I’m a little behind the curve on some things. I just discovered Spotify. I could have been right in with the cool crowd five years ago, when my brother told me to check it out, but I’m just not that cool. So a couple weekends ago, I started thinking about some old music that I used to have that never made the digital switch. I loved Supertramp way back when, so I typed the name into Spotify. Their most commercial success came up (Breakfast in America, 1979) and that was what I thought I had in mind. I scrolled down a bit more out of curiosity.
And then, there it was: the first album I ever loved, Supertramp’s “Crisis? what Crisis?” I hadn’t seen it in over thirty years. The image of the album cover took my breath away for a second; multiple memories were triggered at once. In an instant, I was a ten-year old girl, standing in front of my next-door neighbor’s huge bureau mirror, singing into a Ban roll-on bottle. How could I have forgotten this album?
I grew up in a small town in New York, about four hours north of the city. My best friend, Eunice, lived right next door and we spent all of our time together. Both of us were from big families; me, the fourth of five, and her, the youngest of seven. Eunice’s siblings were all a bit older, so I was invited on many family vacations to keep her company. Looking back, I’m not quite sure how we all squeezed into that old station wagon, but that was part of the fun and those trips are some of my fondest memories. Back at home, we would spend our days riding bikes through the bank parking lot down the street, racing through uncrowded paths of the Union cemetery (we loved studying the headstones) and down to the Oven Door Bakery for a jelly donut, if we were lucky enough to find a dime. When wanted to play inside, we always ended up in her house, where we were assured we would be left in peace. We would play with our dolls and our Barbies (turning their head’s around when we needed a male to kiss. No Ken dolls for us!), countless games of Crazy 8’s and Go Fish. When we started to get too old for Barbies, we would sneak into her older sisters’ bedroom and snoop around. We would use their hairbrushes, smell their lotions and perfumes, and hide between the beds to sneak a peek at Cosmopolitan magazine.
As preteens, we started to explore their extensive music collection. We would spend hours flipping through the vinyl albums.
Our favorites were Supertramp and Elton John. In the 1970’s, the whole album was part of the experience. The album cover, the back cover and the paper sleeve were all bursting with images and information. If you had a cool album like Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” this could consume hours, days, lifetimes.
When we weren’t studying, we were singing. We knew complete albums by heart, every word. Eunice would sing into the Tickle deodorant bottle, which always left me with the plain ol’ Ban bottle. How I coveted that Tickle bottle! It was so glamorous!
No one in my house was chic enough to use Tickle! How I wanted wrap my hand around that polka-dot bottle and sing just one song. Just one! But what could I do? It was Eunice’s house and she got dibs. Well, the Ban bottle was better than my thumb, I told myself, and actually a more realistic microphone, if you really thought about it…
I brought my head back to present day, and within a few clicks, I was listening to the first track of the long-lost album. After just a few notes, I was sobbing. Sobbing, I tell you. I LOVED this album deep in my soul. Every note, every melody, came alive in me again. I was so thrilled to have found it. I had forgotten how truly great this album was. Eunice’s older sisters had excellent taste.
But was it so great to leave me sobbing? What the hell was going on? I was almost afraid to explore it. Was this my midlife crisis? Had not honored that ten-year-old girl and here she is rising up in me? Have I not lived a full enough life? Is this just getting old? Damn, I never wanted to be a cliche and here it is.
Before making an appointment for therapy, I decided rationally think this over and try to make some sense of this on my own. I took down one of my old textbooks and reviewed some basic brain neurology. From a purely scientific point of view, it made sense that this music I so loved once-upon-a-time triggered a strong emotional reaction. The memories for music are stored in the section of the brain called the hippocampus. Nestled right next to it is the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for emotional reactions to music. Supertramp’s album had been hiding out in my Hippocampus for for 37 years! As soon as my brain heard those beloved musical notes, my hippocampus alerted my amygdala and the tears came.
Well, that explains that, but did my reaction have to be so strong? I listened to the album for the entire weekend and every time a new track would start, my eyes would fill with tears.
Supertramp, that coveted Tickle bottle, dancing in front of that big mirror-I hadn’t thought of these things in years and years and years. I hadn’t remembered that little girl. Who was she? Is there any part of her still alive in me? Tears.
I took a breath and thought about my life: I have spent the last twenty years focused on meeting the needs of other people. Tears, tears, tears.
