I was twenty years old when our flight from Venice landed in New York, and like any self-respecting magical moment, it was late, late at night. Snowing, too, but it had snowed the entire time we were in Venice, and we were beginning to suspect that this is just what life looked like, now.
Shining black passageways, white in the air. I’d followed strange handsome men back to their apartments and spoken (sympathetically and with surprising vocabulary range, I congratulated myself) of aqua alta. I’d sliced my finger open while rinsing an empty tin can of tomatoes; it was still drunkenly bandaged with rolls of translucent toilet paper, bits of white that would heal into my hand. I’d fallen in love during that trip with my roommate, because like any self-respecting female friendship I had found her horrifically annoying until that moment we were left alone together and asked to survive. We invented code words, communicated in glances, wore each other’s clothes, I told her almost everything.
But now, suddenly: it was over. New York surrounded us like a shifting black bear. “Bard?” A man called. “Bard College?” And he took our luggage and opened the door and everything was warm and safe and planned for us, like it was in those days. I grabbed the front seat.
Of course we’d all noticed there was something a little off about the driver immediately, but no one was concerned. He wasn’t scary off, he was just . . . quiet. Intense, wild eyes. A thick accent I couldn’t identify. He sailed us onto the highway, and as the city began disappearing behind us, he reached forward and abruptly punched the play button on his tape deck.
“Oh!” I turned to him, clasping my hands in delight. “I love this song so much!”
Our driver slowly turned and looked at me with inexplicable rage. He said nothing. Then he creaked his head back onto the road, which was twisting eternally into the darkness.
I was in pretty high spirits with all this snow fluttering around the car, so I shrugged it off and snuggled happily against the window, sighing with romance and tragedy and foreign languages. And actually, as the song ended, with just a few seconds of silence before the violins restarted their sweet song, I again turned to him, seemingly undeterred. “Oh!” I cried. “We get to hear it again!”
No one else in the shuttle had uttered a word. The driver didn’t even look at me this time, but grit his teeth and stared stonily ahead. The social understanding part of my brain was reluctantly kicking its rusty parts back into gear. Not . . . new . . . friend . . . be quiet. I shut my mouth for the rest of the ride.
Four hours long, that drive back to college: with this song repeating, over and over. Our driver had apparently made a tape of nothing but Offenbach’s Barcarolle on both sides. One side had allowed the song to end completely, so that there was about half a minute of silence before the deck whirred and clicked, began again. The other had the song end a few seconds short, before the clickity clickity, clunk.
Needless to say, I. Loved. It.
Each time as the song ended, I held my breath. Would he tire of it? Would this be the ending that ended everything, not that he would murder us all (although frankly that thought wasn’t entirely out of everyone’s minds) but my reverie, this perfect moment trapped on repeat for as long as he allowed it? If he hit stop, I decided, the snow would stop falling. If he hit stop, Daria would wake up in Jared’s lap and he would stop caressing her hair. If he hit stop, no one would look out the windows any more and someone would clear their throat. If he hit stop we would all just wish we were home.
But he didn’t, and so it all continued: the swirls of snowflakes against the darkness, the black fur of the grumbling New York bear shifting beneath us. Jared caressed his girlfriend’s hair while she slept in his lap, safe. In the seat behind them, Kelly pretended not to watch, envious. Jesse’s neon sneakers sprawled beneath the seats of Matt, Tanya and Theresa. My roommate dozed against an icy window pane, unaware that the prettiest freshman anyone had ever seen, next to her, was cuddling a boy whom I had viciously lied about to another. (“I didn’t want to kiss him!” I had claimed desperately to the new interest, two years ago. “He got me high, and then made me! I tried to get away!” As soon as the words left my mouth I regretted them, felt a new history develop that I was powerless to correct. And, terrified, I would never confess to him or apologize, so when he made fun of my roommate two years later there in Venice, the comebacks would stop in my throat.) The prettiest freshman cooed her pretty coffee tinted lips against his neck, and if it were today, I would have easily been happy to see someone I’d done wrong happy again. But back then all pretty girls were trespassers; and there was a limited amount of happiness in this world, and anyone else’s was less for me.
Still, that song was playing, and in that moment my youth was blissfully transcended. My mistakes, my wretched manipulations, the hierarchies we’d constructed, the love we had and the love we tried to get, transcended — they were all just fleeting, details of a bigger thing. The black highway was infinite, the endless snowflakes melting upon impact, the driver staring straight ahead, and the opera played on, and on, and on.