New, new frontiers

Although I recall memorizing at a tender age the words to my Dad's Beatles and Barry Manilow albums (quite a selection there, Pops) and the songs constantly flowing (check that--oozing) from my Mom's favorite Easy Listening station, my first musical love was Journey.

Greg and I had LPs and 45s when we were younger, but those were mainly filched from our parents (with the possible exception of Paul Hardcastle's '19', which came to us in mysterious ways). The first record I actually owned, presented to me (along with a Garfield nightgown) on my 11th birthday, to my immense pleasure, was Journey's Frontiers.

I remember this album well: the band members in a weightless, space-suited circle on the back cover; the vaguely creepy, Metropolis-esque face on the front; the lyrics printed out in miniscule type on the sleeve. I listened to it for the first time (although I had, of course, heard chunks of it before on RI104) the moment I got it, there in Aunt Connie and Uncle Vinny's living room. Glenn, my impressively musical cousin, slid the record out of its cover, held it (like you were supposed to) between his palms, barely touching it, and lowered it onto the player.

And there it was: 'Separate Ways,' that timeless plea of heartbreak and promise, swelling out into the room. Glenn turned up the volume; my 11-year-old self sat down on the couch and reveled in the music, the words, Steve Perry's soaring voice giving shape to a conundrum I could not, at that age, have truly understood (although that understanding would come some years hence).

It was bliss, and I was hooked. I don't think anything else touched my record player for the remainder of the summer and well into the fall.

As with so many things we adore early on, I eventually moved away from Journey, tucked Frontiers into Dad's record case and more or less forgot about it as I turned to (in approximate chronological order) the illicit pleasures of Purple Rain, Top 40, Bruce Springsteen, and, come the angst-soaked days of high school, as much moody Brit Pop as I could digest.

And although it's easy--almost too easy--to make fun of Journey these days ('What Would Journey Do?' is a prime example of the ease of the jest), there's still something in me that surges at the memory of that summer day, those notes, those words. My adoration of music, my belief that it said to the world things I was feeling but couldn't say myself, may have been established well before the needle hit the record, but they were reconfirmed, forever confirmed, the moment Journey filled the room.



On Friday night, while looking for the David Hasselhof sticker my Finnish pen pal had sent me back in 7th grade (long and most likely irrelevant story here stemming from a conversation with Monique about the Cathars, Stockholm, and my extant Finnish relatives), I came across a folder bearing the things that used to decorate my walls back when we were cube-bound somewhere around 1999.

There were some amusing photos, some worthy quotations scribbled down for posterity (including Jed's infamous observation about some album cover: 'I thought he was in a wheelchair, but that's a plate of food'), some scraps of half-recalled inside jokes. And then there was something I'd totally forgotten about: a message from Mike, composed on his Pocketmail device (ah, the heady days...) during a sabbatical he'd taken during the spring of '99.

Mike, our former boss (although only nominally so, as we actually had a real--read: older and titled and larger salaried--boss), was and is the consummate outdoorsman and adventurer. It was a rare weekend when he couldn't be found hiking or biking or climbing somewhere, and sitting at a desk made him nothing short of miserable. So he took off for a while in April and May, much to the envy of the rest of us, who remained cube bound and weepingly bored.

He wrote us dispatches from the road, and we lived somewhat vicariously through him. The message I dug up on Friday--one simple paragraph--showed up in my Inbox on Friday, May 7 at 10.06 a.m., in reply to something I'd written (since lost) with the subject 'I wanna be you!' This is what Robot (as we'd nicknamed him) had to say to me that morning:

'Ms. Wilska,

I am writing to you from Yosemite National Park. Early today I was six hundred feet off the valley floor high on a granite cliff face about two hundred yards to the left of Yosemite Falls. Roughly 500 feet off the ground I was the lead man and I came very near to a major fall. This is a feeling of incredible aloneness. I was eight feet above my belay man very far past the point of return on an overhanging crack system and very tired. I have never felt this kind of fear. It is a strange feeling to be thinking, my foot is slipping and I only have my fingertips on this nob, but it's all I've got...and you move up anyway. It is a combination of belief in yourself and an acceptance of falling at the same time. I cannot describe the sensations of elation and deep sadness that slam together in those brief moments. They are as horrifying as they are fulfilling.

Wish me safe


I remember reading that message for the first time, remember wanting to cry both at the thought of a friend coming uncomfortably close to a situation that could not end well and in thankfulness that he'd come out the other side unscathed, that he'd been to the mountaintop (as it were) and was now sharing his revelations with me, grasping gratefully at his words.

Reading the message anew on Friday made me well up with tears again, as if the 1999 Robot were tugging at my sleeve with a reminder: you can't back off from the things that scare you the most; they just may be the things that keep you alive.