it's never what you think

“Well, I think about friends in the back of my mind
Are they still just kids frozen in time
The mirror won’t lie as the days fly by
Are they all no better off than I?”
—Sugarbomb, “What a Drag”

When he pressed ‘play,’ what came out of the stereo sounded like a song I should’ve known since always. “Doesn’t that just scream ‘pop hit’ to you?” I agreed, and he walked over to the wall of CDs and extracted one. “Here,” he said. “This album is so good that I keep multiple copies around, just in case I show it to someone and they love it. It needs to be heard.”

I stayed the night. It had been too long. Years and years ago, this was a usual thing; nobody would have batted an eye at Amy crashing out at Colter’s, because it happened all the time during our freshman and sophomore years of college. More than once, when people have asked me how I ‘wasted’ my college years, instead of pointing to a specific alcoholic drink of choice (as expected), I’ve pointed to the list Colter keeps online of his music collection. There’s a lot of truth in that statement—it was where I spent a lot of my free collegiate time—but I’ve never considered it a waste.

We stayed up, bouncing from album to album and topic to topic, and at the end of the night I took my meds and curled up in an unfamiliar bed and slept. I awakened to the most unmistakable and comforting combination of sound and scent: the twin olfactory treats of bacon and eggs being cooked for me by a good friend.

I opened the door to the bedroom and walked into a comforting cocoon of jazz and breakfast. Colter’s puppy wanted her ears scratched, and Nina Simone sang ‘Sinnerman’ into the living room. I plopped down at the living room table, comfortably strewn with newspapers and the kind of music and arts magazines I loved reading, and breakfast materialized from the kitchen. Billie, his very talkative kitty, thought I might be perfect for a cuddle. (“How’d she get her name?” “She’s black, and she sings a lot.” “Good call.”)

This was still Colter, and this was still me. I looked around for a moment and let it sink in. His house, his dog, his cats. This friendship had begun as the friendship of teenagers, but the passage of time had caught me unawares. Here he was, the same friend with the same auburn-brown hair and endearing smile, but now he owned his own house and had a dog and two cats and talked intelligently about the flowers gracing his front picket fence.

“I don’t know what to make of you
All these changes, perfect strangers,
Somehow I still relate to you
Hardly any difference after all”
—Sugarbomb, “What a Drag”

We were closer to thirty than twenty, and I no longer lived a few hundred yards away on the opposite side of campus; I lived nearly four hundred miles away in a different state of my life’s choosing, and I now only saw him, at most, once a year.

Life changes you, whether you like it or not; circumstances sometimes dictate your life will not be lived an easy next door to the people you care about.

“I wonder how fate has upon them smiled
Do they cast happy shadows and silhouettes?
I’d like to get busy, redefine my past,
But its probably better just the way it is”
—Sugarbomb, “What a Drag”

I drove away home soon after. On the way out, I passed Little Rock, which was once my city of dreams; many years ago I thought just reaching the confines of that metro area would be the limit of my adult life. Now, with a river of size between us, I see it once every few years, and am always a little saddened when I see how it has grown without me being there to see it.

In a different life, under different circumstances, I think I too would have ended up calling it home. Every time I visited Eleanor and Colter in the section of Little Rock they called home, I felt a quiet unease, a subtle tap to my subconscious that whispered, “You would have been here, too, were it not for Jeff.” But instead, I watched the city fade from my view as I pointed the Jetta east. It wasn’t until I reached the Alabama state line that I picked up the phone and said with quiet relief, “I’m home.”

“Life goes on
Just goes on
It’s never what you think”
—Sugarbomb, “What a Drag”

Oh, and yes. The album is Sugarbomb’s “Bully.” [allmusic review, amazon] It’s out of print, so buying it used is your only option.

Comments

There is another option....Sugarbomb's "Bully" is on iTunes, too.