Saturday, October 15, 2005

if you ever come back to elizabethtown

Tonight I went with a friend to see Elizabethtown. Like the movie I saw last week, A History of Violence, I knew nothing before it started. I hoped it was Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and it was—a tiny, perfectly-named town on the way from Louisville.

I stopped there once, on the way to Nashville. I drove there with my boyfriend, who didn’t drive. It was the first time I had driven a long time by myself, through several states. It was the first time I stayed in a hotel with a man. I was eighteen. I dyed my hair in the hotel bathroom. And we were too tired to make it the whole way from Ohio, so we stopped in Elizabethtown. We ate sandwiches from the gas station, and didn’t sleep, and when it got fully dark, walked to a coffee shop on main street. We choose the coffee shop--I choose it--because of the white Christmas lights around the window. Inside, it seemed to be open mic night. There were guitar players and poets.

You must have come to sing, the woman behind the counter said.
Don’t tell me you can’t.

This is the best latte I ever had in my life, my boyfriend said.

It soon became apparent that everyone in the coffee shop knew each other, and everyone knew we were strangers, and everyone wanted to talk, wanted to know when we would move in. Don’t go to Nashville, they said.

The boy behind us thrust crumpled sheets of papers into my hands: poems.

Come back here if you ever come back to Elizabethtown, the boy said. Something like that. We’ll wait.

The movie reminded me of the real Elizabethtown. All the people did wave. It was like that. The music caught my breath—Tom Petty, Lindsey Buckingham “Looking Out for Love” when Louisville flashed by. I remember those signs.

The movie also reminded me of Garden State, and Big Fish. Both films were sad and hopeful at the same time—a mixture that must be comfort. I saw Big Fish on my twenty-sixth birthday, and I could not stop crying, even though I had found a pink and white striped baseball T-shirt at Target that said 26 on the front and wore it, even though my boyfriend gave me a box of chocolates and champagne and made Asian noodle soup just like at Oodles Noodles in Bethesda that night, even though it snowed, even though I didn’t even have to teach that day.

I know that’s what you want, he said to me in the car. I know you want a magical life.

Can’t I do anything—waitress, clean house, teach, sing? Can’t I be friends with anyone—scientists, musicians, historians, mothers, cooks? I don’t have to know writers. I don’t have to know professors. I don’t have to have that world.

I choose Elizabethtown. I choose Stars Hollow. I choose Specter. I choose Avonlea.

It will just take awhile to get there, that’s all. It will just take me awhile to get back.