I once had a boy.
Or should I say, he once had me.
. . . . .
“Damn, girl. You really put yourself out there,” someone said when I first started this blog.
It wasn’t a compliment.
The idea was to document the ghost and spirit phenomena known my entire life. And I stared him, hurt. How would I make people understand if I didn’t share exactly what happened? Exactly how I felt?
I can’t just write: So, hey. I heard from God yesterday. It was super cool! He’s real and prayer works. Trust me!
You need to know I heard Him with my head in the toilet on the bathroom floor. Then later, screaming at the ceiling for help. Because then (maybe) you understand why the angels came.
Like now, for this entry, I could write:
I was dangerously sad once. But then some magic happened and I got saved.
But that conveys nothing.
Better to explain it was 1999, and I was circling the drain.
That I craved cigarettes more than food. That I woke up hungover most days and weighed 113 pounds. That I lost the boy I loved AND my longtime best friend at the exact same time. — I did get straight As my last semester. But I also got arrested. And sometimes, despair twisted my stomach SO hard, I vomited. Not bulimia. Stress.
See? Now you have a picture.
That’s why I splash my guts on paper.
So you understand what I mean when I say dangerously sad.
But don’t get me wrong.
Mine wasn’t an Amy Winehouse situation. I never adopted hard drugs or slept in puke. And I never slept around. But my glass heart was absolutely shattered and I did everything possible to forget.
Including running away.
Things I had:
- a diploma
- a pack of cigarettes.
- a ticket to London
- a dear
friendangel coming with me.
Things I didn’t have:
- a job.
- a place to live.
- a plan.
- a clue.
But the fates were kind.
We scored jobs AND a tiny flat in Hackney within days. Our flatmate was a nutty Turk who cooked breakfast — I’m talking eggs, bread, hot tea and some kinda meat — every single day. And truth be told, it was pretty freaking great. Waiting tables in Covent Garden was crazy fun and I made friends easily.
But demons live in England, too.
They just have nicer accents.
And here’s the thing about grief.
Beer won’t drown it.
And it doesn’t evaporate in smoke.
No, pain delights in avoidance, gaining strength the longer it’s buried.
And in the wee hours, mine was a scratching nocturnal rodent.
I flipped on my side.
Mine also had this *awesome* soundtrack.
- You selfish bitch.
- They’re probably having sex right now.
- Drink some more.
- He never really loved you.
- You fuck everything up.
- Your body is gross.
- They’re laughing at you.
- Cum laude for WHAT, WAITRESS.
My record flipped and started again.
God, please make it stop.
I threw off the covers and lit a cigarette, throwing my lighter on the coffee table, staring at the clock. Texas was 6 hours behind. What were they doing right now? What if I called? Who would pick up? What would I say?
5. Please forgive me.
6. I can’t breathe I miss you so much.
7. I need help.
I made tea and got ready for work, determined to have a good day. She looked like me, that girl in the mirror. Sort of. But nicotine dulled her bright green eyes and her lips were thin clouds of regret. What did I do to make them hate me?
8. No. Fuck them.
I glossed my lips and stepped into the living room where Ivan could see I’d had another bad night.
“You make yourself crazy,” he laughed, rolling papers across his pink tongue.
Ivan was a political refugee and thought my problems were hilarious.
He passed me the joint.
“At least my country likes me.” I took a long drag.
“Then why you live here?”
“Because you make good breakfast.” I blew smoke his way, and he swatted me with his paper on my way out.
Whatever misery I suffered, at least I was in London and loved my commute. Train time was quiet time.
And walking alongside Dickensian buildings under grey skies soothed me somehow. My favorite was a shuttered, war-time bakery with Hot Cross Buns 4p! faded in the cracked glass.
So I worked and slept and smoked and drank and played my nasty record.
And that was my life.
My friends were pink-cheeked internationals, well-acquainted with the glitter-faced party girl.
But only a few knew the one who hid in pub corners, scribbling pain in a worn journal, crying if the wrong song came on.
And one of them was Christopher.
We met two years prior when I moved to London for a work abroad program. Our initial meeting is a straight-up testament to fate, but I’ll tell that story another time. We kept in touch when I went home to graduate and were mutually happy upon my return. Trust for now our friendship was solid. He was easy, pleasant company, and I made him laugh.
“What are you doing this weekend?” he asked.
“Would you like to do something?”
“OK.” I fished around my cavernous purse, ciggie in mouth. We also had an uncanny ability to stretch a coffee date into 8 hours, which made me nervous.
You don’t want me, I warned when his gazes got a little long. Not like that.I’m difficult.
“Pick you up at noon?” He pulled a Zippo from his pocket, and I leaned in.
We were new then. So new we were barely a we. And overly cautious. Coffees, lunches, museums and safe stuff. Momma didn’t raise a ho.
“Fancy going to Liverpool?” he asked, when I opened the door that Saturday.
. . . Liverpool?
“It’s only a few hours by train,” he said in the doorway. “Jenny?”
I stood there gobsmacked, as they say in Britain.
Liverpool was like Atlantis to a little Texan Beatle fan.
Mythical, magic, and far, far away.
But I was older now.
Living in England.
Why had I never —
I nodded dumbly, then there we were hours later,
clacking to the great English North.
Buildings, then suburbs sped into bright green fields, and I gazed past my reflection to my childhood. To the first time I saw A Hard Day’s Night. My soul like E X P L O D I N G when Paul McCartney came onscreen.
No, seriously.The Beatles split my personal atom and you must accept that as fact before reading further.
Music and lyrics.
Books and words.
