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A Soundtrack for the End of the Road

It's all just music in my head.

By Jessica ConawayPublished 4 months ago Updated 4 months ago 14 min read
Top Story - May 2023
A Soundtrack for the End of the Road
Photo by XVIIIZZ on Unsplash

Let's face it, folks. The end is coming for us all.

I'm not trying to bum you out here, but it's a fact. We're all gonna die.


Every once in a while, one of us mortal fools actually cheats death the first time around. I once read an article about a guy who was swimming in a river, got caught in a random whirlpool and essentially drowned. He described a feeling of complete calm and peace, as if his brain had accepted its fate and sent out the signal to just go with it, buddy. Then, crystal-clear memories of his entire life began to play out in front of him. They came in quick snippets, but the guy said that he was able to completely and totally understand the meaning of all of them.

It was as if this was the entire purpose of his life, and this is what he was supposed to see in order to move on to the next...whatever.

But then he got rescued, and he lived to tell the tale.

Scientists call this phenomenon Life Review, and they theorize that it's nothing more than a complicated chemical reaction that happens when your brain lacks oxygen and starts the shutdown process.

I don't like to think about death too much. I mean, who does, right? But I hope with every fiber of my being that when I die, I will get to experience a Life Review, too. It sounds the like perfect end to the end of the road, don't you think?

And while I'm watching my life play out before me and finally understanding what it was all about, these are the songs I hope to hear.

The Innocent Years

Part-Time Lover is the song playing on the loudspeaker system in Hills Department Store. It's just loud enough for me to hear the BA DA buh dum BA DA buh dum part, but not much else. The air smells like plastic and popcorn and cherry Slushies from the concession stand, and even though we're shopping for jelly shoes for me, I wonder if I'd be pushing my luck to ask for that My Little Pony seahorse over there, too. I hope that when we're done shopping, Mommy will at least give me a quarter to get a toy from the machine out front. They come in a little plastic bubble that always gets lost somewhere between the store exit and the station wagon in the parking lot.

My parents won't let me listen to Madonna, which is weird, because they're not that strict as far as parents go. My dad says that Cyndi Lauper is better, but we don't have MTV, so I don't know the difference. But Dana's parents let her listen to Madonna, and her house does have MTV. We make up a whole routine to True Blue, and we dance around her living room in her mother's high heels and use hairbrushes as microphones. Her mom is making Spanish rice in the kitchen, and she's laughing at us. I keep tripping over the edge of the brick fireplace, but it's okay because if we keep practicing, we'll maybe get to be on TV someday, too. Because they teach us in school that if we practice hard enough, we can be anything we wanna be.

My dance recital is at a fancy, old downtown theater with all the night sky constellations painted on the ceiling. Backstage smells like AquaNet and chalk, and when the big girls do their St. Elmo's Fire ballet, the stage lights reflect off their sequined tutus and make diamond patterns on the velvet curtains. I'm not a ballerina, and I don't have a delicate, sparkly tutu like the big girls. I'm dressed as a sort of sailor-flapper girl hybrid with rows of red and blue fringe around my waist, and my tap shoes make a distinct click click click sound on the marble floor. I don't like tap, but it's the only dance that I'm halfway decent at. Mrs. Hench told me that I don't have the feet for the pointe shoes that the big girls get to wear, so I guess I'm stuck in tap, because I think that my favorite feeling in the entire world is being backstage in a sparkly costume, and I'm not ready to give that up just yet.

The junior high dances are always held in the cafeteria, and they turn the lights way down so that the DJ can use his own fancy, colorful ones that spin around and make crazy patterns on the walls. I stay near the entrance to the hallway bathrooms because I got my period and I'm super scared that someone will know. Everybody's pretty much sticking to their own friend groups, and we all dance the fast dances together. Informer comes on, and all us sweaty kids cheer, because we love this song. Except, none of us knows all the words except for Jamie Schlusser, so the rest of us sing our version of the lyrics at the top of our lungs:

"infooooooormer, yanosaydaddysnowmaygonnaplanealickyboomboom down! "

When a slow song comes on, some of the boys get brave and ask the pretty girls to dance. I'm a funny girl, not a pretty girl, so I'm just gonna hang around the edge of the dance floor with my funny friends and pretend I don't care. The truth is, though, I'd sell my soul to Satan himself to be one of the pretty girls.

