Music as a Lifeline

What Music Speaks, part two

Tracy Lynne Oliver
Jun 5, 2019 · 4 min read
Illustration by Louisa Bertman

WWas music your escape too? A hatch­–neither rusted nor heavy, no struggle or strength needed to achieve egress. This hatch, a beauty-opening. Danced into. An easy sliding until your surface became soaked, the beat synchronizing with yours until there was nothing else. An overt hiding place, taking you in one inch of skin at a time until it wrapped you, completely. When your walls closed in, is that where you went? I know the three of us were a lot — boy, girl, boy — a constant chaos of cruelty. When our screaming felt like your sacrifice, is that when you turned it up, closed the door to the downstairs discord and danced?

You can tell me because I think I know.

TThere’s a moment after daughters become mothers when their mother falls from the pedestal, wings shatter, glow dims. My moment came when my daughter was six months old and I was a twenty-four-year-old new mom, living a waking nightmare of inadequacy and worry. I heard the crash. Saw the glitter of my mother’s pieces, her shine. Watched as she walked toward me instead of floating; skin tinged sallow, eyes level with mine. After I collected every shard and swallowed them, creating my own, I wrote my mother a two-page letter in part telling her, “I get it now. You were just a girl trying to do her best. Just like me.”

I heard the crash. Saw the glitter of my mother’s pieces, her shine

When I wailed in your arms, did you sing to me as I sang to her? Did the music calm? Is it the memory of your songs to me that prompted mine to her? Or is it simply what all mothers know — give a child the comfort of your voice, the rhythm of your rock and it will soothe. Or is it what we know about the magic of music?

I’m getting your hands. I see the veins on the tops of them lifting, the skin that holds them thinning. I don’t like how it looks and what it means. I remember turning your hands over and tracing your raised veins with my fingers. So delicate. Pushing the pulse of them down as if I was trying to flatten your skin, but really I just loved holding your hands warm in mine, knowing you loved it too. Maybe I knew I was looking into my future. You are waiting for me to step into the place you leave.

I’m getting your hands

I just did the math. You were 24 when you had me.

Your hands are narrow and long. Your fingers were once thin elegance before they began to crook and gnarl with Rheumatoid arthritis. Before your oldest son said FUCK YOU or something equally profane and you hit him. Hard. Your pinky finger hooked, forever bent. The bend a string forever tied around your finger to never forget a time when boys become men and a mother’s anger no longer mattered. Laughable.

WWhat song was playing then?

It could’ve been many. It could’ve been any. A house devoid of silence, if not our sibling shouts, if not the roar of my father’s quiet, there was always music. My childhood mornings filled with Streisand, Manilow, Summer. The sultry shower of Motown, Stones and Loggins. Weekends I’d groan awake as the thunder began from the speakers downstairs, sending songs up the stairs to my bedroom to rouse me. The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack’s pulsing beats, provocative prose and boys that sounded like girls stirring my blooming blood. Queen’s theatricality, their operatics, their blinding rock, embedding into my evolving soul.

Why so constant? Why so loud? Why your singing?

Oh right, when mothers can’t leave, they must stay.

When mothers have no escape, they make one.

Yours, music.

Also, mine.

Then, eventually, writing.

This.

When you can go nowhere, you have to go somewhere.

Or sink.

And suffer.

Like yours, my home has always had sound. The static of siblings, the roar of silence, the rage before that roar. The crunch of eggshells. The lilt of laughter.

But also, always, music.

My own Streisands, Manilows, Summers. Yet also your Queen, your Bee Gee’s, your Stones, your Motown.

Your loves became mine.

What saved you saved me.

Our escape, our lifeline.

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most…

Tracy Lynne Oliver

Written by

I am a writer with a cool website: https://www.tracylynneoliver.com/

Gay Mag

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most interesting and thoughtful cultural criticism to be found on the Web. Our first quarterly is coming in June 2019. We value deep explorations, timelessness, and challenging conventional thinking without being cheap and lazy.

Tracy Lynne Oliver

Written by

I am a writer with a cool website: https://www.tracylynneoliver.com/

Gay Mag

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most interesting and thoughtful cultural criticism to be found on the Web. Our first quarterly is coming in June 2019. We value deep explorations, timelessness, and challenging conventional thinking without being cheap and lazy.

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