Oh God. And that short story I wrote for 6th grade English where Paul gets a flat tire and rings my doorbell needing to use the phone. Open the door and let ’em in I wrote in my big ol’ 12-year-old handwriting, marveling my genius. But— “Isn’t he a bit old for you?” was all my teacher said. Clearly unfit to protect and serve young imaginations.
I smiled against the cold window, my brain quiet for the first time in weeks then looked around the train.
Books and Beatles.
Music and Words.
My lifelong medicines shelved and neglected for so very long.
W H Y ?
Christopher sat opposite, reading the paper. Everything about him gentlemanly and quiet. But clearly a masochtic lunatic. Because I’m gonna hurt you, Christopher. Just like—-
Hush. He pressed warm tea in my hands. We’re here.
The doors slid open to whistles and squealing breaks and I froze on the steps, transported to my middle school bedroom. Wham! posters on the wall. The Babysitters Club dog-eared on my twin bed. And there I was on my belly. Watching Help! Squirming with the *delightful*new nether-tinglies discovered during The Night Before scene.
” . . . excuse me, Miss.”
“Please step aside to allow people off the train.”
I moved and people rushed past. My old-me memories playing in 4-D, commanding my attention. I’d forgotten that in-tact, happy girl. She was precious and rare. An endangered species. “Paul Simon wrote Homeward Bound here,” I blurted like some automaton, remembering high school and early college. Happy on my bed alone. Candles and incense. Acoustic harmonies separating my guts into quarters, braiding me into minor folds.
Simon & Garfunkel.
Crosby, Stills, & Nash.
Fleetwood Mac and Billy Joel, who wrote Vienna for me, I swear.
That chick only needed books, music, pen and paper.
Where did she go?
I looked up and around like an awestruck toddler.
Disney fans probably feel the same their first time in the Magic Kingdom. But this was better because it felt like walking through an album cover.
“Where d’you want to go first?”
The Cavern, my mouth formed and the movie reel melted, the dark thing in me stirring. The monster I housed, threatening.
“Jenny, you alright?”
No. I wasn’t alright at all.
For so long I harbored lies. Jagged-edged insecurites too awful to say out loud. So I swallowed them whole, choking on self-destruction when things threatened to improve. Like now.
We turned the corner onto Mathew Street, the birthplace of the Beatles, and I teetered on some precipice. My feelings unfolding. Packed too tight for too long.
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
I dropped Christopher’s hand.
My overnight bag.
into the womb
B r i t i s h I n v a s i on.
Were they actually playing —
The deeper I descended the louder it got.
Something in me rising, too.
My mouth opened.
I’d been sad for so long.
Invisible fingers reached down my throat,
grabbing the hairy,
that told me
s l o w.
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see.
Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you, tomorrow I’ll miss you, the band played as my feet hit the Cavern Floor.
And in that moment
The soul God created.
And I wept.
Stood there like a damn fool and cried.
Lord, I cried.
I couldn’t help it.
It was either that or puke.
An angel rushed over with light-blue eye shadow and frosty pink lips. Giant hoops and a silver bob framed her weathered face and I imagine she’d spent every weekend down there since 1964.
“You alright, love?”
It sounded like yooawdight, loov?
No I wasn’t bloody alright. I just sampled every human emotion in 2 minutes plus I think I heard from God so maybe I was gonna die.
She ushered me to a chair and motioned the barman to pour me a drink.
Snot bubbled from my nostrils while she grabbed for napkins. “We understand,” she soothed, patting my arm. And I believed her. Liverpudlians saw my type everyday. Fans making pilgrimages, squealing when they reached The Cavern.
But the other thing — the part I couldn’t articulate —was the old, sparkly me running headlong into the broken me. Combusting upon impact in the most sacred place a Beatle fan can tread.
Tears gushed down my cheeks faster than she could mop them up.
“Who you here with, loov?”
Oh God Christopher! I left him on the street!
I looked around wildly but there he was. Ordering a pint. Shaking his head and smiling at me the way one does at a dumb puppy, barking at himself in the mirror.
Hold your head up you silly girl.
I hugged that angel lady hard, apologized to the band for scaring them, and emerged from The Cavern spit-shined. My despair scooped clean.
From the sanctity of adulthood I know health, happiness, and self-worth are my responsibility.
But back then, it was a revelation.
Grace isn’t reserved for the holy. And God doesn’t always send miracles. Sometimes He sends people with an opportunity to get it right.
And if magic exists, it was in me that day. Next to my future husband. Surrounded by charismatic locals with the very best accents in the entire world.
God laid it out from the start, my bliss. What plugged me into Him.
And if you’re reading this like:
We get it. You like the Beatles.
. . . then I’ve failed here, and please go on about your business.
But there’s a reason art transcends. Why people sniff books and cry at the opera. Why we run our fingers over statues and pay so much for concert tickets. Because art reaches in our guts and makes us FEEL. That power is real.
And I heard the loving, male voice I hadn’t heard in so long.
Follow your bliss and drop the self-torture, girl.
No one’s listening to that record but you.
People say the Ganges has healing powers, but I dunno. I vote Mersey. Because I was restored that day. Just like that. My old-self uncurling in a fetal sort of way.
So what good is to write: I was dangerously sad once. But then some magic happened and I got saved.
Better to tell a full story.
And how I got by with a little help from my friends.
John, Paul, George, Ringo.
This bird had flown.
4 thoughts on “How The Beatles Saved Me.”
I love you, Jennifer Kabay. You were born several decades after I was. How is it that you so get me??? Cheryl (09/01/1950)
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Jennifer I loved this story!!!! I know how you Feel with the exception that I’ve never been To England. Thank you for sharing your experiences with me and your fans! Love you girlie!!
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Jennifer, this is beautiful. You have grown so much in the 15 years, or so, that I’ve known you. I love your stories –