Music Monday: Indigo Girls' "Ghost"

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

I was nearly 16 and I was on an unforgettable adventure in Virginia, miles and miles from my home in Missouri. It was summer, and I'd been gifted a solo trip to visit a long-distance girlfriend I'd gotten close to the previous summer when she'd stayed with her brother and his family for the summer as a nanny-aunt to their kids. Her name was Becky, and she had an infectious gappy smile and a generous helping of freckles across her nose. We'd bonded immediately at church and spent that summer, when I was 15, practicing makeup, singing along to the radio, talking about life and love, and mooching rides to get ice cream from her brother or sister-in-law.

When she had to head back home to Virginia at the end of that summer, we vowed we'd write, and that we'd see each other again. With the help of plenty of letters and one midwinter visit back to Missouri, she and I maintained a deep enough friendship that when we told our parents of our wild plan to get me out to Virginia the next summer, somehow they let us make it happen.

And so, right as I was about to turn 16, I found myself on an airplane alone, looking down at amazing clouds and reveling in my first airplane flight since I was 4. Upon landing, I found myself double-hugged by a smiling Becky and her near-carbon copy twin sister, Jenny, just as freckled and gap-toothed. The promise of adventure and fun was heavy in the air.

Along the way, some of that anticipation waned.... Some of the magic got tarnished by basic reality. Jenny and Becky had a huge gaggle of friends and much of the time I was there, I was thrust in the midst of a crowd I barely knew. There were awkward moments when the sisters would pick at each other, or argue with their dad,who had custody of them for the time I was there. Becky had a boyfriend by then, and sometimes she opted to give her attention to him instead of me, leaving me feeling more like an outsider than I'd expected.

 But there were moments of pure magic, too.  Visceral moments seared into my memory of a humid 4th of July night in a small school stadium on the grounds, on quilts, watching fireworks. Swimming in the James River in my favorite swimsuit ever, a photorealistic print of fresh fruit. Touring the beautiful house and grounds of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home. Going to Virginia Beach. Celebrating my 16th birthday at her dad's house, where, unexpectedly, her stepmom had even thought to get me a couple of sweet gifts and a cake.

And the moment I remember most of all-- such a small, ordinary thing, but one of my favorite memories from my teenage years: one night, Becky, Jenny, and several of their friends crowded into a few cars to cruise into the twilight night along country roads.... windows down, the smell of cigarette smoke wafting from one or two of the kids who had lit up... and the sound of Becky and her twin singing along to  "Ghost" by the Indigo Girls in strong harmonies, not missing a note. One sister took the higher part, the other seamlessly flowed to the lower harmonies, and the song itself haunted all of us in the darkening night. There was freedom that night. The winding, tree-lined roads, the open windows, the muggy warm air... a few fireflies along the roadside... the smell of smoke (to this day, I feel a deep nostalgia at the wafting hint of cigarette smoke in the summertime)... And the sound of two perfectly-matched voices singing a plaintive, beautiful, haunted song I fell in love with that night and have never stopped loving.

To this day, if the stars align and my iTunes gives me "Ghost" through my car speakers on a summer evening, I have to roll my windows down, let the wind fill the car with muggy warm air, and I have to sing. Sing and feel and remember what it was like to be an almost-16-year old with undefined wishes and hopes and ideals. An almost-16 year old learning about herself and a little more about the world, that summer she got to spend a string of days in Virginia, far from home and happysadexcitedgrowing.


  1. This was beautifully written! More, please! Heck, if your wrote a memoir filled with these little vignettes of your life (especially stuff like this that I was too young to even remember or be around for) I would buy the crap out of that book and read it not just to take a peek at your life but to enjoy the lovely way you tell the story of your life.

    Anyways, love the song, love the memory, love the pictures. Love this!

  2. Wow, I didn't even remember that you'd taken this trip, much less heard any of the stories from it... and I agree w/ Kirsti about the beautiful way you write about it. Also, how lucky that you took a "selfie" (before that was even a "thing") from that summer to add to the words in recreating the experience (I do remember the bating suit, from swimming excursions at home, no doubt. It was pretty dang cool).

    And I think it's so funny that as Mormon as we were and are, outdoor cigarette smoke (mixed with humidity and humanity) is such a nostalgic, evocative smell for both of us. For me, it's mainly associated with amusement parks and fairs/festivals (well, and college campuses)... but there it is...

    Anyway - love you :)


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