Twenty Seven


Taillights like domino dots, only red.

The anticipation of what a summer night could yield as palpable as the humidity at the intersection of then and now, where I idle. At least there’s a breeze. Windows down, the heat backed off enough to coax me out of my air-conditioned, sensory deprivation pod, arm dangling out the window, hand air surfing, dipping and diving, ribbons of warmth weave through my fingers like batter.

Moist. Night. Air.

Motown streams from the tricked-out Impala beside me and the fragrance of a Mimosa tree is rich recompense for waiting through two traffic lights.  

I check my look in the mirror. In brown eyes, dark as molasses, I see the reassuring trace of the pretty girl I used to be. Wish I’d realized it at the time. What power! Better late than never, to own it now I suppose, because we know too well the fleeting truth. So silly. I suspect I still crave the affirmation missing from my momma. Just one time, I wanted her to say, “such a pretty girl, Jean,” as if, in the absence of the irrefutable evidence her words commanded, perception cloaked me in some kind of consolation prize. It’s a divet of self-confidence I repeatedly plug and patch, plug and patch, while I heap what was missing from my girlhood onto my daughter, whose loveliness still takes my breath away. Oh how we parents try to compensate.

Red light turns to green and I have goosebumps. Goosebumps, because I’m on my way to a Brandi Carlile concert with said 25-year old lovely daughter. How is it then, that at this very moment I feel 27? Impossible, of course, but damn near tactile the energy which has just poured over me in a shudder.

Porous. Receptive. Ready.  

It’s coming back. I remember it now. I know why I snatched 27 out of thin air and bolted it on to this moment, this intersection, this emotion. It’s the same way I felt when I was 27, traveling solo for the first time in my life, driving through the mountains west of Reno on my way to Lake Tahoe to work for a summer. Alone, by my own volition, under my own direction, my pace, my life, on the cusp of something alluring and thrilling, freedom filled up my senses. I stopped in a biker bar for a beer after  I’d navigated the hairpin turns. I was all in and all out there.

Then and now.

In the concert venue, the house lights down, this is my favorite moment. On the cusp of a live performance, anticipation hangs sweet. Everybody knows there’s no instant replay. I lean over and kiss my daughter on the cheek and throw my heart out to the girl on the stage, with a voice so clear and so strong, you wonder how it could come from such a little girl. But this girl, wow, this girl can sing!

What is it about music, especially live music and watching great performances that turns us inside out like a blouse we need to wash, our veins the seams, our hearts the tag, we flip ‘em to the outside and willingly jump in for the spin cycle. Spin me, Brandi, I’m yours.  Tears roll when she sings the song I didn’t know a half hour ago, but had stowed away for years.  

And keep your heart young
Don’t go growing old before your time has come
You can’t take back what you have done
You gotta keep your heart young

I’ll take 27, powerful, pretty thing.  Sing it loud Brandi ‘cause I’m right there with you.

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About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. Jean–

    That last (long) paragraph about the impact live music has on us is profound.

    I used to love to go to Harry Chapin concerts. No concert has matched his, intimacy-wise, in my opinion. How fantastic, that you and your daughter could share this experience.

    And Jean, every birthday can be an anniversary of your 27th birthday…

  2. Well you’ve done it again, captured the moment with words. Your writing is such a gift. Both mother-daughter comments made me tear up.

  3. Well you’ve done it again, captured the moment with words. Your writing is such a gift. Both mother-daughter comments made me tear up.