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A Personal Memory

September 24, 2017

So there is me, I guess about 23 years old, attending the wedding of my first girlfriend. We’d remained friends after I’d unceremoniously dumped her. I genuinely loved and respected her, and kinda needed her, and gained her trust and then ended it. Neil Young’s song Down By The River sums up a lot of it.

I was relieved when she met someone else and they decided to get married. She introduced me to the guy — a really decent fellow — and she was relieved when I told her I thought he was really really great. (For some reason she’d gained the impression that I have very severe judgments about people…… Me?)

But I genuinely thought he was good fellow, and I was quite happy to attend her wedding. It really didn’t hurt. I really wanted her to be happy and was relieved I hadn’t ruined her life by leaving her. But I was also only 23, and was witnessing a great life event for someone I was close to. It was kinda intense.

Her brother (who was as mad as a hatter and quite violent and of whom I was a bit scared) was strutting about with a video camera (it was still considered gauche to do that in those days) and I was trying to kind of duck behind people to avoid being filmed. I didn’t what ever look was on my face to be preserved for eternity. (As it happened, some aunt of hers who later borrowed the only copy of the video cleverly taped an episode of a popular soap opera over it, destroying it for ever.)

After the ceremony, I asked my best friend for a cigarette, (I was a non-smoker). He seemed very glad to be able to help, and gave me one. I went off behind the church and had a smoke to calm my nerves. It really didn’t hurt, but I remember thinking it was like having a local anesthetic and watching someone cut your arm off. I doesn’t hurt, but….. holy heck!

Then she was walking towards me in front of the church, about to leave in the wedding car with all the streamers and everything. I embraced her and kissed her and wished her everything good. And then she got into the car with that guy and they drove off.

I could feel something like a band between us, connecting us, and wondered if she felt it too. I wondered if, while she felt herself being whisked away on a new path, into a new life, if she felt an old connection still…. and a band that was connecting me to her, that was stretching…. and tearing…. until it finally snapped.

I walked back to my car, through the graveyard. Tasmania is far enough south to have a long twilight, where it takes ages to get dark after the sun has gone down. This night was cloudless, and the sky was a stunning deep dark sapphire blue. As I walked, I gazed out into it.

I noticed that although stars were visible, I didn’t want to look at them like I normally would. I just wanted to look into that endless deep deep blue. All my thoughts and emotions were silenced by it. Until suddenly a line of a song I’d learned as a teenager suddenly popped into my head.

Blue blue windows behind the stars…

It’s from Neil Young’s Helpless. A song I’d played in my bedroom on the guitar a million times but had never thought about the words.

I guess Winnipeg, Neil’s hometown in Canada, must be about the same northern latitude as Tasmania is southerly. And Neil had seen that same deep sapphire blue, looked between the stars, and gazed endlessly into it. But he’d also found words to describe it: blue blue windows behind the stars….

I walked and just gazed, with that string of words in my head, in awe. Someone else has seen this too.

But the mind, being what it is, wanted to interrupt my reverie and bring me back to the world of prose. The next lines of the song wanted to crank through, and like all Neil Young songs, genius is always laid side by side with inexcusable cliche. I tried to stop it, but in trying, I’d lost that magical feeling of the infinite.

Ok, just let it wind through. Blue blue windows behind the stars, yellow moon on the rise. That’s stupid. There’s no yellow moon. It doesn’t fit at all. Not even meterologically. Stupid forced rhyme Neil. Big birds flying across the skies. Nope. None of them either. Throwing shadows on our eyes. Dreadful, cliched….

Leave us helpless, helpless, helpless…. Babe can you hear me now. The chains are locked and tied across the door. Babe, can you sing with me somehow?

…..So that’s what it was all about. The brain pulled all this up, because the song had resonated in a way I’d never consciously grasped. And it let me feel whatever weird mix of emotions it was, and I could just let it all out in tears. A nameless longing, a loneliness, mirrored not in the stars but in the windows behind them, just sailing out and out…. And a song putting it all into three or four lines, and even hiding it behind some cliches to protect it.

And the knowledge that another person had felt all this too.

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