Music is something I have always taken for granted. It fills my life and much like the wind or rain, I accept it but rarely pay it much attention. Today, I was in the shower and as I typically play music on my Echo, a song came on and for a moment I was transported. The song was “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and I was back in the 80’s, in my high school friends, Scott Hatch’s house. I was leaving soon for the Air Force and he and Eric and several others were there having a small party. I think it was Eric who played the song, announcing that this song was for me, even then I knew it was one of those marks in your life. A point in time that cannot be changed or altered, that will still be with you even after you are gone. This is what I believe ghosts are, a point in time, forever etched into the fabric of reality. A witness of events great and small. And while the lyrics of this song, as a whole, may be about a man who cannot be contained for one woman, the lyrics spoke to me in a different way.
“If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?”
I had decided several years before to join the Air Force, did so with early enlistment. My path was set and I was keen to leave as soon as I could. I had this secret riding my back as a child and knew that if I didn’t leave that town I was going to die. I knew that I couldn’t come out there, I would end up killing myself because of it. So, I had a clear goal, to get out and the military offered me that way. The party was a few friends drinking, I think vodka and perhaps peach schnapps, I’ve still got a few photos. It’s hard to look at, because while the mask is there grinning, I’m only visible in the eyes.
“For I must be traveling on, now cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see”
I hadn’t thought it through really, my leaving was all important not the destination. I was a child and I was seeing potential and not the reality, because I didn’t know what to expect. I thought that if I left and was in the military I was away from a small town and I could be me, finally me be. But the military was just a closer knit group and I was rarely given time to be me. I did manage to wear clothes I was comfortable in from time to time, but I only had snippets of being me. The towns around the bases I was assigned to were usually very conservative as you would expect. Even when I transferred to Castle AFB, I thought, California would be different. It really wasn’t, it was just as closed minded and conservative as a place could get.
“Cause I’m as free as a bird now, and this bird you can not change”
Still, I held out hope, through a short marriage, longer divorce and a time of being mostly lost to the world, I had a glimmer of hope. It took years for me to find a place, and though I have changed in some ways, war and just living will do that to you, I was always the same girl who pretended to be a boy with her friends on the second floor of a house, wishing she could get away from a small town to be herself.
“Won’t you fly high, free bird, yeah”
I did have to hide who I was, but I didn’t stop being me. I was always there, the outer layer of bullshit and feigned machismo is a cover even for most men. But I was always there, the poet and the thinker, the girl who dreamed of being a bird, flying high away from her troubles and landing in a place where she could just be herself and live happily ever after.