The Chrysler station wagon smelled of cigarettes, beer and spoiled milk. It did on hot humid nights. My older brother Greg was driving, and he and his friends were playing that stupid game of repeating exactly what each other said a split second after saying it. It was like being in an echo chamber full of morons and it was irritating.
That summer of 1975 was big for Elton John. He had released Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, and the breakout single, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, was playing on the radio. A miserable and lonely 14 year-old, I identified with the world-weary, but hope-filled lyrics and passionately sang along, oblivious to the snickers around me:
I never realized the passing hours
Of evening showers
A slip noose hanging, in my darkest dreams
I'm strangled by your haunted social scene
Just a pawn out-played by a dominating queen
It's four o'clock in the morning
Damn it! Listen to me good
I'm sleeping with myself tonight
Saved in time, thank god my music's still alive
As he’d done so many times before, my brother snapped the volume off, leaving my voice exposed in the now-quiet car. In the past, I’d sheepishly clam up, embarrassed to be singing. Not this time. Those stirring lyrics and hearing my voice above the mocking gave me courage to go on:
Someone saved my life tonight sugar bear
You almost had your hooks in me, didn't you dear
You nearly had me roped and tied
Sweet freedom whispered in my ear
You're a butterfly
And butterflies are free to fly
Fly away, high away, bye bye
The laughter stopped, and Greg turned up the radio.
That night was the beginning of finding my voice — a process that still continues. Sometimes that voice is quieted by soul-crushing failure, a negative review or disapproval from others. But magically, the mere act of speaking out — singing, saying or writing what is true for me — blasts open the timid doors of my heart and I’m free to fly.
Someone saved my life that night. Turns out, it was me.