10/3/19

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Late last week, when it was still summer (in true Wisconsin fashion, we’ve gone from 85 one day to 53 the next), I was driving home in the convertible. Top down, Starbucks by my side, one of my favorite singalong songs next in line on my CD. Linkin Park’s Roads Untraveled. I forgot I didn’t have the safety of car walls and a roof around me and I sang along with gusto in the welcome warmth of a September afternoon, with fall’s crisp colors all around me, but summer still in the air.

I’ve always loved to sing. But it wasn’t until freshman chorus that I realized I was terrified to sing solo in front of an audience. My chorus teacher asked me to go out for a solo in the annual solo/ensemble contest. I thought sure, why not. I picked out a song, I no longer remember what it was, and then went into the chorus room during lunch to practice with my teacher’s piano accompaniment. There were a few students in the room, hanging out, having lunch, and waiting for their own turn at practice. I stood by the piano, followed the score as my teacher played the introduction, and then opened my mouth to sing.

And nothing came out.

I was frozen. In my mind, the faces of the kids in front of me became millions, all laughing. I couldn’t inhale, I couldn’t breathe at all. My teacher stopped and asked me if I was all right. I managed to unstick my head enough to shake it and then I ran from the room.

Needless to say, I did not perform at the solo/ensemble contest. My teacher was so angry with me. I finished the school year, but then quit chorus and never joined again. I sang in the privacy of my bedroom, and then the privacy of my own house, and now, mostly in the privacy of my cars.

On this day, as I wailed happily along with Linkin Park, “Whoa, ohoh whoa, oh whoa!”, I was stopped at several traffic lights on the way home. I didn’t care – I wanted to get to the end of the song. At a stoplight, the final notes trailed off. And the man in the car next to me leaned out his window.

“I’ve been following you,” he said, and instantly looked guilty. “I wanted to hear you finish the song. You have a lovely voice.”

The convertible. Top down, no windows. I wanted to slide down to the brake and gas pedals. “Thank you,” I said.

“Really,” he said. “You’ve just made my day. What’s the name of the song?”

I told him the name and who did it. Then he turned right and I turned left. By the time I got home, I was beaming. In the safety of my garage, door closed, but my car’s top still down, I hit replay and sang all over again (don’t worry – I turned the engine off). At the top of my lungs. In my mind’s eye, in front of a crowd that wasn’t laughing at all.

Then, a few days later, a replay of sorts. The same CD was in the car, it was still warm, the top was down, Starbucks in the cupholder, the song was on, and I was singing. As I did, I glanced in my rearview mirror. Right behind me was a martian-green Kia Soul. Behind the wheel sat my oldest son, who waved at me.

Christopher is 35 now. Of my four kids, he is the first, and the only one who I had solo time with. We had 26 months together, before his first sibling, my son Andy, arrived. It was a lovely time.

When Christopher was five years old, he and I were going somewhere…I don’t remember where. By then, my son Andy was three and my daughter Katie was two, so it was rare I had just one child with me. But there was Christopher, in the back seat, and he was newly enthralled by music. This was 1989, but he was already showing a love and respect for older songs. His favorite was Red, Red Wine by UB40, to my mother’s horror. I had the radio on – no car with a CD player or even a tape player yet – and on came Phil Collin’s Another Day In Paradise. It was almost Thanksgiving, and Milwaukee local DJs Bob Reitman and Gene Mueller (94-WKTI!), put together a version with a voice-over by a woman from a local food pantry. It was so well done and so stirring, and without thinking, I began to sing along with it. When it was over, my son spoke up from the back seat.

“Mommy,” he said, “you sing really really good!”

I had that same sink-in-my-seat feeling then that I had with this man in the car who followed me through stoplights. But then the beaming came. And from that point on, I sang in the car, even with my kids in seatbelts beside me. They became my audience that didn’t laugh. Olivia and I now share a lot of the same taste in music, and we sing together.

But that day, that five-year old boy. The reverence and surprise in his voice. And now, there he was again, behind his own wheel, waving at me from his car, while I sang in mine.

I thanked the man at the stoplights all over again. For complimenting me on that day, and for bringing back that memory.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

(If you want to hear the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCnKl5VQ10s)

My son Christopher in his martian-green Kia Soul, in my rearview mirror.

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