A few nights ago I saw the Indigo Girls for the first time.
No, I’m not kidding.
Yes, I spent half of highschool singing their songs on any stage that would have me.
Yes, I spent most of my twenties’ free time and money as a concert-goer.
Yes, I even met my husband at a show.
I can’t really explain how I missed Amy Ray and Emily. They were honestly the soundtrack of my young adulthood.
In fact, when their first album came out, my summer job was at the deli counter of the one and only tiny market in my town, aptly named “the Coop.” My sister and I were two of the staff who regularly ran like chickens with our heads off.
I played Closer to Fine over and over on a loop. In June my boss asked to borrow the tape and by the end of July he had banned it. Undeterred, I listened on my yellow Sony sports Walkman until the tape warbled.
When my husband asked me if I wanted to go to one of my favorite outdoor venues to see Brandi Carlile on Thursday, I didn’t have to stop and think. Yes, I know, you love Brandi too, but you have to understand, Mike and I stumbled into a coffee shop/bar seventeen years ago hoping to get a beer and hear a song or two and instead found Brandi and the twins. They took the stage sitting on barstools and playing borrowed instruments (theirs had been stolen)and sang her first album in the tightest three part harmony start to finish. When she gave us an encore of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and I cried. We bought a dozen of her CD’s handed them out to friends and have felt secretly possessive of her ever since.
Mike and I are not 26 anymore. We got in the car late, with the kids still texting about ice cream and movies. We followed the wrong line into the parking and added twenty minutes of irritation. I didn’t think to ask if there was a headliner.
But the minute I opened the car door, I heard them. The Indigo girls have a sound I’d recognize underwater with earplugs in. Mike walked quickly. We had always been early to a show kind of people, but concerts are few and far between these days because of COVID and because of all of the everything of being 48. We found our seats as Emily gave decent band banter and I wondered outloud how I felt about getting them, for the first time, on their back nine.
And then it happened.
That percussion at the start of Galileo. You know what I mean. It’s iconic.
And then suddenly I wasn’t standing next to my husband anymore.
I was in my mother’s kitchen. With my older sister and my best friend. We’d just somehow been conned into manning the oven at a cocktail party, and we didn’t hate it. My mother’s minature food game was strong. Sweet and sour meatballs, teriyaki chicken wings, Boursin cheese puffs. About half of every hot tray made it out of the kitchen.
We closed the kitchen door and blasted the Indigo Girls. Sweating, and singing, pretending to be irritated, but actually delighted–its amoment lives in my memory as one of the normal, happy, innocuous times when everything was perfect.
My father was still so very much alive with his shirt collar up and the arms of his sweater folded across his neck. He was liberally doused in his signature polo cologne.
My mother played both back of the house and the front. In rarely seen make-up and a flowy caftan dress, she wore Mexican silver bracelets and a big loopy necklace that looked vaguely like an fancy slinky. Like an over the top role in a play, she gave herself to the act–the outfit, the air kisses. She hated the parties, but she knew the value of sometimes meeting expectations.
I remember she came into the kitchen near screaming at the arrival of someone she hadn’t invited. “The nerve of her,” my mother exclaimed delightedly, waving her cigarette at us just long enough to make a point, but not quite long enough that we understood it. I always thought it curious that in a town as tiny as ours, anyone actually thought they had the power to exclude anyone.
As the number of guests and drinks increased, more and more people somehow mistook the kitchen’s swinging door for the bathroom.
Or so they said.
Perhaps the sounds of teenage girls singing and giggling was more irresistible than the party itself. We three had set ourselves aside, and our verison of the evening was certainly more memorable. I can recall every detail. What I wore, what it smelled like, the heat of the kitchen. And of course, the music.
Back in the cool evening of the DC concert, Mike and I stood at our seats (bygone are the day of lawn seats and picnic blankets? My knees and hips are not completely sure) and the Indigo Girls pulled me through time so fast and furious, I had to hold on to the molded plastic chair in front of me to steady myself. It bordered on physically painful.
Like solidly walking into a sliding glass door you felt sure was open.
I miss them.
I yearn for them.
My parents, of course. So much them. What I would not give…
But also the ample hours with my sister, and my best friend. Of course I took it all for granted. How did I not stop for one second to consider those moments precious, and not unlimited? Well, I was sixteen and that may be the true gift of grief.
Also, I miss myself.
What it felt like to live in the before world.
When we still lived in that house
And my parents weren’t dead
And Amy and Emily could still hold the long notes in perfect harmony.
Meghan Riordan Jarvis, MA, LCSW is a psychotherapist specializing in trauma and grief and loss who works in private practice in Washington, DC. After experiencing PTSD after the deaths of both of her parents within two years of each other, Meghan started the platform “Grief is My Side Hustle” which includes her popular blog, links to her podcast under the same name, and her free writing workshop “grief mates.” Meghan’s memoir “The End of The Hour” publishes with Zibby Books in 2024