The Transmutation of Sufjan Stevens

sink hair“Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides? “ – Stevie Nicks

 Almost three years ago Angie and I made a road trip up to Indianapolis during the weekend of Record Store Day. We had tickets to see Sufjan Stevens perform at the Murat Theatre, which still remains one of my favorite venues to this day. It was the best Record Store Day we’ve participated in. We spent the day standing in line at a local Indianapolis store to pick up new releases, and we wrapped it up with an amazing concert. Since then, listening to the music of Sufjan brought back memories of that trip

Last Tuesday Angie went in for second round of chemotherapy. Unlike the first visit, the nurses pumped Benadryl into Angie’s system quickly, and she passed out within 30 minutes and slept through the entire session. The needle was inserted into the port with very little discomfort, and Dr. Rodgers felt good about Angie’s blood cell count. It was a near-perfect chemo session, if there is such a thing.

Two nights later, I was sleeping soundly when I heard a voice.

“Cam?” It was Angie standing over me at 2 A.M. in the morning. “Can you come to the bathroom,” she asked of me? As I stood up, I could hear music playing. It was coming from the bathroom, where I found a sink filled with a football-sized clumping of hair. Angie’s face was grief-stricken. She had been standing over the sink for a while just shaking the hair from her head. She felt lonely, even with the music playing, so she woke me up to be with her as her hair continued to fall out.

I haven’t asked her why she was listening to Sufjan Stevens while all this was happening. His music is calming. His voice is soft. Maybe she found comfort in that. Maybe it brought back memories of a better time and place, like that one weekend in Indy. Nonetheless, for me, the music couldn’t possibly distract me from the hurt that my wife was experiencing at that hour.

But then the lyrics began to break through my confusion and stress:

I drove to New York

In a van, with my friend

We slept in parking lots

I don’t mind, I don’t mind

 This song, according to Sufjan, is about a trip he made when he was 19 years old. He and a few friends took a weekend trip to Chicago to get away from school and they managed to survive with only $20 in their pocket. Suddenly, I was struck with the urge to grab Angie’s hand, jump in the car and drive off, leaving behind her pains, her discomforts, and this terrible fucking disease. Of course, we can’t do such. Treating cancer isn’t as easy as packing up and running away. There aren’t many problems that can be solved in such a manner.

So, there we were in the early hours of the morning, watching significant physical changes take place right before our eyes.   Angie’s new haircut lasted about a week before the chemotherapy took it away. As the sink filled up with hair, and my wife sulked in the mirror, I am reminded by Sufjan that “all things grow.” I hope Angie doesn’t forget this particular change is not a permanent one. I’m confident in her ability to accept what she cannot control so that she can continue forward.

After the hair settled and I cleaned the sink, we both went back to bed. I reminded myself of a question I asked Angie last month pertaining to songs taking on new meaning after being diagnosed with cancer. Next time I hear the music of Sufjan Stevens, the first thing I think of won’t be our trip to Indianapolis; it will be the memory of the ache on Angie’s face as she began to realize the cold reality of this unwelcome disease and it’s constantly changing tides.


1 thought on “The Transmutation of Sufjan Stevens”

  1. I felt like I was in the room with you guys reading this. There aren’t enough “I am so sorry” “this breaks my heart” sayings to say. Praying for you daily my friends ❤️💙💚💛🧡💜


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