I wake up on my 18th birthday of singular mind: I’m going to find my mother.
This task proved harder than I thought it would be. A closed adoption, a fragile adoptive mother, a biological mother in the wind. I keep digging and hunting, guided by an agency-appointed investigator.
My whole life, all I’ve wanted was her. Her love and acceptance, her saving.
It is fall, then winter, then spring, then summer. Then fall, then winter, then spring, then summer. I’m home in Pittsburgh working a job. This is when I think I’m going to be a doctor, so I wear my scrubs and work in the billing department at a doctor’s office. My cell phone rings.
I immediately know it is my investigator. I know she has news. I told myself I wouldn’t, but I rush to the bathroom and answer the call.
She has news, she’s found my mother. After a slew of bad information, she’s been found. There are a lot of police reports, she tells me. A lot of years of heroin addiction, starting even before I was born. Continuing through her pregnancy with me.
I always thought that, in movies, when people receive devastating news and sink to the floor that they do it for drama, until I found myself on the floor. The sick white bathroom tile the only thing keeping me steady. I wanted to lie down, I wanted to cry. I excused myself from work and called my adoptive mother and sobbed in her car.
Listening to an indie rock Pandora station through this time in my life, I discovered a new band. The National, a band bred of a sadness only Ohioans know. Being from Pennsylvania, it felt similar to me. The first song I heard was called “Sorrow,wp_postsso fitting for my mental state at the time.
When I met with my investigator again, she told me she reached out to my mother to arrange a meeting. My mother said yes at first, then walked it back. Citing the fact that I was not her family. For the sake of my adoptive mom, I pretended to be fine with this news. But that night, I cried until every part of me ached.
“I live in a city sorrow built
it’s in my honey, it’s in my milk
Don’t leave my hyper heart alone on the water
Cover me in rag and bone sympathy
‘Cause I don’t want to get over you”
I played it on repeat, sighing, crying. Repeating ‘not family’ over and over again in my head. Sorrow won, sorrow was my everything, my teeth. I didn’t want to move on, I didn’t want to get over my mother, her rejection. I didn’t want to move on.
I took to late night runs, blasting The National in my huge black over-ear head phones. I imagined how I looked from behind, stalking the night, my head lolling with the movement of my body. I didn’t know if I even fully understood the lyrics, but I felt them. I felt that someone had been devastated the way I had been and decided to write a song. The greatest gift.
“Sorrowwp_postsopens with these rapid fire, staccato drums, and immediately follows them with matching guitar. Heavy, fast, and yet still light. Matt Berninger’s voice is low, heady, even. Toward the end, an almost angelic voice comes in, bringing the song to a startingly white finish. I listened to that song so much I heard it in my sleep.
The composition of “Sorrowwp_postsis very appealing to me, an often emotional woman with a past full of pain. Some that I caused myself. Everything about it screamed out to me, though the song itself is very measured. My first real heartbreak that I can remember was punctuated by it through almost every step.
The National remains one of my favorite bands, and if they have a show near me, I go if I can. I survived that moment of my life if only to hear that song one more time, then another time, then another. It really got me through it, even if I was sobbing through it.
I fell in love for the first time in 2016. It took a year and a half for it to turn sour and end. I’ll glaze over the gory details.
I was in love, then I wasn’t. One night, after a big fight. I got on my bike to make the short trek home and a song came to me.
“I’m a recovering under cover over lover
recovering from a love I can’t get over.”
Erykah Badu was a huge part of my adolescence. I listened to her music non-stop. Until right around 2015 when she made some comments about how young women and girls need to stop wearing short skirts if they don’t want to be abused by men.
I didn’t listen to her for a while after out of protest, but that night, all I wanted was “Out My Mind, Just in Time,’ a ten minute ballad about bad love.
“and i’d lie for you
I’d cry for you
and pop for you
and break for you
and hate for you
and hate you too”
I put it on in my headphones and began biking home, the red and white of the streetlights a haze as tears stung my eyes.
