Confessions by the Dashboard Lights

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

iPodThere is a song on my son’s iPod that has over 500 plays. 500 plays in 3 months, no other song comes close. He listened to this song while he was at boarding school in New Hampshire. He was depressed.

Made a wrong turn once or twice
Dug my way out, blood and fire
Bad decisions, that’s alright
Welcome to my silly life
. . .
You’re so mean when you talk
About yourself. You were wrong.
Change the voices in your head
Make them like you instead.
–P!nk “Perfect”

When my son came home from boarding school, he told me very little about his depression. He did, however, tell me how many times he played P!nk’s song. From that moment on, I followed his musical tastes closely.

We brought him home from boarding school, and his depression continued. He enrolled at a school in San Francisco halfway through the year. I picked him up from school and drove him home every day. Most days we sat in silence. When he refused to share his day with me, I would ask him to play me a song from his iPod.

‘Cause you can’t jump the track, we’re like cars on a cable
And life’s like an hourglass, glued to the table
No one can find the rewind button, girl.
So cradle your head in your hands
And breathe… just breathe
–Anna Nalick “Breathe (2am)”

He was working through his problems, and he shared this process with me every day at 3:00pm.

Hey, don’t write yourself off yet
It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on
Just do your best, do everything you can
And don’t you worry what the bitter hearts are gonna say

It just takes some time, little girl you’re in the middle of the ride.
Everything (everything) will be just fine, everything (everything) will be alright (alright).
–Jimmy Eat World “The Middle”

Sometimes it felt like he was hitting me over the head.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone.
–Kelly Clarkson “Stronger”

This must all sound so contrived. I don’t think I would believe it if I didn’t live it. The funny thing is that I was never good at finding patterns. That was my son’s strength. I take most things at face value. It wasn’t until I became aware of my son’s pain and his accompanying silence that I began to pay attention to what was happening in the car.

It all makes perfect sense now. He has been doing this type of thing for years.

My son collects inspirational quotes and posts his favorites on his Facebook “About” section. “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” Or “I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”

He searches for writings that move him, like “Acknowledgement: A Meditation” by Kenneth Sawyer and Anis Mojgani’s “Here Am It.” He made me watch countless TEDTalks. His favorite: Jan McGonigal’s “The game that can give you 10 extra years of life.”

In a week, I can stop looking for clues; my son is ready to talk. He is going to participate in a student production in which he and 10 other high school sophomores perform a series of scenes and monologues they have written about their lives. He will be writing about the last year. I’m more than a little nervous. Somehow, the expression of pain is easier to stomach when accompanied by a guitar.

I no longer pick up my son at school. He likes the independence of riding BART and the bus. Instead, I ask him to make me CD’s with his favorite songs. When I do find myself alone with him in the car, I ask him to play his iPod. I take great comfort in listening to his latest favorite.

Isn’t it time you got over
How fragile you are
We’re all waiting
Waiting on your supernova
Cause that’s who you are
And you’ve only begun to shine
–Anna Nalick “Shine”

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One response to “Confessions by the Dashboard Lights

  1. This is so lovely, Lisa. It’s bringing a tear or two. You found a way into your son’s soul. Bravo.

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