we were high high up in the nosebleed seats, view almost blocked by the tinny square of the spotlight snaking down in front of the giant monitor where Neil Young rocked out like an aging hobbit, utterly possessed.

he was fabulous. i was rapt. my acoustic inclinations make me a far more avid fan of Neil’s folky-country incarnations than his extended experiments in distortion and the wa-wa pedal, but live, even the 20 minute guitar solos were infectious. dude is hardcore.

we didn’t look so hardcore, ourselves. the march up to the seats had nearly toppled my friend, thirty weeks into her pregnancy. she and i perched in our lofty plastic buckets, catching up, surrounded by elderly bikers and kids young enough to be our children. most of them wore tour shirts and latex hooker chic.  one woman, who bore a surreal resemblance to Carla from Cheers, dropped her binoculars square onto my skull and was too drunk to notice.  or apologize.  in this back o’ the class equivalent where beer and vomit flowed free, my blue spring coat and scarf were prim, i suddenly realized, and my friend – resplendently maternal in a floral shirt and elastic-waisted jeans – barely resembled the barefoot, chain-smoking girl who spent a week in the Via Rail bar car with me fifteen years ago.  i tapped my feet in white boots, probably looking like a misplaced housewife who expected at any moment to find myself magically transported to a Nancy Sinatra show.

i found myself wishing my tattoo was visible in clothing.

we are OLD, i shouted in my friend’s ear.

she laughed, the same girlish pealing giggle she’s had as long as i’ve known her.  i KNOW, she mouthed back at me.  and we goggled at each other, heads cocked, two pixie-haired torn-jeaned free spirits turned to motherly sorts. with purses.

then the cheeky whippersnapper parked two seats down from my friend sparked up something with embers glowed orange in the dark. the first whiff snapped my head around like a dog on a choke chain.

ah, smell, the sense most closely connected to memory. the air got thick with weed and, with a furtive look around i, uh, breathed deeply.  ooooh.  nineteen all over again.  my friend and i grinned, mother-to-be and nursing mother ahaze with guilty pleasure.

smells like Derek, i said. my college boyfriend. the one with the acute case of amotivational syndrome.

somewhere out there in parts unknown, Derek turns 39 years old today.  i met him the April he turned 20, in a heady wet spring when a young girl’s fancy turned to thoughts of love. i was 18. he was funny, brash, a Montreal boy who seemed worldly to my small-town self. he became my first Other, the first for whom i ever gave over that part of me i don’t know if i’ve gotten back since…the sense of the I as singular, as truly solitary and my own.

i no longer remember what it was i loved about him. i remember the curve of his collarbone and a funny little scar on his chest, almost remember the way he laughed. i remember that he lied, not disloyally but to impress, a storyteller, exaggerator, promiser of what could not be delivered. i remember that he bought smokes and borrowed money from me for food and i let him, though i was far more broke than he.  i remember that last excruciating year, when we could not connect and could not fuck and could not, it seemed, figure out where the hell either of us were going let alone how we might go there together, how he blew the LSAT he’d fumblingly placed his hopes in and i pushed and pushed at him to talk and in the end he punched a hole in the cheap wall in the poverty palace that was his apartment. the girl upstairs heard the shouting and the thud and called the cops who came and separated us and gently bullied with questions, sure i was covering a beating. but no, only my heart, struggling to understand how we could love and see no future.  the last April before graduation, we lay awake late together in tears with Neil Young’s Harvest Moon playing in the background, whatever we had been dissolving like the snowbanks with the coming of spring.

and in the morning, a last ritual wake & bake and then convocation and i drove away in my grandmother’s borrowed Datsun and waved, and i have never seen him again.  it was before email, dear readers, in that strange othertime where you could actually lose somebody completely, even if you didn’t really want to.

i heard later that he became a car salesman, and took up golf.

but he was the time and place in my life where the air was thick and green, and for a second at the concert the other night i could almost believe i saw his shadow, a few rows down, if i squinted my eyes just right.

i don’t think i would have changed anything if i had seen him…i’d have sat there, swinging my white boots in my pretty little coat singing my heart out while my lungs burned a little in the hazy air, and smiled, and gone home happy and fed the baby who then woke – probably, erm, with the munchies – all the rest of the night.  that’s all.

i don’t think of him that often. but i remember.