Chapter 3: Why a country song?
Juanita picks Sandy up at the bar at 6 p.m. Sandy pulled a day shift this first Saturday in June due to an event at Civic Plaza which brought extra foot traffic to downtown Albuquerque. Isadora is at Juanita’s house with Juanita’s oldest daughter, Carmen, Juanita’s three younger children, and her husband, Bernie. It is the monthly ladies night out for Sandy and her best friend; except tonight it is ladies night in. Sandy wants to share the song she has written with Juanita.
Sandy was surprised when she woke up a few days ago not only with a rhyming, pretty poem, but with a melody, tune and percussion beat in her brain. She didn’t wake up with her brain saying the words. She woke up with her brain singing the words and both words and musical notes written in white on a blue screen. Sandy was stunned. It took a few minutes after waking for her to comprehend this accomplishment.
Sandy’s knowledge and interest in music is long in the past. At the age of six, Sandy had been enrolled in ballet and piano lessons. The ballet lessons, from her mother’s point of view, would allow Sandy to have grace of movement as an adult. The piano lessons served to assure that Sandy could entertain her parents’ guests at holidays and other social occasions and, by such, allow Sandy to be seen and exclaimed over before being sent away to her room. Sandy’s mother believed that, by enrolling Sandy in these classes, sending her to private school where she would learn French and art history, and by taking her to Episcopalian services on Sunday, she was fulfilling all her maternal obligations to assure that Sandy could marry well. Her father’s name, money, and connections fulfilled his paternal obligations to secure the same outcome. The world was changing in the mid-seventies, but Sandy’s parents lived the type of insulated privileged life-style that sheltered them from having to accept those changes. At the age of fifteen, Sandy informed her mother that she was through with piano lessons. She wanted to replace them with modern dance. Her mother thought she was indulging her daughter’s teen-age rebellion and agreed. Sandy didn’t see dance as rebellion. She saw it as living. There was something about dance that made Sandy feel alive. Typically Sandy felt numb. Her world, so full of privilege, only provided Sandy with custodial care. Her parents were emotionally distant and she had learned early that displays of emotion would only lessen her parents’ willingness to interact with her. She learned not to depend on anybody and to restrain her emotions, but dance was a physical release for the feelings she couldn’t otherwise display. She majored in dance in college with a minor in music theory. Her parents paid little attention as they assumed after college she would marry one of the suitors interested and approved by her father. When, instead, Sandy quickly became a professional dancer in New York, they were dismayed. When she became a single mother, they were forced to consider if they could adjust to the modern social realities of the new millennium or find a way to retreat into a continuation of their distorted, privileged reality. Their simple and obvious decision was to disown Sandy and pretend that they never had a daughter or a grandchild.
Sandy reads music well. This is a skill that stayed with her from the piano lessons, that she had honed in college, and served her well in her career as a dancer. Conversing with professional musicians about the musical accompaniment and demonstrating her knowledge of music theory helped with networking and opened up some doors. When she found herself in Albuquerque with her dance days behind her, any interest in music stopped. She knows people who surrounded themselves with music, but Sandy sees no point in music that isn't accompanied by dance. Forced to listen to different genres of popular music at the bar, she is nothing but annoyed. Popular music, she thinks, seems to be about escapism and Sandy’s form of escapism is still the physical: yoga, bicycling, jogging, kick-boxing, and sex with her younger partner, Mike. An occasional Zumba class is the closest she got these days to a personal connection to music or to dance.
It has been twelve years almost to the day since Sandy left New York in a used car with her three old daughter to drive to Los Angeles. A former dance partner offered her a job in his studio teaching dance lessons to children. A move to LA was a drastic and desperate attempt to become a healthy human being. Sandy was still dancing professionally in New York, but knew that her time was short. Still, she could have found a job teaching in New York. The motivation for the move was cowardice. She knew the only way she could get away from the married man who did not acknowledge his daughter, but still wanted a good time with Sandy, was if she got clear across country from him. It is not at all that he wouldn’t let her go, but that she couldn’t let him go. She had to make it impossible for herself to give in to her own temptations. The used car she had purchased for $5000 in New York died in Albuquerque and needed $3000 worth of work. Juanita was working as a clerk in the mechanic’s shop where Sandy pulled in. She invited Sandy and her daughter to spend the night with her and her family. They had been best friends ever since.
