Depression sank its teeth into me again late this afternoon. It’s like it steps out of the shadows, silently — creeps up quickly from behind me and, with its stiff and bony arm, encircles my waist without invitation or permission, sending icy chills all the way down my spine. Depression bogs me down for the rest of the day, or couple of days, with its weight and ceaseless negative chatter. I’ve never been able to figure out how to break free of it. There’s no sense in asking it to leave, because it’s a one-way conversation, where I can hear everything it says but it registers nothing I say. Some days, we carry on together for miles… at other times, for mere minutes.
It hit me up when I was standing inside of Whole Foods earlier this evening. I’d just purchased a fresh batch of rosemary sourdough bakery bread, a tub of guacamole, and a small container of pimento cheese dip. Charlie and I had enjoyed a quick dinner together, and then he’d scurried back off to work.
I wanted to bring some kind of dessert home with me — something I could munch on while reading one of two new library books — but as I was standing there by the 365 cereal and quarts of hemp milk, this heavy, familiar weight anchored me to the grocery store’s pristine and polished concrete floor. I felt tears welling up, so in addition to snagging a slice of cranberry orange cheesecake, I left the store with a bottle of sangria, barely making it to my car before the sobbing began.
After arriving home, I dried my eyes, tended to the dogs’ needs, and then my own. I showered, put on comfy pjs, and dragged my guitar from the dining room, up the stairs, into my room. I strummed through a few songs — new and old — and decided to share a brief clip of one on Instagram, thinking that admitting my grief on the internet would somehow alleviate a bit of its weight. Sometimes it works.
I left the cheesecake, untouched, in the fridge. Music helped me out tonight… maybe because music has been on my mind all day.
Many, many years ago, when I was maybe four years old, I was riding in the car with my parents and singing a little song to myself when my dad exclaimed (from the front seat): “ROSE! That sounds BEAUTIFUL! That girl has perfect pitch,” he added to my mother in a quieter tone.
I shut my mouth instantly. Humiliated by his compliment, I stopped singing for about a decade.
I didn’t lose my love for singing, though… ever. In fact, when my parents began leaving me home alone (around the age of 10), I’d watch from the window as their car pulled out of the driveway, following it, with my eyes, as far down the street as possible, and then I would check — at least two or three times — every single room and closet in the house. I had to be certain that no one had sneakingly stayed behind. After confirming that I was, indeed, entirely alone, I would sing quietly to myself. I loved it… LOVED singing. I just didn’t want anyone (dead or alive) to hear me.
To abbreviate the story slightly, eventually, my old best friend, Melissa, forced me to sing for her in Spring Hill, Florida late one afternoon as she and I were standing outside together, along the external perimeter of a gas station, waiting for my greyhound bus to arrive with its band of weirdos and carry me back to Birmingham.
Realizing that she was NOT going to relent, I begrudgingly sang a few lines of an old contemporary christian song I liked at the time, and her reaction embarrassed me about as much as my dad’s had ten years before: “Roseeeeeeeeeee! Your voice is SO PRETTY! Why on earth don’t you sing more?”
Slowly, I came out of my shell. Attending church at the time, I began humming along to the hymns everyone else in the congregation was singing, assuring myself that, among the crowd, no one would be able to make out the sound of my voice.
Around this time, I took up playing guitar; I’d seen two Malaysian boys playing their guitars in sabbath school one Saturday morning and decided that I absolutely HAD to have one.
“Okay,” my mom sighed on the way home from church. “I’ll get you a guitar, but that means no piano lessons. And you’ll have to teach yourself how to play the guitar,” she added.
After YEARS of wanting to play the piano, I had just recently been able to convince my parents to sign me up for lessons… I hadn’t even taken my first one yet.
I shook my head confidently from the backseat. “That’s totally fair! Forget piano. I want the guitar instead.”
Sierra shook her head grimly. “It’s going to be such a waste,” she muttered.
Ha… I’ll show her, I thought to myself.
And I did. I sure fucking did. It didn’t just take weeks, mind you — it took months of utter devotion to really learn how to play the guitar. First, you learn to identify the different parts of the instrument; the body, the head stock, the tuning pegs, the fret board… then, you learn how to play individual notes on individual strings. After familiarizing yourself with scales and struggling your way out of the buzzing-note stage (striking perfectly clear single notes for the first time is SO rewarding), you learn how to build chords, and what chord structures look like — how you can play different inversions of the chord to give it a fresh, subtly different sound and throw a capo on to transpose your music — and then, lastly, you discover how to string chords together with various rhythmic patterns.
After about 6 months of practice — of reading and writing in books and watching YouTube videos and developing callouses on my fingertips that were so strong I could no longer discern texture — it struck me one day that I might actually be able to play a whole song from start to finish. I tried doing so, and it was seamless. How freaking cool is that.
Meanwhile, my ex-best friend, Melissa, suddenly thought that she’d take up the guitar, too. She tried to play a song within her first week of owning her instrument, and I berated her for it. Don’t you dare adopt a sloppy, half-assed technique, I told her (in more christian-like words, of course). Put your time in like I did and you’ll hear the difference. You’ll actually BE ABLE to play. She didn’t really stick with it — it’s not for everyone.
So I was a guitar player. And when my church found out, they wanted me to play guitar.
Soon, playing guitar at church — which felt comfortable to me — turned into playing guitar and singing at church, and to this day, I still think that doing this was one of the greatest feats of my life. Public singing and cockroaches are my two greatest fears, and I conquered one of them through sheer strength of will.
