Music That Made Me

They say that smell is the most powerful sense when it comes to triggering memory. This has only been true once in my life. I was sixteen. We were visiting friends in New York. A woman came to the house, probably to see my parents; they used to live there, after all. I didn’t know her–or, at least, I thought I didn’t. But when she hugged me, I knew her perfume, knew it from a time before my conscious memory begins. I was shaken. Who was this woman?

Naturally, my mother filled me in, but the feeling lingered.

That’s the only time an olfactory stimulus has transported me. The same cannot be said of music. Certain songs can wrench me to a different time and place, drop me into the mind of past Leahs–before I was Twirly, before I was… me.

“All I Want For Christmas Is You” reminds me of eighth grade. Steven jumped out the window, James hid behind a bookshelf, and we’ve stolen a prank from our older sisters. Somehow, our teacher can’t seem to figure out how to stop the CD from repeating itself, even though the same thing mysteriously happened two years ago.

“Brighter Than the Sun” tastes like Chex cereal with milk, coffee, and the occasional chocolate brownie Clif bar. It’s slathering peanut butter between rice cakes at five in the morning, waking up when the house is quiet and still. It’s the beginning of forty five minutes all to myself, during which I’ll probably take a wrong turn on the way to work. It’s a drawstring backpack and a lanyard weighing heavy around my neck with gifts from campers.

When “Tubthumping” comes on, I’m five years old again. Mom has taken me grocery shopping with her. The lady at the deli gives me a slice of American cheese–orange, not white. I take a bite out of the middle before devouring the rest. The lady at the bakery gives me a sugar cookie and asks me if I can sing her a song from Annie. I’ve never heard of that, but I tell her that my favorite song is Chumbawumba. (Not by Chumbawumba; I thought that’s what the song was actually called.) I think the lyrics are “kissing the night away.”

“When It’s Over” transports me to the backseat of our old white-van-with-gold-trim. We’re on a road trip; I don’t know where. I’m illustrating the songs that hum through the radio in my Hedwig notebook. (I got it from the Scholastic book fair and I’m very proud of it.) Daddy is driving, and my world is a bubble of peace and safety. As long as my father is in control, nothing will touch us.

“Blue (Da Ba Dee)” is the year I started public school. It’s hallway floors soaked from melted snow, struggling into and out of my silver snow suit. It’s Dunkaroos and lunch money and funky shaped erasers from the school store. It’s an elementary school shaped like a lollipop. It’s not being sure what town I live in, because I’m still learning my new address.

“Tell Him” is warm fall nights in the car with my sister. It’s driving to and from marching band my rookie year. It’s two teenaged girls singing and laughing and being silly.

“Only Time” haunted me for years. I’d hear snatches in coffeeshops and waiting rooms–never enough to identify it properly, but enough to raise my hair. It jolts me into my front-row desk in Mrs. Dow’s fourth grade class. I’m struggling with my morning math; it’s projected on the whiteboard in front of the class. I have to get my multiplication license this year, but I just can’t seem to master my twelves. I’m afraid that, if I can’t do it, they’ll hold me back.

“A’int It Fun” is freedom, my first summer with any real independence. I’m getting married in a few weeks. I’m buying a car from my father. I have a job where I sit at a desk–in the air conditioning! I drink two cups of coffee a day, eat a handful of pecans, and don’t take breaks. I feel adult and alive. The future is spread out in front of me.

“Annie Waits” is the sound of my heart pounding in my ears. It’s flying around the house in anticipation. It’s the best friend who I was madly in love with coming over after baseball practice. It’s hyperbolas, parabolas, and graphing calculators.

“Spiderwebs” is my first day as a camp counselor. It’s an older girl taking me under her wing. It’s the smell of sunscreen and bug spray, chlorine and damp earth. It’s a thousand children’s voices ricocheting off the gym walls. It’s doing constant head checks, learning how to make gimp lanyards, holding a clipboard and smiling at parents.

“Thank You” is shopping for school supplies. It’s a blue and yellow pencil sharpener. It’s folders and notebooks and freshly sharpened pencils.

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