Sandy was just going to stay in Albuquerque long enough to get back on her feet and out to LA. Twelve years later and now Albuquerque is just home. Isadora will be graduating high school in three years. Juanita’s oldest daughter, Carmen, had been in Isadora’s pre-school, elementary and now high school.
When Sandy woke up having written a song in her sleep, the feeling of accomplishment and pride was even stronger than when she had written a poem. Sandy quickly pushed questions about why she had written a song to the back of her brain. Isolating the questions she didn’t want to ask herself was as easy as restraining her emotions had become over her 46 years. The feeling of pride and accomplishment is not something she wants to restrain. Her song needs to be shared with someone and who else would she share it with then the only person she had ever dared to lean on- her best friend, Juanita.
Juanita had helped Sandy find her first job in Albuquerque, had told her what neighborhoods to avoid when selecting apartments, had helped her learn the bus system and its limitations. Sandy is ten years older than Juanita. When they met Juanita had been a young mother barely in her twenties and Sandy was in her thirties, but it was Juanita who had been the guide and mentor. Twelve years later, Juanita has three additional children- 10 and 7 (girls) and 5 (a boy).
Juanita worries about Sandy. It is the dynamics of their friendship that was fully established on the day Sandy and the three year old Isadora drove into the mechanic’s shop with no money for car repairs and nowhere to stay in Albuquerque. Juanita had thought about what she would do without a husband or family stranded in another city and had decided to be their guardian angel. Now she knows Sandy well enough to know that only sheer desperation would have allowed Sandy to accept help, but she has always, ever since, accepted help and criticism from Juanita. Why now, Juanita thinks, has Sandy written a song? It is so unlike her.
The friends eat Frito pie and drink a margarita while sitting on Sandy’s balcony overlooking the downtown area. Sandy tells Juanita about the app she found where the piano and percussion beat could be entered and the song would play back. It was Juanita who bought her friend a tablet last Christmas and encouraged her to move into the 21st century.
Juanita: I didn’t even know you played the piano.
Sandy: I did when I was young.
Juanita: How long since you played?
Sandy: About fifteen.
Juanita: You haven’t played since Isadora was born?
Sandy: No, I haven’t played since I was fifteen.
Juanita: You haven’t played in over 30 years?
Sandy is familiar with Juanita’s worry look, but Sandy doesn’t understand why Juanita is wearing it now. Why would Sandy writing a song cause Juanita to worry?
The friends go inside and pour another round of margaritas. Sandy pushes the play button on the app and begins to sing. She is unaccustomed to hearing herself sing. She hopes she is singing this song well enough so her friend could imagine what is would sound like if someone who could sing was singing it. Juanita likes the song- a lot, but hearing the song only increases her worry for her friend. As surprised as Juanita was about Sandy writing a song at all, she is more surprised after hearing the song. It is so unlike Sandy. Sandy teases Juanita about crying at sad movies. The only way Juanita can convince Sandy to go see romantic comedies is by agreeing to buy her the largest tub of popcorn possible and by giving her permission to make fun of the movie after. Despite the popular music Sandy hears nightly at the bar, she never seems familiar with any of the songs or artists. Sandy has absolutely no interest in country music, popular music or romantic notions. It is the type of song of which Sandy would usually make fun, but now suddenly has decided to create.
Juanita: You wrote a country song. Why?
Sandy: Well, it just kind of came out that way.
Juanita: You don’t like country music. You don’t even like songs with words. I kind of thought you had written something more highbrow.
Sandy: This just seemed like it was a good country theme. I can’t really imagine I would know how to write a classical composition.
Juanita finishes her margarita to give her a chance to think. Sandy is eager to hear her friend’s impression, but is trying not to push her. She wants an honest impression of her song and so does not want her friend to know how much she hopes she likes it. Juanita still has that worried expression. Sandy understands now why Juanita’s children always seem to confess their wrong doings when confronted by Juanita. It is that expression! Juanita is studying Sandy and trying to prompt, if not a confession, at least a more complete explanation.