At the end of the weekend, and hours of soul searching, I came to some conclusions. I am living the life I want. It is true that I spend the majority of my time meeting the needs of others, but this has been a conscious, mindful choice and I truly love it. I do need to pay attention, though. Being a part of a couple for over twenty years, while simultaneously caring for six children, it can be easy to get lost. This is why I am very careful to honor myself. Every day I take some time for me, usually through exercise and meditation. On particularly hairy days, I may only get a moment, but in that moment, I close my eyes, take some deep breaths and check in with home base. That ten-year-old girl is deep in there somewhere. She has always been there, waiting patiently to be remembered, ready to reminded me of how important it is to nurture myself–to keep every part of me alive.
My other realization was that some things just make you feel sad. They just do. The passing of time is bittersweet. Remembering those things after over thirty years of dormancy was wonderful and terrifically melancholic, too. It felt like I was in mourning and I reasoned that I was; I was mourning the carefree girl that I was so long ago and my easy, idyllic childhood. I missed those things.
I had to just sit with that sadness and let it wash through me. I needed to allow myself to experience the emotions fully, without judgement. There was nothing wrong, no need for therapy. Nothing to do, nothing to say. I just had to sit with it and be. It’s just part of being human and it’s all okay. It is.
The Monday after the weekend of my almost midlife crisis, I was still listening to Supertramp and thinking of Eunice. I decided I should let her know somehow, so I went online and ordered her a copy of “Crisis, What Crisis?” After I did, I clicked over to my email to see if her address was in there somewhere. I send her a message for her birthday every year, but that has been the extent of our contact in the past few decades. When I opened my email program, I was shocked to see Eunice’s name in my inbox, her message right at the top, the subject line: “My Mom passed.” She and her family had spent the weekend saying goodbye and her mom passed that morning.
I sat back, stunned. The now-familiar tears came again. The pieces of the puzzle were all assembled.
While I was honoring my memories and my lost self, I was also unconsciously feeling a connection with my oldest friend and her family. I guess you could call it a coincidence, but I don’t believe in such things. For the first decade of my life, these people were my second family. They helped mold who I am. Having them right next door was a large part of my lovely childhood. Losing the mother of that family is a profound loss, and part of me was grieving with them, even before I was officially given the news. The river of tears now made sense.
Once again I was left with the sadness. Nothing to do, nothing to fix; just a time for intense emotion.
But then I realized it wasn’t all sadness. There was some good stuff mixed in there to: love and connection. It’s was nice to revisit that little girl and wonderful to remember my friend and the adventures we shared. It was good to be reminded of our connection. That friendship was an important, intimate part of my history. This experience taught me that that relationship is still alive, even if we haven’t spoken in years. It lives within me, just as that ten-year-old girl does.
My emotional weekend helped me remember how important connection is. Sustaining connection- to people no longer present in my daily life or even to the inner parts of myself- is a vital part of living a full, delicious life. It may sound simplistic to some, but I connect by getting quiet. It works for me. It means something when I connect this way. It has to. It just feels too good to not be valid. Things don’t have to be obvious or visible to be true.
The morning of Eunice’s mother’s funeral service, I left my house early for the 2 ½ hour journey. There was a significant snowfall the night before and I wanted to make it in time. I had arranged care for all of my children and the roads looked clear. After driving thirty minutes, however, I came to a road block. The route I was on was closed and the detour went up into some hilly back roads that were not yet cleared from the previous night’s snow. I swerved and slid and lost traction a few times. I didn’t know where the detour led and I was starting to get scared. It only made sense to turn around. I was so disappointed. I wanted to see my friend and her family. I wanted to tell them how much they meant to me, how I felt the loss of their beautiful mother.
I had to pull over because my eyes were filling with tears. I sat for a few minutes and honored my sadness. I took a few deep breaths, closed my eyes, and thought of my friend’s mom- the kind, strong woman who always welcomed me into her home, into her family. When I opened my eyes, I had to smile. The view in front of me was spectacular: a perfect, untouched field of white glittered in the sun. Huge trees stood guard on the periphery, their leafless limbs coated in snow, reaching gracefully up to the clear, blue sky.
In that instant, I felt it- I connected. I didn’t make it to the service, but I connected.
And it meant something. I know it did.
And if you know who you are,
You are your own superstar,
And only you can shape the movie that you make.
So when the lights disappear,
And only the silence is here,
Watch yourself, easy does it, easy does it, easy while you wake.
~”Easy Does It” Crisis? What Crisis 1975