My Leaving Song

On the final day of a college literature course that I enjoyed very much the professor, a brilliant and effortlessly cool young woman named Lara who once treated us to an impassioned lecture on why Eminem's "Lose Yourself" belonged in our textbook alongside Keats and Poe and Tennyson, led us out of our building on Mercer Street and into Washington Square Park where she instructed us to sit in a circle.

"I have something for you," she said, gesturing to a box next to her.

Earlier that semester she had asked each of the students in her Literary Interpretations class to share a song that was meaningful to them. As a parting gift she compiled a mix that included each of our answers. All of us took a disc from the box and were poring over the track list when she set a stereo down in the middle of the circle.

"This song," she said, pressing play, "is my contribution to our mix."

As the park bustled around me I listened, for the first time, to the haunting beauty of R.E.M's "Leaving New York". When it was over our professor explained that she'd been offered a job at a small college in Colorado and that, after nearly a decade in the Big Apple, she'd be packing up her apartment and leaving New York. I remember how sad it made me feel then to even consider leaving such a magical place for somewhere else, and I also remember being lonely on her behalf.

I, of course, knew nothing at all.

That day in Washington Square Park left a mark on me. In fact, when I myself left New York City after graduation the following year I made my little brother play my professor's song in the car as we drove over the Brooklyn Bridge one final time on our way back to the Midwest.

You might've laughed if I told you
You might have hidden your frown
You might've succeeded in changing me
I might've been turned around
It's easier to leave than to be left behind
Leaving was never my proud
Leaving New York never easy
I saw the light fading out

It has since become my leaving song and I played it this afternoon as our ferry pulled out of Provincetown Harbor, feeling gloomy about another magical week ending, another adventure coming to a close.