Dwelling in the past, for any length of time, is a deep, dark hole. Merely happily reminiscing or learning from past mistakes isn’t a bad idea. But lingering there, well no good really comes of it. In fact, it’s sure to drive you mad. Lead you to the pits of despair.
Children grow up quickly, grandparents pass away, even certain friendships die. Marriages dissolve. Relationships blunder. Businesses bankrupt. Sea levels rise. Fat grows in places it never did before.
But sometimes for the need to have a purging bawl fest we linger there. We beat ourselves up. It was my fault that this or that happened. I’m never good enough, etc. etc. Bubble snot happens. Eyes are puffy in the morning. There’s a balled-up tissue next to the bed, soaked in tears.
It had been several weeks since we walked the beach, crossing side streets and passing intimately-lit cafes and restaurants along the way. The distant downtown lights dotted the southern horizon. Street performers echoed among the hum of engines and the quiet lap of gulf crest. This is our beach– or at least feels that way as we’ve been coming here for sunsets since 2001. Only everything about it is etched in change.
Our now teenage son, who obligingly strolled beside us, was once a tiny mewing thing carried in a pack at my breast. Then onto toddler years when he danced with abandon to steel drums and folk guitarists on the pavilion stage where now only a speaker pumping out rock favorites exists. There was the running-through-the-sand-dunes phase, the must-have-ice-cream phase, the I’m-terrified-of-the-water phase.
I’m trying hard to embrace these new teenage years. But everyone knows I’m mourning the past. My co-parent seems to be handling this new phase better than me. Perhaps it’s a motherhood thing, that we become emotionally consumed and overwhelmed by all the constant transitioning. The buzz of daily life shadows some of this agony but when nighttime unveils sometimes it is downright unbearable.
He was in a quiet but kind mood as we made a stop for drinks at the tiki hut which used to be nothing but the hut and a few picnic tables. Now a sprawl of neatly placed umbrella-covered tables and Adirondack chairs, some outdoor beach games, and a small stage where a talented solo guitarist happily strummed. The two of us sat and chatted as his dad went to get our drinks and the cool January wind whipped at our hair.
“Do you and Dad think there’s something off about me?” he asked.
“Off?” I replied. “Why do you ask that?”
“Because it seems you and Dad are always worried about me, or think I’m acting like something is wrong.” He looked at me with serious eyes, his phone retired to his lap.
“Well I think you’re just a normal teenage boy. And of course we worry. Do you think you’re ‘off’?”
“Good.” Pause. “You aren’t depressed, are you?”
“No,” he answered assuredly.
“Well if you ever do become depressed I hope you know you can talk to me. And your dad. Please just don’t shut us out, ok? We need to be open with each other, ok? You know I’ve had my bouts with depression so I know how it feels so don’t ever be afraid to talk to me, ok?” I wasn’t so much trying to lecture him but just make sure, for the thousandth time, that he could always come to me.
“Yes, Mom.” He gave a nod and a reassuring closed-lip smile.
His dad came back with our drinks and we chatted about happy things, funny school incidents, music, talents we wish we had, until hunger started to invade and it was time to make our way to get dinner.
As we passed the old trampolines (which actually had been replaced by newer, smaller ones) a pang of sorrow shuddered through me. That had been another phase, a long one. We’d stand there with our heads bobbing up and down as we watched his little buoyant body jump higher and higher until his grin was as big as the ocean behind him.
I focused back to what was right in front of me. I have to live in the moment even more so now than ever. Here is my altering but beautiful son beside me. On the other side his dad. And although we are divorced (such an ugly word) we are still a united front when it comes to the most amazing thing we ever did or will ever do.
We commented on the new, wider sidewalks by the pavilion and the now sparseness of the vendors on the pier. Then up ahead we saw him. The odd fella with the rolling podium and the microphone, sending signals to perhaps outer-space, who has been strolling the pier since the days before our son was even a growing light in the depth of the womb.
“So many changes but some things never do,” I commented as we passed the alien.
We arrived at the restaurant, requested an outside table, and waited. I noticed a table of older women, all Golden-Girls style and laughing as they exchanged stories and clinked cocktails. I wondered how these ladies endured the sadness that surely came over them when their children had left their houses and the quiet inside the walls was too much to endure. I hope I’m as happy as they seem now, when I get to that point, I said to myself.
The early winter sky gave a dark but peaceful cast on the streets and dunes and gulf beyond.
“Your table is ready,” the hostess announced. The three of us walked in unison. More of a carefree evening just before us, casting off the fret of time, for a moment.
As per request (and writing prompt) from one of my dear readers and a fellow music devouter, I’d like to share 5 amazing songs that build up emotion in my chest, take me to happy and far away places, or just leave me whirlishly dancing on the chipped-tiled kitchen floor.
Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds
This song of course is married to the ever-universal teen angst classic The Breakfast Club, making it even that much more endearing. That last scene when the song smacks in and John Bender gives a requited fist pump in a freeze frame forever is one of the best movie endings.
Don’t You Forget About Me reminds me of precious 80’s nostalgia, the innocence and simplicity there regarding music and hand-written letters and Walkmans and trips to the mall sans security personnel.
And the meaning: Don’t you forget about me. We all want to be remembered. We cannot let time or circumstance or distance allow the brain to turn us into static and the heart unforgiving or worse, ignored.
