(also published on Scary Mommy: Club Mid)
What do they say about the road to hell? About those good intentions…I’ve thought of writing this letter for no less than about 10 years. It’s high time I pulled this out of the folds of my brain and into reality.
You see, this really is a thank you note 25 years in the making. Let me explain.
I started listening to the Indigo Girls when I was a teenager. I’d listen on the way to cross country meets, bouncing along on brown vinyl seats through the backroads of Pennsylvania. Or on the way back, tired, covered in mud or sweat. I listened to tapes on my walkman with the buttons that sounded like “KA THUNK” when I pushed on them or rewound a sound I loved. I heard Emily and Amy sing about fake friendships. I’d had a few of those. They told me it was okay. That I would get thought it and find real ones. I believed them. They sang about using their hands, love’s recovery, about the Southland in the Spring time, and Pushing the Needle too Far.
I heard their voices singing about what is true and beautiful– nature, friendship, honesty, bravery. Now this was the 80s and early 90s and not many women were singing about those topics. It was all Cold Hearted Snake, and I Think We’re Alone now, and Don’t You Want Me. It was confusing. Be beautiful, be vulnerable, but don’t speak up. Not many women were singing like the Indigo Girls: soaring harmonies, real and true lyrics, passionate, articulate, inspiring.
I do believe they carried me through some lonely bus times and adolescent turmoil. I could just start to see that I might make it out of adolescence and become a strong woman, just like they were. It was a crack in the door, a slim line of light. But it was there all the same.
Fast forward 7 years. My father died suddenly at the age of 48. I had just graduated from college, thought the world was my oyster, when suddenly, I was awakened at 6 am with this news. I was across the country, alone, and terrified. The world crashed down around me. I thought I would never feel joy again. I turned toward my family. I went home and tried to help my mom. I cooked. I did laundry. I looked at their bed, where he should have been. I stood in the house with a gaping hole of loss. I cursed the sun for rising and the big puffy clouds for their beauty. How dare they when I was so scooped out and hollow.
I bought Swamp Ophelia and was listening but not really listening as I moved about the house– still in a grief stricken fog that had lasted for more than a year. I started up the stairs when I heard it: The Wood Song. I was carrying a basket of laundry and I suddenly heard this with my whole body:
But the wood is tired, and the wood is old
And we’ll make it fine, if the weather holds
But if the weather holds, we’ll have missed the point
That’s where I need to go
The words soared up the stairs. They were a life raft. They were beauty and hope and joy. I hadn’t had these feelings, or any feelings other than extreme sadness in months. It took my breath away.
I could feel. I could feel again. It was the music, this song, that broke in to a battered heart. I sat on the stairs and felt the music pour over me. Just for a moment, I knew I would be alright again. That I would feel again.
Fast forward another 15 years. I’m finally getting out for the night. I’m now the parent of two daughters, a full time teacher, and part time writer. I head out to Higher Ground in Burlington Vermont to see the Indigo Girls. I’m just about to turn 40.
I’ve had the privilege of seeing them play a few times, but none like this. I’m pretty close up. I can see their faces, their smiles and their efforts. The music is an explosion of joy, passion, grit and harmony. These women– dare I say older women– are just as passionate and tranformative as they were for me 25 years ago. More so, actually. They showed me another model for living: live your passion. Live fully. Don’t hold anything back. How to be a strong older woman. The whole show was another moment of soul filling. Another gift.
Fast forward another 2 years. I am driving cross country with my family. We are headed out west. I play Get Out the Map and Closer to Fine loudly and sing my heart out, like I do at the start of any road trip:
Why do we hurtle ourselves through every inch of time and space
I must say around some corner I can sense a resting place
With every lesson learned a line upon your beautiful face
We’ll amuse ourselves one day with these memories we’ll trace
My youngest (8) watches, listens. She says, “I love the Indigo Girls.”
I say, I do too, honey. I do too. And I tell her about the teenager part. Someday I will tell her about the stairs and the concert. The circle of a girl in the world, turning into a woman, continues.
Thank you Emily and Amy. Your art has made my life better. It has taken me 25 years to let you know, but as you can see, the note got better with time. Just like you both do.
image: giveawayboy on Flickr under CC
See Katy’s NEW middle grade fiction novel, The Order of the Trees published in May 2015 by Green Writers Press.