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The Soundtrack of My Life

30 Jan

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My father is singing Cat Stevens’ Moonshadow to me. I am 3 or 4 or 5 years old. I wonder about the limbless body singing until all the parts of him are gone and he is seemingly nonchalant, perhaps even grateful to be without eyes and a tongue. My father continues to sing the same song to me like a lullaby.

I am in a full body cast in a hospital. I am 6 years old. My mother is sitting, surrounded by sick children, with her ukelele, playing and singing Puff the Magic Dragon. I am proud and yet jealous. I do not want to share her with the rest of these patients. I want her to sing and wrap her oversized heart around only me.

I am in my Mustang convertible while Carole King’s Tapestry cassette plays on a loop. I am 17 years old. I am weeping. My boyfriend is going to college and every single song was written for me. I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away, Home Again, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Where You Lead, Beautiful. My boyfriend makes several stops to say goodbye to friends while I wait for him in the passenger seat, disconsolate. He gets back in the car and gives me an inscribed locket I will wear until the picture inside is all rubbed out and he breaks my heart years later.

I am lost. I am 18 years old and without a sense of direction. I am listening to Van Morrison’s Moondance album. I am driving my car from Connecticut to New York and it is midnight. I finally find a commercial area where it feels safe enough to get out of the car and make a phone call. I call my father from a  pay phone. I beg him to rescue me. He tells me to find my way home and that it will be good for me. I get back in my car and blast “Caravan.” I circle who knows how much of the tri-state area before I pull into my parents’ driveway sometime after 2 am. I have found my way home.

I am standing amongst piles of boxes in my apartment in Brooklyn waiting for movers. I am 23 years old. The only thing not yet packed is my stereo. I am listening to Nanci Griffith CDs for hours as the movers have forgotten me. By the time they pick me up, I am distraught, fearing NYC condo regulations will forbid me from the late move and I will be temporarily homeless. Two men load up the packaged belongings comprising my life and offer me a ride uptown. I sit in the front seat of the movers’ truck as we drive up the FDR to my new home on East 81st. I lean my head against the window, listening to Nanci Griffith on my walkman, equally terrified and excited about this move. I dislike change even though this is a good one. My parents are waiting for me and it is all ok.

I am getting married. I am dancing with my husband to Ben Taylor’s version of The Beatles’ I Will. We are alone on the dance floor, moving in choreographed rhythm thanks to Ernesto of Arthur Murray’s East 86th Street studio. I can see him counting beats in his head as he leads me. We later break loose to The Emotions’ Best of My Love. We don’t yet know that both songs will feature prominently at the bar mitzvah of our first son.

I am in my apartment on East 75th Street. I am nearing the end of my 20s. I am pregnant with my first child. I am working from home for the day, listening to Counting Crows’ This Desert Life. My belly tightens and my son kicks and flutters every time this album plays. He has good taste. I know I will love him.

I am rocking in a glider in the bedroom of my baby boy. He is sleeping on my chest and I think I might never move. I sing him every song I know and love. It goes like this every night. Sweet Baby James, The Way You Look Tonight, Annie’s Song, An American Tune. I sing him Moonshadow and deposit him back into his crib. He tucks his legs beneath him, looks briefly at me, and goes back to sleep.

I am at the obstetrician’s office. I am alone. I am 7 weeks pregnant. My husband is traveling for business. For days I have had a premonition that my doctor will tell me he cannot find a heartbeat. The doctor squeezes jelly over my belly and after several minutes of searching, says “Lisa, I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.” I am even sorrier. Sorry to be right. Sorry to lose a baby I already loved. Sorry. I listen to Eva Cassidy’s cover of Fields of Gold over and over, weeping until I tell myself I have punished myself enough and I turn it off.

I am again rocking in a glider but I am in a new room in a new house beside two new babies to love. I sing them the same songs I sang to my first baby. I sing them Moonshadow. I put them into the same crib so they know each other’s presence.

It is my son’s 10th birthday. I am listening to the Circle Game. I cannot believe I am at the second verse. I do not know where the time has gone. I know I will be at the third verse in six short years. I am dragging my feet to slow the circles down, Joni Mitchell.

It is my birthday. 10,000 Maniacs’ These are the Days is playing on my desktop. We have just returned from dinner with my family and I am making my husband and sons dance with me in the kitchen. I will do this every year as long as they will. I turn up the music as high as it will go and watch my family in the reflection of the windows in my kitchen. They indulge me because it’s my birthday but I hope there is enough time in the song for them to feel how much music can lift you, how it can intoxicate you, how its joy is utterly contagious, how necessary it is to be in love with music: to let it infuse your heart, your mind, your soul. To let it literally play the soundtrack to your life.

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Separation Anxiety

6 Apr

I hate the thought of my parents getting older. I am very fortunate for the Everybody Loves Raymond situation we have. They are around the corner. My brother is also not far away. My kids are the greatest beneficiaries, having an extended family in their backyard, which is a gift I didn’t grow up with.

Both sets of grandparents moved to Florida when I was young enough to not remember them living anywhere but Florida. My mother’s parents at one time had an apartment in my hometown but I don’t recall anything about it except for the moment they packed it up. I was 8 years old and doing an excellent job of crying myself to sleep. My mother must have heard me because she opened the door, turned on the light, and said “get out of bed. Let’s go see your grandparents.”

This was a big deal. It was after my bedtime. Nothing ever happened after my bedtime. She took me in my nightgown to their apartment which was filled with boxes containing their life. I sat in a chair, weeping, inconsolable. My grandma, in an effort to stop the tears, handed me a royal blue glass soap dish. I can’t imagine an 8 year old appreciating a soap dish, or maybe even soap, but to me, it was beautiful. And for some reason, it meant everything.

The other day, my mom casually dropped a bomb on me. She mentioned tax implications. She mentioned inheritance money. She mentioned financial loss. She mentioned that she would be MOVING TO FLORIDA. This was in between where would we eat dinner that night and something similarly insignificant.

I probably stopped the car. I probably would have liked to have told her to get out of it too. Instead, I used my words:

“What?! What do you mean you’re moving to Florida? What are you talking about?”

“There’s money you and your brother would have to pay in taxes if we don’t.”

I don’t know how much money that amounts to. I don’t care either. There is no price you can put on having the best people in the world–the people that gave you life, loved you, raised you, held your hand, laughed with you, cried with you, kissed your tears away, told you you were right, told you you were wrong, listened — truly listened, and then cycle back and do it all over again for your children–just a short bike ride away. No price.

“Mom, I would pay all that money just to have you near me. Just to have you and Dad in my life. Just to have you here with me.”

“Ok, it’s settled. I’m not moving to Florida. Where are we going for dinner?”

Anywhere you want mom, as long as it’s with you.