December 23 – New Name. Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?
I had, for a time, thought my parents had made a grave error in naming me “Meredith Ann.” I would try on different names — even going so far as to write them down on slips of paper; commit them to the page. The names I fancied were mostly names with a hard “c” beginning and/or an “ie” sound at the end. They sounded melodic and exotic to me.
I did this for years. In fact, I did this through most of my childhood. But by the time it came around to committing my name to a driver’s license, I got over it. And I was finally satisfied with the perceived…plainness…of Meredith Ann. Which was ultimately the name that went on my license.
Ah. My license. All I wanted to do was DRIVE. Which, in Los Angeles County is not an if, but a when. Not a whether, but a must.
When I was a teenager, I would drive the Canyons of Los Angeles County – the places where I first learned to drive – blasting Paul Simon songs. I was no rebel. And the Paul Simon CDs were typically the only things that were in my mother’s car. Sometimes, but rarely, I would bring along a mix-tape of songs I’d captured from the radio. But I wasn’t adept at catching tunes on the radio, and truth be told, those discs in my mother’s car were far more interesting to me than most of the one hit wonders of the mid-90s.
But Simon, oh Rhymin’ Simon! How jealous was I when I later discovered he’d gone off and married Edie Brickell? I suppose that would have explained why she kept showing up on Saturday Night Live in the early/mid ‘90s, when she had that hit that was popular, but not so popular as to warrant more than one appearance on the show.
What kind of little grey-eyed blonde swoons over a man approximately 40 years her senior and approximately the same height as she?
Me, that’s who — the young woman who learned to love music and words before she learned to love anything else. The young woman who believed the young man who wrote, who sang, “I have my books; and my poetry to protect me.”
Perhaps this is why I always thought I’d marry a member of the Tribe.
So I’d drive, and I’d sing, and I worked my way through the Simon & Garfunkel catalogue, and then through most of Paul Simon’s later work, including, but not limited to Hearts & Bones, which contained, inter alia, the song “Hearts & Bones.” Which is, presumably, about Simon’s marriage to and subsequent split from Carrie Fisher.
I would take the winding canyon roads too fast, and crank the song and sing, why don’t we drive through the night and wake up down in Mexico? And wonder why none of the men in my life could make my dreams come true; could never fulfill my spontaneous desires.
And then I’d sing, Why don’t you love me for who I am, where I am?
The response was always the same, That’s not the way the world is, Baby. This is how I love you, baby.
My teenage self didn’t know then that the refrain would always be the same; that my versatile heart would go on to stretch to the breaking point, but would always pick the same man to love me; who would always love me in just the same way.
No one ever wanted to go to Mexico. The closest I ever came was convincing Andrew, on a moment’s notice, to go on the trip of a lifetime in China. I realized, far too late, what a labour of love the trip had been for him. But that was how he loved me; how I loved him – in ways perhaps equal and definitely incomprehensibly opposite from how the other cared.
But the line from the song that I hadn’t understood when I was a teenager, and perhaps hadn’t understood until much later in my life was when Simon sang One and one half wandering Jews, return to their natural coasts, to resume old acquaintances and step out occasionally, and speculate who had been damaged the most.
We weren’t Jews, but we were Catholics – well, he was a Catholic and I played along – which I understood to be substantially the same thing as a Paul Simon-Carrie Fisher Jew, but with a candy-coating of Jesus. And the disentangling of our union indeed felt like a return to our natural coasts: he would go back to Mommy and Daddy in Connecticut; spending every holiday and every vacation and most weekends, really, as the heroic first-born of a peculiar family, sans interference of a spouse. And I would go back to being spending more time in California and trying to please the family that couldn’t or wouldn’t be pleased until my ZIP code began with a “9” instead of a “1” or a “0.”
But before any of this, the summer before our wedding, even, just to be sure I would marry him, I took him to the Hollywood Bowl when we were living in Los Angeles for a time and Simon & Garfunkel were playing a reunion tour. Everything about the night was perfect and beautiful, and in the middle of the second set, the Everly Brothers came out to play a few songs.
There were no songs in the Paul Simon repertoire that could reasonably used as a first-dance-at-a-wedding song. But the Everly Brothers’ “Let it Be Me” obviously could. And they played it, under the Los Angeles summer moon, and it was perfect.
At the end of the concert, I asked him how he liked it.
It was great. Who were those guys; the ones that came out and played in the middle?
We danced to the Everly Brothers at our wedding anyway. And divorced five years after our wedding day.
In the midst of this past frantic autumn – the one where I filed for divorce; finished my secondment; ran two marathons; changed jobs; and did a bunch of other humdrum things that took up a lot of time and effort – I got an invitation to a benefit for charitable organization for which I ran the NYC Marathon last year. The organization does great work, and I admire their mission quite a lot.
The invitation came on the same day that I found out that the court had finally (finally) signed off on my divorce papers. The mistress of ceremonies was someone famous, and the guest of honor was someone truly special — Mr. Paul Simon himself. I could have paid $300 to have an intimate dinner with Paul Simon; the man who had made me swoon my whole life.
I declined. Because you never move on from being divorced, you just realize, in retrospect, the ways in which you loved arrogant men. It’s like scabs over puncture wounds.
Ironically, shortly after declining, I pulled out my yet-unread copy of Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking, because I’d been thinking about fact-checking my assertion that Hearts and Bones, was, in fact, about her marriage to Paul Simon. But she has a chapter about him, and she claims that the song is about their relationship.
Which leads me to the purpose of this story, really. When I was young, I’d always really wanted a “normal” name, one that everyone spelled correctly on the first try. Something like “Karen,” or “Annie,” or “Carrie.” When I was 13, and Columbia House sent me “Miles of Aisles” as my first Joni Mitchell CD, ever, back when CD players were like unicorns and CDs came in long, skinny packages, “Carey” was the first Joni Mitchell song I ever loved.
So as I read Wishful Drinking, Fisher explains, “…apparently I was once married to a brilliant songwriter, a rock icon of sorts. I mean this is a man who wrote an array of beautiful songs, and even a few that were about me. How incredible is that? And — get this — I had always been a really big fan of his music. As a teen, it had been just him and Joni Mitchell. As I couldn’t marry Joni, I married him. They were the reasons I fell in love with words.”
No additional explanation is necessary. I think, for better or for worse, I would have been a Carrie.