I added the score suite from Looking for Alaska (the series) to my “fall 2019 feel” playlist on October 25, 2019, when I was a fresh senior in college and the concrete campus of Missouri State University was sprouting firelight leaves, and I was walking east by the football field on the evening of October 25 when the piano melody stopped me in my tracks, and I turned around in just enough time to see the golden glow of the late-autumn sky ignite the buildings and bear statues and sidewalk cracks I called home for four years, and I cried a hopeful cry because my life felt like it was falling into place with the same intensity as the orange leaves at my feet, and I felt happy and hopeful and nostalgic and grateful as the piano melded into a soundtrack for this moment in my life,
and I thought back to when I first read Looking for Alaska (the book) my junior year of high school and I skimmed over the countdown labeled “Before” that earmarked the start of each chapter, and I assumed it would be a countdown to something good, and when I made it to the first page of the terrible “After” I wanted so badly to go back and appreciate the “Before,” but it was too late,
and I woke up five months after that October evening on March 17, 2020 in a king size bed in Hilton Head, South Carolina to discover my own first “After” chapter in the form of an email, and the subject line was “Spring break extended one week; all in-person classes move to alternative delivery on March 30,” and when I slid open the lock screen on my phone to learn I wouldn’t go back to campus for the rest of the year, I knew what Miles and the Colonel and Takumi felt like when they sat down on the bleachers in that stuffy high school gym and realized Alaska was not there, and I wordlessly stepped out of bed and made my way barefoot to the small dock with a bench on the edge of the rental property, and I watched my senior year and my job prospects and my hope explode around me like ugly fireworks and land in the backyard bayou with a climactic sizzle, and I cried a desperate cry,
and I listened to the Looking for Alaska score suite on the 16-hour van ride home on accident, and until then it meant hope, and I was balancing my head on the seatbelt as I reached the section in the song that sounds quiet and hesitant and agitated, like the instruments are waiting for the baton to drop so they can release the tension, and I didn’t know that fear-fueled section in the score suite of My Life would hold steady for eleven and then some months, the instruments strained, almost unable to play, waiting for the cue to bring the light back in,
and I looked for that cue for the rest of 2020 as more and more fireworks exploded around me, leaving smoke and debris and ashes of the year that could have been, and I walked on the same campus sidewalk by the football field almost a year to the day from October 25, 2019, and I was a grad student though I didn’t want to be, and I thought again of the Looking for Alaska score suite and Looking for Alaska (the book) and the theme of living with the unknown that runs through the story, the one that begins with “Before” and “After” countdowns and ends with a gracious acceptance that life is not always what you want it to be, and I remembered the ending line of the book: “Thomas Edison’s last words were “It’s very beautiful over there.” I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful,”
and in February 2021, I still don’t know where there is, and I am still waiting for that hopeful piano melody to creep back in to signal the audience of the impending happy ending, and I am grasping onto the very last thin piece of the string that holds the golden glow of an October sunset, the relief, the break of the tension, the hopeful “After,” the beautiful there.