A soundtrack for breaking up via postcard at a gas station outside of Reno

I listened to Son Volt's Trace  constantly on that trip from Chicago to Sacramento.

I played that CD--on a portable CD player that I hooked up to my car stereo's tape deck--at least a dozen times on that journey. I kept one song in particular, "Creosote," on repeat. One memory remains crystalline to this day: Listening to it on the highway that travels south from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Wichita Falls, Texas.

It was storming and the sky was gunmetal gray and windy and all of this reflected my state of mind. Not only was I still going through a divorce, but I'd also broken up with my boyfriend of two months thanks to something Jill told me between Graeagle and Reno. 

Actually, I don't think he knew I'd broken up with him yet because I handled this via a postcard mailed from a gas station outside of Reno, NV. This was pre-Facebook and texting and I didn't have a laptop so you got by in other, more primitive ways.

I bought the postcard from a thin, blotchy skinned station clerk--she couldn't have been older than 21. I can't remember what the postcard showed, but I do remember scratching out this rambling note about trust and honesty and respect and love and god I don't even know if he even read the whole thing or just got it all after the first line because, truthfully, it's exhausting me now to even think about it.

Anyway, this guy--the Poet as I called him back then. I was 27, these things happen-- loved Son Volt as much as I did. We'd played this record together several times in the car. He even he quoted lyrics from this particular song in a letter he wrote me once (a real letter--on paper, mailed in an envelope).

That Son Volt record never actually got played in the car with Jill. It was Liz Phair that blasted through the speaker as we peeled out of that gas station parking lot. There was, too, a lot of  Hole and Sleater-Kinney (and Wilco and Bonnie Raitt, too, but you get the general theme here).

When I left Chicago however, the soundtrack changed, at least partly. I still played the Liz Phair and the Sleater-Kinney and the Hole but I added, too, albums that are, by their nature, more solitary. Jeff Buckley. Jim White. The Dirty Three. That damn Whiskeytown record. Son Volt.

There were, of course, stretches of radio. Garth Brooks during yet another apocalyptic thunderstorm, this one in Arkansas. Mexican pop songs outside of El Paso. Fleetwood Mac, fading in and out of frequency, somewhere near Phoenix.

But mostly, it was these records, over and over as I snaked my way back home. When we left Reno I had been furious--Liz Phair-, Sleater-Kinney-, Hole-furious--but now here, alone on a highway in Oklahoma, Son Volt's "Creosote" struck me for how it fit our relationship.


Passing under barren skies
Waiting for our worlds to collide
And there you are
All alone feeling bad

Interstate movin' again
Barrel through thick and thin
Side by side
To survive like creosote

Born under a widespread changes
The search for higher reason
Learning the ropes okay
But fate just runs you around


I was still angry with him. But also not angry with him. Angrier with myself, I guess. Angry for choices I'd made--choices that really had nothing to do with him but led me there all the same. As it turned out,  despite the truth I'd learned, despite the hurt and the small betrayal,  I wasn't really that mad after all.

Because despite a few little relationship glitches--including the one that led to that decision outside of Reno--this guy was great. Kind. Insightful. As I sped down the Interstate, I hoped we'd stay in each other's lives. I didn't want to be his girlfriend anymore (or whatever it was that I was to him at that point; it was rather murky. Like I said, glitches), I did, however, want to be his friend.

That was 17 years ago and he lives in another state now and we don't talk much but we are, very much, still friends. And for that I'm pretty damn grateful.

A soundtrack to breaking up via postcard at a gas station outside of Reno:


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