Have you ever had one of those moments when a song comes on the radio and, in an instant, you find yourself in another time and another place? Just a few seconds of music and you begin to relive a fragment of your past with perfect clarity? The sights, the sounds, the smells – everything comes rushing back to you?
I had one of those moments last week while on my way to the airport to catch a flight. As I came barreling into the parking lot, “Hold On To The Nights” by Richard Marx came on the radio – and just like that, I was back in high school. It was a moment that took me by surprise with its suddenness and intensity – and it brought my mad dash to the airport to a screeching halt.
“Hold on to the Nights”
It was the Spring of 1988 and I was sitting in a rented limousine with a girl named Kelley on our way home from my Junior prom. I can smell a whisper of the sparkling grape juice I spilled in the car earlier in the evening. I can see the genuine faux leather seats and rope lighting in the limo. I can feel the bow tie cinched around my neck – and I can remember being both amazed and terrified that the night was almost over.
It had been quite an evening and quite a journey to get there. I had had a major crush on Kelley my entire junior year. We had spent lots of time together both in chorus class and in rehearsals for the school musical – “Oklahoma”. Somehow or other I had mustered up enough courage to ask her to the prom, and – in a moment that took my breath away – she had said yes.
If I was anything back then, I was a product of pop culture, movies, and television. If movies taught me anything in the late 80’s it was that the “grand gesture” was a great way to quickly initiate the inevitable music montage and get to the part of the story where you won the girl’s heart. I wasn’t one to shy away from the “grand gesture.” When all of our friends were pooling their money and looking for safety in numbers, I had rented a stretch limo for just the two of us. I had the corsage. I had a bottle of sparkling grape juice on ice. At dinner, I even convinced the piano player at the restaurant to let me play a song for her. Yes – I went all out.
I don’t remember much about the actual prom itself. I’m sure we danced, I’m sure we laughed, and I’m sure we had fun. I have the picture of us to prove it and pictures don’t lie. There we were – tux with tails, pink dress, smiling eyes – together. Looking back now, I’m sure the night was at times awkward and not nearly as magical as it seemed. At the time, however, it was everything I could have asked for.
All too quickly, the night was over and we found ourselves back in front of Kelley’s house. I walked her to the front door and found myself in another of those movie moments I had seen so many times before. Should I kiss her or should I not? After all those months standing in that same spot in my dreams, I was now overwhelmed by the realness of it.
The seconds felt like hours of indecision before I finally leaned forward and gave her a peck on the cheek. It was terrifying, disappointing, and exhilarating all at the same time. I was young and, in some ways, still painfully shy. It wasn’t the romantic Cameron Crowe moment I had wanted, but summoning the courage to give her that peck on the cheek stretched the limits of what my heart could stand.
We said our good nights and I walked back to the limo. Our driver let me hop into the front seat – that back seemed cavernous and empty without someone to share it with. My mind was racing and my head was running the last 5 minutes over and over again in a constant loop. He turned on the radio and as we drove off, on came “Hold On To The Nights”. I didn’t say a word as I sat and listened to the song:
Hold on to the nights
Hold on to the memories
I wish that I could give you more,
That I could be yours.
It wasn’t a long drive from Kelley’s house to mine, but it was long enough for the song to play itself out and bounce around inside my mind. The limo driver looked over at me as we pulled into my neighborhood and came to a stop in my driveway. He’d had a front row seat to my uncertain good night kiss earlier and could see I was back there on Kelley’s front porch.
“Did you have a good time tonight?”
“The best,” I replied.
“You really like her, don’t you,” he said. It was much more a statement than a question.
“Yeah. I really do.”
He looked at me again and gave me some advice.
“Then enjoy the night. That’s all that matters.”
He had no way of knowing how right he was. Kelley and I had never really “dated” before the prom and we never really “dated” after it either. We stayed friends, we spent time together, and we had fun in each other’s company. We shared our thoughts, our dreams, and in some way our hearts – but it never really became anything more. Our lives circled each other, almost dancing at times, but the timing of the emotion was just never right. (In the end, that was okay. She wasn’t “the one” – but that’s a different story – a different song.)
Still, I wonder sometimes if things would have been different if I had had the courage to really kiss her that night. Would we have dated? Would we have gone to another prom? What if I could go back and change that one moment of indecision? I’ll never know the answers to those questions, and when I ask them – I realize the answers don’t really matter. Whether I kissed her or not, what really matters is that I asked her to go to the prom with me in the first place. What matters is that I saw a path in my heart that led from an unspoken crush to limousines and dancing and I followed it. What matters is that I took a chance, put myself out there, and for that one night – I got the girl.
As I walked into the airport and boarded my plane, I thought a lot about all the other songs that have marked events in my life. Some momentous, some trivial – but all of them important to me in one way or another. Do you have songs like that in your life – songs that can stop you in your tracks and bring either a smile to your face or a tear to your eye? Music can be both strange and wonderful in the way it takes your mind down paths neither recently nor routinely traveled. Embrace those songs – embrace those moments. You can’t go back and change the past, but there is nothing that says the radio can’t take you back for a visit every now and again.
Join me next time and I’ll revisit my high school talent show, courtesy of “Honestly” by Stryper.
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