Late. I was late getting to the damn airport. If I hadn’t stopped by the library to renew that Le Carre book, I would have been on the road already. During the long drive on the constricted freeways, I spun the music of Neil Finn. It was the spring of 2007; Finn’s solo works and the music of his underappreciated band, Crowded House, had been providing me the soundtrack through a terrible three-month depression. I had experienced dark clouds over my head many times in my life, but nothing like this. I could not shake my sadness. Each morning, I awoke on the verge of tears. Not a day went by when I didn’t feel like Holly Hunter in Broadcast News, having to find a secluded spot at work just to cry for a few minutes.
I wanted it to end, yet I couldn’t figure out how to make it end. I had my music, yes, but the melancholy melodies of Neil Finn and company only seemed to open the floodgates. One particular song accompanied my spiral downward and was there when I felt the weight of the world begin to ease, when I could feel myself beginning to heal. That song was “Last to Know,” from Finn’s second solo album, One All (or One Nil, if you bought the original release). It’s just about one of the most beautiful tracks you’ll ever hear. It seemed to capture the exact way I was feeling. The way the music shuffled around was like the way I got through my days. I wasn’t so much alive, but just shuffling about. And when Finn cries out during the bridge, that was my like my aching soul trying to break free.
But it was Finn’s composition, through repeated listens, and a surprise visit by my closest friend, Steve, that helped ease my pain and lift me from that dreary haze.
I had not seen him in several years; the last time was during a Christmas trip to Ohio. His unexpected visit came on the heels of a conference he was attending up north. He opted to fly down to Los Angeles on a Friday night and stay the weekend with our family. We were to take in a Dodgers game the night he arrived, and a large gap in time existed between when his plane landed and the first pitch. We’d have some time to kill before fighting traffic through the heart of the city. Of course, I was running late. In the stop-and-go surges of rush hour, I cranked the volume on Neil Finn. I wanted whatever sorrow lingering inside me to push itself out. Luckily, Steve’s plane was later than I was, and I parked the car a mere few minutes before my lanky pal walked into baggage claim. Man, he was a sight for sore eyes. There are people in my life that, when we get together, we don’t miss a beat. It’s like we saw each other yesterday, and when they leave, it never feels like a true goodbye. It feels like I’ll see them tomorrow or the next day. That’s how it’s always been with Steve.
We got in the car and made our way to the Santa Monica pier. He has always been a beach-dweller, ever since his early college days, so I figured he’d want to dip his foot on the frigid Pacific swells at least once before heading home. At the beach, we hung out at some fish stand and swigged a couple beers. The sun was low in the sky and we caught up on the triumphs and frustrations of our daily lives. As we spoke, that song was on a loop in my head, haunting every word I chose, trying to make me confront some of the reasons for my depression. I keep a semi-regular blog, and during this period in my life, I was pretty descriptive of what I was going through. A regular reader of the blog, Steve decided not to press me on explaining why I had been so sad lately. Instead, we spoke about the past. For the first time, I admitted that part of the reason the two of us had a falling out in high school was due to my own stubbornness. I filled him in on how I had become reacquainted with several old friends from high school who had discovered my blog. Steve, one of my biggest supporters, pushed for me to write a memoir. He felt that I had something to offer. I resisted, because I have such lack of confidence when it comes to some of my writing, I thought the idea a bit silly. After an hour, we were back in the car and headed toward Dodger Stadium.
We weaved and bobbed through L.A. traffic with a slight buzz from our beers. For the first time is a long while, I felt loose. When there appeared to be a major traffic jam in our direction, I had Steve whip out a map and guide me through the backstreets. The stadium was east of us, that’s all I knew. It felt so right to have him navigating in the passenger seat; it felt so right to have him laughing at my pop culture references and unsubstantiated political theories (as if I could ever be a smart as him when it comes to politics); it felt so right to have my friend… my brother by my side when I needed him most. For a fleeting night in the middle of May, we were like two idiots back in high school. No place to be, no responsibilities, and not a care in the world.
And Finn played on, through the stereo and in my head.
We had great seats at the game and the skies were clear, full of stars. We bought food and beers, Steve purchased souvenirs for his wonderful children, and we witnessed a well- played baseball game. Between double plays and sinkerballs, we continued the conversation that began back at the pier.
Sometime between revealing my dream of a CD box set for mainstream rock from the mid ’70s to the early ’80s, and professing my love for Van Halen’s “Little Guitars,” Steve finally brought it up. The elephant was finally acknowledged.
“What’s going on, Scott?”
I knew what was going on; I’d known since the depression had set in and sapped the joy out of my life. My son has an illness. That was the gist. That is always the gist. Only this time, I couldn’t shake off the dread with a couple of sad songs and a good tear-letting. Instead, I was crying all the time. Even the music that brought me the most joy, like Springsteen or Petty or Journey or Robert Plant, couldn’t lift my spirits. Steve’s eyes widened as I explained that not a day went by that I didn’t cry for my boy; not a day went by that I didn’t wish I could take the illness out of from him and put it in my body; not a day went by that I didn’t think of death and how unfair this fucking disease is.
“I hate this, Steve. No matter what I do, I can’t shake it.”
I couldn’t tell whether he was shocked at how bad I’d become, or whether he was thinking of ways to make my life better, at least for one weekend. Voices chattered around us and the sound of wood bats cracking against the leather filled the air, as the two of us sat in silence.
The Dodgers won that night. I took it as a good sign for the rest of the weekend. And it was a joyful weekend, one of the best in long time. Having him visiting our house was the most therapeutic medicine I’d experienced in my life. I swear, those two days and nights turned my life around. On Saturday night, we had a cookout with my brother’s family and Julie’s brother. Steve introduced me to the pleasure of a good scotch and we stayed up until two in the morning, talking, burning over 100 CDs for Steve (he still claims not to have listened to them all) and just enjoying the presence of each other’s company. On Sunday morning, as we hugged on the curbside, I reiterated my feelings.
“Steve, I don’t know how to explain it, but whenever we’re together, I feel like we pick up where we left off. This goodbye isn’t like a real goodbye, it’s like, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’”
He gave me that winning smile for which he’s famous in our house. And then, I watched as my closest friend, the man who truly is my second brother, walked through the automatic doors and out of sight. I climbed in my car started it up. As I pulled away, Neil Finn’s “Last to Know” began playing. But I didn’t feel late anymore. The universe had aligned itself, and I felt right on time.