Our buddy Babar (not surprisingly, this is not his real name), came to stay with Adam and me for a few days last week and his visit, combined with two songs that I heard while he was here, has left me weirdly melancholy and ... I can't quite get the right word ... Wistful? Regretful? Maybe you can help me out -- here's the best I can explain it.
Babar, along with my brother and Babar's various girlfriends, was a prime player in our twenty-something lives. I think it's true for most people that those early adult years were vivid, a spirited exploration of who we were so far and the vast prospects of who we might become. Babar was a ubiquitous and vibrant presence in those times. If we were F•R•I•E•N•D•S, Babar was the Joey to our Monica and Chandler.
We were still young enough to pull all nighters playing Myst but old enough to step away from the computer and go to work when the sun came up. We were young enough to cruise through Deep Ellum at 2:00 AM in a topless Jeep, passionately screaming along to Pearl Jam yet old enough to live in a nice little bungalow miles from Deep Ellum and keep up the insurance payments on the Jeep. We were young, moderately wild and utterly free.
And then we all took off in different directions, New York, Austin, Boulder, and *poof* twenty-something turns into forty and fifty-something. Seeing Babar now feels so discombobulating somehow. It's confusing to hear Babar's voice coming out of that middle aged man. When I look at the pictures of us then and now, it's the "now" faces that are unrecognizable to me, despite the fact that I see them in the mirror and across the table every day. And it makes me sad. Or angry. Or some other emotion I don't have a name for.
We spent a lot of Bab's visit in our music room -- a spare bedroom that we have turned into a music room with two chairs, two massive speakers and a stereo that I can turn up as loud as I want because I am a grown up and you're not the boss of me. As we took turns introducing each other to new artists and playing old favorites, I heard Adele sing When We Were Young and she came close to summing it up:
"Let me photograph you in this light
In case it is the last time
That we might be exactly like we were
Before we realized
We were sad of getting old
It made us restless
Oh, I'm so MAD I'm getting old
It makes me reckless"
And then I heard Ed Sheeran get even closer in the oh-so-exuberant Castle on the Hill. He described the carefree abandon he and his friends felt; then tells us what became of them and how he can't wait to get home to see them again:
"I'm on my way
Driving at ninety down those country lanes
Singing to "Tiny Dancer"
And I miss the way you made me feel, and it's real
We watched the sunset over the castle on the hill
Over the castle on the hill ...
One friend left to sell clothes
One works down by the coast
One had two kids but lives alone
One's brother overdosed
One's already on his second wife
One's just barely getting by
But these people raised me and I can't wait to go home"
What is it with these barely-out-of-childhood songwriters? Ed Sheeran, Adele. These two sorcerers are still in their 20's but write nostalgic songs about being young with a poignancy that rips my heart out.
Their songs make me remember being alone and lonely as a college freshman in Denton, TX, when one of the things that kept me alive and passably sane was rocketing down gravel roads in my '68 Mustang wailing along with Bono. I remember the piercing ache I had then. I longed for a soulmate or even a friend -- someone to understand me. Longed for some understanding of myself. Longed to belong to someone or something.
Now when I relive those college days and our time in Dallas with Babar, I still have an ache even though I have found a soulmate and have a fair idea of who I am and have created a sense of belonging with friends and family. Because now I ache for the one thing I had then but didn't realize I had and can't get back now: I long for the potential I had. That euphoria of a blank slate; a lifetime of possibilities spread out in front of me and that raw feeling of being so very alive and open, even if it stung a little. I miss the way it made me feel. Now, I'm just so MAD I'm getting old, it makes me reckless.