I remember my transistor radio. It was a bit bigger than a pack of cigarettes. I lived with that radio, or rather, it lived with me, the music constantly piping through to my ear. It soothed me and my teenaged angst while I cried my “96 Tears.”
I remember listening to the Beatles’ “Eight Days a Week” while taking down my much older sister’s laundry from the line. I would go to her house down the block from ours to escape the never-ending chores. Doing chores at her house seemed like a break, a holiday from doing them at home, where it seemed I did chores eight days a week.
Besides, she had a telephone before we did. A thick, black, clunky thing on which I could call the boy I had a crush on in junior high. Only to hang up when he answered. There was no call waiting, or caller ID back then so no evidence. I found his number by looking up his last name in the fat phone book delivered to every household that had a phone. To this day I remember his last name but not his first. Weird. And I can’t remember what he looked like either. I’m only sure of one thing: He didn’t know I was alive.
I remember sitting on the bench behind the house that held the wash tub where I’d scrubbed clothes against a washboard before we had a washing machine. I felt I was hiding though I’m sure the sound of my radio gave me away should my mother find another chore for me. As I leaned back against the wall my sister appeared over the back fence like a disembodied head. Come with me to the store, she said. I sighed, but she was pregnant with her second child, so I got to my feet.
My radio of course went with us as we plodded down the hot, sandy soil of the alleyways to the small neighborhood store. I paid no attention to what my sister was selecting as we strolled through the aisles. At the checkout, I became painfully aware that she was short of money. She stared into her coin purse for a moment, then began removing item by item of her meager haul as she watched the numbers on the register decrease. Finally, the cashier said, you can pay me later, and my sister nodded her thanks.
I don’t remember the music on the way back. Perhaps it was “Magic Carpet Ride” which could whisk me away. I just remember aching for my sister as we walked in silence. She hadn’t needed me after all.
Fast forward about a decade or so and I see myself dancing to “Ladies’ Night” in my own kitchen late at night. The music now coming from a much bigger radio, one that I couldn’t tuck away and hide from prying eyes and perked up ears (Mom). But I had no need to anymore.
After I put my toddler to bed, I stole time from my studies to dance until I was as hot and sweaty as if I’d spent an hour on an actual dance floor, all the endorphins streaming wildly. It was my therapy. I needed it to get me through those long and lonely years when my only true companions were my son and my textbooks.
When I left the sad north to head back to Texas, my collection of 8-track tapes accompanied me as I drove cross-country. I had a small suspicion that when I got home, I might find myself a cowboy who would teach me how to two-step through the rest of my days. But the only cowboy boots I saw and heard were the ones that clicked onto the pavement when their wearer jumped down from his red pickup in the middle of night, leering at me as he tried to coax me aboard.
He and his male companion had seen me alone and vulnerable at the bus station’s outside public phone waiting for my father, my car had broken down and had to be left behind in a one-horse town to get fixed. My dad arrived in time to save the day, but that incident put me off cowboy boots forever.
Instead, I chanced on motorcycle boots. We met amidst the loudest music, “Funkytown,” and he continued to make music in my heart for months. Even now, my soul sings when I remember his touch, his gentleness, his essence. His promise. The music remains, like “Brass in [my] Pocket.”
Today my transistor radio has been replaced by another hand-held item, a phone that is a minicomputer. But regardless of its many high-tech capabilities, its most valuable feature is its ability to pipe music through to me. From my twenty-some Pandora stations, or my recently set up iTunes account. My pain relief, I mean my music, is always available. And though there has been decades of music released since the advent of that tiny radio, I find that my choice of music remains the same, primarily the art of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.
In these soulful melodies lies the prescription that takes my pain away. That sends me back to a time that my teenage self felt was so horrendous, when in effect it was nothing, nothing, nothing.