Chloe Gilke: An album of finales
INT. STUDENT PUBLICATIONS NEWSROOM, NIGHT
A table full of misfits, a computer that barely works, six friends brought together by fate and a shared appreciation for Courtney Barnett. Our heroine, CHLOE, is dressed up in one of her several frilly black shirts. She knows it’s a special night — a season finale of sorts. It’s her last nightside shift at The Michigan Daily. She edits a Rick Ross album review and lays the articles out on the page, exports them to the printer. She is disappointed how normally everything goes. No excitement, a well-written but unfulfilling ending to such an excellent show. B+.
And then it’s finished. The underclassmen leave. THE ONLY OTHER SENIOR goes to a club meeting or study session or something. She bullies one of her co-editors into staying at the table with her, then encourages him to read her senior goodbye, which she knows will probably make him cry. He suddenly leaves mid-read, and she is alone at the table. She puts on music to fill the void. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” comes on her shuffled IPOD and her eyes well up. Within a few minutes, she is out of her beloved newsroom and openly sobbing and gasping for breath at a red light.
Chloe has seen enough TV finales to know when she’s living one. It’s the last night of production at The Michigan Daily, maybe the last time she’ll be paid to do journalism. It’s the last night she’ll spend with these beautiful friends without having to catch up, ask what’s new or comment on who grew a beard in the nine weeks since she has seen him. Even though she’s supposed to stay back at the Daily and do senior activities, she needs a few minutes to sort herself out.
She crawls into bed with her iPod, scouring her collection to find a song that’s a worthy score to her hurricane of emotions. She settles on “Holy Shit,” a song that Father John Misty wrote on the day of his wedding to express the ambivalent terror and hope he felt about moving into a new phase of his life. “Holy Shit” ’s lyrics are mostly cynical nonsense, but sometimes the searing guitar and piano break through for a lyric or two that make your heart stop from their sincerity.
Oh, and love is just an institution based on human frailty / What’s your paradise gotta do with Adam and Eve? / Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity / But what I fail to see is what that’s gotta do with you and me.
For a half hour, she listens to the song on repeat, the last 30 seconds punching her rawer every time, and texts the FRIEND WHO LEFT to apologize for being shitty and making him read her goodbye at the table. She’s a slave to dramatic narrative. She just wanted a good finale.
Since that night in December, I could list off a dozen others that have felt like finales — Friday night at Rick’s when they played “Toxic” and I had a serendipitous run-in with a recurring character from a few seasons ago, buying a graduation gown in the Student Publications building conference room while “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” played from someone’s laptop, texting a friend from a hotel room in Austin and feeling every mile of the distance between us. I’m trying to keep an album of these little goodbyes, because the real ones are coming soon enough, and I’m not prepared to say them.
In August, I’m moving to Austin for grad school. My friends are scattering across the country, some immediately, some in a year or two. I don’t know anyone in Texas (unless you count the Taylor family from “Friday Night Lights”), and I’ll be a three hour plane ride from all my friends and family. I wish I could say I was excited, but it’s hard to stomach a fresh start when you’re so in love with the places and the people and the life you’ve got right now. This dream and future are coming closer and faster, but none of it feels real — at least, not as real as my place in line at Zingerman’s, April snow flurries in my hair or a hug from my best friend who is right here. It’s a lot to let go of. I don’t know how to do it.
During the last few minutes of the “Six Feet Under” series finale, Claire Fisher says something along these same lines. She is leaving her family for the first time to set off for New York, where she’ll get her dream job as a photographer. But the dream doesn’t feel real, and it’s the hardest thing she has ever done to stand on her porch and hug the real ones goodbye. “I have no idea how to do this,” Claire admits to her brother David.
“Just say goodbye. Just say I love you, I’ll miss you.” The rest of her family files out to the porch to bid Claire farewell, and she pulls out her camera to take one last photo of everyone standing together. Her older brother Nate appears below her on the porch, a talking ghost or hallucination or just the person Claire needed to see, her twin soul that passed away earlier in the show’s final season. He leans into her ear and whispers some words of wisdom and tells her how to say goodbye.
“You can’t take a picture of this. It’s already gone.”
