The other day, I was putting together my most recent jigsaw puzzle, listening to whatever Siri will play on the HomePod. For some reason, Siri won’t play specific albums or artists right now. Instead, I get a hodge-podged shuffle of my entire, very eclectic music library. One minute, I’m listening to opera or classic English hymns. The next minute, I hear Led Zeppelin or Rhonda Vincent. I have extremely BROAD musical tastes, and you’ll find a sample of just about everything on my iPod.
A lot of the music I have is classic stuff I grew up with, but I also have a lot of other stuff I download on a whim. Quite a lot of my downloads are what I refer to as “drunken downloads”… meaning I’m a bit lit when I decide to make a purchase. Consequently, I have a LOT of music from obscure artists. I’ll hear something I like and impulse buy. Such was the case on the day I discovered singer-songwriter Dar Williams. Fortunately, Bill doesn’t mind that I do this. In fact, he often appreciates my drunken downloads.
I don’t remember what day it was that I first heard her warm, comforting vocals. What I do remember was that she was singing with Alison Krauss, another singer I admire. I downloaded the song and it would occasionally come up on my shuffle. I’d think about how beautiful the melody was and how she and Alison were blending together.
Then one day, I got lit and downloaded another one of her albums, 2010’s Many Great Companions. I don’t remember why I downloaded it, and in fact, I don’t think I’ve even heard the whole thing. But there I was, a couple of days ago, listening to my HomePod and furiously finishing the 1000 piece puzzle I’d been working on for a couple of months (I had quit working on it for a few weeks). Dar Williams came on Siri, and I heard the incredibly moving song “When I Was a Boy” for the first time. It made me stop in my tracks.
This song’s lyrics are incredibly profound to me. I went on YouTube to find a video so I could share it with friends. I noticed a lot of transgendered people had left comments on this video. The song really spoke to them, too, probably in ways I can never fathom. Of course, I am not transgendered myself, but I still really related to this. I was a tomboy as a kid, but later became more girly. I have never wanted to accept strict gender roles, though. I wasn’t one to fall into a specific role simply because I’m a woman, and I don’t necessarily expect that of other people, either.
Two or three days passed. My post got maybe two likes, both by people who like everything regardless. I was delighted this morning to find a comment from Lisa, a wonderful musician friend, who was once my accompanist when I was studying voice and is now herself a piano professor at the university that granted me my bachelor’s degree. She posted that she loves this song, too. It’s funny, because back in the early 90s, we didn’t know each other that well. I always suspected that back in those days, she thought I was obnoxious and weird. Her husband is also a music professor. He plays saxophone brilliantly and taught me sight singing. They are very cool, talented people, but when I saw them on a daily basis, I didn’t get to know them that well. Now that we’re on Facebook, she and I have discovered that we love a lot of the same music. Sometimes, it’s uncanny how close our tastes run.
Anyway, I got so excited that someone else liked Dar Williams that I shared Dar’s video with Bill. By the time the song was over, we were both in tears, profoundly moved by the lyrics, the music, and Dar’s voice. It struck me as pretty awesome that I could sit there at the breakfast table with my husband, play him some music, and share the emotions that came from hearing it. There was something really special about relating to that song with Bill– a sense of solidarity, closeness, and mutual understanding.
There we were, discussing how complex and incredible “When I Was a Boy” is… and sharing tears because we were both so moved by it. It occurred to me how lucky I am on so many levels… to be able to share this with Bill and talk about this and anything else with him over breakfast that he made for me. And that I have so many incredible, wonderful, talented friends who share this joy with me too, even if I was weird and obnoxious… and still am. I often have a bad attitude about things. I get depressed and hopeless, and feel like I haven’t amounted to much… or I write about how some jackass was mean to me because he thinks I’m fat and ugly and my only redeeming quality is a pretty singing voice. But then I have experiences like the one Bill and I shared today, and I realize how fortunate I am.
I am so grateful I married a guy who is in touch with his feminine side and can relate to Dar Williams’ poignant lyrics about how she was “a boy” as a little girl who liked climbing trees, getting in fights, and running around topless. And how, at some point, gender roles are forced upon us. Suddenly, Dar wasn’t tough enough to walk home alone and needed help from a “nice man”, even though she’d cut her teeth on playing with boys and knew how to fight.
Conversely, Bill talked about how men are always expected to be “on”. They aren’t allowed to cry or be emotional, and how so many people think men can’t be abused simply because they are men. They are expected to fix things and solve problems, with no tears and a minimum of fuss. We’ve talked about all of this before, too. The truth is, I have a lot of “male” qualities… it mostly comes out in my language and humor. I’m probably “tougher” in some ways than Bill is, despite his Army officer history. Bill, by contrast, is more of a soft touch. He’s kind, loving, and nurturing in ways I’m not, despite my bleeding heart social work/public health/writer/musician history. I used to cry a lot more than I do now. I can’t do that anymore, for some reason. Bill, on the other hand, can cry with ease.
Life is so strange. I met Bill in a place where one is very unlikely to find a life partner. I certainly never thought I’d meet him offline, and if you’d have asked me if I would have married him back in 1999, I would have laughed incredulously. In fact, the first time he asked to meet me, I was very reluctant and scared. But then it turned out he was this wonderful guy… a wonderful, intelligent, kind, sensitive, ethical guy, who would never hesitate to support me. I thought about the type of men I was exposed to growing up. A lot of them were perfectly decent people, but they would not care about a song like “When I Was a Boy”. They wouldn’t want to discuss current events with me. And they would expect ME to cook the grits. Some of them would not appreciate my greying hair or ample figure. They wouldn’t care about my writing or my music. And they sure as HELL would not cry over a song with me, especially one about gender roles.
I remember when Bill and I were dating. My sisters warned me about marrying a military guy. More than I had, they experienced the military lifestyle as kids. They knew it meant moving a lot, and putting up with some of the obnoxious sexism that can run rampant in military communities. They figured Bill, as an Army officer from Arkansas/Texas/Tennessee (he moved more than I did, and he wasn’t a military brat), would be a “knuckle dragger”. I was warned that I shouldn’t consider marrying Bill because, I guess, they figured I couldn’t choose my own spouse. I am, after all, the youngest of four. It’s true that a lot of their fears about the military lifestyle came to pass.
My planned career, that I worked so hard to train for and spent so much time and money on, went down the toilet. I have also seen a lot of people who fit the description of military guys that they knew, and if I had married one of them, I would probably be divorced today. And marrying a divorced guy with kids, particularly one whose ex wife is as batshit crazy as Bill’s ex is, is certainly a risky endeavor. But looking back on all the years that have so quickly passed, I realize that I could not have custom ordered a better partner for myself. I did just fine in choosing Bill, and I am so very grateful I took the plunge and met him offline… and married him despite all of the well-meaning advice to the contrary that I shouldn’t.
So… I love that man, and I love that we can share Dar Williams, and the emotional tears that came from her incredibly poignant music. I don’t know how it is that I got so lucky finding Bill in a chat room back in 1999. But I’m so glad I did… and I’m so grateful to friends like Lisa, who share a love for the same music, too. I’m also grateful that I went to Longwood University, which was not my first choice school. It was there that I was encouraged to study music, and there that I met Lisa and her husband… and twenty-six years later, I’m still remembered. That is amazing! I must be doing something right.