Some songs have become time portals to my past.
Who knows why or how this happens. I can’t explain it other than to acknowledge that the sounds of certain songs — those mystical arrangements of notes and words and silence and instruments mixed with voice — in some inexplicable way became part of who I once was, and because of this, will always be part of who I am.
Janice Ian’s “At Seventeen” is one. To hear its opening sounds is to once again find myself in 1975, driving home from O.U. in my gold 1972 Camaro. I’m taking two classes in summer school and hurrying home to drop off my books and catch a quick bite before going in to work.
Life is too full. Yet it is not the life I thought I would be living a year ago. I am exhausted between school and studies and working full-time in retail and teaching a few young girls at my church on Wednesday nights. I have no time to think. Or feel.
There are a few nice guys who have expressed interest in a date though I have not encouraged their interest. When they ask for my telephone number, I make excuses. Intentional or not, all nights are safely covered by an excuse that discourages involvement. Perhaps my busyness is deliberate as I’m nursing a broken ego, trying to get past a failed romance.
That summer, my world was getting ready to break open in a new and different way. My parents were moving to Austin, leaving me behind to live life on my own with a girl I hardly knew. But it didn’t matter because her mother and my mother knew each other. It was sort of like an arranged marriage — awkward for us roommates but convenient for our parents who were footing the bill. But all this was in the future, two months down the road.
For now, I am in the car connecting my life with this song. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it. But from this moment on, I will forever listen to this song as I am on that summer day in 1975. I will be young again, driving the highway with my car window all the way down. My long brown hair will be blowing free. And for some reason, when I hear the opening notes, I will once again reach toward the radio to turn the sound way up so that my car speakers vibrate.
But back in the past, I grow sad as I listen to this song. It invites me to wonder about might-have-beens. If I had been prettier, would I have been good enough? Smarter? Funnier? If I have been better somehow, would I be living in the land of happier-ever-after?
Do tears fall that day? I don’t remember. But I know I am sad for this girl in the song. And I am sad for myself. This song and I share a common truth of not being good enough. And even when I pretend to no longer be hurt, this song allows me to confess otherwise. And like any good confessor, this song will not breathe a word of my private truth. My secrets are safe with Janis.
Beautifully written. Ironically, from my 47-year-old perspective, I look at Janis and see how really beautiful she is. The luscious skin most young women have, the bright eyes, the awesome fro. I, like year, at 17, was working retail full time (at C.R. Anthony’s), going to college and carrying too heavy a load, and had just broken off a two year romance. Within two years, I’d be married to the wrong guy and still trying to do it all. I was such an overachiever. Bet you were too. Thanks for the glimpse into your life then. Are things better now?
I am always touched when someone finds my writing beautiful. I go back and look at it again and think….. “Really? Can this be true?” Thank you for finding it so and for sharing it.
Thank you also for sharing a bit of your story. Your instincts are right — failed romance, marriage to a “safe” guy (who deserved better) on the rebound, divorce and remarriage — we share dots that connect our lives in more ways than a shared passion for playing in the dirt in our gardens.
And the best part — the remarriage — I ended up with the boy who broke my teen-aged heart. Girl… I’ve been living life in the pages of one of my mother’s Harlequin Romances for the last 23 years. And yes, life has and continues to be very fine.
ps And as for your comments about Janis, I share your findings.
In the midst of doing a little light housework, putting my house in order for a spiritual direction session that will soon begin, I thought of my first reply to your comment about my writing — I now see a little housework and tidying up is in order here too.
I believe that wherever beauty and truth exist…. that something of God is in it. In the spirit of James 1:17 then — where every good gift comes from above — I know any beauty or truth in which I am privileged to play a part in is not truly mine, but a gift given to me to share. And even this is too marvelous for words….
You know, I had to run off to google when I read this last night to refresh my memory. I couldn’t remember who Janis Ian was, and I didn’t remember the song.
But when I listened to the youtube and she started the song by saying something ~ “For cheerleaders”? “The cheerleaders”? “For the cheerleaders”? ~ I instantly thought: Paula Bredimus. And I saw Paula’s house, and Bev, her blonde BFF, and the whole bunch of them in their box pleat skirts and black and white oxfords and the hangers-on who carried their books to school for them…. The Cheerleaders.
I believe that’s called a “blast from the past”.
Once I’d heard the song I remembered it, of course, although I remember Janis more for “Society’s Child”. That was the one that carried the bitterness of my life for a while. When it hit the charts on its third or fourth release, in 1967, I was just back in college after a brief stint working in KC. I wasn’t sure how a 13 year old had pegged the world as well as she did in that song, but I knew I admired her for it.
I have never listened to “Society’s Child” before this evening. I’m not sure how I missed this — I’m the girl who use to go to bed with a transistor radio — turned down really low — laying by her ear. Inevitably I fell asleep listening and woke up to dead 9 volt battery! And forty-three years later, after listening to the song, all I can say is wow. It fits the times, doesn’t it?
And oh those cheerleaders — yes, I can still name most of the high school cheerleaders at my school — though definitely, I did not move in their orbit. I was in the ‘smart’ clique and the cheerleaders were part of the group known as the “so-ches’ — for the social clique. Years later, it doesn’t matter any more. We’re just people. My first husband married a former cheerleader — and of course, she is a lovely step-mother to the daughters we share.
Ironic that both my daughters grew up to be varsity cheerleaders — the youngest for Brazoswood High — which makes me…. yep…. a Texas Cheerleader Mom! Rah. Rah. Rah.
Hi Janell, when I got your comment, I thought about it a great deal. Of course, everything good gift is from God. I guess I assume that. When I praise your writing, I believe it is inherent that I am also praising God’s gift. What we do with our gifts is that part of free will we all enjoy (some of us to a more limited extent depending on where in the world we live).
My gift for a turn of phrase is definitely an “amen” moment, but I also believe that I help hone my gifts with practice just as a violinist plays every day. I simply enjoy seeing those gifts in another.~~Dee
Yes, I resonate in a shared belief that our gifts are honed with practice.
But where you assume that God is in it, I must often remind myself of this fact. I feel God when I write — most days — but then after the fact, once the post is published, not so much. So maybe the second note was written as much to me as to you — sort of like writing on a blackboard 100 times in chalk — to help remind me of my proper place in the big scheme of things.
Pride is my worst enemy. It’s hard to slay this dragon — though gardening in Oklahoma is helping. In fact, I consider gardening one of my most important spiritual practices. Writing is one also, but much trickier.