Saturday, June 24, 2006

Def Leppard is my emotional armor

I don’t know what it is, but over the past year I have submersed myself into the world of cheesy 1980’s rock music. It all started when we were at our favorite ice cream place, which keeps their XM station tuned to the 80’s channel and Def Leppard was cranking out while we stuffed our faces with mocha almond fudge. There’s just something about that song that takes me back to the days when “Pour Some Sugar on Me” first came out –I would crank that song up on the little Panasonic stereo in my bedroom at my parents’ house until my dad would come knocking on the door.

We had just moved back to my parents’ hometown, a place they hadn’t lived since 1961 when they built a two-story brick house on part of my grandfather’s farm and then were promptly transferred to Germany for the next two or three years. They finally settled in New Jersey, where I was born and lived until I was 17 years old. We lived in the same house, in the same neighborhood, with the same friends and neighbors for 17 years.

In 1986, my world came apart. My dad’s health began to deteriorate and the decision was made that he needed to retire. My parents worried that they couldn’t afford to keep our house with their retirement pay without reducing our lifestyle to the point of surviving on cat food and government cheese. The for sale sign went up in the yard and I prepared myself to move to a place that I’d only visited a handful of times in my entire life while leaving everything that I’d ever known behind.

The worst part was leaving all of my friends and my church and school. They were such integral parts of my life that I couldn’t figure out how I was going to cope without my support system. And one of the things I was going to miss the most was my music – I was a classically trained pianist and violinist and was extremely active in several orchestras and bands, sang in the church and school choirs, had the second lead in the school musical the year before we moved…it was a huge part of my life that I knew wasn’t going to be able to be duplicated when we moved.

We left New Jersey at the end of June. My boyfriend Rob, who was a student at UVA, volunteered to drive me down a few days after my parents left with the moving van – so I had a few blissful days with my high school friends. At the end of the week he and I got into his rickety old Volvo and started the long trip to my new home.

It was a great summer. My savior during this time was my cousin Laura, who lived right across the road from us and was going to be going to the same high school. My parents were moving back into their house they’d built back in 1961 (and rented out the entire time) but it needed extensive renovations so they crashed at my aunt’s house while I crashed at Laura’s for the summer. We had long, lazy days of sunbathing, drinking her mother’s sweetened iced tea, and lunches of Jif peanut butter with grape jelly on soft white Merita bread. That is still one of my most absolutely favorite lunches of all time, right up there with a bologna sandwich with Duke’s mayonnaise. At nighttime, we would load up in Laura’s VW Beetle and cruise the town, cranking up the music and trading sly looks with the boys as they drove by. The days were long and lazy and the sultry night air was thick with the promise of things to come.

When summer came to an end, I had already met a lot of the people that I would spend my senior year with at school, and with Laura by my side we burst through the doors of the high school as two girls who had big plans. Rob and I had long broken up, and I discovered how different Southern boys are. It’s kind of hard to explain, but in my high school in New Jersey I had been known as one of the nerdy kids who got good grades and played in the band and orchestra. In my new high school, I was magically transformed into The Hot Girl just by the factor of what I call “The Jersey Mystique”…the small-town boys were totally convinced that just because I came from New Jersey, that must mean that I would “do it”. And boy, were they wrong…but I never inferred otherwise for fear of losing that edge.

And that year was when I finally had a chance to be a kid. Gone were the days of dance lessons, 45 minute drives to orchestra practice, and all of the other things that had consumed my first three years of high school. They were replaced by football games, afternoons hanging out at Chick Fil A, going with my boyfriend Ron to all of his band’s gigs, and sleepovers at Laura’s house. I still went to church and usually would do double-duty on Sundays – playing piano for one of the small local parishes, and then driving like a crazy woman to make the services at my regular church so that I could sing in the choir.

And there was music. A lot of my time was spent hanging out with Ron and his band, who did cover songs and I learned about groups I’d never heard of before but were definite Southern Rock staples like Bad Company and .38 Special and Lynryd Skynrd. And while my Jersey friends were still worshipping at the Altar of Springsteen, I was captivated by the Cult of Whitesnake. I wanted nothing more than to have a white Jaguar and a black Jaguar in my driveway and hair like Tawny Kitaen.

The following year, I went away to college and left my newfound life just to start all over again. And it seemed just so unfair to give everything up.

After that night at the ice cream parlor, I went to Target and found the Def Leppard greatest hits CD and quickly snapped it up. It’s been a staple in my car ever since right along with Winger and Bad Company. And I can’t quite put my finger on it, but when I am driving in my car with the sunroof open and “Photograph” is playing, I’m almost magically transported back into my red Mustang with the windows down, the music cranking, and driving down the main drag in town into the hot and sticky night with my heart full of hope. Back to a time before responsibilities and stress, when figuring out what shirt I was going to wear that day was my greatest problem.

That year changed my life forever - I discovered that I could do anything and survive anything, and that’s the best feeling in the world. And sometimes, a little “Photograph” or “Foolin” reminds me that I can still do it even when I'm wracked by doubt.

Now, if I could just get those Jaguars in my driveway and still be able to do a split, I'd finally have the last piece of the puzzle.


Woozy Woo said...

Oooh I bet you had good Jersey Girl hair, too.

I moved in 9th grade (1986) from NJ to PA and had the same experience-- I was EXOTIC, but my group was Bon Jovi....

Tree said...

LMAO. I have to admit, there *is* something. I think it's the rememberance of a time with few responsibilities. Ah...