5.23.2007

Better call DCS.

Sometimes you just need some room to breathe. A little time to soak up just how incredibly lame you have become. And how little you care about that anymore. Because you have become older, boring, and comfortable in your mediocrity. Last night (update – now approximately 5 very long ago nights for me) was that night for me. I ate pasta and fruit salad. Drank diet cranberry ginger ale. Rented five “chick movies” – Music & Lyrics, The Queen, The Breakup, The Family Stone, and some movie with SJP and Mathew McHottieHay (right now, I’m just too lazy to get off the couch to see the name. Update again – Failure to Launch) So far, I have watched Music & Lyrics, and I am in the early stages of The Breakup (Update for the third time – saw all five, many tears have been cried and much chocolate has been eaten).

Music & Lyrics reminded me a totally awkward and now hilarious story from my childhood. I will now tell you about it. Because I am in a little storytelling mood. And because I have had one glass of wine. Or maybe two. Okay, ten. Now listen. Nothing has been exaggerated, and every fact has been verified to the very last excruciating detail.

In the fourth grade, our music class was asked to write country songs for some of Nashville’s aspiring country artists. The artists would peruse our works, pick the best ones, and perform them for our class. I took the assignment very seriously…what can I say, I was a competitive little brat. (Was? The Knight asks. She still is!) Anyway, I sat down, with my Eastman clad feet tucked under me, pulled out my Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper, put on my giant navy and black tortiose shell glasses, and deeply pondered what I should write about. All the country music I had ever listened to had a sad, sad story. With a type of reckoning at the end. Something that really makes you sympathize with the star of the songs, pity their fate, and then rejoice when they get their revenge.

Somehow, I came up with this story about a little girl who had an alcoholic father who beat her. At the end of the song, she dies and her father is sent to prison. It was a very melodramatic, emotional, 4th grade-deepish type song. As I was writing it, I was that girl. I wanted to feel what she felt, be her … every inch of her. To me, it was the most adult sounding topic I could think of. Looking back, I realize that out of all the topics out there, I happened to chose one of the most depressing topics. Even then, I was a complete moody nerd who spent so much time reading gloomy English literature, it carried over to my country music writing.

I carefully wrote down the words in my very best cursive and turned my masterpiece in to my teacher. I didn’t think about the song again until about a month later when my class went on a field trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum. After a tour of the museum, our class settled in a little studio room and waited patiently for our speaker to arrive. In walks a rangy, denim-clad, Jon Heder-esque man with a guitar and a stool. He bends over, placing the stool and the guitar on the floor, straightens up, and then turns to solemnly face our young, hopeful faces. He starts by saying something like this:

“Ever since I really committed myself to becoming a real artist, a real singer, I have sought out songs that were sung from the heart. I think that songs that draw from a person’s own life experiences are the most “real” and seem to get the most people to relate to them.

The song I picked today really spoke to me. I think it is obvious that the person who wrote this song wrote from her own life experience. I have to say that it must have taken a lot of guts to put down on paper what you go through, what you live with… everyday.”

At this point, we are all looking around, wondering who in the world could have written such a heartfelt song. AND more importantly, whose life is so bad? And what is their problem? We could barely contain our curiosity.

So he starts singing and strumming his guitar. With his eyes closed. And uttering every word with lots of meaning and sorrow. And I notice that his words sound vaguely familiar. As if… as if I might have written them. Oh dear Lord… I did write those words. People are going to think that my dad beats me. And that he is an alcoholic. What have I done? (I think, that at this point, I was repeating all seven cusswords that I knew in the fourth grade over and over in my head. I know that I knew seven cusswords around that age because several years later I discovered a diary entry which was primly entitled “A List Of All The Cuss Words That I Know” and in list format, I numbered seven of them.)

During the rest of the song, I experienced alternating waves of terror, embarrassment, and nausea. At one point, I really tried to stop him and calmly explain that I read a lot, and just made up a good story. But I could not, and he kept on singing. Killing me softly with his song. Killing me f'***ing softly. (number 5 on the list, by the way).