This one is for belting out fearlessly and dancing feverishly. My students have seen me do this. On my fortieth birthday this is the song I boldly requested at the skating rink among all the preteens and their Taylor Swift enthusiasm. I’ll be singing and dancing to this one when I’m an old, old lady.
Don’t you forget about me. I’ll be alone, dancing, you know it, baby…
Us and Them by Pink Floyd
I listened to The Dark Side of the Moon on a constant loop along with The Cure’s Disintegration on a summer stint in Italy in my early teens. I know Roger Waters was talking about war in his lyrics but to me the “us” and “them” represented both the subtle and not-so-subtle differences I experienced between Americans and Italians. We spoke different languages, ate at different times of the day, looked different, but in the way we were different we were also the same. Just people trying to make it in the world, experience life, try not to trip on pebbles.
To this day, every time I hear that keyboard intro I feel the welling up in my chest. I am completely transported back to that balcony in Sardinia, back to that innocent 15 year old taking in everything never witnessed back in Antioch, Tennessee. I’m reminded of all the people I met and their cultural and nurturing influence on me.
Us, and them. And after all, we’re only ordinary men…
The Fool on the Hill by The Beatles
The Beatles were a big part of my growing up. They were not forced on me but rather gently introduced as my parent’s record collections included many Beatles albums and 45s. My brother and I would sit on the shaggy carpeted floor of our basement-turned-playroom and listen to them on our Fisher-price turntable. We fashioned ourselves as rock singers, belting out tunes as the grated vinyl spun round and round.
But when Fool on the Hill rolled along and into the tiny speaker, we would quietly sing together. Never looking up, frozen in that moment with lyrics and melody I swear brought welling up in my goofy sibling’s eyes.
That is one of my strongest and most fond memories of us together as children. Later in our teens we traveled to Lexington, Kentucky with a group of like-minded friends to see Paul McCartney in concert. I was enthralled to be in the presence of a Great. And to enjoy it with my bro at my side.
But the fool on the hill, sees the sun going down, and the eyes in his head, see the world spinning round…
A Forest by The Cure
This haunting song is one of the reasons I will forever be a Cure fan and Classic Alternative junkie. I was first introduced to the Cure when Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me came out. During this era I was blown away by this sound which at the time never reached the local radio airwaves.
A Forest mirrored my teen angst, depression, and need for creative inspiration as sheets of rain seemed to fall endlessly in the grey, Tennessee winter. This dirge didn’t exasperate my feelings as my parents agonized. Instead it encapsulated and provided solace. I wasn’t alone in my fervor.
And just the word forest. It conjures images of lush foliage where mystery hides and escape is possible.
A few summers ago I was driving alone in North Florida on a windy road away from friends and family with whom I’d just spent an unforgettable week. As soon as I entered Tate’s Hell State Forest, an unforgiving ominous expanse of swampy woodland, my GPS fell silent and A Forest shuffled on my auxiliary. I don’t know if there’s ever been more perfect timing between song and circumstance.
Come closer and see, see into the trees…
The Dead Heart by Midnight Oil
I could write an entire blog post about songs by Midnight Oil but for the purpose of not turning this into a biography I’ll sample this one.
I was introduced to Midnight Oil via the video for Bed’s Are Burning, seen on MTV’s Friday Night Videos. This unique sound from Australia fronted by a bald, passionate giant literally left me gasping in its strum guitar and water tank drum beats. I was instantly transformed. Life would never be the same. And then began a life-long love and adoration for the band, their extensive collection of songs throughout the decades, and their messages about equality and the environment.
The Dead Heart evokes singing and whirling, and to the tune of aboriginal rights in Australia. It’s as serious as it is heartfelt and in the end a hopeful dance. The Oils do a fantastic job of informing while entertaining and this song is no exception. When I hear it I’m in the Outback as well as on my old friend’s balcony (what’s with me and balconies) back in ’87 when all this alternative rock hoopla began voluntarily infiltrating my soul.
Midnight Oil will forever be my favorite band of all time. And The Dead Heart is just one of many that fill me with emotion, the need to research, to help bring about change, and yes, to belt it out and move.
These 5 songs helped shape who I am. What are yours?
It’s been over 2 months since I’ve written. I’ve sat down at my computer multiple times since then and just stared at the blank, white screen. But nothing. I can’t type a word. I’ll think of a dozen ideas and lines when I’m biking, driving, scouring the aisles at the grocery store, walking up the gravel drive toward the classroom to work. But at the computer, NOTHING.
I don’t like writing about not being able to write. I’ve done it several times on this blog. But what’s a writer’s blocked mind to do?
I’m hoping at least this will unclog the faucet and let something flow again.
It’s been one crazy 2+ months. So much so that I can’t even divulge it all. Let’s just say I’ve dealt with death, loss, sickness, physical pain, emotional pain, disappointment, anger, sadness, despair, sometimes all those negatives at once. Most of it being out of my control, which makes it that much worse.
However, among all that imperfection and just plain suckiness a warm blanket covers me with children’s hugs that squeeze me from the core, family support I forgot I had, the kind ear of friends, a rogue, sweet birdsong in the middle of a dark silence.
I told one of my dear friends if we don’t have Hope, we have nothing. There is always hope here, even in somber moments when the only faucet flowing are the salty tears plopping down my neck.
I’m grateful for so many things. There is light and laughter and happiness. And that’s what keeps me, all of us, afloat.