NPR recently asked its listeners to share “A Life Story In 6 Songs.” The portraits these musical stories paint have been beautiful and tragic and are poignant pictures of regular lives filled with joy and loss and triumph. And I asked myself what songs would sing my life so far. Here’s what I came up with:
One of my earliest memories of freedom was flying down a country Douglasville road with my beloved brother in his souped up, brown Chevy Nova. I was probably five years old. We had the windows down with the wind blowing through our hair, “Ramblin’ Man” was blaring, my parents weren’t there and for maybe the first time I really had a sense of myself as an individual. This song and “rolling down Highway 41” has been tattooed on my heart ever since that day.
As a teenager, “Steppin’ Out” tickled my brain with the promise of city-life, the promise of something bigger and brighter and smarter than Douglasville, Georgia. It helped me imagine a more vast and open-minded world than that of my beloved redneck high school where football players spit Skoal in the radiators and, instead, drew a picture in my brain of a world of nightlife and neon and skylines and sophistication.
At the same time, it seemed Daddy had this tape playing in the Grand Marquis for two years straight – and that was just fine. Willie croons the standards. Beautiful! Even when I was 15. If “Steppin’ Out” gave me visions of bigger things, “Stardust” reminded me of all the places I was so deeply rooted. This one is about Daddy and family and living in the country and riding in the car at night listening to music and watching Momma lay her hand tenderly on the back of Daddy’s neck while he drove and the two of them looking at each other with the love that hadn’t diminished a speck since they met in high school. This has set the standard for all the things I still most deeply desire in my life.
And then I left home and had to try to grow up. And for some reason I didn’t know exactly how to do that. Nobody ever told me it would be so hard, that there would be so much pain and disappointment. And I didn’t know how to handle that either. I went through a time when I was so sad and hurt that I could only listen to angry music – anything else made my heart crack wide open. This “Faith No More” album understood me and I played it over and over again on my commute from Smyrna to Emory every day. And I wept. And I drank. And I quit seminary. And I got kicked out of my apartment by my best friends. And I moved to a shitty apartment in Virginia-Highlands. And I worked part-time. And I was so broke I stole toilet paper from work and counted my change to see if I could afford a Coke and a peanut butter cookie at the end of the week at Stone Soup across the street from the apartment. And I tried with little success to be a band groupie.
And then I finally met the man who would marry me, fix me and make everything OK. But he didn’t fix me or make everything OK. And so I left and drank and lived alone and cried and played softball and drank. And then I met another man who I knew probably wouldn’t fix me, but who knew how to show me a good time. And we drank and partied and smoked and watched football and went to awesome parties and went to Judas Priest and Megadeath and Ron White concerts and drank and drank and closed down the Vortex at least one night a week, usually more. Then we’d go home and sit on the balcony and drink some more until it was almost time to get up and go to work. And then I noticed at some point, that it wasn’t such a good time any more.
There have been mountains and valleys since then. Sobriety. Anxiety. Jesus. Depression. Kisses. Heartbreak. But I’m slowly learning to breathe. I’m learning to live for myself and how to do things that make me happy. And I’m learning how to love myself. I’m learning that I deserve to be loved and that it’s safe to be a woman. I’m learning that just because I’ve failed in the past that I don’t have to be afraid to try again. And I’m learning that just because others have failed me in the past that I don’t have to be afraid to trust again. I am seeing that I am strong and beautiful and tenacious and funny and smart. I’m seeing that I’m OK.
These are my songs – so far…. I can’t wait to find out which song will come next!