I can divide my adolescence in two parts: Before and After.
The break happened when I was thirteen, on what began as a normal day. I was at a girlfriend’s house when my mom called and asked me to come home. Opening the front door I discovered Dad on the couch fighting back tears, a suitcase at his feet.
He explained that he was going to go live at a friend’s cabin for a while. He and Mom were having a tough time, and they had decided it would be best if he moved out.
My baby sister was napping, and as he went in her room to kiss her goodbye I tried to absorb the shocking news. Crying openly, Dad pulled Mom and me into a long hug and then he was gone.
I realize now that I was probably experiencing depression in the months that followed. I tried to be good and responsible and help my mom, but I cried every night and wondered if I would ever stop feeling so sad.
A turning point came when the Johnny Nash song “I Can See Clearly Now” started playing on the radio. “Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind…” Oh, how I longed for that feeling. I prayed for a rainbow, I really did. And soon a day went by without tears, and then two days, and eventually the ache started to lessen.
Years later, a good counselor and a caring pastor would help me work through my angsty “After” years of high school when my main focus was hanging out with friends, partying, just getting by in school, and looking for love in all the wrong places.
After I married and experienced my own challenges, I was able to better understand and empathize with my parents’ separation and divorce.
For all the time I spent sorting out what happened during the years After, though, I hadn’t really thought much about the girl I was Before.
Last month, a classified ad on NextDoor.com caught my eye. A neighbor was selling a used clarinet—the instrument I had played in junior high, but quit in the months After. One phone call and twenty dollars later, the pretty clarinet in a black velvet-lined case was mine.
That night I assembled the clarinet, lifted it to my lips and tried the easiest note—an open G. I wish I could tell you that the tone was clear and true. But the truth is that the first sound I made on my new clarinet was a piercing squeak that awakened our dog Boo with a confused growl.
Unlike getting back on a bicycle, I had to relearn all the keys and retrain my mouth to form the proper embouchure. Our junior high band teacher John A. Whitehurst was right: playing the clarinet properly requires hours and hours of practice.
Something else surprising happened in the taking up of this new-old instrument. Returning to the clarinet brought back a flood of memories about the curious, unselfconscious girl I was Before.
I’d forgotten that in the years Before, my friends and I formed a musical group and performed in a local talent show.
Before, I marched in a parade downtown as I played my clarinet. I was in a folk dancing group, and twirled onstage to polka songs.
Before, I bought a ten-speed bike with my babysitting money and rode it all over Boulder. I sewed my own peasant blouses, crafted chokers from grosgrain ribbon and lace, and embroidered flowers on my jeans.
Before, I stood up and sang for the residents of a nursing home. I entered speech competitions, voluntarily!
Before, I tried out for the lead in the school play and was cast instead as the grandma, which required me to draw wrinkles on my face and whiten my hair with talcum powder.
In the After days, all I wanted to do was fit in. I didn’t venture on a single stage during high school.
Looking back, I marvel at how fearless I was Before. I also realize that those long-dormant interests are still part of who I am, four decades later. And the courage? It must still be there somewhere, too.
So recently I joined Toastmasters, where I stand up and give speeches and enjoy the thrill of doing something that scares the heck out of me.
And every night after dinner, I take out my clarinet.
The notes come slow.
The squeaks come sometimes, too.
The dog howls.
But I play, and honor the girl I was Before.
I play, and offer melodies for the girl I was After.
I play and send up an old song about a bright, bright, sun-shiny day, so grateful for the loves and losses and mistakes and mercy and dark clouds and sunny days and hills and valleys and every breathtaking moment of grace, Before and After, that shaped my life and brought me here to Right Now.
And straight ahead?
There’s nothing but blue skies, my friends.
How About You?
Was there a time in your youth when you tried something that now seems fearless? Did you enjoy an activity years ago that you would like to try again? Have you recently returned to a former hobby or sport?
Is there a song, literal or figurative, that you long to play?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and memories.
About Eliza Cross
Eliza Cross is the author of 17 books, including Small Bites, 101 Things To Do With Bacon, and BERRIES. She enjoys sharing ideas to simplify cooking, gardening, and home projects. She is also the owner of Cross Media, Inc. and founder of the BENSA Bacon Lovers Society.
17 thoughts on “Finding What I Lost in the Classified Ads”
What a profound piece. Absolutely beautiful!
THank you Eliza.