The Formative Years

Someday, I'm gonna be able to belt out a performance of On My Own that'll bring people to tears. For now, I'm happy to spend my lunch period singing it in this tiny, windowless practice room with Megan, who's the only one of my friends that plays the piano. Megan doesn't mind playing the song over and over again so that I can live out the Broadway fantasies in my head, and she doesn't mind that I'm eating a tuna sandwich while I'm doing it. And if she does mind, she never says anything, and I wonder if that's because she's a year younger than the rest of us and just wants to be included. I wouldn't really care if she did say something, because I think Megan is really funny and weird, and I like that about her. But funny and weird don't get you very far in high school, and I'm just trying to find a place where I matter.

It's a rainy night. Not downpour rainy, but that misty, steady rain that blurs the street lights and makes everything a little dreamy. I just barely got my driver's license, and I'm a little nervous because I've never driven at night and in the rain before. It's okay, I guess, because home is only a few minutes away. I feel silly thinking about my drive home when the far more pressing matter at hand is that I'm pretty sure Franklyn is breaking up with me. I don't really know for sure because he's my first boyfriend, and I've never been broken up with. But my blood feels like ice and my insides feel like jello, and I don't understand what he means when he says that we need to take a break. He's the most talented kid in our school, and everybody loves him. I've crafted my entire high school identity as Franklyn's girlfriend. We're supposed to be in love, and we're supposed to get married and move to New York City and star on Broadway together. I've never been this sure of anything in my entire life. So if he needs a break from me, what happens next? When he gets out of the car, his Curve for Men cologne lingers in the air. As I pull out of his driveway, Don't Speak comes on the radio, and I don't think I've ever understood the meaning of a song better than at this moment.

The Reflective Year

I'm worried that life is moving faster than I'm ready for, and I'm just not going to figure things out in time. Maybe that's what sitting on a hillside and staring at the stars does to you. It's barely summer and tonight is a little chillier than I thought it would be, and even though we're all scrunched together, I'm still cold. I can smell the sweet smoke from a campfire, but I have no idea where it's coming from. I didn't think many people knew about this spot. Maybe one of those houses down in the valley has a fire pit in the backyard. Warwick and Jen seem to have it all figured out. They're talking about the fall already. Jen's about to graduate, and she's already got a job lined up. A good job, with a salary and health benefits and everything. And Warwick's going to transfer to a four-year school. He thinks he wants to become a pastor. The two of them talk about God a lot lately, and I just don't understand where that came from. I never understood God, and I didn't think they did, either. In high school, we used to talk about all the great unknowns, but God never seemed to come up. But now, when Warwick talks about God, his face changes. The jovial, goofy grin turns into a look of peaceful stoicism...if there is such a thing. I've been away at college, and I haven't been hanging out with either of them much. But now Jen's got a career and Warwick's got a plan, and they both have God. And I'm a college dropout who needs to figure things out, and soon, because time is running out to apply to a new school. But I have no idea where to start, and honestly, I'm too numb to care. And when we get back in the car to go home, At the Stars will be on repeat, because it's our driving-around song, and it's the only one that fits us.

The Intrinsic Years

I'm on my third cup of coffee and god-knows-how-many cigarettes. And it's gotta be at least midnight, if not later. The air is kinda thick and stale, and even though I'm sitting under a vent, I'm starting to sweat a little. I guess I don't care, because I'd much rather be here at this table in this diner playing dumb, made-up games with my roommates than studying for my Stage Lighting test. Because let's face it, Julie just hates me, and no matter what I do she will always hate me, and I have no chance of passing this test because I just don't understand how angles work. And I don't even care that I don't understand. Fail me. Whatever. I'll never be a lighting designer. Brian's over by the claw machine, trying to win a stuffed giraffe for the girl he'd started dating over the summer. He's pretty close to getting it, too, and I watch him scrunch up his face in a sort-of concentration/frustration combo as he gently maneuvers the little claw thing as if he was performing surgery. The diner's chef just changed the radio station, and now we can hear Tiny Dancer in short bursts every time the waitress walks through the kitchen door. Jimmie hands me a spoon, because Tiny Dancer is my karaoke song, and of course I'm going to perform it loudly and obnoxiously right here in the booth of this diner, after midnight, for the people that mean the most to me at this moment. Later we'll go home and not get enough sleep, and I'll get up and fail the Stage Lighting test, and then two planes will hit the World Trade Center in New York, and the whole world will change.

