It’s a crisp, chilly evening in early November 1990. My friends and I are walking back to the dorms from dinner, crunching through the leaves that have fallen on the path ahead of us. I’m hanging behind the rest, and look up at the dark, starry sky and sigh. My friend Mike hears me and pauses to wait for me. We walk together the rest of the way, not saying anything but when we get to his dorm he says, “Hey, wait here. I have something for you.” I wait out in the cold, hands in my pockets, probably not wearing a warm enough coat. Mike comes out and hands me a cassette. “You seem like you need this. It always makes me feel better, why don’t you borrow it for a while?”
In my hand was the tape “Reading, Writing and Arithmetic” by the Sundays. I’d heard the single “Here’s Where the Story Ends” on the alternative radio station back home and liked it, but had never listened to the whole thing. I had no idea at that moment that 24 years later (whoa) I would still remember that fall so clearly, and it would still be able to conjure up how I was feeling and the effects the music would have on me.
Mike was right. That music did make me feel better. I don’t know what it was-her voice, the music, the lyrics, or all of that put together but it soothed something in me and just made me feel like everything was going to be ok. It was a particularly angsty time for me…although, who am I kidding, most of my life has been angst-ridden. I was thrilled to be at college, loved my new group of friends, but also missed my old friends from home. I was 8 hours away with no car (and no cell phones, no internet) so I relied on infrequent pay-phone conversations to connect me with my best friend. I was now 100% responsible for my studying and learning and classwork. I had to do my own laundry and clean my own room and navigate getting along with a sometimes prickly roommate. I visited New York City for the first time. Stayed out all night. Got drunk for the first time. Kissed a boy who I had a huge crush on–more than once–even though I knew he had a girlfriend. I was happy, sad, confused, excited. Tired. Always seemed to be very tired. The Sundays were like a balm that eased my over-stimulated heart and mind.
At the same time, I was introduce to Orion. The Hunter. 2 summers before, I’d learned what real star-gazing was like, when I spent many nights drifting on my best friends boat in the broads of Lake Winnepesaukee in the middle of the night. I’d seen my first of many shooting stars and satellites, saw the sweep of the Milky Way over our minute selves as we rocked on dark waves. Of course I knew where Orion the constellation was. But that fall of my freshman year, he became another beacon of hope for me in an uncertain world, that would follow me through adulthood.
Another friend-another Mike actually, and the infamous kissing boy-and I would go on long drives in the evenings where we’d “get lost” and just see where we ended up. I would spend a lot of time in college with various friends and boyfriends on sojourns to lonely places to philosophize…this was just the beginning. He’d drive–as a junior, he had his own car–and I would say “Left!” or “Right!” as the spirit moved me. We’d talk about god only knows what, and one night he pointed out Orion to me. I’d probably been upset about something. (I also remember “upset” being a somewhat steady state of mind at the time. Or rather, for years before, during and after this. I have a lot of feelings about things, apparently.) Trying to make me feel better (and not kiss me because, you know, girlfriend) he pointed to Orion and said “Everytime you see Orion, you can know that everything’s going to be alright in the world.” How trite! How stupid! How sentimental! How exactly what I needed to hear! I grabbed onto that and from that moment on, every time I see Orion, something in my soul makes a little, nearly audible “click,” righting me for at least a moment. Ok. Orion. There he is. Everything’s alright with the world.
God, how naive I was. Still am. I still feel that way when I see Orion. When I hear certain songs. When I see certain scenery or read a particular book or poem. Who thinks like that? Well, I guess I do. And I think I’m not alone. Maybe it’s not Orion or the Sundays, but I bet you have your North Stars too, the things that re-calibrate your internal self.
I think about these two stories this same time every year, and remember that happy/sad girl, that confused dreamer, because really, she’s still me, she’s still there. I may be older, wiser (?), more responsible (?), less flighty. But her heart is still in me, believing that if I can just see Orion, or hear just the right song, then it’s all going to be ok.