I played Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” at a high school talent show once, strummed and sang songs for a Birmingham Art Collective event about a year later, and even recorded a dumb little EP down in Florida one summer. I transitioned from strictly playing covers to writing my own original songs and ended up with about 40 of them. It was a prolific time period, creativity-wise.
Then, I got married, and I basically forgot about music for a really long time.
After a few years of marriage, Chris and I decided to delve back into our mutually loved art. We started playing together; he’d come up with the chords, and I’d write lyrics and then layer melodies over the chords. We were a fantastic duo, except I’m really sensitive and he was a complete jackass in the studio.
After graduating community college, we formed a band called Woochega and had a BLAST playing around Birmingham; some of our favorite spots were Pale Eddie’s, Good People Brewing Co, and Bar 31, but we also did some kind of cool stuff, like play for an insurance company’s summer party and a motorcycle company’s annual meeting. We all had a really great time together.
But the drummer was booked, performing in our band as well as another, the bassist got a gig out in Cali, and our electric guitarist – who quickly moved to NC – was involved in multiple musical projects, so eventually, the band dissolved, and only Chris and I remained. We released a 10-track CD – titled Space and Sound – and then divorced each other a few months after.
Since then, I’ve played a few paid gigs solo, and many more open mics, but in the last six months, I’ve pretty much done nothing music-related. Songs and ideas for songs will float into my mind on occasion, and when they do, I sit down, work them out, and record them, but that’s been the extent of my involvement with music: intermittently recording and posting songs onto the internet so that people can “like” them without listening to them.
Why all this backstory?
I was reading an article yesterday — specifically, this one — and in it, the author posed a question that brought music back to the forefront of my mind. It was this:
What makes you forget to eat?
What a weird question, was my first thought.
Music, was the second.
I remember when Chris and I would settle down into the studio together — how four, six, nine hours would pass in the blink of an eye without either one of us giving a shit about breakfast, lunch, or dinner. When I started playing with Woochega, the same thing happened, only it was a little different; the anxiety I experienced from anticipating performing publicly in the evenings caused me to lose my appetite during the day, so I would go the entire day without eating and then munch on something light around 11 PM or so before going to bed that evening. I dropped 20 pounds the year we all played together.
So I was thinking about music yesterday, and about how – more than anything else – my love for and involvement with it can completely take my mind off of eating. Few things can do that. The only other thing I can think of, honestly, is being really, really sick.
Then, today, music resurfaced.
I was at work, and a coworker mentioned that she’d recently seen an artist named Julien Baker open for another musician.
“Julien reminded me of you, actually,” my coworker said. “She was very gentle and genuine… and I thought, while listening to her, ‘If Julien can open for this artist, Jace totally could!'”
I laughed and smiled. It was a huge compliment and, I’m happy to say, one that didn’t humiliate or even embarrass me. Progress.
Later on, as I was meeting with Charlie at Whole Foods, a team member (who I’ve never spoken with before) walked right up to me and said: “I’m looking for a musician…”
And although he was standing right in front of me and looking straight at me and I didn’t NEED to do this, I raised my arm and waved it enthusiastically, stunned. “Uhhhhh — me! I’d LOVE to play!”
“Awesome… are you available on June 16th?” he asked, whipping out his phone. “It’s an 1130-1 gig, outside on the patio.”
“That’s a Saturday or Sunday, right?” I asked, struggling to pinpoint the day in my mind.
He consulted his phone. “Nope — it’s a Friday.”
My heart sank. I pulled out my calendar and, although it looked like I wouldn’t have any classes scheduled at work, it was still possible that I’d have important meetings that couldn’t be easily rescheduled.
“Can I… get your email?” I stuttered. “I’ll check my calendar at work tomorrow and then let you know whether or not I’m available.”
In one breath, I was elated that music had so rapidly and aggressively reasserted its presence in my life (#universe) — but in the next breath, I was also sad. Inexplicably sad.
So, when I got home, I pulled my guitar out of its case and spent some time with it. It’s taken the edge off of my gloom, but the irrational, immovable heaviness is still there. I cried my eyes out on the drive home and asked myself, why?
You love your job, your boyfriend, your dogs, your home… you get to go to the BEST coffee shops and ride your bike EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND… so why are you so sad?
In consideration of this question, four people seated themselves at a conference room table.
Person 1: “She still misses Melissa. Obviously.”
Person 2: “Ugh — no she doesn’t! Missing Mel was so last year.”
Person 3: “Person 2 is right — it took her six years to process and heal from their separation, but she is over Melissa,” they asserted confidently.
Person 4 (awkwardly): “What about Chris?”
Person 3: “No, not anymore,” they whispered in reply. “She realized — today, actually — that she has been mourning something that she thought she lost…”
Person 2: “Yep, I agree. She thought they were best friends. That’s what she missed. But when they stopped having sex, he stopped giving a shit about her, so clearly…” her voice trailed off.
Person 1: “Okay… maybe it’s Bruster, then?”
Person 3 (nodding): “It’s possible. Still fresh, that wound.”
Person 2: “What about her brother?”
They all nodded.
Person 4: “Well… should we be worried? Is she going to do something?”
Person 3 (sighing): “There’s always a chance she might do something. But I think that, for as long as she has people she loves who love her back in her life, she’s going to stick around.”
The room fell quiet.
Aun Aqui (on SoundCloud)