Remembering to Sing

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Recently, I wrote an article about what to leave in and what to leave out when writing a memoir, and it made me think of this story from my life:

When my (first) husband decided he wanted a divorce, it was the end of November, just after Thanksgiving. The cold, darker days marched steadily on in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I was living at the time. I had a plan to be gone for Christmas in my hometown in Ohio, but there were plenty of days that preceded that trip, days when I was still stuck in our shared condo, still living under the same roof with the soon-to-be-ex-husband, days when I dreaded going home after my workday ended. 

At that time in my life, I had two co-workers who were also my friends: Stef and Kim. The three of us had spent a lot of time together—traveling to the mountains, watching Felicity every week (one or both of them rooted for Ben while I cheered on Noel, the safer, more practical choice), eating out, and one night, dancing at a college club, and another night (or was it that same night?), purchasing a CD of the best of the Backstreet Boys and playing it in the car as loudly as we could and singing right along. I’d never been a boy band fan before, but in that time in my life, I was becoming one. The ballads allowed me to belt out my grief and to dare to hope. To this day, any Backstreet Boys song reminds me of that time, and especially of that night, and my two friends.

It's hard to believe, but our trio—Stef, Kim and I—never dealt with any of the jealousies that often come when three people are great friends. It never felt like any two of us were closer than with the other, and we somehow achieved, without any effort, a balance and security that satisfied us all. 

And so it was that on one of these evenings of that time in my life that felt like purgatory teetering towards hell, when the last thing I wanted was to be in that condo, Stef and Kim decided to take me out. I’m sure it was a weekend night, when they might have been going out with their romantic interests but instead chose to go out with me. They drove me to the ice skating rink in Raleigh. I’m also sure I was the one, and probably the only one, who really wanted to go, but good friends make exceptions when it really matters.

Stef was the one who provided comic relief while Kim was the one who provided steadiness. We skated round and round that rink until I forgot, for a few moments and then a few minutes and then more, that I was grieving. The DJ played the crowd’s favorite pop songs, taking requests. We skated round and round. Then, after one song ended, the DJ announced over the loudspeaker, “This one goes out to Julie,” and on came N Sync’s “This I Promise You," which was the song I was listening to at the time, wanting to believe that someone might love me again, this time for a lifetime. I looked at Stef and Kim, and asked if I was “Julie.” Yes, they said, the DJ had gotten my name wrong, but the song was in fact for me.

I can’t remember now if I laughed or cried or both. I do remember skating to my song, and singing to it. And I remember feeling something I still feel to this day when I think back to that night: gratitude for these two people who rescued me for an evening, who would continue to rescue me over the days and weeks yet to come, who showed me a kind of love that has lasted to this day.

Kim and Stef didn’t make it into the memoir but not because they did not matter—I want that to be clear—and not because there was anything controversial about them. On the contrary: there was no conflict whatsoever. They didn’t make it in because I just didn’t happen to tell all of the stories about my life. But I am telling this one now. There are so many others—of my parents and sister, of other friends near and far who held up lights when I groveled in the dark. But it was Stef and Kim who found ways to ensure that I got out of the condo, that I remembered how to laugh, that I did not forget to sing.