Cindy, thank you so much for letting me know you enjoyed the story. Here’s to playing our songs! xo
Good for you for playing your new clarinet and joining Toastmasters! I had a different path than you did through my younger years and needed a crutch to help me feel Fearless. Water was my childhood and youth and young adult Fearless. When I was in a river or lake or pool, others sputtered or pursed their lips tightly together, but I was relaxed and joyful. I’m middle aged now and finally feeling grown up and more confident and don’t need to escape into the water. This was a well written and thought-provoking post. It brought back a lot of memories. Thanks for posting.
Priscilla, how fascinating that water was the place where you felt most relaxed and fearless. I love what you wrote about reaching a point in your life when you no longer felt like you needed to escape. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing your story. xoxo
Great blog!! A nice break in an otherwise stressful day. Your questions caused me to stop and think and I realized that I was a cautious child. A product of the 50’s. I have become braver with each passing year. The older I get, the less there is to fear and the fewer people whose opinions of me matter.
I love your joie de vivre, Carol, and it’s always fun to hear about your adventures! Readers, here’s a wonderful essay Carol wrote about her own “before and after” event that propelled her to continue living large:
This post brought tears to my eyes. It was during this period we were friends. And we played clarinet together in band. I still have my clarinet and my sax. I will have to change the pads, but maybe that is a small price to pay for memories returned? Thanks dearest ‘old’ friend. You look great by the way…
Cyd, you were and are such a dear friend. You had a really tough Before and After of your own right during that same period with your family’s accident. So glad we have stayed connected all these many years. You are truly a treasure. xoxo
What a beautiful post. The day my dad left is also seared into my memory – I was only four. I can’t help but feel jealous that your parents were openly upset by it all, and that you were able to cry. Those were emotions that were “off limits” in my household, and it took me many, MANY years to uncover all of those buried feelings.
I’m so glad that you’re reclaiming some of the courage and joy you experienced in the “before” times. I tried to play the clarinet once… I couldn’t get a single noise out of the thing – seriously, I couldn’t even make it squeak! So I’m in awe that you can actually play one!
Cat, I got teary thinking of you losing your dad at the tender age of four with no way to express your grief. Goodbyes are never easy, and that is a great loss. Just wanted to say, from one survivor to another, I’m so sorry.
You are such a good writer, and so good at articulating a range of feelings and experiences. Your blog is one of my favorites. Readers, check out Cat’s adventures at:
Eliza…Craig Weeks’s wife sent me this because the clarinet reminded her of me, since I am a clarinetist. I’m also an elementary band teacher and very often parents will tell me they will hear their child playing their instrument when they are upset or out of sorts, even after they no longer play in the band or are several years older. Music doth hath charms to soothe what upsets, and I’m glad you rediscovered your clarinet!
Enjoy it always!
Martha, it’s so good to hear from you. What an honor to hear your perspective, as both a band teacher and a clarinet player. One thing I appreciate about relearning the clarinet at this stage of my life is that I’m able to play just for the joy of playing and not expect it to sound perfect. Music truly is a gift for the soul. I love what you wrote, and your students are fortunate to have you as their teacher. xo
Eliza – I loved this piece. Thanks for sharing. I remember so many times we spent together in the before. One special memory was spending a week with your grandparents a few weeks before my mother died. You were so supportive and really helped relieve my stress.
I am glad you are playing your clarinet. Music is wonderful in so many ways.
I treasure all the memories I have of SO many fun times with you in Boulder. We had many things in common, including music, and it was so special that we lived just a few blocks apart. That was such a tender time, and I especially treasure the memories of your kind, sweet, lovely mom. She was always so nice. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Love you always!
I love this. I’ve been having a ton of reflecting on memories of school and adolescence and even young-childhood ever since I took a year long memoir class at Grub Street in Boston last year. And now even when I’m not writing about it, I am making these connections from found objects or photos or talking with friends and relatives about things they remember. It’s a treat to have this ability to reconnect with it. Jose, for example, is reconnecting this month with his love of non-digital photography (pre-photoshop) and starting a dark room in our new house. I also loved darkroom work in high school so we’re hoping we’ll both get back into that. And it’s extra fun that our dads both were really into photography and both had a dark room, so this is in a way connecting with them, too.
What a great piece, I remember reading it a while back. With Song in my head now, it is cause to pause and think, think for a long time. Thank you.
This is lovely, Eliza. Our friendship spans the “before” and “after”— and I have witnessed the beautiful integration of these two Elizas. Not everyone is able to do this… It seems that this sort of integration is something we must do again and again as we move through various traumas in our lives.