Tuesday, March 24, 2009

This ain't a song for the broken-hearted.

We were on the highway from Quebec City to Ottawa. We'd been driving for hours and for much of the way we'd been in the middle of a blizzard which had whited out everything except the power poles. Black ice had made the Cherokee rental car slide badly but Alastair with his Indiana Jones hat on had wrestled it back each time, and Caroline had kept things calm with that gentle Canadian way she talks about things, and every now and then handed out homemade cookies. Gaby and Issy screamed at the top of their lungs when the car aquaplaned and slept through the rest of it, Nicky snapped away with Caroline's camera (odd shots of dilated nostrils and the whites of eyes), and I just did a lot of talking, I guess, and filming snow-ploughs and glimpses of men fishing through the ice.

After four hours or so, we were nearly on the home stretch - tired, cramped, bored. I slid an unknown CD into the slot and pressed play.... and up it came: the rough-edged listen-to-me sound of Bon Jovi, and a song that is more than a song it's an anthem about being well and truly alive despite life's vicissitudes. And we all sang along, or rather shouted, despite the ice and the under-pressurised wheels of the car, despite the bitter cold, despite the distance travelled. And we played it over and over and over until our voices were hoarse, too, and - adapting a line from Elizabeth Bishop - victory filled up that rented car.

So often we look back and see things differently given what has happened in the meantime. But how can that be? Each one of us experienced the drive from Quebec City differently, there's no doubt, but we all felt - I think - that we were on a mission, brought together because some of us were family and the rest of us cared enough. When Bon Jovi played in the car that day, the last vestiges of whatever it was that separated us were forced out of the window and we became something overlapping and noisy: that open highway, Bon Jovi talks about. We can't ever go back to the trip in mid January 2009 with the blizzard and It's my Life blaring, but each time I play the song, I am inside the car again, feeling the marvellous thing we became; and it seems to me that the experience is independent of us all, and of all we've done since and will continue to do. Complete and unassailable. Alastair, Caroline, Gaby, Issy, Nicky, me and Bon Jovi.

I dedicate the song to Alastair and Caroline for all those reasons.

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