Juanita: So why the color blue?
Juanita: You always wear red. Red is your favorite color. Why not red was the color of my true love hair, of the dress that she wore, or the sunset or the blanket. Why blue?
Sandy: What’s wrong with blue?
Juanita: It’s not that there is anything wrong with blue, but why blue?
Sandy: I think it is supposed to symbolize sadness. This is a sad song so it is a blue song, but all these other things are also blue.
Juanita: You think?
Sandy: Yes, it’s strange. It’s like I had to figure out why I had written it after I wrote it, but artists create work and sometimes don’t recognize the symbolism until later. Mike tells me that all the time about his sculptures.
Juanita: Is the song about him?
Sandy (vehemently): no.
Juanita: Who is it about? Did you meet someone new?
Sandy: No. It’s just made up. I decided it was more interesting from a male’s perspective.
Juanita: But how about the story? You were never married. This is a song about divorce. Why the reference to the guitar? Did you play the guitar, too?
Sandy: I made it all up.
Juanita: The woman with the bruised hand from hitting the night stand is pretty specific. Where did that come from?
Sandy: I made it all up.
Sandy is weary of Juanita asking for a more detailed explanation. Sandy doesn’t know how to explain about waking up with a poem\and now a song fully written in her brain. She doesn’t want to tell anyone about the blue screen in her dreams. Besides what is the explanation anyway except that Sandy created a song while she slept. The brain is an amazing thing and the sleep and dream world can be very creative. The questions Juanita are asking makes it hard for Sandy to keep her own questions isolated and away from the front of her thoughts. Sandy wants to keep the pride at the foreground of her thoughts instead of the questions. It seems best not to question the process too much. She just wants to be proud and to share her accomplishment with her best friend. There is no other explanation than this and Sandy only knows what she knows which is that she wrote this song. She doesn’t want to analyze it beyond that.
Juanita is glad to see her friend, usually so in control of her emotions, excited about this song, but as happy as Juanita wants to be for Sandy, her sense of responsibility for Sandy’s protection is winning out. Juanita had just been telling her husband that Sandy and Isadora have no one else to watch out for them except for Juanita and Bernie. Juanita has felt since she met Sandy that Sandy is too self-reliant and, yet, never fully realizes how vulnerable she is to life’s circumstances. No family and driving across country in a rundown car with a three year old! What would have happened to them if they hadn’t pulled into the mechanic’s shop where Juanita had been a clerk? They might have ended up homeless. Even now, what would happen to Isadora if Sandy got sick? Juanita hates to think of Sandy closing the bar and walking home in the early hours of the morning as if she is invulnerable to harm. Sandy is so self-reliant and yet so stupid about how dangerous it is to be so damn independent. Juanita is trying to decide if there is a danger or trouble in Sandy’s life that she might not be telling her. Why would her friend suddenly become, not just a songwriter, but a romantic country songwriter? There is more to this than Sandy is telling and Juanita feels she owes it to her friend to dig a little deeper.
Juanita: How long did it take you to write it?
Sandy: Only about fifteen minutes. I know that sounds crazy but the whole thing took me about fifteen minutes to write down the lyrics and imagine how the song would sound. It took longer to figure out how to use the app, but in terms of writing the actual song, it took about fifteen minutes.
Juanita has a practiced expression that she uses when she is shocked by something that her children or her spouse has told her, but doesn’t want them to know she is shocked. She struggles to keep that expression on her face now. WTF? Sandy has never written anything in her life and in fifteen minutes she imagined this whole story, the rhymes, the melody and music. It is just not possible. Why would Sandy lie? Juanita is even more nervous for her friend and decides that the shortest distance to truth is often alcohol. Juanita goes into the kitchen and grabs the bottle of tequila and two shot glasses.
Juanita: I think your first song deserves a shot.
Juanita: Damn, Sandy, you wrote a country song from a man’s perspective about all the things blue in his life.