My second big heartbreak, how easily I had come undone. I leaned on Badu’s emphatic and soaring voice, proclaiming “out my mind, just in time.wp_postsI really did feel I was sick, crazy. Certainly out of my fucking mind. The way I couldn’t shake the feeling of being violated by my ex, of being owned and consumed by her. I felt I couldn’t break free.
I loved my ex before, and more than she loved me. It was clear from the beginning. Ending the relationship was like pulling a splinter out. It had to be done slowly, carefully.
In the following days and weeks I’d have Erykah Badu on repeat, testing the limits of a ten minute song. Could it endure? yes. Could it outlast my heartbreak? yes. The soft piano, Badu’s sweet, raspy vocals at the beginning, the yearning and sadness of it all. “I’d do anything for youwp_postsfelt so familiar and kin to me.
As the minutes roll on, the song devolves, or evolves, into this psychedelic place. The trajectory mirrored my own, at one moment steady and certain, the next completely mad.
thought I was through with you
Guess i’m a fool for you.”
Leaving my ex took all the energy of my closest friends at the time. I was briefly insane with grief. Not eating, drinking too much, showering for an hour at a time, just letting the water rinse over me. When I was finally on the other side of it, that breakup only felt like an old wound. I was finally free, and that was the most important thing. A poet friend said to me, “congratulations on your emancipationwp_postsand I smiled, thanked her.
I’ve talked about leaving Pittsburgh for years, really since 2014. I finally did it in 2022. Eight years of trying and failing, of being too scared or not ready. Of not having the money.
I didn’t think leaving would break my heart, but it did. The weeks before my move date I spent saying goodbye to my lifelong friends. Each time, I’d say my final goodbye with a hug, then close the door and immediately dissolve into tears. I had to self soothe, telling myself
it’s okay, you are okay.
“I sent you the sun from my hometown
and Chicago, and Atlanta”
Lomelda is a very recent add to my music repertoire. But one that has meant so much. I listened to “Hannah Sunwp_postsnon-stop during my moving process. From raising funds to packing to saying goodbye to the drive down south.
What I fell in love with first was her voice, kind of gravely and light all at once. The way it arches and stretches as she hits high notes is so comforting to me. “Hannah Sunwp_poststravels, moving like a body of water or a stream of light.
My move was, if anything, a community effort. From fundraising to packing to driving there. I didn’t know I was so loved until I was ready to leave. I didn’t know I was held until I was ready to take that leap.
“Sinking in again, its forever now
Glad you held her, glad you held him
Glad you held me too, though
I didn’t know how to
be closer to youuuu”
On “you,wp_postsLomelda holds this incredible long note that I couldn’t mimic until today. It leaves you breathless and a little dizzy. The sweetness of the lyrics coupled with the vocal performance made “Hannah Sunwp_postsmy favorite song from the last two years.
Through it all, through this big move, this big heartbreak, I’ve been trying to explore who I am. Who I am without my mother, without my ex, without the safety net of Pittsburgh. I’ve just been trying to be me, effortlessly, instead of trying so hard at it.
Whether or not the south is my forever home doesn’t matter much to me. What matters more is my ability to change and to grow, to see myself on the other side of my sorrow and pain. When your life has been governed by that, it is hard to see the light. But this move was the beginning of me starting to.
At the end, Lomelda sings:
“Shadowed by the blue, am i shining?
I am trying to shine, shine
Hannah, do no harm.”
And those lyrics will make me cry anytime they hit me. I am trying to shine, instead of condeming myself to the shadows.
“Hannah, do no harmwp_postsgets me at my core. I’ve done so much harm to myself over the years. After both of my first two big heartbreaks I went on a bender, I self-destructed in every way I knew how. I hurt myself and surely hurt other people, scared my friends who loved me.
As I continue to learn to be more gentle with myself, music is a guiding force. I come back to “Hannah Sunwp_postswhen I need a reminder to shine, to be kind. On the drive down from Pittsburgh, I started to cry only when it came on, my friend Gabriel at the wheel, not knowing the emotional journey I was going on in those three minutes.
When we made it to South Carolina, we were greeted by my brother, and I felt a warmth I hadn’t felt in a long time, like I was home.