Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Stillness of that Night

The scene, in its simplest form, is a relatively lonely stretch of highway on the road from Fullerton to Escondido. He had made that trek many times before. You could even go as far as to say he knew that route like the back of his hand... though he would never be so bold as to claim such a thing. Humility was not necessarily his game, but he made a point to play it whenever others were around. Something about appearing more humble than you actually are... but I digress...

... the word lonely as a descriptor for the road is intentional. Though this particular stretch of road is technically a portion of a major interstate highway, it is peculiarly situated where man and his tools have not yet explored. It is one of the many parts of the road that still pays tribute to the great Pacific ocean that lays by its side. The water that runs parallel to this stretch of road always appears calmer than other parts.

I have written rather frequently as of late about events or occurrences in my life that at first seem insignificant or trivial, but somehow manage to be marked as pivotal or profound moments for my own life. This stretch of road along the interstate is the site for another one of these moments.

An overly confident young man is driving along the highway, making his almost bi-monthly trip home to visit his parents. Although he makes it home much more frequently than some of his friends who went away to college, he still seethes with anticipation whenever he finds the time to go home. His excitement and demeanor are especially elevated when he hits the stretch of road in question. The business and rush that typifies this major interstate road becomes hushed. His car stereo, "driven" by his iPod packed full of eclectic music (set to random), adjusts itself to the mood by playing the song "Me And A Gun" by Tori Amos. Although a fan of Amos' instrumental and vocal talents, the young driver admits to being familiar with only a few of her songs, which he listened to numerous times when he purchased her compilation album, "Tales of a Librarian." After a month or so of listening to the same two or three songs on repeat, he moved on to new music and forgot all about Tori Amos. He had never heard "Me And A Gun" before that night.

The song itself is chilling. Devastating. In it, Amos discusses the rape of a woman. Amos, herself a survivor of a sexual assault, contributes haunting vocal qualities to the already sickening lyrical content. "It was me and a gun, and a man on my back, and I sang 'holy holy' as he buttoned down his pants. You can laugh, it's kind of funny, things you think at times like these. Like I haven't seen Barbados, so I must get out of this." These words, so strikingly honest and poignant, create a connection to the character in a fantastically intense way. The aesthetics of the song also contribute to the raw subject matter. Despite Amos' talents as a pianist, this song is stripped of all but the powerful vocals. Just her and her voice.

I am behind the wheel. As a drove alone that night, I wept for the woman in the song. However, I was sobered by the notion that my tears and sorrow were the products of my deepest sympathy, but not empathy. My tears were nothing compared to the ones shed by those who have been forced to endure such atrocities. This crushed me. The sorrows I felt for this woman... and for all women who have ever been tortured in such a manner were honest, but they were the most that I could give. I was conflicted by competing emotional responses. The first was a repulsion for the material. I was tempted at numerous points to press a single button and move on to another song... one that would surely be more emotionally “pleasing.” I never pressed the button. I needed to feel sick. The other emotional response was longing. I was motivated by a desire to connect to the woman in the way she deserved. I felt guilty over the thought that my cry was nothing but a cheap, unwelcome gesture. A way for someone with little history of emotional devastation to feign interest and care... in order to impress everyone around. But there was no one around me that night. It was just me, the road, and night... as far as my eyes could see. I wiped my tears away on my sleeve.

The moment at which I heard this song was as terrifying as it was profound. Amos' stirring voice was enhanced by the eerie stillness of the night and the road on which I traveled. Although I don't at all believe in fate or divine master plans, this experience is a curiously compelling argument. The haunting nature of the song and my surroundings are rivaled only by the maddening nature of the coincidence that paired them together... on that cold Winter night.

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