If we were meandering through the mall to pass time before the movie started or if we were in the car with the windows rolled down waiting for mama to finish grocery shopping, I can’t remember. Pouring from the speakers, the staccato tap-tap-tap of the song made my heart swell with recognition. The world faded away until there was only me and my nephew, Tyler, as Eliza Doolittle’s sugary voice wafted around us.
“I know you say you’re ready to change / But I need to get it down on paper”
Tyler had his earbuds in and was scrolling through his phone. I clasped his arm to get his attention. “Don’t you remember this song?” I readied myself for him to reflect my excitement, to grasp my hand while we both stared in wide-eyed and grinning as we were jolted back into our shared childhood memories.
“What?” He removed one earbud and a harsh, unfamiliar bass thumped from it. I repeated myself, but my words did not contain the same conviction.
The song expanded into the chorus and enveloped me in its warmth. “You’re singing with a broken string / tell me what you really mean / do you know what you want?”
After a few seconds to listening to the song play out, he shrugged. “Kinda catchy, I guess.”
He had to remember that this song had been on the soundtrack to our summer. We played it in the background whenever he and his sister gathered at my house to do our homework as we waited for their mama to get off work. How many afternoons had we spent listening to this song on repeat, learning every word and choreographing dance moves to go with it?
I wanted to shake him and say, “Remember when I was 11 and you were in elementary school? Remember when you would ask me to play this song every time you came over because it made you feel happy? Don’t you remember that?”
When Tyler and his sister, Tiara would come over, those afternoons where what I looked forward to during school because then, as the oldest, I got to be in charge of everyone. We listened to the songs and artists that I loved, watched my favorite shows on tv, and made music videos and movies that I had written scripts for over the weekend.
Of course, he had to remember January of 2011 when iTunes made Rollerblades by Eliza Doolittle free for a whole week. I listened to the 60 second clip and knew that I had to buy it from the iTunes store so I could play it in full for them. I had been eager for them to like it as much as I did. Tiara was too easy, though. She liked whatever I told her to like, but Tyler, he fell in love with it. After school, we would congregate in my room where I would plug my iPod into the speaker and play songs as loud as we wanted.
“This train won’t stop for anybody to get off”. I sang along with Eliza hoping that this would jog his memory. After all those years, the lyrics had stayed with me. It had caught me by surprise that I was carrying this small remnant from my childhood within me this entire time. I nudged his shoulder. “Listen, this was our song. You used to love this song.”
He shook his head as his attention wavered.
Grinning ear to ear, I said, “And remember how we would film music videos for them too. I might still have those videos on my computer somewhere.”
His rolled his eyes. “Please don’t go digging those up.”
This time he looked me in the eyes as if the answer was obvious. “Because it’s embarrassing.”
My room was just a space for us kids. We would browse through my music collection, which consisted of Kidz Bop covers that came free with a kids’ meal at McDonalds, Bratz the Movie soundtrack, a Captain Underpants soundtrack that I had gotten from the collector’s edition book, and Justin Bieber My World E.P that I stole from my niece in Kansas. We would pop one into the dvd player of my television since it didn’t have cable and would begin to decorate my room. There was never any rhyme or reason for how we would set it up. We used and recycled whatever I had available. We would hang neon pink yarn around the room like streamers and then we would scratter my stuffed animals, or our guests. For lighting, we would switch on this battery operated disco ball that was no bigger than a volleyball and place it on the highest shelf. Since these parties could get super messy, we would sometimes opt to watch a movie instead especially if Tiara and Tyler were sleeping over. I had several options. Some I had bought myself and others had been ones my older sister had left behind. Then, we would turn the lights off and curl up inside my Barbie tent where we would dare each other not to fall asleep. But as the night would wind down and despite threatening to draw on each other’s faces if any of us were to fall asleep first, everyone would end up knocked out, drooling onto my pillows. I would be the last one to fall asleep because the fear of missing out or being left out of a joke the next morning kept me awake. As the last one up, I would make sure the lights and tv were off, grab us extra blankets, and fall asleep to the sounds of them snoring.
“Do you know what you want? / do you know, oh no”
Growing up so close in age, my nieces, nephews, and I spent our entire childhoods cramped in my room yet somehow we remembered that time so differently from one another. Once when we were gathered around the kids’ table for Thanksgiving dinner, I brought up the parties that we used to throw in the hopes that they would remembered them like I remembered them.
Thanksgiving was the one holiday that everyone on both sides of the family was guaranteed to be together. My house would be inundated with the smokey smell of barbecued ribs and with shivering bodies flocking inside to escape the cold. Pans and bowls of gooey macaroni, mashed potatoes, and pasta salad line the counters waiting for the youngest to get the first serve. When we come back to the table with our plates falling apart from the weight of the food we got, I bring up the parties we used to throw
“Ugh, I used to hate those. You always forced us to play with you,” said B. J, the oldest nephew. I elbowed his arm as I smiled. We sat next to each other at all family functions even it meant having to find another table separate from the family.
“Not all the time,” I said, “you guys were into it, too.”
The adults in the family sat in the dining room and their loud, deep laughs and conversations traveled down the hall to our table making it hard for us to hear each other. The Kids’ Table was reserved for me, my nieces, and my nephews. Though my cousin’s two year and newborn got to sit with the adults in the dining room.
B. J turned to the others. “Do you remember when she would start crying when we didn’t want to do whatever it was?”
“And her throwing us out of her room like all the time,” said Neia, the youngest niece.
Tyler laughed, “And her slamming the door, then grandma would start yelling and that would be this whole big thing. Then we would have to sit on the couch in the living room silent and all you would hear is Laurann sniffling in the corner.”
We were older now. I was eighteen and back from college for a week and they were all in high school. We had traded our Nintendos in for iPhones and touch screen laptops. We had moved houses a collective total of 11 times. My room was purple now and mama had given all of my stuffed animals to Goodwill. It had happened without warning. One day I had a green basket packed with stuffed animals and then the next, they weren’t there anymore. I never noticed they were gone until a year later when I was packing for college.
“Cause she was always getting a beating. Like, what are you in trouble for this time? We couldn’t do nothing at grandma’s house cause Laurann either just got a beating or was finna get one,” said B. J. The rest nodded and murmured in agreement.
Neia nodded, “When she was mad, she wanted everyone else to be miserable too.”
I smiled along with them, but I couldn’t tell if it hurt because what they were saying was the truth or because that was how they remembered me. Regardless, I knew better than to show this. We were never that kind of family. We never did learn how to fill the silence with our own words, our own feelings. We relied on tv shows and songs to fill it for us until there was no space for what we had to say.
“We got to run with it / It will get better.”
Wherever we were, I looked towards Tyler. “Are you sure you don’t remember this song?” I asked once again, stressing every word in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, he’ll remember and we could then talk about all the songs we listened to, all the movies we watched lying on my bedroom floor, and all the late night jokes we shared.
He didn’t bother lifting his head. He had already put his headphones back on and he hadn’t heard me ask. The song petered out with me still listening. “Beating up on yesterday, I was on my rollerblades / Rolling on moving on”
I looked at him, a bit surprised. This was not the same boy who let me dress me up as a famous celebrity. This was not the same boy who had fallen in love with Eliza Doolittle’s Rollerblades. He was someone else entirely and so was I. The boy in front of me had surpassed me in height, had bleached his hair orange, and had a burgeoning beard that he had jutted his chin out for me to see. The two images were impossible to mash together.
It started to make sense why we rarely saw it each other anymore. We no longer had to.