5. Save Me
Save Me is a very personal song, the first true confession I ever made in the studio. There were many attempts to capture a performance where my voice didn’t crack or I wasn’t triggered into tears but the desire to create a potent memory won over.
Some background is needed to give the song some context. I’ll say things briefly to not get lost in the details too much – and there are many details we could fall into. This needs to remain a statement of the many events leading to writing the song.
I was raised in my grandmother’s foster home for my first 11 years but I then moved in with my mother and her new husband, who adopted me. Those years were complex, dark, and for a thrill-seeking teenager, there was sometimes fun. Unfortunately, it didn’t end well.
When I was around 16, my adopted father had a year-long intensive alcoholic relapse and ended up on the streets after selling all our appliances, rendering our house unliveable. My younger brother and I knew it was time to go when he was showing us how to mix rubbing alcohol with water. It was like a sick show of watching someone kill themselves. He ended his life “accidentally” shortly after by hitting his head on someone’s coffee table at someone's house.
Our modest house was eventually sold and my widowed mother rented an apartment. Being a drinker herself, she was distant and numb. Meanwhile, I had been living with friends, couch surfing, partying, aimless and unsure. My younger brother went to stay with my grandmother who charged him rent and during this time. Given our circumstances, I felt this was a little harsh, so I stayed away.
I was about to graduate high school, so I went to my mom’s apartment one winter evening to ask her for some money for the celebrations and such. When I entered the apartment, my mom was pretty tipsy, sitting at her kitchen table, with a makeup mirror propped up, getting ready to go out. Her notorious sister was there - already well primed, swaying and uttering nonsense in the dramatic way that drunks do.
During the conversation with my mother, I noticed that my aunt’s two-year-old daughter was sleeping in the bedroom. When it started to dawn on me how drunk these women were, I suddenly felt like the only adult in the universe. I had an arrogant impulse to ‘save the baby’. I offered to take the child home with me and went to the room where she was laying, waking her up. I put the child’s boots and coat on her, carrying her out of the room. That’s when my aunt came lumbering into the hallway with her boots and coat on, too. She was slurring something and grabbing the child from me, losing her balance against the wall, fully intent on carrying the child home five blocks away in the snow.
Of course, now the toddler is screaming and my mother, looking up mid-mascara stroke yells, “Hey, stop it!! Let her go!” Then in the strangest voice I ever heard, she added, “Don’t you know that little girl looks after her?!”
I stopped, stunned, letting go of the child. I watched my aunt stumble out the door with her. I turned and looked at my mother who calmly went back to her mirror as if nothing happened. I realized I wasn’t going to get my graduation money and left with a familiar hollow feeling.
“I don’t believe. I won’t pretend to fight no more.”
A few months later, my mom died alone in a car accident, rolling her car into the ditch on a country highway at 4 am. From what I’d heard it’s likely that she met that ditch with a personal intention to never see morning again. These were very painful, challenging times for me, at an age where I didn't have the tools or community or family to explain what had happened. I had to draw my own conclusions and leave as soon as I could to save myself. And I did.
I can sing this song without tears now but writing this now, it’s a wonder how resilient children can be and sensitive at the same time. We were in such a crisis and despite family living on the very next street, no one came to help or my younger brother. Our family was never allowed to talk about real issues and growing up in the shadow of a mass fantasy is a difficult thing. Shame is intergenerational, pervasive, insidious, and silent.
I never did graduate high school, but I left that family, that city, thoroughly educated. It’s only by the grace of God that I am here to tell this story today without being triggered so heavily that I’m rendered ineffective. We’ll never know the sufferings of those who made us suffer and sometimes, closure is simply not possible. Sometimes only death, distance, and a good therapist can show us a greater perspective.
Dedicated to all the lonely children inside of us, Save Me is our song of mourning for mothers who never were and who never could be. I feel myself sending my voice back to the demons who claimed her. And while these demons caused unspeakable pain, those fuckers have not won me. By the grace of something more powerful than them and all this explained,
I am still here to sing my truth. And I do it with love.