Everyone creative has certain themes they inevitably return to. For Ben Gibbard, it’s distance.
For me, it’s time.
Yesterday, driving through Bellingham, in the midst of my maiden voyage to the city. As Waze directed us downtown for dinner, the street names from “A Movie Script Ending” came to life: The air on Railroad, the shopfronts on Holly. Nearly a dozen years of the same song, making a first-time adventure feel like a trip to an old home.
At dinner, at the brewery, we talked about a blog post I’d mentioned before, which I was never supposed to see. One in which I was listed, among two others, as a disaster, savaged by someone who didn’t even care enough to say goodbye, who went on a trip to Portland and dropped off the radar on her way back. For the first time in years, I went looking for that post, only to come up empty.
My usual tricks didn’t work. I couldn’t find her Twitter account, and Googling her relatively unique name came with surprisingly few leads. I investigated the few I could, found she had a new name, and from there, my companion’s Facebook account did the rest.
Married. With a kid. Just over three years from her disappearance.
Sometimes, you can’t tell if you dodged a bullet, or if the shooter just missed.
The funny thing about age is, it’s the least static thing in human experience, and it’s the most static in my mind.
As soon as anyone is out of sight, as soon as I stop thinking about their birthdays as a phenomenon that affects me in some way, their age freezes solid. Maybe it’s because of my dad, who’s forever 35, thanks to his faraway demise. There was some a few years ago who I called The Twenty-Year Old to my friends, and even though I run into her once or twice a year, that will forever be how I think of her. Another ex, who dumped me in the days running up to her 30th birthday, will forever be 29 and panicking. And so on.
“She’s 34?” she asked, flipping through the Facebook account’s details before passing me her phone. And I had to pause and think, because the woman on the screen was older than me by a year or two, and that was three years ago, so wouldn’t she be…? Except I’m 32 now, and I’ll never actually catch up. Time keeps moving.
Driving back this afternoon, with Arcade Fire’s Funeral on the stereo, she slept in the passenger seat as the rain battered my car’s cloth roof. Surrounded by the familiar sounds, it sank in just how old the album is, more than a decade now. I thought about the night in 2005 I saw Death Cab for Cutie play while Arcade Fire put on a legendary show a half-mile away, and I thought of all Ben Gibbard’s songs about places and distance, all the most endearing ones.
For a minute, I considered switching the soundtrack, bouncing between various Death Cab songs for the remainder of the drive, but the roads were wet, and I couldn’t spare my attention. So I drove on, with one of the greatest albums of my lifetime enveloping me, scanning the hilly horizon of the Pacific Northwest. Just as I did on my final approach from a different, more than six years ago, after six weeks on the road, learning my own story.
Home was still an hour away. Home was right there.