Parked on the side of a four lane street in West Springfield, MA across from a row of moderately kept apartment buildings, our station wagon tries to occupy the time of a young boy no more than five and two young girls approximately seven and three. The two girls play around in the third row rear seat, while I, as a young boy, sat in the middle. The seats felt like plastic against my skin which made moving around on them in the summer time occasionally painful as they would pull at the skin on the back of my thighs as I slid from the drivers to the passenger side window. My mother sat in the front bench seat on the passengers side shuffling though the radio which at the time had a dial and a little line that would glide from side to side as you searched out your mood. As a child I liked to spin the dial as fast as I could from one side to the other then back, imagining it like a video game where this line (which oddly enough could have resembled video games back then) would have to dart around its pursuers in order to escape. Sadly, this could keep me occupied for hours, disappointingly I also ruined a few stereos playing my game.
As my mother shuffled through the stations she struggled to find one that she liked and that would actually come in clearly. Not being much of a “Classic Rock” fan, which at the time was just called “Rock”, she settled in on a station playing just that. I listened quietly to music in the background as I stared at the people walking up and down the street. I could not tell you what was playing for those few moments but the string of the next few minutes seemed to have been set up like a movie. The only difference being, in the movies most of this would have been done post production whereas this seemed to sync along with these few moments of my life at exactly the right time. The people walking from right to left and left to right in the young mind of a child were going no where. There was no path they were taking and they had no destination. They were just walking into my vision then out of my vision. This is the selfishness of a child’s mind, there is no outside world until that world is placed directly in theirs. Still though I watched, for what seemed like hours but, as I am not sure I could tell time all that well then, it could have been minutes. As I looked around the car I noticed the driver was missing.
“Where did Dad go?”
As she turned to look at me the sound of a guitar and a lightly tapped cow bell slowly grew in volume from the dialed in stereo.
“He went to pay his respects to a co-worker,” she replied.
Christine McVie’s Keyboard starts in.
“Why?” I asked.
The hi-hat starts tapping rhythmically.
“Her father passed away,” her nonchalant response rang out as Ms. Nicks started softly with,
“Rock on Gold dust woman,
Take your Silver Spoon,
Dig your Grave.”
Her voice was almost haunting as the word “grave” was emphasized at the end of the few lines I had heard so far. Slowly I slid back over the plastic seats to the passenger side window to stare out some more. There was a two story white building with a balcony on the second floor, the balcony had a low walls that were filled in with shingles which were also painted white. On the railing sat a woman, I cannot remember what she looked like, such as if she was blonde or brunette, but I remember her sitting with one leg on the low wall of the balcony, bent at the knee slightly, as she smoked her cigarette.
“Lousy lovers pick their prey,
But they never Cry out loud,
Stevie Nicks voice when singing “Cry out” sounded to me like she was actually crying out. These were such painful lyrics being heard while so young and naive about the entirety of life and the feelings of death or loss but I connected the sound of her voice with this woman sitting on the balcony smoking her cigarette. She looked sad to a five year-old child, which at the time, maybe I associated all smokers as being sad. If I were to be honest about it, this exact moment could be the reason when I started to get depressed at an early age I found cigarettes to be comforting (or I was just a rebellious punk who wanted to be like his idols. I choose to believe I was deeper than that). The woman who sat along the half wall, smoking her cigarette, head down, for what ever reason, became the woman who lost her father at that moment in the mind of a child. She fit the characteristics in my head. She went along with the song so perfectly that it just became the truth. This random woman made such an impact on child that thirty-three years later he can still picture her sitting there looking so sad, smoking a cigarette, from inside an old station wagon, while the seats tore the skin from his thighs, and Stevie Nicks now harmonizing with the band sang,
“Did she make you cry,
make you break down,
Shatter your illusions of love.
And is it over now do you know how,
Pick up the pieces and go home.”
The weight of the combination of events of that moment was really starting to upset me. I didn’t want that woman’s father to be dead, I didn’t want her to be sad, she shouldn’t smoke because it is bad for you, and what if she falls off the second story balcony? These thoughts and the song, in combination with my father not actually being in the car, drove an anxiety into my body, a feeling a five year-old shouldn’t have. This may be the first time I really thought “I really need to get the fuck out of here!” I needed to escape the tornado that seemingly swirled a perfect storm of emotion for a young child. My father wasn’t in the car, is this what it would be like if he was dead? Would I sit on a balcony sadly inhaling cigarette after cigarette? Would we never drive anywhere anymore because my mother only ever sat in the passenger seat? How would we get groceries? Aaaahhh, the mind, what a lovely thing to do to a child.
I remember thinking I wanted to just, “pick up the pieces and go home” like the woman on the radio sang. I could not stop staring, the dramatic scene that had developed in my head enthralled me to no end. The woman, the cigarette, and then it hit me as I looked down for a brief moment, all of these people walking from right to left and left to right through my window. Why aren’t these people consoling her? Her father just died. They just went on their way without even looking up. Don’t they know? Can’t they hear the music and how sad the woman sounds? My mind could not comprehend why there were so many people that just didn’t seem to care (where is my father)? They just have to look up (why isn’t he back yet)? I wanted to scream at them from across the four lane road, shake them, anything to let them see this poor woman is hurting inside and they don’t seem to care (is he going to come back?). I must have looked like one of those panicked Garfield toys suctioned to the inside of the window hands pressed to either side of my face and mouth agape desperately trying to get someone to give that woman a hug.
As what became the final chorus started to play the woman in the front seat reached over and changed the station,
“Wait, don’t change that!” I cried out to her desperately.
The tone and emotion in my voice seemed to have startled her but her response of “I just can’t listen to it anymore” meant that I would not hear if the woman singing ever became happy. I wouldn’t know how this story ended. I sighed and turned back to the window to see the sad woman on the balcony pushing her cigarette butt into the ashtray, then slowly get up and walk inside the balcony door. She never smiled and never looked up. Was she going to get to be happy? Was I ever going to know or would this just haunt me forever. Loss at this moment in my life meant that you would be sad forever, that there was no ending in sight to the depressive feelings that would riddle your brain because this one woman never looked up. Disney always had happy endings, why didn’t this? The door to the drivers side opened up with a slow creek the way the older doors used too and my father sat down. He didn’t seem upset or worried he just whispered something to my mother that I couldn’t hear, then put the car in drive and off we went. I remember nothing else of that day.
As I grew older I recognize that this was probably not even the woman whose father just past away. Logically thinking about it, why would we park across a four lane road and facing the oncoming traffic so my father could play frogger across those four lanes just to say “sorry for your loss”? They make sympathy cards to avoid such situations. For that moment though, she was just that, sad and suffering from loss. That moment, which she (the balcony woman) never knew she was a part of, remains etched in the mind of someone to this day. Stevie Nicks’ voice whenever I have heard it over the past 33 years brings me back to that moment. That vivid moment where over the course of an almost 6 minute song, she sang the soundtrack to an event that will never leave me. Stevie Nicks was my first soundtrack to loss. Not a bad way to start.