The past plays a mean guitar.
April 21, 2011 § 9 Comments
In America we are chronically restless. Movement defines us.
People and places we’ve loved, become fleeting images in the rearview mirror, the past discarded like a tossed candy wrapper.
It isn’t willful or done with malice, it is just that we are masters of moving on.
For the first time, the past we thought we’d left behind can look us up.
Just put yourself out there in the ether. I was reluctant to make that move, but my publisher urged me to join Facebook, hoping I would become more visible as an author. Instead, I became visible to my past.
Within an hour the class of ’69 began to show up.
I realized that for each of these friends and acquaintances I was preserved in amber, arrested at sixteen or seventeen, a girl who liked to sing and act and draw, one who wore her bangs too long and her skirts too short. A girl who gave lots of free advice with little life experience to justify her know-it-allness.
I had similar arrested memories of each of them, some faded, some remarkably sharp.
Milo is walking down the hall, a one man parade thanks to the bells sewn to the seams of his purple pants. He is about to get sent to the office by the Latin teacher, Mrs. Richards. When he gets there he will defend his right to jingle.
Kerry is lugging a double bass (or as he calls it, the bubble bass). He often goes by the name ATN. In French class his assigned name is Etienne, there being no French equivalent of Kerry.
Cheerleaders in short skirts dash down the hall displaying their pep. It’s Blue and White Day! I sit cross-legged on the floor, my back against a locker, my guitar beside me like a guard dog. I don’t pay much attention to the cheerleaders. I’m not part of that group. They wouldn’t have me and I would rather die than display pep.
At PHS we knew who we were by association—and by dissociation. There were the 400s and greasers, preps and hippies. We were identified by who we hung with—even to ourselves. I only knew for sure that I was okay when I saw the approval in someone else’s eyes, and then only if those eyes belonged to the right someone.
Riding the knife-edge of opinion, the world felt claustrophobic, the present so present it breathed on my neck.
The bushiness of my eyebrows was important.
What she said he’d said about me—important.
But I had a secret self as well. One who yearned for the freedom of individuality.
Just before the centrifugal force of graduation flung us into the larger world we stated our hopes and dreams for the eternal pages of the yearbook—often tongue in cheek because, what the heck did we know?
…wishes for unlimited freedom
…wants to be married, or become Tinkerbell
…would like to be breathing in twenty years
…wants to be an editor of Time Magazine
…would like to be six foot six…a lawyer
When the past got back in touch, the easiest thing to trade was a label.
I’m a lawyer…
Many of us will soon set down these hard-won identities in retirement.
So, what now?
For me, it is time to recapture the ever-present present of high school, but without the drama. I pay a lot less attention to myself, and because I do, I have time to see the world all around me, moment by moment.
Right now the sun is lighting the leaves on the laurel cherry tree beside the driveway.
Right now my husband is cooking rice in the kitchen and singing a song he’s making up as he goes along. “I believe in miracles…really crazy miracles…” His songs are usually odes to our dog, Moo, but rice-cooking must be inspirational.
Right now I’m sitting at the computer which turns out to be a window as wide as the world, and as narrow as my own past.
So, I want to ask all my scattered friends, aside from the labels, who did you grow up to be? Are you happy? Did life deliver? More important, where are you headed now, and who are you becoming?
What do you see outside your window, and who is singing in your kitchen?
Note: This post was inspired by a trip to the Wanee Music Festival to see Buddy Miller play with Robert Plant and the Band of Joy.
What a confluence of past and present: my husband Ray; Buddy Miller (my high school boyfriend and fellow member of “Half Price Paradise”) Craig Reeder (my current singing partner in “Hot Tamale”) and Craig’s wife Laura–a circle of friends.