Last night Hotty Scotty took me to this show. We both like Tom Petty but it is I who has both loved and hated his music for various emotional reasons throughout my life.
You know how certain music becomes attached to what you are doing or how you are feeling at the time? My problem with Tom is he has always seemed to be in the background of everything I do, but never so much as in 1989. The year Tom Petty released “Full Moon Fever” and the year I tried to forget.
I was dumped on Valentines day that year. Which doesn’t seem like a big deal, and it wasn’t, or at least it shouldn’t have been but I was young and foolish, angry and resentful and most likely full of myself. (what a vain young girl I was – well, still kinda am, except for the young part) It was in this moment of rejection that I allowed myself to indulge in something, well someone, who I knew I should not have. First mistake, biggest mistake and the catalyst for what was to come.
1989 was the year I graduated from high school (pregnant), the year my beloved dog “Boots” died and the year I met Joe, the man I knew I was meant to marry. really? How can you know that at 17? All I can tell you is I knew I shouldn’t love him, so I said didn’t, but really did. I knew I had disrupted my family with my selfishness so I kept my agony to myself. I also knew all of this could just be hormones and emotions talking so I tried to be tough (I now know strong and tough are not the same but back then I thought tough was cool and no different).
So how does Tom Petty fit into all this? Well the album was released in April 1989 and it was the next month that I met Joe. The moment angels sang and my knees turned to jelly, stomach flopped and lightening struck…please insert every falling in love cliché here. By summertime he was driving me home and singing along to “Free Falling” … “she’s a good girl loves her mama love Jesus and America too” he’d turn up the radio and then to me asking why couldn’t I be a good girl? As the summer went on and my belly grew (I should point out the unborn infant not his -I was already knocked up when we met) he would look at me and sing along “Yer so bad, the best that I ever had… Joe would smile but I could see he was falling in love with us (me and my belly) and that he didn’t want to, many times he said “you are not the kind of girl a guy marries.” It was this statement that made me turn against Tom Petty. For many years following, after Joe and I split, after I searched the woods for the body of my dog, (he was dying, and as dogs sometimes do he’d wandered away, though I tried to stop him). After I gave my newborn child up for adoption and I just about lost my mind . After all this, the year passed to 1990 and I shoved the memories of 1989 into a pit which I had dug deep down in my gut then stepped on them like an overflowing trash bin. I did not embrace that I was a bad girl or one which a man does not marry but I believed it.
During the decade of my twenties I could not hear Tom Petty music without being reminded of my heartaches and mistakes, the memories brought me embarrassment. I would literally cringe if “free-falling” came on the radio, my hand automatically clicking to a new station.
At age seventeen I presumed by the time I was thirty I would be mature enough to look back at myself in retrospect with what… love? understanding? I don’t know, but surely by then enough time would have passed that I could return to becoming who I was meant to be. But thirties came and went and while I was a little wiser and more mature I still wasn’t quite there yet. It wasn’t until I was 40 and divorced, realizing I would never have any more children but grateful for the one I share with my ex, and finally in a strong loving relationship, that I came to understand I was wrong. I had misunderstood Joe’s interpretation of the lyrics. I began to listen to Tom Petty again and was grateful for the memories he provided. Without his music I may have succeeded in obliterating 1989. All those years ago Joe probably did not mean I was not a good girl. It suddenly occurred to me that he had his own struggles, namely, falling in love with pregnant girl. He might have felt like “I’m a bad boy for breaking her heart.” Also he did not mean, as I took it, that no man would ever want to marry me. He was just talking himself out of loving me. I was a big bag of trouble and he was on his way to something great. It took me twenty-something years to understand that he was only looking out for himself and not trying to hurt me. We were all hurting.
We were so young, still learning to fly but we didn’t have wings. Coming down is the hardest thing.
Tom Petty may not be my most favourite musician (although he is up there) but his music has been the soundtrack to my life whether I liked it or not.