from Nick Suss
April 28, 2015, 3:09 p.m.
It was just after 10:30 on a Monday night in Athens. Like buzzards descending upon scraps, students and townies alike flocked to their favorite bars before the Reading Day crowd infiltrated and filled the taverns to celebrate the end of the semester. The streets of Athens felt like the scene in the Lion King directly before the wildebeest stampede: It was quiet, but I could feel the ominous rumblings approaching from all directions. If I didn’t get out soon I would be trampled.
But first I had some business to attend to.
All of my work friends and I were out celebrating the end of the semester as we always do: with tacos. Of course, I was the only one eating the tacos without anything to wash them down. It was a blast. We had our fun. We laughed and we reminisced and we dogged on each other one last time before we all separated into the ether that is summer vacation. But then it came time for everyone to go. And I was the only one who couldn’t follow.
My friends were the wildebeests. They, justifiably, wanted to celebrate a long four months of work by letting off a little bit of steam in the best way that college students know how. And I’m not going to tell you why I couldn’t join them. You know that already. You know me. But unlike the previous three times I’d been to these parties, I didn’t sneak off into the night without saying my peace. This time I trailed behind my friends, observing as they trotted down the sidewalks in anticipation of the celebration ahead of them. As they marched toward their intended destination, I couldn’t help but begin to sing. I don’t know why. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why. But I very audibly started alternating between my Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham impressions. No one seemed to pay me much attention so I kept going. Until we arrived at the bar, that is.
I hadn’t yet told my friends I wouldn’t be joining them on the inside. It kind of felt to me like if Frodo made it all the way to the boat but then told everyone he decided not to get on and just stay in Middle Earth after all. I don’t think anyone was actually surprised. I’m still me after all. But unlike previous times, there was no pleading. No one tried to convince me to stay. Everyone understood where I was coming from. So one by one, everyone came up to me to hug me goodnight and perhaps bid adieu for much longer than that. And that was when it happened. As my friends and coworkers turned into the bar, I heard a very familiar tune emanating from the blaring speakers inside. I was being greeted by the four chords everyone in America knows, the music and lyrics that have become so deeply embedded in the American experience that I would argue that Francis Scott Key himself couldn’t have done any better.
Just a small town girl. Living in a lonely world. She took the midnight train going anywhere. Just a city boy. Born and raised in South Detroit. He took the midnight train going anywhere.
I was incredulous. After years of willing my life to become a sitcom, it finally had. As I said my goodbyes, Don’t Stop Believing blasted through the stereos. If my life were a movie, the screen would’ve faded to black at that moment. Part of me finally thought I was going to find out what actually happened to Tony Soprano. 20 years worth of experience had let me to that point. Two decades of pop-culture conditioning led me to understand that that night was the end of an era. The season had officially hit 22 episodes. The credits were rolling. It was time to turn off the TV and move on.
So I did.
I turned around and walked away from the bar. But I didn’t stop singing. I just changed my tune. Fleetwood Mac had been replaced by Journey. I continued the lyrics.
A singer in a smoky room. The smell of wine and cheap perfume. For a smile they can share the night, it goes on and on and on and on. Strangers waiting up and down the boulevard. Their shadows searching in the nights. Streetlights. People. Living just to find emotion hiding somewhere in the night.
I’d heard those lyrics a thousand times in my life. They always seemed to me as if Derek Stevens had ad libbed them himself in between performances of Choppin’ Broccoli. But for some reason in the state I was in that night, they actually made sense. I’m not proud of myself that I came to identify with a Journey song, but I did. Before I knew it, I was back at my car, ready to call it a night and head back home while my friends partied as I have countless times in my three years of college. It would have been easy. All I would have had to do was put my key in the ignition and slip away. That’s how cars work. But instead I walked right past my car. I just followed the sidewalks through the streets of Athens, living just to find emotion hiding somewhere in the night.
I feel bad for those of you who have never seen Athens. I know I don’t properly take advantage of the atmosphere, but I will still argue it is the most beautiful town I have ever spent time in. And I’m really only talking about north campus at night. I love walking around UGA in the daytime. Just seeing the people is a bewildering experience. But the University of Georgia at night is my single favorite place to be.
For those of you who have seen Athens, you’re going to understand this next part. For those of you who haven’t, I’m going to try my best to set the scene.