Sandy can’t tell if Juanita is making fun of her or not, but takes the shot, clinks the glass with Juanita, and shoots it back. She makes a face. Sandy typically only drinks margaritas or sunrises and only because tequila is Juanita’s drink. Since working at the bar, Sandy has lost much of whatever desire she might have had for alcohol. She has seen too many sloppy drunks. These days her only social drinking is this once a month girls date with Juanita. Sandy goes into the kitchen for some lime and salt when she sees Juanita is pouring two more shots.
Juanita: When was the last time we really hit the tequila?
Sandy: Oh, I think you had a few and spent the night right after you weaned Miguel. Would that have been four years ago?
Juanita: Long past time for another sleep over. Isadora is planning on spending the night at my place. She and Carmen can help Bernie with the kids. Why don’t I spend the night?
Juanita: I think we have something to celebrate.
Sandy smiles and bites into a lime. She and Juanita used to be more spontaneous before Juanita had three additional children. Now they have such a routine. It is nice to do something a little different and she does have something to celebrate! Juanita has not been as enthusiastic about the song as Sandy might have liked, but is glad she sees it as something to celebrate. The friends have a few more shots and before long they are giggling like their teenage daughters. They talk about the time they met, how they became instant friends and argue over stories about riding the bus together for the first year they knew each other. Sandy remembers the bus driver having the crush on Juanita and Juanita is sure the crush was on Sandy. Juanita reminds Sandy of the time she took that job as a telemarketer. Worse job ever! Sandy tells Juanita how happy she is now working at the bar the last few years since she feels like she can be home when Isadora needs her most. Juanita says becoming a stay at home mom when Miguel was born was the best thing she had ever done, but now that he was going to school in the fall she would need to think about returning to work.
A couple of hours later, Sandy finds Juanita a shirt for her to wear to sleep and gets into her own two piece light pajamas. Juanita calls and make the arrangements with Bernie. The friends settle into the opposite ends of the couch; their feet crossing in the middle. Even though Sandy and Juanita still see each other a couple of times a month, Sandy misses the days when her and Juanita could be more spontaneous. Those first years in Albuquerque were a bit of normal after a life of strange in New York where life was obsession about her career and her married lover. Sandy hadn’t known she could take so much satisfaction just watching television, gossiping while their toddlers played, exercising while the kids took naps. Such great times! Her mind turns to the future. Sandy hopes Isadora will stay at home and go to community college, but when Isadora turns 18, she could easily decide to move out. Sandy wonders how many years it would be before she became a grandmother. Sandy is starting to drift off to sleep when Juanita decides it is time to ask some direct questions.
Juanita: How’s Mike?
Juanita: Everything ok with Isadora?
Sandy: What’s with the questions?
Juanita: I think you might be depressed.
Juanita: Think about it- a blue song about a man who’s even more alone than you. It’s a good song, but a really depressing song.
Sandy: Excuse me? I’m not that alone. It’s a country song. It’s supposed to be sad.
Juanita: Have you seen a doctor lately? You know some women your age start menopause.
Sandy: Shit, Juanita. You think instead of having hot flashes I’m going to start writing songs.
Juanita: I’m just saying- why from a man’s perspective? You’ve always want to have more control in your life. Maybe this is your way of asserting your authority. You think people will pay more attention if you speak from a male’s voice. Or maybe you finally realize that it’s time you had a man to take care of you.
Sandy is no longer sleepy. She sits up straight and looks at her friend. They say alcohol could get to the truth of a matter, but she doesn’t like the truth her friend is hinting at. Sandy thinks of her life as just fine. Is Juanita insinuating that she is a loser because she doesn’t have a man? Sandy has never needed anyone; not her parents and not a man. Sandy had watched her mother and her mother’s friends sacrifice their identities and their decision making to their husbands. She had decided long ago that this was not going to be her fate.
Sandy: I think no more tequila for you.
Juanita: I’ve been hydrating for an hour now. Sandy, I don’t want to offend you, but think about your life for a minute. Can’t you see your own pattern of behavior? You haven’t had a real adult relationship since Isadora’s father and that wasn’t a healthy one at all. He wasn’t anyone you could rely on. Mike is 12 years younger than you. Why would you date such a younger man if it wasn’t for control? What kind of life mate is he?