Since I first watched this episode five years ago, I’ve tried to make sense of this haunting line. I think I finally get it. The porch is the gateway to a new part of Claire’s life, and now that she’s on the porch, she has already started to move away. Every second that ticks by is gone with the next tick, time stretching and pulling Claire farther from this version of herself and her life. The way Nate says this line is peaceful, like he’s telling Claire not to cling desperately to these dying moments, but to cherish each of them as they’re happening and let go as they slip away. Let the dream guide you, let the picture of happiness stay mythic and imagined, don’t try too hard to re-live the finale.
A week or two ago, following one of my finale nights, I had a dream I was on the shores of coastal Greece, falling into a quick and desperate affair with Ezra Koenig, the lead singer of Vampire Weekend. I’ve had a few dreams about celebrities before — probably a symptom of my general pop culture obsession or the fact that I listened to Modern Vampires of the City earlier that night. The dream with Ezra was by far the most vivid I’ve ever had. It played out in full like a movie — specifically, like a complete rip-off of “Before Sunrise.”
Ezra and I met by the beach. We’d both been living in Greece for a while but never crossed paths before, which I guess sometimes happens with people who become your best friends. You’re existing in parallel, walking down the same street and thinking the same things and loving the same movies, yet somehow never knowing that person on the other side of the gulf.
We talked about the stuff we love first, because the way we related to each other was by sharing our opinions about TV and music and art. He was really jazzed about the upcoming LCD Soundsystem festival reunion tour and we recited all the lyrics to “All My Friends” to each other while standing in the ocean.
And if the sun comes up, if the sun comes up, if the sun comes up and I still don’t wanna stagger home / Then it’s the memory of our betters / That are keeping us on our feet.
Ezra reminded me of home, something I hadn’t felt in all the months I was living in Greece. He wasn’t from Ann Arbor or my Illinois hometown or anything, but I felt like he’d been traveling alongside me the whole time. We loved the same things in the same way — with earnestness and sincerity and a double dose of passion. I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather walk the dream streets of Island City, Greece with.
After a few hours of lazy dream haziness, I was feeling especially candid and wanted to let Ezra know how I felt about him before I lost my courage. I was so glad I’d spent this day with him, so glad we could talk about things we loved and know somebody else saw the world the same way — this world of beautiful and silly things, dumb jokes and good veggie burgers, nights like this where we feel like we’re the only people awake in Island City and all its gorgeous splendor is ours for the taking. I wanted to stretch our night into forever. So did he.
We made the impulsive decision to take spaceships to Mars, because we’d always wanted to go there, and we felt the clock ticking closer to morning and our inevitable parting. Ezra and I wanted to get to a place where time couldn’t hurt us anymore and those gorgeous moments didn’t have to die. We’d sit on Mars and look out at little Earth below, smiling at how beautiful Island City looks in August from a million miles away.
Still, I could feel our paths sorting out into parallel again. I was meant to wake up from this dream and we were meant to separate. We were taking individual spaceships to Mars, and I was already resigned to the fact that we wouldn’t get there at the same time.
We embraced one last time, climbed into our twin spaceships and zoomed through the air together for a few moments. Two ships, twin souls, a few tiny moments in space together before they were doomed to part. And they did. Mine veered south, and Ezra continued his straight trajectory. My spaceship suddenly started playing “Holy Shit” by Father John Misty, because it was a Smart Spaceship and it knew I liked that song and that I also needed something to soothe me in these indeterminate moments of loneliness.
After four minutes, when the song was over, I could hit replay and hear a familiar voice for at least another few minutes — suddenly I wouldn’t be in a spaceship in a dream or rotting in the Austin heat. I’d hear some Bob Dylan-esque strumming and piano and the strings would tie me to that night when I was wearing a frilly black shirt and thinking things and crying at a stoplight about the premature finale of things.
Of course, I haven’t lived through the real finale yet. I never actually went to Greece with Ezra Koenig or flew to Mars or said goodbye to the people I love. But it’s coming. Whether I’m ready or not, my ship will leave and I’ll have to say goodbye. It’ll suck, it’ll hurt and I’ll long for the days when I could write 2000 words about it in the future tense. But at the very least, I’ll have “Six Feet Under.” I’ll have “Holy Shit.” I’ll have the songs and episodes that helped me find these people in the first place. Even if — when — I’m all alone in space, I’ll have music and movies and TV to remind me of the real stories, the characters and scripts I loved and lived, the fullness of every episode back on Earth.