Will and I had only been dating a short while when he bought me a car stereo. I was so excited I had to run inside his folks' house and puke in their toilet. Will was still living at home not because he's a slacker but because I'm a cradle robber. He was just twenty-one at the time. I was thirty-one.
His parents, of course, thought I was pregnant and asked Will about it after I left. He laughed and said no, I'm just weird. My natural response to someone giving me a thoughtful gift is not to hug them and say thank you but to run away from them and vomit. The fact that Will is OK with my weirdness is exactly why I married him.
The CD player is starting to die. It refuses to play most CDs now, and even if it accepts one, more times than not it makes it difficult to get it back. As Will's first gift to me is weakening, my love for Will grows stronger with the passing of time. I still get butterflies in my stomach when my memory takes me back in time to when Will gave it to me.
It's too old to have a slot to plug in a digital device. I like that because it means my love for Will is also old. Our only option now is the radio. Which is not ideal, but it's the tightwads' best option. I'd prefer to listen to Patti Smith's "Horses" CD in its entirety than to Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball" for the kazillionth time this month if I had my druthers, but my druthers are pretty picky and prefer not spending money on a new car stereo until this one completely conks out.
Not all songs on the radio suck. I actually like Daft Punk's song "Get Lucky," especially when Katie sings along with me on road trips.
My sister and brother-in-law live in a tiny town surrounded by farmland in northwestern Missouri. As we cruised down the interstate on our drive to their house for Thanksgiving dinner, Will, Katie, and I were listening to 96.5 The Buzz, an alternative rock radio station from Kansas City. OK, we were actually mostly listening to Mix 93.3, a top-40 pop station from Kansas City, because Will is such an excellent daddy and Katie likes to sing along to the teeny-bop pop songs she hears at her school's roller skating parties. During commercial breaks, I'd switch it over to the alternative rock station to give myself a break from the overly-autotuned crowd.
As we rolled along the hills of the state highway, getting closer to my sister and brother-in-law's house, just as we crested a peak and saw a herd of cows grazing, seemingly oblivious to either the cold air surrounding them or the sunshine up above, to my utter surprise I heard a song that took me back to my seventeen-year-old self, a weirdo wearing homemade hippie clothes hanging out with my friends clad in black from eye liner to black canvass shoes they got at the Asian market at the mall. A friend once called me a Pippy - a punk-hippie. I rarely felt like an outcast among this group of outcasts. The group of punks, gay kids, and art students I hung out with in high school were the most accepting group I'd ever encountered. I have many fond memories of drinking too much Boone's Farm and running down the hill at "The Big Dick in the Sky," what us churlish kids called the Liberty World War I Memorial back in the day.
"Oh my gosh!" I exclaimed.
Neither Will nor Katie reacted. They had no idea what was going on inside my head. They had no idea I was no longer the 43-year-old wife and mother they knew, but a 17-year-old girl stumbling along her drunken path. They probably figured I was oh-my-goshing something in nature currently surrounding us. They're used to my comments about the beautiful countryside and probably figured I was just appreciating the cows or that tree over there. Instead I was remembering the tree I peed behind in my drunken youth while one of my friends played a cassette tape inside their parked car. It was a new band I'd never heard before.
I looked over at Will. "This is The Sugarcubes! Remember, I was just telling you the other day that Bjork was once in a band called The Sugarcubes and how much I loved them when I was in high school."
"Oh, wow!" Will said.
"The Sugarcubes?" Katie asked from the back seat.
"Yes. You know how Daddy loves that singer Bjork?" I asked.
"Yeah," Katie said.
"Well, Bjork used to be in this band, The Sugarcubes," I pointed to the radio. "We were just talking about this the other day. And I couldn't remember the name of the song I wanted to play for him, but this is it. This is the song." I suddenly shut up, realizing I'd already talked through too much of it.
Here's a couple of versions you can listen to. This one is the official video:
This one's a recording of their performance on SNL:
The Sugarcubes - Birthday (SNL 1988) by runehede
The three of us listened silently for about thirty seconds. Bjork has such an amazing voice, I thought to myself. Then, as the car came to the bottom of a hill, for a second the station went fuzzy, then faded into some country song. The radio waves were picking up a stronger signal at a local station.
As we approached the top of the next hill, the station went fuzzy again, only this time it switched back to The Sugarcubes. As we approached the top of the third hill, after the station's fuzz, The Sugarcubes's song and the country song were overlapping each other. Will and I looked at each other and burst into laughter. It was as if our old car stereo, the first gift Will gave me, his lovely weirdo, was still making beautiful music by creating a mashup of some artsy-fartsy alternative rock group and some new country pop star. It was brilliant.
For a moment.
And then, by the fourth hill, the country song won over the radio waves. We missed the end of The Sugarcubes' song. Will switched off the stereo and we rode the hills to our Thanksgiving celebration the rest of the way with just the sound of our own voices talking and laughing, which turned out to be the best of all.
We parked in the driveway, grabbed our side dish and our pie and entered their house to laugh and pray and eat and sit on our asses watching athletically gifted people toss a ball around a well manicured field, with relatives who love us despite our differences. We're all weird in our own way. It's a good feeling to know you're loved. All of you. You're weirdness and all.