Day 08: A song that reminds you of your “first love”.
Hallelujah | Jeff Buckley
My first visit to Berneray, an island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, occurred in February 2000. After long-terming in a backpacker hostel, myself and two friends decided to do some traveling and opted for the Western Isles. After touring Lewis and Harris we boarded a ferry, crossed the Sound of Harris, and arrived on Berneray shortly after lunch. Almost immediately we were spellbound by the island’s scenery, location and atmosphere. The following morning we sat outside the hostel, on the shore of the island, watching the sun rise over the ocean. We were all speechless, completely hypnotized by the stunning spectacle before us.
Ten months later, after months of traveling Canada and beginning college, I decided I wanted to spend New Year somewhere special. And the only place that came to mind was Berneray. It had lived in my heart throughout the entire year, a memory of happiness, of solace and of contentment. After months of traveling around Canada, making and losing friends and navigating the intricacies of a college education, I needed the joy of Berneray, of that memory with my friends, to see me through into 2001.
So, early in the morning on the 29th December, I set off on the long journey. A train ride, a bus ride, a ferry ride and another bus ride later, I was standing on the shore of Berneray’s east coast, the same spot where I had sat ten months earlier watching a spectacular sunset. I was alone. But I was happy.
Later that night I was busying myself with journal writing when some fellow travelers arrived at the hostel. One was an elderly Englishman. The other, a twentysomething Australian. Almost instantly I was smitten with the Australian’s contagious smile, sparkling eyes and cheeky sense of humor. I didn’t say much, but I introduced myself, told her I was a student and listened intently to stories from her traveling adventure. I found out her name was Louise and that she was on the UK leg of a world-traveling adventure. She had been to Thailand, Europe, Ireland and had decided to come to Scotland to look for work. She had bumped into the Englishman in a hostel in Glasgow and, after being told of the oasis that was Berneray, had been invited to come along for the New Year.
We did little but talk and flirt that first night. Eventually succumbing to our tiredness and slinking off to our respective bedrooms, no doubt to dream about the other. The next morning we got talking again and, after being invited, I accompanied them on a tour around the local landscape, stopping off at a variety of food stores to stock up for the coming days. That night, after returning to the hostel, Louise and I got talking again. We ended up playing a drinking game that had been left at the hostel and, midway through, after excusing myself for a cigarette break, we stood out the front of the hostel. A blanket of stars above us. The gently rolling sound of the surf beside us. It was then when, out of the blue, Louise asked the question that would change my life: “Can I kiss you?”
If Louise hadn’t asked this question there is no way my anxiety riddled mind would have been able to make a move on her, no matter how much I wanted to. And if I hadn’t made a move, if that kiss hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I would never have moved to Australia. I would never have managed a backpacker hostel. I would never have met Kathy or Grace or Mae. I would never have had a breakdown. That kiss, that singular moment, changed the course of my life. And, after all the chaos and pain, after everything that has happened to me, if I could go back and change it. To shake some sense into myself. To stop that kiss from ever occurring. There isn’t a part of me that would.
For that kiss led to my first relationship. Within days of meeting, Louise decided to accompany me back to Inverness. She moved into my bedsit and we began a relationship that would last five and a half years. A period of time that, for the most part, was full of happiness and joy. As we sat on the ferry at Lochmaddy, awaiting the crossing to Uig, Louise slipped a CD into her discman and popped an earbud into my ear. She wanted to play me a song, one of her favourites, to start our adventure off on the right note. I had never heard of the artist – Jeff Buckley – before. I had never heard of the song – Hallelujah – before. But I was enchanted from the moment his breath hit the headphones.
Hallelujah would go on to become the most important song in my life. It will forever be a reminder of my first relationship, of my first love, and of how quickly, and unexpectedly, life can change.