It's a hazy summer night, and I'm absolutely fuming in the middle of a gazebo decorated with hand-carved graffiti and duck shit. Dan and I are fighting. We're always fighting, and we always end up in this gazebo when we're fighting. I'm sure I started this fight over something I'll never remember in a week, and I'm sure I will never admit to it. And I'm pretty sure I love him. And I think he loves me, too. But see, neither of us is old enough to understand what that means. I'm graduating soon, and I'm gonna have to start my life over somewhere else because I was too lazy to make a different plan for myself. And he's just a sweet kid who loves Oasis and video games and doesn't know what he wants out of life yet. The end is coming quick for us, and I guess I'm already mourning it.

The Dark Year

I've been playing Gravity and Rain on repeat tonight. They're the two songs that I would sing if I had a band. But I don't have a band. I don't have much of a voice these days, either. Or...really, anything. I ran out of Paxil, and since I haven't had a job or health insurance in about six months, I can't afford to go to a doctor and get another prescription for it. So I'm lying in bed and trying to ignore the zap zap buzzing in my brain. I kinda feel like I'm suffocating. I could go downstairs, but there's not much point in that, because I can barely stand up without feeling dizzy, and there's no food in the house. Besides, Zach has friends over. And yeah, one of them might have something that could help, but I'm, like, really broke, and they don't give shit out for free. I don't know how I even got here, metaphorically speaking. I thought cutting everyone off would help me heal...but really, I just kind of fucked everything up for myself. Now I'm friendless and trashy and gross. And every time I think about him, and how stupid and reckless it was to let him string me along for years, fresh waves of hurt and embarrassment crash over my entire body. And then I think of all the people I've taken advantage of, and Horrific Shame joins that Hurt and Embarrassment party. Whatever. I just have to get through the next couple of days, and then I can go back to pretending that this is exactly how I imagined my mid-twenties to be.

The Definitive Years

I kinda always thought that In Your Eyes would be the Peter Gabriel song I danced to at my wedding. It turns out, The Book of Love is far superior as far as wedding songs go. But if I'm being honest, this isn't the wedding I expected to have, either. We're in a simple, sweet basement ballroom, and there aren't many people here; besides family, of course. Our vows were quick, because neither one of us saw the sense in forcing people to watch this long, drawn-out declaration of love when there's a chocolate fountain waiting over there. And now I'm dancing in the arms of my new husband. The beading on my sleeves scratches my armpits, and I'm completely dumbstruck. My love for George isn't the frantic, wild love I'd known in the past. This love is quiet and whole. There's strength in it. There aren't strings attached. We don't really talk while we dance, because there's really no need to. I know that he's tired, and that it's completely awkward, slow dancing in front of an audience. I can't wait to go home to our house and hang out with our dogs and talk about how good the soup was, and continue living this life we've already started to build together.

And then the life review continues. I'm sure I'll see happy, milestone moments with my beautiful, hazel-eyed wild child, and with my sweet, stubborn husband. I'll see the tough ones, too, like the rainy Tuesday in August when my mom died, but those won't have a soundtrack.

I hope I'll see it all again.

But like I said, I don't like to think about death too much.

What I'm absolutely sure of, though, is that End of the Road will be the loud and proud finale to it all.

Because, of course it will.


About the Creator

Jessica Conaway

Full-time writer, mother, wife, and doughnut enthusiast.

Twitter: @MrsJessieCee

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Comments (7)

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  • Cindy Calder4 months ago

    Great piece. You evoke so many memories that are associated with the music until it all becomes a palpable thing for the reader. Excellent job - congratulations.

  • MARIE ODEMS 4 months ago


  • Naomi Gold4 months ago

    Wow, I loved so many of these songs, and the way you shared your Life Review. Your writing is amazing. I could see and hear it all play out. I look forward to seeing what else you write. Congrats on a well deserved Top Story. 🥂

  • This was an amazing playlist! Congratulate on your Top Story! I've subscribed to you!

  • Sandra Matos4 months ago

    Excellent writing, and I loved your song choices! Thank you for sharing!

  • Dana Crandell4 months ago

    I appreciate the different approach you took with this. Well done!

  • sleepy drafts4 months ago

    Oh my * goodness. * I simply don't have words to express how much this piece moved me. Incredibly written. I will be thinking about this piece for a very long time. ❤️ Thank you for writing and sharing this, and congratulations on a well-deserved top story. ❤️

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