December 4, 2017: Music, Words, and Stories

One year ago today, after G and H boarded the bus that would take them to school, Matt and I got in the car ready to brave the tail end of morning rush hour traffic to get to Columbia for his third day of whole brain radiation. When I started the engine on the morning of December 4, 2017, a top 40 song crackled through the car’s speaker. Matt turned down the music. He said he was tired of the same songs and wanted something different.

We opened Spotify and somehow decided on the Hamilton soundtrack. The musical we’d listened to the day before still held us captivated. We turned up the volume and listened all the way into the city and then all the way home.

I’ve been looking forward to writing today’s post—as much as I can look forward to writing any of the posts in this Third Act. So many of the most recents posts have focused on how hard it was to communicate, how much of Matt had vanished. How much of us (Matt and Elaine) had vanished. We needed something that made us smile, something we could share together so we could feel like ourselves, remember what exactly we were fighting so hard to protect.

We found Hamilton. For a week, during every drive into and out of the city, we listened to the Hamilton soundtrack. When we got tired of the same songs, Matt said he’d enjoyed listening to something other than radio. I suggested the audiobook I’d started and he agreed. We listened to The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman. When we finished that book, we listened to a book of Matt’s choosing—a Jack Reacher novel.

We didn’t discuss the music or the plots the way we’d once debated anything and everything on other road trips. We let the words of others fill in the gaps where communication had been hard for us. But sometimes we smiled at the same part. Sometimes I’d look over and I’d see something like a spark in Matt’s eyes. It wasn’t what we’d always done—we’d never before listened to a Broadway soundtrack or an audiobook together. It was something new. A new tradition, a new common ground.

I couldn’t even begin to guess the title of the Jack Reacher novel we listened to that last week of radiation. By then, neither Matt nor I paid much attention to the plot. Matt, because he’d become too detached from himself. Me, because I was too entangled in the next steps. And even then, as inattentive as we both were, sometimes we’d look at each other—after Jack Reacher won another brawl or spewed off a particularly noteworthy line—and laugh because we knew we were equally struggling to follow the threads of the story.

For however short a time, music, words, and stories gave us something back that we’d lost. And I don’t know that I have the words to describe the joy I felt every time we got into the car and listened together. All I can say is that I remember the feeling still. A combination of relief and warmth and light and a tiny glimmer of hope.

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