The encounter I had with an unknown woman at a local Laredo gas station started off just like all the countless others. Little did I know, that chance encounter would convert me in a believer of kismet.
For months, I had been selling music-filled USB’s to various customers off local Facebook groups. Alongside inexpensive party speakers, I would also sell these thumb drives filled with music du jour, which in south Laredo mostly translates to corridos, cumbias and banda. I would run a quick post on social media advertising my pirated usb hub and invariably I’d get a few responses and a few buys. Usually, I would make quick arrangements to do an exchange in a public place, like parking lot or gas station, no doubt a product of watching too many episodes of 21 Jumpstreet.
Close to Christmas of last year, I got a message from a woman named Silvia. She was interested in purchasing a USB, so I agreed to meet her at a gas station close to Saunders. I grabbed a handful of USB’s and expected her to ask for the same mix of music as everyone else: cumbias, corridos and banda. However, I was taken back by her request.
“You would’t happen to have any 80s music would you?” she asked sheepishly. A small smile quietly grew on my face. “ I do,” I responded still quite glad someone had requested anything besides Fito Olivares.
“I’m looking for this one song,” she continued. “For the life of me I can’t recall how it goes. It’s the last song I heard on the last night I ever say the one person I truly ever loved.”
I could see her eyes begin to moist and hear her voice quavering a bit. “ I wish I could help,” I responded, smiling with intent of wanting to know more of this tragic story.
“The last time I saw Benny was before he joined the service…it was 1985 and we had being seeing each other for three years. But, my crazy home life, and he was away, we grew apart. I heard he got married years after, but he was always there, back of my mind”. She continued telling me all this as if we were life-long friends meeting for weekly Sunday brunch.
Even though the toxic smell of gasoline around us was beginning to make me queasy, I was quite captivated by the sincerity of this middle-aged woman just pouring out her heart to some random stranger off Facebook.
“We spent our last night together in the back of his pick-up. He had a camper on it. The stars shone so much brighter in Laredo back then. All night we heard the same tape, and that song that I can’t seem to remember has been like a ghost in my head for thirty-four years”. The last words trailed off as she seemed to lose herself in a vague memory.
I broke the silence. “Well, I wish I could help; I’ve got about 50,000 songs on my hard drive. Can you at least hum it?” I joked wanting to move the story along.
She smiled warmly and made direct eye contact, “I’ve been alone for three years now and I promised myself if I ever recall that song I’d go out and look for him. It’s been two decades and for the life of me, I can’t recall it at all. That song holds me in his arms of that stupid camper back in ‘85, but I can’t seem to recall it. And it keeps me way, silent”.
Her words seemed to echo my own life, in more ways than I care to mention. I could truly say I understood her every sentiment. Looking back at my own life, I could easily place myself in the same shoes of this mad, middle aged-woman attempting to decipher life outside an Exxon.
Once again she smiled and stretched out her hand filled with cash. “Here’s the money for the USB” she blurted out, as if caught between nostalgia and tragedy. She finally began to walk toward her car saying “I’m sure there lot of songs on here I’ll like”.
As she walked away I thought of a few people of which I have felt that strong about. People that decades later, we still have that similar experience of fading memories, remorseful regrets and bitter tears of life. I drove down Corpus Christi Avenue thinking of that lady and her story, thinking of campers and Benny and the stars of dark Laredo nights in the mid 1980s. I fully expected to never hear from Sylvia again after that chance encounter but to my surprise I had three messages from her in my inbox when I got home that evening.
“Gabito!” she screamed in a voice message using my online handle. “You have it! It was the very first song on the USB! Dennis de Young sings it and the song is called “Desert Moon”. I can’t believe I finally found it. Thank you so much, I’m making plans to go out there and meet him. I’’ll write soon,” she said, as of in a hurry trying to do a million things at once.
I was stunned. I had not even ever heard that one particular song, up to three days before that casual encounter with Sylvia. I loved Dennis De Young with Styx but was unfamiliar with most of his solo discography. However, three days prior, I was binge listening to Styx when I must have gone down a rabbit hole and discovered the song, “Desert Moon”. Upon first listen, I was immediately drawn to it, so much so that I downloaded the album to my computer and heard the song endlessly for 3 days. When Sylvia got in contact with me days later, I simply copied files unto a clean USB and by sheer luck, the first song on there was the song that had held Sylvia captive, like a roaming ghost.
It all seemed like the strangest of coincidences, the craziest of pure luck moments, a smack in the face by fate, in other words, kismet. Apparently, Sylvia was right. Laredo’s stars did shine brighter back in 1985.
Several weeks later I received two unexpected messages from Sylvia. She had reunited with Benny and was spending night and day by his side, reminiscing at all the beautiful times from their blessed youth. She mentioned they had laughed and cried as they shared their life once again, as if that night spent in a cold Laredo camper had never ended. Sadly, Benny was undergoing Stage 4 cancer treatments and due to life’s circumstances the only person by his side during this awful time of trial was Sylvia.
I thought about Sylvia and Benny and their improbable reunion, and the small part I was fortunate enough to play.
So a sincere salute to Sylvia and Benny, two people, just like the rest of us, trying to navigate their way through life’s dark days. Joy cometh in the morning.