than stars.” I wrap my arms around myself and wonder, could that be true? Could there really be more wishes than stars? I consider then if I should bother wishing for anything anymore. Fuck you, Harper.
These overwhelming tears can feel meaningful in the cold days of winter, even lyrical or poetic in the crisp days of fall but in summer they just feel cruel. Cruel and pathetic. And when I am feeling that plaintive, that really, truly, wretched, I blast the Indigo Girls’ “Galileo.” My head nods into the familiar rhythm. Sitting on the subway, I feel myself slip down the seat, my bare knee brushing the knee of the man beside me. I jump away quickly from the intimacy of accidental contact of skin on skin but as the car bumps along I find myself spreading my legs out, wanting to close my eyes and run my leg up and down against his again, feel the tickle of his hair. I need a sensory reminder that I am here, that there’s nothing wrong with me. I look at the man beside me, thick arms and coarse dreadlocks and I wonder what he’s listening to. I wonder if he thinks there are more wishes than stars. I want to ask him but the train stops and he gets out. Fuck you, subway man.
“If we wait for the time till all souls get it right,” the song continues, “Then at least I know there’ll be no nuclear annihilation in my lifetime.” But wouldn’t it be so much easier? I think. Wouldn’t it be so much better if we all just disappeared together? All at the once, at the same time? Sometimes I wish for that, for everything I know to be obliterated so I don’t have to disappoint anyone. Fuck you, Indigo Girls. Fuck you, Galileo.
An old woman sits down beside me and smiles. Her wrinkled hand rests on her thigh, right beside mine. A tiny movement and I could reach out and take it. I could hold her hand, turn and look at her straight in the eye, my glasses through her glasses. I would look at her and say, “I’m really suffering you know.” “I know, dear,” she would say, “I know.” We would both nod and turn away again, our backs against our seats.
I take out a pen and paper and rest it on my knee. I want to try and track what brought on this pain. What was it exactly? Was it an unanswered email? Difficulty writing? A troubled sleep? Fear of some kind? I think back to the first day I started playing Bruce. I try and remember the first tear that tumbled forward but I can’t think of anything concrete. I can’t think of any particular thing that happened or didn’t happen to bring on this pain. I look around. I’m just lonely. So very lonely. Where are all the other lonely people the Beatles sang about, I wonder. Fuck you, Beatles.
I walk home from the subway and Radiohead’s “Creep” begins to play. I stop at the corner, in front of the coffee shop at the top of my street. I look through the window at all the people laughing and talking. Sean, the barista, sees me and waves. He comes outside to say hello. “You haven’t been here in a while,” he says. I shake my head, no. I don’t feel like coffee. I don’t want to watch un-lonely people be un-lonely together. “You cut your hair,” he says, “It looks pretty.” I smile, yes, I have cut my hair. I want to thank him, to ask him to hug me but I’m too scared to speak. I worry that if I do, if I let myself take the little bit of kindness reached out to me, I will throw my arms around him, bury my head in his sholder and cry. My voice choking, I will say: “This is what depression looks like, Sean. This is what it looks like.”
“When you were here before,
Couldn’t look you in the eye,
You’re just like an angel,
Your skin makes me cry;”
I’m not fuckin’ special. No one notices when I’m not around. Fuck you, Radiohead.
The light changes and I walk home to see my dog’s sleeping face mashed against the window. He wags furiously when I come in. He’s been waiting for me. I bury my face into his black coat. His fur makes me cry. He pulls back and looks at me. He rolls his tongue out towards my face, wanting to lick the drops of salt off my cheeks. “I don’t know what else to do for you,” his eyes plead, “Tell me what to do for you and I’ll do it.” I stick my tongue out at him to tell him it’s okay. There’s nothing he can do. He flops on his side into me because there is nothing left for us to say.
Huddled together on the couch, I rub his warm belly as the last song in my sad soundtrack starts to play. It’s Cat Stevens:
Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird is singing, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word.
I lean towards the window, listening. Sing you fucking blackbird! Fucking sing already!