WATFORD CITY, N.D. — “If being closer to the ground, makes for softer falls, you have to be tough to stand tall.”
I was 17 years old, getting ready to move away from the ranch and out into the world when I wrote that line, feeling the pull of growing up looming over me like the nurse who calls your name and is now waiting in the doorway for you to follow her back for the diagnosis.
I knew that impending adulthood should more thrill than loom, and so there I was, behind my guitar, trying to convince myself…
“I don’t believe in fairy tales or staying young forever…”
My voice sounded higher, lighter, but surprisingly not timid and unsure like I know I felt in that studio in frigid Fargo where I recorded that song over Christmas break during college, when it seemed every other student was back home with the familiar. Almost 20 years ago.
I chose to stay away to create a piece of work that would mark the very frozen, determined and often lonesome four years I spent away at college, with long stretches of time spent traveling the Plains, singing for my supper. Wondering what to be when I grew up.
It was avoidance in the form of work. It was the same thing I did the summer after my freshman year, knowing that if I went back to the ranch, I might never leave. So I stayed to be a grown-up.
And then I blinked and I’m grown up. And the grown-up version of me listened to those words tonight, staring into the path my headlights cut on Interstate 94 headed east to where the snow is piled high up past my knees.
I just purchased $50 worth of face cream on an impulse to try to keep the evidence from 36 years of laughing, worrying, rolling my eyes and sleeping face-down with the pillow smashed over my head from truly showing and I was trying to keep my mind off of a rolling argument my husband and I have been having for a couple months now.
When I called him to check in, the puppy had just pooped on the carpet, and one of our young daughters had stepped in it. This was no time to try to work through it again.
I let him go and decided to seek refuge in a voice that used to be so familiar to me. I rarely listen to my music after it’s produced and out in the world, unless I have to relearn something. Which always baffles people — that I would have to relearn a piece of music I wrote myself, as if once it’s down, it’s etched in my memory.
But it’s all so much more complicated than that, isn’t it?
Because we move on. We change, and along the way we pick our favorite stories to carry with us. My songs have been like that for me.
I suppose sometimes relationships are like that, too. That’s why marriage can be so beautifully maddening. Because it’s a song you’re continually writing with someone who, sometimes, may be singing in a completely different key.
When I wrote those words at 17, I loved the boy who would become the man who, as I type, has likely fallen asleep in one of our kids’ beds, fully dressed, neckerchief and all, taking care of the things we love while I’m hundreds of miles away telling stories.
Was this the fairy tale I wouldn’t let myself believe in? How could I have ever known what it would truly take to make the happily ever after that I muse and ponder and write about these days?
At least I knew then that I couldn’t know, and that’s the beauty of it all for me.
The new song? It has uncertainties, but they are changed now.
And it has more patience and apologies, good humor and messes and arguments in the kitchen.
Oh, and two daughters with the world before them, perfectly oblivious and twirling across the unswept floor.
And it sounds less like a child and more like a woman in a three-day ponytail standing next to a man in a wool cap who together believe fiercely in that fairy tale, not the one that sparkles and shines, but the one that holds on tight...
Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.