Across the Great Divide

The first time I saw Nanci Griffith was in 1993. Jefe and I were leaving our messy, gritty, extraordinarily fun lives behind in Gallup, New Mexico, where we learned to be reporters and we’d finally gotten the hang of the two-step. I’d pretty much sabotaged the relationship, even though I was deeply, madly connected with this quirky and funny and kindhearted Yalie on a cellular level. Raised by my single dad, I didn’t know how to take space or talk about what I wanted without causing major collateral damage. He held on for unknown reasons. He didn’t want to marry, he didn’t want to leave. I suppose he loved me, though to this day I am unsure why.

When we outgrew what is arguably the worst newspaper in the country, it was my turn to choose where to live, and I picked home, Washington state. My grandmother was getting older and becoming more still. My dad was in his big house, sometimes with his longtime love Holly, sometimes without. I imagined great reunions with high school friends who had stayed on the Olympic Peninsula.

We piled my 1984 Ford F-150 (with dual gas tanks) to the brim with our secondhand furniture and the Native Art we’d collected in our time in the Southwest. Me and my truck and he and his yellow VW Rabbit made our way north, stopping in Los Angeles for a few nights with his hipster aspiring director friend (who got horribly offended when I called “This Boy’s Life” a “movie.” “It’s a film,” he said, rolling his eyes and clucking his tongue). But Hipster was able to hook us up with tickets for The Tonight Show, where we saw Nanci for the first time. She sang “The Sound of Lonliness” and I was struck with inspiration and love and peace and longing and everything you want from a beautiful song.

Of course, Jefe and I didn’t last out the year in Seattle. We’d imploded, crushed by past misdeeds and terrified of the uncertain future. When we broke it off for good and he decided to move back to New York, I stared at myself in the mirror and howled until my face disappeared.

If this were a movie, there would be a montage here: Me living in a cabin in the woods. A dozen different boyfriends including a rogue Irish man and a painfully urbane Irish man. Moving to Seattle to take a job as a magazine editor. Repeat appearances of some boyfriends. Leaving the job and becoming a freelance writer, playwright, producer, voice-over and commercial actress. Death of father. Moving to LA for bigger universe. Taking work at a corporation, and, shockingly, settling in.

The last scene of this montage would be me meeting Steve in the spring of 2008 at work, though we’d spoken on the phone a couple years prior when I had questions that needed answers. This ruggedly handsome, impossibly blue-eyed man would turn out to be the best man I had ever met. The most solid and trustworthy and easy and generous and fun person I could imagine. It was my profound delight to agree to marry him.

His birthday was last week, the second anniversary of our first kiss. Aside from the Bacon of the Month Club gift, I got us tickets to see Nanci. There she was, same as before, only we were close enough to hear her slap the guitar and to see the wisps of gray in her pulled-back hair. She was a queen and made it all look so easy and regal.

And when she sang “Across the Great Divide,” tears rolled down my face. She sang this:

“The finest hour
I have seen
is the one
that comes between
the edge of night
and the break of day
that’s when the darkness
rolls away.”

That time of my life was bookended by Nanci. The first time I heard her, I was embarking on an uncertain journey, about to navigate my ballistic behavior associated with subconscious deep regret of losing and hurting the one man who I thought I should have married. Sitting there Friday night with my head resting on Steve’s shoulder, I realized that my old journey is done. I don’t need souvenirs or diaries or postcards from it. I am on a new path, clear and clean and pure. I am smarter and better as a human being. And this time, I am not alone.

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Vanessa McGradyAcross the Great Divide

Comments 2

  1. fortymama

    Vanessa, I love it! You put it all together so succinctly. What a great journey…but what an even better destination. I’m so happy for you!

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