I used to sing in choirs and in singing groups, starting from the time I was little.
I used to sing to my kids every night -- lie in bed with them and sing old folk tunes. My daughter was born with perfect pitch and an ear for harmony, so before she was old enough to form complex sentences, she'd hum along a third higher than my note. My son didn't like my songs though. He said they gave him "the fire feeling" which I finally figured out was a severe reaction to the sadness so abundant in folk tunes. He doesn't like sadness. He'll never be a writer. Not so sure about my daughter, who is more interested in the way the heart lifts and falls.
She says that I don't sing anymore. She says that the only time I sing is when I'm angry with her. "How so?" I ask. She confesses to playing a little trick on me. When I start getting aggravated, she starts singing, and apparently, I break into song too and the argument is diffused. She's brilliant. But she shouldn't have told me. Because I'd like to believe that there's still a part of me that bursts into song without meaning to from time to time. And now I'll notice and I'll stop.
Singing hurts for some reason.
Probably because all the people I used to sing with, are gone now. Starting with my grandmother who wanted to be an opera singer but was sexually harassed by her professor and returned home. She'd put me to bed and pat my back and sing "Lullabye" in a way too good for most childhood bedtimes. I loved that I got to be that special.
And my father, in church and in our own private variety shows in the living room -- "The Bells Are Ringing For Me And My Gal" -- a song and dance duo with an audience of one or two, but we didn't care. We'd still get butterflies beforehand.
My years of choirs -- all so far from my small Montana town -- especially the Trinity Church choir in Boston. That was pure medicine, those years singing alto in that choir. One time my dear friend, the then choir master, took us into the church and played the organ for me while I lay on my back on the altar in the dark, eight months pregnant, humming along, knowing my baby was getting those pipe songs deep in its waters. The years of sitting on the front porch singing in four part harmony with my girl band, gone too. Those sorts of chapters in a person's life seem only to last so long. The first thing to go, like the dentist bill is the last to be paid. It's a shame. To lose a thing like singing. Reckless, even.
I went on a road trip recently. I drove hundreds of miles over mountain passes thick with flaxen larch trees to remind myself how my small Montana town is stitched to the ocean. I finished my book and I needed to be alone for a few days. Away from my computer and the 300 pages that I held in my head and heart for six months, without ceasing, like the best kind of pilgrim's prayer. I needed to get out of my life for a few days and find the girl who used to sing.
At a certain point in Idaho, there were no radio stations. And I'd gotten tired of the CDs I'd made. And I just drove in silence. You could sing, I thought. You should sing. Give it a whirl. Sing an old Joni Mitchell song. Sing the one you used to do in open mic.
I opened my mouth. Nothing came out. Then I sang a few bars of "Carey," my voice thin and cracking. "The wind is in from Africa ... " I ran out of breath. My lungs not what they used to be. I stopped.
Something from one of the plays you were in in high school? Something from "Guys and Dolls." I tried to channel Adelaide, lying on the piano in fishnets and a black polyester teddy. Take back the mink. Take back ... the pearls. It sounded like a dirge. It even gave me the fire feeling.
Then it started to snow. Hard.
The roads were suddenly clustered with slow-going trucks and small sedans that had drifted off the sides, stuck. I put my rig into four wheel drive, and clutched the steering wheel, steady. I've been driving snowy roads for years. I know how to do this, I told myself. Ice, the road condition indicator warned on my rear view mirror. It had dropped from the mid-forties to the low thirties in a matter of miles. Still November, I hadn't gotten my snow tires on yet.
I stayed in the left hand lane, regardless. All the trouble seemed to be happening in the right lane. I drive a Suburban. For just this reason. A Suburban is a left lane vehicle in this sort of instance. It's what separates the weak from the strong. Supposedly. I took a deep breath and stared into the vertiginous white. Not feeling so strong.
Winter storm warning. Chain up, the yellow marquee flashed on the side of the road, telling me to tune in to a.m. radio for details. I didn't have the nerve to mess with the radio. I'd take it just one bit of road by one bit of road. Until we lost altitude and landed into the valley that would surely be full of rain. Rain seemed infinitely more manageable. Loud and sloppy and songful. Rain.
And a game came to mind. In my grandfather's voice. The one who loved the Chicago Cubs and scotch and cigars. Let's sing every song we can think of that has the word 'rain' in it.
"Okay," I said aloud.
And I sang. Loudly, sloppily, I sang my way to rain. And even past it, into the sun of Washington State.
Maybe you can think of a few rain songs. There are lots of them. Turns out.
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