After he was done, he looked back at us. With a sorrowful face, he said “Is (insert my name) here? If so, will you please come on up here?” Everyone looks at me. 39 sets of immature, preteen, and slightly judgmental eyes follow me as I rise from my seat, and slowly do the walk of shame to the front of the room.

I finally make it to the front of the room, and he just kind of looks me over, possibly for bruises, now that I think of it. Then in a slightly patronizing and friendly voice only used for charity kid cases, he says “Sweetie, you wrote a beautiful song. Just so you know, if you ever need any help with your dad, your teacher and I can help you find the right people to talk to. Please don’t feel like anything he does to you is your fault. He is a bad man, and we can get you out of this situation.”

At this point, I am literally dying. First of all, several people in our class went to my church (where my dad was a preacher). Second, ALL of my best friends were in my homeroom music class with me. Third, the boy that I thought I was going to marry one day (he was not aware of this) was also in class with me. All of them were there. Watching as this insensitive man tried his very best to “help” me.

Now, note, that during all of this, I am pretty much speechless. Which was both rare and unfortunate. Because I think he took my silence to equal quiet relief and thanks. Finally, after several long awkward pauses (remember, I am still in front of my class at this point), I manage to sputter out in all my fourth grade eloquence “uh, it was just a song. It’s not true, not any of it.”

Of course, the saintly singer (seriously, since when did he start being a social worker?) patronizingly pats my head and says something “okay, darling, whatever you say” while passing a knowing smile to the teacher.

To make a long story short, it took a lot of “splaining” to both my teacher (“No, Ms. T., you know that my dad does not beat me. It was just a song. I swear. Have you ever seen any mysterious bruises on me? No, those on my shins are from soccer. Yes, I will tell my mother to get better shinguards. No, my dad has not been kicking me in the shins.”) and to my parents, who were apparently called by my teacher (No, Dad, I did not tell the teacher that you hit me. No, I did not tell her that you are an alcoholic. Yes, I am aware that you do not drink at all. No, it was not so that you would give me more allowance. But yes, since you offered, I would be happy to have a raise in my allowance. Oh…. You did not offer. Okay. But, really you should consider it. He did pick my song, after all. Okay, still no. Got it.”).

Thankfully, between conferences with parents and my English teacher (who had considerable record of my vivid imagination) my music teacher was finally convinced that my father was not beating me, and that I had not written the song from personal experience.

However, my classmates were not so easily convinced. Over the next few day, I constantly felt like people were examining every inch of my exposed skin. Looking for some sign of a recent beating, I suppose. My friends approached me timidly, some offering hugs, others uncomfortably shifting their weight at they tried to offer me some sort of oral support. Finally, it goes without saying that some kids were just downright mean. One bratty kid who kind of already tormented me had the audacity at one point to tell me that whatever my dad did to me, I deserved it. I mean seriously? Who says that? Bratty, soulless, grotesque kids. That’s who.

Anyway, my dad, but more often my mother, got a lot of calls from concerned parishioners and parents. I’m pretty sure that my parents were able to smooth things over with everyone who called, but every time I learned of another call, I felt overwhelmed with guilt. What had I done? How had my one attempt at song-writing caused so much trouble and misunderstanding?

Anyway, that is the story. Over time, everyone finally believed me that I was not being abused at home, and my parents found other, more constructive ways, for me to practice my creative writing. I am better for the experience, I suppose, and now it makes for a good laugh. Ha.

Artsy Fartsy is listening to Christmas music and deciding that she does hope it's a good one, without any fear.

2 comments:

jen said...

so, so funny! i actually had that same field trip in elementary school! unfortunately, my song was not picked...

miss you, erika. come to nashville soon.

laura said...

I've never laughed so hard at child abuse in my life!

P.S... I hope this idiot man that actually thought calling you out in front of the class would help your "plight" never made it to stardom.

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