They played fake alternative music during lunchtime at the restaurant where I worked in college. I never wanted to like Johnny Rzeznik but I kind of did. It was that year when I drove across country when my sometimes boyfriend died. I took off in an old blue Toyota Corolla with three friends who were not in grief and rolled away with my mother’s gas card towards freedom. I am certain we were all pushing towards some sort of hopeful Kerouac moment. We were pushing back the cobwebs of a summer spent working at a Presbyterian Church camp deep in the forest. The single “Name” from The Goo Goo Dolls was somehow always on the radio.
I was fixated on numerous songs that trip. It was a very long drive from Chapin, South Carolina to Los Angeles. I learned that Madonna did not have enough songs to last all the way across Texas. I discovered that Nevada is warm against your collarbones late at night when the sky is still purple and that Metallica is a perfect desert companion. I also found that The Jesus and the Mary Chain is perfect for stretching young tan limbs out windows while eating at concrete oasis fast food roundabouts. And that Utah was so still and religious when Mazzy Star was inside of our tent. And Johnny Rzeznik was always there too. He lived inside of my plastic CD Walkman and he comforted me.
And don't it make you sad to know that life
is more than who we are
I was not OK during that adventure. I said I was and everyone believed me because I never tell the truth about my own demons. I stood on car hoods and drank bottles and became every single person in the United States of America’s friend. I made pit stops to people across the country that I thought could save me. I studied maps like bibles. I looked for love in all the places. I made us all laugh until we were not high anymore. We carved out a path across the country that was blackened with my rebellion and anger.
Even Las Vegas could not scare me.
Even the semis that shook our tiny car did not seem real.
And people come home.
Trips always end.
And for some of us it was closure when we pulled into familiar scenery. When we grabbed 6 packs of dark brown beer and celebrated our return to normalcy. But for me it was like the beginning of a long journey all over again. I had to come home to a place that started learning subtraction.
I think about you all the time
but I don't need the same
And because life is very funny it was so many years later that I happened to meet Johnny Rzeznik.
My best friend Jeni really did love Johnny Rzeznik in a fan girl way. She had hot pants for him and we were at a MoveOn PAC Rally and The Goo Goo Dolls were playing and I told her we would meet him because she wanted to so badly and I always try and make dreams come true. I wasn’t sure how this was going to happen but when the rally ended we just made our way out to the back of the old theater in downtown Columbus. It was autumn and the tour bus was slick with rain and humming as it sat running and waiting to gather up the little rock stars.
And a small crowd started gathering with us and I was frantic for the words that would lasso him to us when he walked outside.
And he did walk out and he was tiny like all of the rock stars are.
And his hair was rushing all around his face.
And I just started shouting out to him:
Johnny! Johnny! Come here? Come here?
(And let me insert here that during this time of my life I worked for the Mayor of the city of Columbus and City hall is across the street and I am like well into the beginnings of my thirties and I am like a maniac.)
OK. And he looks at me because I am loud and he smiles and gives me such a sweet look but he starts to walk away from my voice.
So I shout more and louder still:
Johnny! WAIT! WAIT! Johnny
She LOVES YOU. She LOVES you.
She has your photograph above her bed!
And I take my very small 90lb friend and I pick her up and shake her at him like a little dolly. And she laughs and laughs and I see that he is more than a little afraid of me but something inside of him goes with it and he comes to us.
And then it was a quick blur of them meeting and embracing and photographs and she floated to the bar and everyone talked all night about how crazy I am and how I can do anything. And I curled up into a little ball that night and thought about how I should have hugged him too. I should have told him that his words were like little buoys for me one year when I was broken. Like I was a cartoon girl in a Stevie Smith poem and somehow he saw that I wasn’t waving. I was drowning.
And what is true for most things in my life is that words have saved me.