The Music of Memory

I am 18 spending the summer in my father's house in Houston.

When we made this plan, to spend the summer together in his house so far away from my friends and family, the excitement was palpable. A huge city. Weekend trips to Galveston and Mexico. Kolaches for breakfast and Wings-N-More for dinner.

This would be my first time living under a parent's roof since I was 16. This would be the first time in my life I'd be alone with my father. Well, not quite alone. There was his too-young 2nd wife. But alone with siblings. An adult living with adults. It would be a new chapter in the book of my rocky relationship with the man who sired me.

Reality couldn't live up to the fantasy. No friends, no family except a man who had no clue how to interact with me, whose love was conditional if given at all. I was alone and lonely.

The last straw. After being berated about being sloppy, being fat, being naive, being young, I locked myself inside the guest room. Guest room that I thought I'd consider my room, but never did. Rather than hit me, which I'm sure my father ached to do, he blasted Gipsy Kings and held dominance over every single other room.

I'd had enough. The music stabbed at my brain and caused my fists to clench. Who did this man think he was. Why did he think it was okay to force his will on all the rest of us?

I stormed back to the living room, where he sat playing with his dog. "You're an asshole, you've always been an asshole, and only an asshole would listen to this fucking music!" I screamed as I slapped at the volume button on his stereo.

I expected him to strike, was ready for it, was pushing for it. Instead he laughed at me, dismissed me as the insignificant woman he believed me to be.

"One day, if you ever figure out how to be a real woman, you'll love this music," he said, his eyes challenging me.

"Fuck you," I said as I walked away. Never. I'd never be the vapid, insipid woman he treasured. And if that doormat liked his music, then I sure as hell wouldn't.


I am 34 winding down country roads with my children in my hometown.

The summer heat is excruciating and I broke a sweat just walking to the car. We are going from yard sale to yard sale, hoping to find a big-girl dresser for Bella's room or a neat alarm clock for Javi's. She is ready to upgrade from the baskets we used for her infant clothes and he wants to start waking himself up rather than having us do it.

They are growing, silently and steadily. Each time I glance back at them in the rear-view mirror, I find something to smile at. Bella's shoulder shake as she dances along to the beat of any song on the iPod. Javi's big brown eyes as he scans the landscapes and houses we pass. They are the best of me.

I have the iPod set on shuffle. We've gone from Mumford & Sons to Lady Gaga to K$sha to Zac Brown Band to Indigo Girls. They sing every word. And then Bambeleo comes on and my finger hovers over the next button. Surprisingly, they love it and ask me to turn it up.


I am a woman who loves Gipsy Kings, who danced to their music in concert no less than 3 times, who once made love to a man on a sun deck in Boston while one of their songs played in the background, who sometimes forgets that not everyone has to get up and dance when they hear Bem Bem Bem Maria.

Sometimes I forget that my father cursed me against what he called "world music." I forget his slurs and his apologies, his curses and his promises. I forget that I was seething with hatred one minute and wondering what I could do to earn his love the next.

I see my children get immersed in the same rhythms that propel me, and I forget I don't have a father the way other people have fathers. Instead, I flash back to my mother dancing to Pat Benatar in the front seat of our banged-up, beat-down Pinto station wagon we affectionately called The Blue Bomb. I remember how my older sister refused to admit she didn't know the words to half the songs she sang.

I am flooded with warmth and happiness. I am one with my children, my family, the world I've created for myself. I am not the woman my father would have shaped had he cared enough to try. But I am mature and smart and know what it means to be a parent.

I look at my children and think, "One day, when you are all grown up, you'll hear this music and remember how much you were loved."


  • Unknown

    This is really beautiful. I don't know if I have ever heard that song. Will you tube it right this instant.

  • Wolf Pascoe

    This was a punch in the gut, it was. I love how end knowing who you are--mature and smart and know what it means to be a parent.

  • ayala

    This is sad and yet inspiring. This is beautiful . Your kids are blessed to have a loving sweet mom.

  • TKW

    This is a gorgeous piece of writing, my friend.

  • BigLittleWolf

    What a gorgeous and poignant piece of writing.

    And I love this - and could have said the same, but would substitute "mother" where you have written "father."

    I am not the woman my father would have shaped had he cared enough to try. But I am mature and smart and know what it means to be a parent.

    Beautiful, Kelly.

  • Cheri

    have you ever considered being a novelist? You have such a way with words and your stories suck me in so quickly. I feel like I know that man. I had a similar one in my life once upon a time.

  • Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri

    Speechless Kelly. This is a poignant piece and all of your feelings are palpable. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Music has such power, such influence over us. What a wonderfully raw, sad, yet joyful piece of writing. And what an amazing woman you have become --- despite how your father treated you. Good for you!

  • Cathy Reaves

    Kelly this is such a powerful piece. I feel the rebellion in the teenager (18 is still a teen in my mind). I feel the anger and disappointment and resentment. But I feel the love you have for your kids. I feel the memories as I have had the same with my own mother, driving down the road, belting out her favorite tunes.

  • Hyacynth

    Mmm. I'm just kind of sitting here soaking this in ... I turned on Pandora this morning, and my oldest declared, "Oh, yes! We get to listen to music today!" And I wondered, when did that become a treat and not just part of my everyday? And my memories? They are so shaped around music. What are my kids going to have that triggers memories if not that ... so I think we should play it loudly and more often.
    And I think you are the woman you are supposed to be, regardless of the lack of crafting and shaping by an Earthly father, Kelly. You are beautiful and such a good wife and mom.

  • Cheryl

    Enjoying a quiet moment of blog reading catch-up, and though this sentiment is embarrassingly late, I just had to tell you how much I love this writing.

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