Song #7 // Will Courtney, “The Pain (Song for Dennis Wilson)” [Planning Escapes]

Here’s some possible insight none of us realized we didn’t need: I’ve willingly gone out of my way this morning to go to a place that I don’t like because it brings up bad memories.

I’m out running errands with my infant daughter and stopped at a Panera for a bagel and coffee, even though the bagels have a tremendous amount of calories and the coffee occupies a ring of Hell otherwise rented out by Keurig cups.

To make matters worse I willingly added some hazelnut flavored coffee to regular because it, again, added to the sensory call-back of a decade-old series of memories. (As a side note, my best buddy in SF, Mark, had a mind game where if you were going to Hell you had to choose between only drinking flavored coffee for all of eternity OR only listen to smooth jazz from now until forever. Tough call.)

But back to Panera, where I am now, sipping on this horrendous synthetic hazelnut brew while gnawing on a French Toast bagel (French Toast?! 350 calories! Why?)

It all brings me back to South Bend at the turn of the century. I was an unknowing alcoholic, writing poetry that eventually made me hate poetry, and in love with a woman who had almost complete disdain for me most days (she famously invited me to visit her in London where she was doing study abroad, shacked up with a new guy [bloke?], and then lost contact with me for over a month. I finally called her a week before my trip and found out she didn’t want me to come. I think I still debated going to work it out even then.)

Now for some reason Panera is playing Gorillaz’s “On Melancholy Hill,” which is all kinds of confusing.

Back in South Bend I’d spend entire afternoons at the shiny new Panera, reading books on poetics next to the fake fire, drinking unlimited refills of hazelnut coffee, and maybe eating an awful sandwich and soup before going home and watching “Trading Spaces” (I was 25 going on 65.)

But none of this explains why I’m here now, and this is where I’m hoping this little entry can be accessible to the few people still reading. What is it about bad memories that still attract us after we’ve managed to escape them? Why do we still think of, and sometimes email, our exes? Why do we drive by our childhood homes now occupied by new families? Why do we re-read the old break-up notes that brought us to our knees? Why do we return to the places we ran away from?

Maybe it’s perspective, somehow thinking that we’re stronger and better in the present tense, and by returning we’re showing our power over these disenfranchised moments.

Maybe, but I doubt it. More than likely it’s an itch we can’t stop scratching. There’s something grotesquely appealing (read: flavored coffee drank on vinyl seats under orange floor lamps) about the immediate even though the longer-lasting pain is sure to remain. It all still burns, but just a little bit. And after this last cinnamon (?) crumble at least I can leave this place; move on and choose to come back (if I want to, which I probably do despite myself.)

There’s power in that, and power brings pleasure. We’re willing to pay for that, willing to alter our routes for that.

Which all brings us apropos to Will Courtney’s “The Pain,” which is one of many alt-country tunes added to this year’s list. A refrain like

The Pain
The Pain
The drinks won’ t kill the pain
The Pain
The Pain
The sea won’ t kill the pain today

isn’t exactly poetry, but somehow it all works. It’s the right thing for the right time, even if that time is nee 13yrs ago in Mishawaka, IN.