New York to Nevada, 1985

Between drags of her Kent cigarettes, I grew up with my mother’s baritone voice singing along to every Billy Joel song. Innocent Man was a song that, with her deep voice, sounded ridiculous.

With stops at the cheapest hotels and diners we could find along the way, Billy’s music helped to pass the time as me, my little brother, and our mother took a road trip from New York to Nevada. Are we there yet?

I can still remember my brother in the backseat: “Uptown ‘gurl,’ she’s my uptown ‘gurl,’ you know I’m in love with an uptown ‘gurl.’  My brother had a speech impediment when he was younger, and no one sang that song as cute as he did.

I wish a few Billy Joel songs did not torture my soul, but songs are a time machine. Easter of 1985, when I was nine years old, my mother took off to Nevada after a judge ordered her to let my dad spend more time with me. I wouldn’t discover all the truths about that time in my life until thirty years later. I grew up being told we left New York because my dad was a “bad man” who did “bad things” to me. Court documents and medical records would later prove otherwise.

Our mother-daughter relationship had deteriorated by this time but knowing what she had done was the final nail in the coffin. Perhaps that nail could be removed if she admitted to or took responsibility for her actions back then.

Families fight and sometimes they pick sides. My brother picked our mother’s. You would have to ask him why, but I went from his best friend to a complete stranger.

Billy Joel once said to “Leave A Tender Moment Alone,” and I could not agree more. I can’t listen to Uptown Girl. At all. As for Innocent Man, I can still hear Mom’s voice as Billy hits notes higher and higher. A smirk sometimes appears as I sing along, in the right register.

Stereo Story #592

 

See also Christine Browne’s story about Billy Joel’s She’s Got A Way.

 

Cher has had work recently accepted by Breath and Shadow and Passionate Chic magazine, The Diarist Project, Daily Inspired Life, and the book/blog, We Remember What We Ate. She is also the author of But You Look So Good and Other Lies: A memoir.