I Would Be Sad

You know how smells can be powerful memory triggers? (an interesting article on that if you’re interested: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20120312-why-can-smells-unlock-memories/1 )

And what of music? I think it’s safe to say we’ve all linked certain songs to certain memories, places or people. I find that music is usually less powerful for triggering past emotions. However, recently I had the most powerful recall experience (smell or song) I’ve ever had. It was with this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKNAfTowygA

It is a song I played very repetitively last year, especially in late winter and spring. It wasn’t at all like the many times songs have reminded me of certain times or places. It was utterly overwhelming – I felt everything I had felt during that time when I would play it loudly and on repeat in my West Davis apartment room. All at once.

I felt the tired over-coffeed mornings. I smelled the cheap apartment walls and the musty pond outside. I felt the precious light of my north-facing room, pale and cold, but of a certain softness. I felt the days full of running and climbing and biking and the in-betweens of depression and loneliness. Not knowing what to do because I was still unsatiated but so wanted to pursue something passionately. I pitied myself as I re-lived weeping to my parents on Skype, time and time again, on those days when existence was at its most crushing and confusing.

I could feel the dry Davis winds penetrating everywhere in the flat landscape. And biking or driving to teach French early in the morning and then coming back weak and hungry because often I had not yet eaten breakfast and after having eaten kefir, cheerios, and blueberries running 8 or 10 miles on the lonely farm roads and then being exhausted. Because I had to even when I wasn’t sure I was enjoying it. Because I was completely lost and there was no one, or it seemed that way sometimes. But there were also long almost-summer evenings and beautiful olive tree sunsets and olive stains on my running shoes and contentment of days well spent and effort not wasted. At one point I was running in a diffuse mist beneath a double- rainbow with Ivan. But the rainbows didn’t last long. Because then I found myself returning home that constellated night with my pan empty of the cake I shouldn’t have left him and now I was all empty too and if it couldn’t work then, when could it and what was wrong with me? And it definitely wasn’t summer yet because the night was too cold.

I even saw again the flashbacks I would have when listening to it during that time, flashbacks to a summer of scrambling through Yosemite’s loneliest places. I was introduced to this group of musicians (but not this song, which I discovered later) while riding the ups  and downs of dusty dirt roads in the back of the blue Ford Escape that was our vessel to the wilderness. When I think about now, I was a bit lost then too.

Again, I was coming back late from the Rocknasium, having not washed my chalked hands yet and still smelling of grainy plastic holds and sweat and approaching summer and wearing the cut-sleeve shirt I had made with Izzy. Coming home late from the running club too, the days getting longer, too hungry to shower before eagerly eating dinner. Burned brussel sprouts and grilled cheese sandwiches. Lentils with too much cumin. Pita bread sandwiches. My first orange marmalade. Persimmon bread all season long. Too much Yolo Berry sugar. Cheap watery coffee from the office.

There was REI too and leaving the car in the parking lot early on Saturday mornings, nervous to run long long runs in the Folsom hills. And of course there was being sleepless. There were happy lunches at Izzy’s followed by depression, because it was all too short and how long would I have to wait for another one. And the depressed days following the marathon elation when gravity pulled more than ever and I dragged my sorrow weighted self through runs that weren’t runs like the 11 miles in an oppressive heat that was too much and made me sick all afternoon long.

There was also the noisy, but always present geese. And maniacally making cards or duct tape items and a mountain-shaped cake.

Needing to oil my bike. Writing about George Mallory. The rustling of the blinds and the striped light that came through them until I opened them. Reading Anna Karenina on my bed.

Sitting on a bench looking at the drying pond in a new spring light trying to memorize Hamlet’s soliloquy. Waiting for someone to call. The first blooming trees and white petal snow.

The Subaru, a safe haven, my warmth and my music, and freedom of sorts.

There were the frogs outside the apartment, waiting for insects by the large illuminated black numbers 4 an 0. The incessant and insistent chirping of the pond. And how it reminded me of a tropical place. And the death of a teacher.

Or taking my steadfast steed Chihiro Shadowbike of the West, a true Davis bike with its rusty but oh-so-trusty baskets to Trader Jo’s and being so happy that Damien would every so often call me on his lunch break.

There was all of west Davis with its charming homes and paths full of pine needles and happy families and migratory birds and flat fields and endless skies and blazing sunset clouds. The golden light of California bliss.

There was the ever present climbing chalk streak on my red spike bag. The satisfaction and oh-so-proud feeling of new routes and moves on the wall. Suppleness and new strength.

I must note that the song stayed mostly in Davis.

It doesn’t remind me of Shasta or the elation that followed (but this song does: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-WP6POdTgY). Or of backpacking with Elizabeth and Cat in Desolation Wilderness. Or cross country skiing with Kevin on New Year’s. Or kayaking with Izzy and Kelly and Sylvia and an OA group at Pt. Reyes. Or climbing in Tahoe with my co-workers. Or skiing with Bobby. Or the March marathon and spending time with Marvin, Nick, and Katie. Or the three days of elation after the marathon. Or visiting Oakland and Santa Cruz in January and seeing Katie, Marvin, Sarah, Mike, Adair, Benny, Nick, Elizabeth, Hanna. Or Sunday night bike rides in Folsom with my co-workers. All wonderful outdoor memories. And plenty of other things that for some reason or other don’t surface with this song.

I think it was mostly about the thing that kept haunting my mind that I couldn’t quite touch. Swinging from lows to highs of emotion and not knowing why. When listening to it again I mostly felt an overwhelming amount of sadness and helplessness and the crushing weight of vulnerability and too much crying. Yet being able to re-feel the exact same feelings was marvelous!!

It is mostly sad, after all the song title does nothing to suggest otherwise. But I really don’t think it’s all sad. There are beautiful bits too, just as the song itself is beautiful. It was still a period of many adventures and discovery, of instability certainly, but I am glad of the emotions. Being lost isn’t all bad after all.

When I replay it I know what is going to play, but the emotions whelm up every time. It doesn’t make me cry every time, but it can. I played it several times as I wrote to see what other bits of that particular year, that “gap year”, could surface. Every time I play it I can dig up more scraps of the mosaic.

To be flooded with these feelings and smells again was more than remembering or reflecting, it was re-living. I didn’t remember the emotions, I felt them. Incredible! They say that sometimes when you die you see your whole life flash before your eyes. For me, re-playing this song was like condensing all those months into one emotional flash.

Have you had a recall experience such as this one? With what song or smell, or something else?

Published by Johanne Boulat

Johanne Boulat was born in French-speaking Switzerland, where she lives again now, but she grew up under the resplendent California sun. For 21 years she basked in the spirit of the Wilderness, which she discovered on hiking as well as literary paths. She received her Bachelor of Science in Animal Biology from the University of California, Davis in 2012 and since then has worked as a scientific field aid, a translator, a sales specialist, and a running coach. In 2018, she completed her master’s degree in English Literature at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. She now teaches English and Science at a local elementary school and dedicates her free time to the three “R”s: Running, Reading, and Writing.

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