When Billy Joel’s “Vienna” started to play on my square blue iPod nano, the mountains in front of me blurred. I was riding my mother’s road bike to my summer job at Burger King, and the air in the seven-mile stretch of Frontage Road I had to conquer before arriving on Bozeman’s main street brimmed with loneliness.
I faced eight hours of nodding as customers said with smug, clipped voices, “I need two Mocha Joes, three Whoppers, six large french fries…and I need a vanilla shake, as well. Oh, and I’m going to need six Cokes…” (Who really needs any of those things?) and eight hours of “Stop roaring into the drive-thru microphone. The manager’s going to catch you one of these times,” and eight hours of “Time to stock sauces, guys. And clean bathrooms. And wipe tables and sweep lobbies and sponge trays.”
I hated all of it, except roaring at innocent burger-buyers who came through the drive thru, listening to their bewildered reactions, and acting like I had no idea what “that weird sound was.” But my job wasn’t what made tears leak from my eyes.
I was in love with a boy who did not love me back. And I was fifteen years old. As Frontage Road dashed under the bike’s skinny tires, I began to sing with Billy Joel.
“Slow down, you crazy child. You’re so ambitious for a juvenile. But if you’re so smart, tell me–why are you still so afraid?”
The tears rolled faster now.
“Slow down, you’re doing fine. You can’t be everything you want to be before your time, although it’s so romantic on the borderline tonight, tonight.”
A great bubbling gurgle rolled from my wounded soul to my throat.
“You got your passion, you got your pride. But don’t you know that only fools are satisfied? Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true. When will you realize…Vienna waits for you?”
A bellow split the birdsong as the tears became sobs. So alone in my world of woe was I that I cared not whether people heard me. “Vienna will never wait for me,” I whispered after the song ended.
Four years later, I stood in the middle of a street in Vienna, Austria, and watched a string quintet play a thrumming classical song whose name I do not know. My traveling group and I had just enjoyed sachertorte (chocolate sponge cake, apricot jam, and chocolate icing) and coffee at an old Vienna coffee house. We were spending the evening wandering the streets, gazing at cathedrals and darting into glass shops and souvenir spots. As the cello and violin music gripped me and spun me about, I thought about Billy Joel’s “Vienna,” and, without embarrassment now that I was far from fifteen years old, remembered my weepy bike ride to Burger King.
The real Vienna had waited, after all. And though I was finally in Europe for the first time and had realized many dreams since that day on the road bike, I didn’t know what the rest of my dreams were, or if they would ever happen once I figured them out. I did not feel like Vienna had waited.
Two years later, I sat at my computer and talked to a customer service agent from the Edison electrical company. I’d spent my morning calling the city to transfer water, sewer, and trash services from our landlady’s name to mine and my husband’s, figuring out how to get our dog, Bella, licensed to live in the town, arranging for a plumber to come unclog the sink, and learning how to get street parking permits for our cars.
The lady put me on hold, and I sat in the mess of paperwork and thought about how life had changed in the past year. I got married to that boy who had once not loved me back, finished school, got accepted to a school I hadn’t known was my dream school until I was rejected by what I thought were my dream schools, a school that would give me the community, environment, and instruction necessary for me to live my dream.
I—we—moved to a home with a yard, a home where our neighbors stop to chat with us, welcome us to the neighborhood, comment on Bella’s calmness and beauty. I thought about the support we had from our parents and was thankful mine had come for a writer’s retreat in a town an hour away only to do both that AND help us move all our furniture and unpack most of our boxes.
And gratitude rolled from my soul to my throat the way the tears of sorrow and anger had six years before.
“Vienna waited,” I said as the lady’s voice came back on the line.