In the red-amber light, I squinted to make out the numbers on the Discman’s small screen. I clicked through to the next track, waiting in silence to see if I’d clicked through to the right song. As soon as the strings hit my ears, I relaxed into the familiarity of my song, my jam, a drug hitting my earstream and spreading through my entire body.
"Oh look at how she listens. She says nothing of what she thinks. She just goes stumbling through her memories, staring out onto Grey Street."
That Dave Matthews. A man after my own heart.
Head bopping and heart light, I turned to the photo paper soaking in water, where it would stay until the end of this song. It was the best “grand finale” song, the one that always accompanied the end of a photo’s development.
Our professor had assigned us absolute creativity on this last week of our course. Free reign to discover, snap photos, and develop a story however we so wished. I’d chosen to collaborate. John the Texan was always carrying around a guitar and a notebook full of lyrics, so why not leave with him a professional-looking album cover to show it off once he got around to recording?
He’d agreed to the plan just the day before as we walked back from lacrosse with our friends. They were heading to a movie later in the town’s only theater—a real red curtain kind of place—but I declined in favor of the darkroom.
“But, isn’t it creepy in there?” they asked.
“You know, darkrooms aren’t as dark as you’d think,” I answered proudly, defending the frontier I’d discovered and come to love.
The song continued, singing just for me:
"There's a stranger speaks outside her door, says take what you can from your dreams. Make them as real as anything. It'd take the work out of courage."
And it was true. So many hours of that summer had been spent soaking and tending to photos in that beautiful red-orange light. Not once had fear reared its ugly head. Neither had work.
As the drums and strings faded out to silence, I hit the pause button and lifted the photo out of the water. I held it up to the amber light and smiled even with my heart.
A throwback to the beautiful summer of 2002. I'll always be so grateful for you, Exeter. You brought me art.
PS. Who knew I liked being alone so much?