“Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel. I have always needed Fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.” —Hunter S. Thompson
Fear was my sole companion as I waited for help. It was a rare moment where the fear of what happened was accompanied by the fear of what could’ve happened. It’s natural to be engulfed by the uncertain, the unpredictable. Life is often accelerated or halted by what you never see coming.
First, there was a pop, neither loud enough to terrify nor soft enough to be completely drowned out by Phay’s bouncy “No Temptations.” The sound failed to articulate the panic-inducing sight my eyes saw: The front passenger-side tire rolling across the interstate apparently with some desired destination different from my own. With only three wheels the car tilted off-balance as if promethazine filled the gas tank. Luckily, just moments earlier, I pulled over onto the median because something felt off.
Examining each tire didn’t reveal any visible issues. I tried returning to the road, but just tapping the gas was enough to spontaneously dislocate an entire wheel from my 1999 Nissan Maxim. I try not to think about what happens if I was going 80 miles per hour instead of eight.
I’ve always felt a strange kinship to older, used cars. Similar to the human body, they carry all the wear and tear of their time. Every dent, ding, scratch, and physical ramification represents an unspoken story. Consider them inkless tattoos symbolizing life, no different than how the young earn their scars as the old earn their wrinkles.
Despite never experiencing the sudden loss of a tire the immobile stillness brought by an unforeseeable circumstance was oddly familiar. I knew as my car did what it meant to have control suddenly taken, how it felt to be frozen and impacted by a loss.
The first loss that caused my 2018 to stand still happened a few weeks into the new year. Sampha’s “Too Much” became the soundtrack of late January and throughout February while processing my friend Jarrod Milton’s untimely passing. The lyrics expressed an interesting duality: “Don't think about it too much” and “There's no need for us to rush this through,” when applied to the concept of grief, are true to the escapist desire to avoid and the necessary need to slowly explore the emotions attached to losing someone.
Jarrod and I hung out after a few days after Thanksgiving in 2017. He was in great spirits, ecstatic about the music he was working on. In my heart, I knew he would be fine. It’s a naive hope, but often hope is all we have. I missed Jarrod's final call. I was busy in my own world of the holiday break and relishing in the feeling of publishing my first collection of essays. The voicemail he left, one I didn’t listen to until it was too late, asked for me to bring a book for him to the hospital. The day I learned of his passing, the day I finally played the voicemail, something unseen broke.
From that moment forward, continuously, 2018 brought some of the best news I’ve ever received and some of the most upsetting. My personal engine was still running, the tank was far from empty, but I often felt as if I was sitting on the median, watching as other cars drove by, wondering how I’ll ever get back on the road. As much as I did in 2018, there was even more I didn't. I was engulfed by things that caused all motion to cease. Life, at times, could use a tow truck.
To the soundtrack of Swimming, the last studio album released by the late, great Mac Miller, the latter half of 2018 was a constant battle to better understand that falling apart is just the other half of the process that leads to being built back up again. I learned that the unpredictable and the uncertain are often on the other side of planning, certitude, and knowing that things have a chance of always being better. Without being able to ask him, I often think this is what Swimming is meant for: to be a comforting companion through life's tough times. Fuel for when you feel empty.
“I was drowning, but now I'm swimming / Through stressful waters to relief,” Mac Miller eloquently raps on “Come Back to Earth.” The relief only comes after the stress; to feel that you're drowning means there is still hope of mastering the waters. It’s nearly impossible to go through life without feeling as if you’re submerged, struggling for air, but fighting. The fight is what keeps us above water.
Before we parted on January 1, one of my best friends told me that this year would be difficult. He said it not as a seer who peered into the future, but as a realist who understands that a new year doesn't mean the laws of the world will magically change. Life can get better, but it won’t suddenly become easier. There will be losses with the wins; hate with the love, death with life, and setbacks to counterbalance prosperity. Some impacts you’ll never be ready for—it’s impossible to prepare for everything that awaits in the unforeseen tomorrow—but there’s as much hope as there is fear. I enter 2019 with this solace. Fear is no longer riding shotgun.
This year, unlike every year prior, I completely trust the person I’ve built up. What I seek will be mine if I stay on the path I desire. My path; no one else's. My only resolution this year is to stay on course and reach each destination that awaits. It’s far more about the work and the journey than any concept of rewards. I’ve learned patience, I understand the need to stall at times, but also how life doesn’t stop moving when you’re stuck on the median. Life’s ways of processing and progressing, healing and helping, moving forward and appreciating all the steps you’ve taken.
Loss, in its various forms, shaped my 2018, for better and worse. It taught me a lot about myself, and how I process, react, and at times, spiral. Maturity is often a byproduct of how we survive and learn from the times that are tough.
While writing this column, my sister-in-law knocked on my door to tell me she was 5 cm dilated and was headed to the hospital. My niece is coming. Hopefully, this is a sign that life will be what shapes my 2019. Knowing she's on the way has already influenced a newfound inspiration to be a man, uncle, and writer that will make this little human proud.
I wish us all more life, more understanding, and a little more patience with ourselves and others. No matter what happens this year, the hope of next year is always present until it isn’t. We just have to keep driving. We have to keep swimming. We owe it to ourselves, to the ones who are no longer with us, and all the ones who have yet to arrive.
By Yoh, aka Best Damn Yoh, aka @Yoh31