Everybody Knows This is Nowhere*
When I think of the radio man now, I think of Neil Young first: how his eyes lit up when we appraised the genius of Young’s melodies—nostalgia and grunge mixed with a dark abdomen of story. How I told him my own stories: of young love, pick-up trucks, and crazy horses; of smoking weed in my bedroom when I was sixteen listening to Harvest again and again, how the music was like grit and spirit; of Neil on stage, his music stunning me under the moon; of wishes like this one where he and I could sit on a hill of grass or on the hood of his car, drink beer, listen to Neil until the engine went cold or the transmitter stopped working, or the sun rose, but mostly, I remember the paper napkins: the images of playful snowmen with red caps and carrot noses printed against a blue snowflaked sky, the tissue folded in half next to the thrift store plates on which he served me broccoli and sausage matched with red wine in mugs and what was on the radio even? I can’t remember, a fact which frustrates me now because between us, back then, music was everything.
That night, to my children, to my husband, I was with a friend in town, sharing drinks at a local bar on a Tuesday, but to be true, I had left the school board meeting early to drive through a storm to the radio man’s one-room cabin in the woods. I’d hired a babysitter to stay with the children while my husband attended a gathering just down the road from where I would quietly disrupt our arrangement of devotion. It’s the woman in you that makes you want to play this game. Would I pass my husband’s truck in the dark? Would he wonder why I was driving in the wrong direction, away from town, toward the mountains, not going home? As I approached the darker elevation, the rain surged and the light fell away. I passed a few scattered homes, thinking their walls contained mothers settling their children into bed, whispering them stories, telling them I love you. I chased the storm, something stirring in the violence of clouds and water, turned the radio to an audible high, for harmony and mood, to stifle my hesitation. The wreck of music filled the car—the world is turning, I hope it don’t turn away, the minor chords evoking a certain melancholy, a drama playing out here and now, just as I had imagined: I was going to meet a man, a man distanced from my own orthodoxy, and I would become like him, a rebel in an off-grid shack thrust into the hillside on the edge of government wilderness, living alone in a paradise. Doesn’t mean that much to me to mean that much to you.
There with him, in his home, awkward, we ate dinner and it wasn’t long before the wine took me to his bed. Every so often the lights flickered. Or sometimes they’d go completely and we’d leave it that way. Reach for each other in the dark. But on this night, the music became a resonance of our impulses, a soundtrack to our affair—we needed the tempo to hold us—so he left bed flushed and warm to crank the engine in the shed out back, his body awake to the wind and rain, trembling with cold when he came back to me. In bed, we’d stop and talk: of misogyny in hip hop, other countries like Denmark and what it means to own a cat. He was due to go on the radio at ten. It was 9:52. He didn’t seem to care. He concentrated on pleasing me, perspiration dotting his forehead, his back thin with sweat, eyes shut in pleasure or concentration I couldn’t tell, though I watched him go: he was determined to make me feel good. To last. Sing low, I wanted to whisper, but I surveyed his face instead—a perfect stranger like a cross of himself and a fox—always shifty, nervous, quiet.
She could drag me over the rainbow.
Finished, we raced in separate cars down the rural highway, the radio station just five miles down the road, hidden in the pines, and a famous anarchist was there when we arrived playing exquisite instrumentation over pirated airspace. He shared my birthday, May 23rd, and so I stayed a while. He told me stories of the world changing direction, astrology and Geminis, pagan theosophy, and Judeo-Christian esotericism, which I didn’t know was a thing to believe in. He scratched his gray beard, nearly sixty, and sipped his canned beer, going on like a jaw until I shifted in my seat, grew bored, lit my cigarette, and went outside to the rain, to feel the storm pass over me, to consider the radio man who was sweet with his tenderness and paper napkins speaking rap and spinning dope on the mic. We kissed in the rain, the hip hop thumping out the trailer door, the famous anarchist passed out in the corner now. I had to go, though I drove slowly so I could hear him on the dial. Save the time. When I returned home—the children asleep, my husband too—I stripped off my wet clothes, lay naked under a quilt, and plugged in my headphones, the radio man syncing the rhapsody of bass and beautiful struggle on the tuner, my fingers marked with a blend of scent like rain and smoke and pine. Tell me lies later, the betrayal a real thing I could not name.
*Songs referenced in this essay—"Everybody Knows This is Nowhere," "Cowgirl in the Sand," "On the Beach," "Old Man," "Loner," "Down by the River," "Tell Me Why."
Accompany the text with these melodies in this order, preferably. Playlist here.
Melissa Matthewson lives and writes in the Applegate Valley of southwestern Oregon. Her essays have appeared in Guernica, Mid-American Review, Bellingham Review, River Teeth, Sweet, New Delta Review, Terrain.org, Wildness, and Hobart among other publications. Her work has earned an AWP Intro Journals award and has been listed as notable in Best American Essays. She teaches writing at Southern Oregon University as well as teaches Zumba dance classes and runs an organic vegetable farm. You can find her at melissamatthewson.com.