ain't been transcendin'
much of nothin'
i been down in it
i ain't free
weren't no experiment
these seven years
like a life out of me
from "the corner" by cory branan, a fantastically talented singer/songwriter i came to know in memphis. the lines above struck me the other day, because my last seven years have felt like a lifetime as well. cory wore his big smile better than his rolled-up jeans. he was often found at the coffee shop, book in hand. he was a hugger, as many people are in the south. some of those southern embraces felt forced, while others grew on me. cory's were okay by me, as were those of another coffee shop favorite and another talented singer/songwriter, misti, whose perfectly arched eybrows and flawlessly lined eyes were the reincarnation of ava gardner's, circa 1950-ish. she played bawdy songs on a shiny, turquoise guitar and always wore a dress and heels when she performed. as she should, with those skirt-worthy stems of hers. she always told me how pretty and sexy i was, and i always told her the same, and we both meant it. it's nice when women can be nice to each other like that, because social lives and fashion magazines and reality tv tend to pit us against each other. misti was one of those people who brought out the performer in me, although i've never performed ... unless you count church plays, singing "friendship" with ellie gray at the morgan grade school talent show, playing an unnamed little girl holding a pinwheel in evita at the robinson grand theater in downtown clarksburg, or hijacking the stage for spoken-word rock 'n' roll performances at various locations in morgantown. misti and i shared a vulgar sense of humor and a love for vintage clothing. in my first few months in memphis i gave her a snazzy brown-bear-brown fake fur swing coat that i'd snagged at the flea market on walnut street in morgantown years earlier (along with my favorite scarf, a narrow, silky thing made of thin, multi-colored threads, which i refuse to part with even though its many strands are barely clinging to each other). although we didn't hang out much, not much at all, misti and i had a particular affinity. you know how people always say, about love, "when it's right, you just know"? well, love is many layered and can't be reduced to such a terse assessment, but i do believe it about friendship. i may never see misti again, and if i don't, i'll know she was one of the ones who got away.
another one who got away was my friend, e.r. thirteen years ago there were four of us: me, my boyfriend, his friend k.h., and e.r. the latter two were a couple, although i met e.r. before she was k's girl. it was at eat n park, back when there was still a smoking section. maybe 11 pm. we were sitting in adjoining booths and i bummed a cigarette from her. i was studying. except not really, because i was never much of a studier. i was probably hungry or bored and figured why not go to eat n park and kill two or three birds (or more, if i ordered eggs). e.r. was an english major with a theater minor, or vice versa, or something like that. she had unruly brown curls ... and a bunch of other unruly qualities that i would later discover, which would only further endear her to me—like the time she showed up unannounced at my apartment on valley view road, when we still barely knew each other, and commanded, half-giggling, in her louisiana accent, "gurrl, you best get dressed cause we're going out!" so i put on my black silk slip that i found on the crowded nightgown rack at goodwill and my jean jacket and some black knee boots, and we went, of all places, to the cheesy sports bar underneath the boston beanery on high st. in morgantown. i think e.r. had a friend there. otherwise i can't imagine why we'd go, when our usual spot was d.j.'s, the dark, smoky joint in sunnyside where you'd be more likely to hear the smiths than destiny's child. d.j.'s was where the stoners, druggies, and musicians hung out. e.r. and i were none of the three, but we fit in. on another night, e.r. showed up at my place, ready to go out, with black eyeshadow applied in big rectangular strips across each eyelid, nearly blacking out her otherwise bright blue eyes. we were partners in crime, for a short while. her relationship with k.h. took a bad spell and she moved to new york. we've stayed in touch over the years. her wild ways have given way to motherhood and a ph.d. i'm proud of her, although i miss the girl who was bound for hollywood. when i moved to memphis, i said i'd drive to see her and her daughter. the years went by. when i moved back to west virginia, she said she'd come here for a wvu football game. another nearly two years have passed. e.r. and i were the kind of friends who were out to conquer the world. if i never see her again, or even if i do, i'll always wonder what we could've been.
there's a song called "wine and wonder," written and performed by e.r.'s old boyfriend, k.h. i have always listened to it on repeat, even to this day. at about the three-minute mark, when the guitar, played by my old boyfriend, starts to reach upward with each note, climbing toward the place in the sky where k's voice has stretched, the line "my knees to the floor" takes the entirety of the sky into my stomach. the song is inside me at that point, and although i can barely understand the lyrics anymore, the guitar keeps telling k's story. sometimes i'll fast forward the song to that point, just to feel the way it makes me feel.
the years of my life can be recalled in many ways—which dog i had at the time, or who i was dating, or the city i called home, or the songs that colored my world. the great and cool and heart wrenching and uplifting thing about music is that it can tell the stories of all things to all people. and the songs will outlive us all.