Sandy: He isn’t. I don’t need a life mate. I need a man for sex.
Juanita: You know sometimes people fall in love and still have sex.
Sandy: With Mike the sex is as hot as it gets. I am in my mid-forties and I am dating a 34 year old, fucking hot man. When I was 30, I was dating Isadora’s father because he was a fucking hot 34 year old man. There is just something about that age which is perfect for sex. They are mature and experience enough, but they still want to do it all the time. You know, I have tried to keep myself in shape and that means I can still attract a 34 year old man.
Juanita: Just because you can doesn’t mean you have to.
Sandy: I’m a woman who likes to fuck. It’s like when you dance or bike or kick-box. You feel alive then. I like to fuck and I might as well be fucking a 34 year old man. Why would I give that up for some old, washed up, sexually spent life mate?
Juanita wants to say something smart and sarcastic about Sandy’s monologue ode to sex and hot 34 year old men. However, she wanted alcohol to bring out the truth and Sandy is just being honest. Juanita has always admired how physically fit and attractive Sandy is and knows that Sandy works at staying fit. Sandy is a more physical being than Juanita. Maybe sex means more to Sandy than it does to her. Juanita can see that. Still, the time will come when Sandy isn’t going to attract the younger man anymore. It might come sooner than Sandy realizes. What will her life be like in three years when her daughter would be gone and the sex might be gone? What would her best friend’s life be like then?
Juanita: My husband is 34 and most nights I just wish he would go away and take care of it himself. Aren’t you voicing the man’s point of view? Younger men want older women. Older men want younger women. You are a woman who I know could benefit from love. Don’t roll your eyes. Don’t you want to find someone to grow old with? You might need someone to lean on someday.
Sandy: I can lean on myself. There’s a part of me that envies you and Bernie finding each other in high school, but I’m already old. I’m too old to find that man who I can lean on.
Juanita: It’s not too late. You could join a singles club.
Sandy: I would rather shoot myself. It’s so much like putting yourself on the market. Might as well have a sign saying I can’t take care of myself.
Juanita: I think the problem is that you are too proud of being so self-reliant. It’s like you are afraid to have someone take care of you. You think you would be giving something up, but everyone has to give something up to get something back.
Sandy: I’m ok. I’m used to taking care of myself and Isadora.
Juanita: Isadora’s father must have been some piece of work for you to still be alone after all this time.
Sandy: I have Mike. I’m not lonely.
Juanita: But you just said you only have Mike for sex. Isadora doesn’t even know about him. Sex is grand, but where will that get you in the long run? A time will come when having someone to hold is more important than someone to fuck. You don’t want to wait forever. Why don’t you take up country line dancing? Maybe that’s the reason for writing a country song. Cowboys are hot. Find yourself a cowboy.
Sandy thinks of the cowboy types who are so plentiful in Albuquerque. She thinks of the real Cowboys, the ranchers, who are regulars at the bar and the want to be cowboys who sometime wander in. The younger ones are always braggarts. The older ones take off their wedding rings. She certainly didn’t need another married man. Young or old, the cowboy type all seem to like the bottle a little too much. She likes listening to them talk to each other. They could be awfully funny with each other, but they never seemed to talk to women in a way that was natural. They liked each other’s company, but really only liked the company of women for one reason. Sandy realizes the hypocrisy of that thought as soon as she thinks it. Isn’t that the speech she had just given Juanita about the only reason she needed a man?
Sandy tries to imagine finding a cowboy type to settle down with and what that would really mean. Sandy imagines herself cooking. The man watches television. There is no real conversation between them. They have sex on birthdays and Valentine day. Just to say she had someone! Well, a cowboy is the last man she would ever end up with. She shivers at the thought of having to worry about a man, but not getting anything of meaning back from the relationship. Cowboys! For the first time the questions she has been avoiding asking herself comes rushing unanswerable to the front of her mind. The primary question? Why in the hell did I write a country love song?