There’s a field on north campus just behind the arch. I’m not talking about Herty Field, but the grassy area to the right of it if you’re looking at downtown. The trees are almost completely bloomed at this point and they do a good job of obscuring the light reflecting off the buildings and cars from across Broad Street. But if you look through the canopies of leaves, you can see shards of red light beaming from the fluorescent sign atop the Taco Stand and if you listen through the silence of the vacant campus, you can hear the whirring of cars and the gentle stomps of high heels and boat shoes fleeing their everyday worries in favor of a night on the town. As I stood in place and stared out across campus at the façade of downtown, two things popped into my head. The first was something I said about a year ago during my first so-called downtown adventure. That night I looked at my partner in lack-of-crime while standing on Herty Field and said “This is where we belong. Not over there. Not with them. Here. On campus. This is where we belong.” All of the emotions from that night welled back up inside me again. But I wasn’t quite as defeatist this time. That’s partially because of my second thought.
It might interest you to know that I was still singing out loud at this point. But I was no longer singing Journey and I had already sang a few Weezer songs before I got there so I decided to actually sing some good songs. And as I surveyed the town, I uttered these three lines.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night. Take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life you were only waiting for this moment to arise.
I trawled deeper into campus and found myself sitting in front of the second most famous fountain on north campus. From there I could still feel the red light beating down on me from through the trees but the sounds of downtown had all been drowned out by the rush of water. I wasn’t alone. There was a couple sitting entirely too close to one another on a bench not too far away from me. I tried my hardest not to watch as they inched nearer and nearer. And it wasn’t because I was uncomfortable. It was because I felt more alone at that moment than I had all night. I couldn’t stay there too long. So I arose and kept moving.
Before I knew it I was at the Chapel Bell. I’m not much of a rah-rah tradition kind of guy. I love my college for its academic merits and the opportunities it has afforded me, but that doesn’t mean I feel any motivation to engage in the silly but expected customs. However, for the first time since I had enrolled at the school, I felt the need to ring the bell. So I did.
I listened as the sound echoed through the night. It stopped me in my tracks. Something about that ringing noise knocked me into another place. I waited for the cessation of the ringing before I resumed wandering.
After about five more minutes on north campus, I made my way back downtown.
I wandered for about an hour and a half that night. Once every so often I would find myself back in front of the bar all my friends were in. And by every so often, I mean four times. I was only spotted once. Outside of those moments and the two times complete strangers went in for high fives, I was all alone. I was doing a little bit of texting and checked my fantasy baseball team a few times, but for the most part I was just alone with my thoughts. And I liked that. It was a great experience, a symbolic and literal end to a phase in my life. When I return to Athens in August, I’m going to be a different person. This is true of every time I return home, but this summer will be unlike any other summer before. And I’m okay with this. In fact, I’m happy about this. The wander-around-town-soberly-while-your-friends-have-fun Nick probably won’t exist anymore. At that point I’ll just be weeks away from being able to join them. And then all of my problems will be solved.
I mean, who is to say that any of them will? Who is to say that just because I’ll legally and morally be alright to go into a bar that I will enjoy it? Who is to say that my neurotic and self-preventative outlook on life won’t find new ways to torment me after three years of doing so in one particular way? And as I finally decided to head home, I remembered the Fleetwood Mac song I was singing earlier.
And as I stepped into the car and sat in driver’s seat ready to go back to my apartment, I just muttered the last two lines of the chorus:
I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain. …
But I’m not going to end on that. I may have last night. But I’m not going to. Because I know I will break the chain. I don’t know how. I don’t know when. But I will. Because I’m done wallowing in self-pity every time I choose not to do something. It is always my choice. No one is forcing me to be different. No one is calling me and outcast but myself. So with this post I vow to break the chain right here and right now. No more is the Nick Suss who looks at a night like this one and says that he wandered aimlessly for no reason. Now is the time to break the chain. I wandered last night by my own volition and heck, I enjoyed myself. So there is no reason to seek pity. This was not pitiable. So what if I’m a cliché of myself? It’s what I’ve always wanted. My life has officially become a sitcom. So what? That’s cool. I’m prepared for this. Heck, if anyone would know how to live inside a sitcom it would be me, right?
And since I’ve come to peace with all of this, I’m going to end this not on that depressing lyric, but on the perfect cliché to end the post.
Don’t stop believing.
Fade to black.