A history of my life in song lyrics

Some people measure moments with dated diary entries. Others prefer to collect trinkets in an old shoebox, or find the key to memories in ice cream. As for me? My life is portioned off in song lyrics.

One 3-minute song can transport me to the seat of my first bicycle or the spot where I built my first crumbling sandcastle. Songs can easily paint a picture in my mind, one that details past sights, scents, sensations. An entire year of my life can be summed up with a name that belongs to a popular soprano voice. Here is my life in song lyrics.

“You’re Still The One” by Shania Twain (1997)

“What’ll it be today, Anne-uh?” he asked with a toothy smile. As much as he disappoints me, I’ll always love his smile. It’s the one that looks back at me in every mirror that I pass.

I’ll never forget how happy he sounded during our weekly grocery store trips. I’ll never forget how he pronounced my name, with a definitive “uh” at the end. No one else has pronounced it like that and I have a feeling that no one else will.

“Daddy, you know I want to hear Shania!” I giggled from the backseat, from my cushiony blue car seat.

He popped the well-worn, slate grey cassette into the car’s radio and we were off. This was the soundtrack:

These are the lyrics that remind me of my father, of our trips, of the single slice of cheese that the deli workers would gift me as I lounged in our shopping cart’s metallic seat. This melodic text reminds me of my beginnings, of love, of devotion, of country music playing throughout my childhood home.

“Bye Bye Bye” by *NSYNC (2000)

I’m starting to realize that many of my earlier memories are punctuated by my father’s voice.

“You want me to buy you a sink?!” he questioned, half-smiling and half-confused.

“No, daddy! NSYNC! I want their new CD!” I replied, half-laughing and half-serious.

“Well, if you want me to buy you a sink, where do you plan on keeping it?”

“NO, daddy! Listen!” I proclaimed, turning up the radio.

“See?” I said, with both hands gesturing to the kitchen radio that was always splattered with pasta sauce. “They are a boy band.”

“A band of boys?”


“So… not a sink?”

He spent the next week looking for that CD.

“Drama Queen (That Girl)” by Lindsay Lohan (2004)

My longest running nickname has­—without a single doubt—been drama queen.”

I’m sensitive. Sensitive to light, to temperature, to sound. If someone’s sad, I can feel it the moment they walk in a room. I’m sensitive in another respect, too: I am easily offended, easily saddened, hurt, excited. And when I was younger, I wasn’t afraid to show it, to show my internal state in all its fragile glory. That’s how I earned this nickname. I grew up thinking that it was bad to be sensitive. That’s why I fervently hated the nickname “drama queen.” It made me feel as though my emotions weren’t valid. As though my pure feelings were, instead, the work of a playwright who’s working to manipulate an audience.

The movie Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen changed that. It taught me that being different makes life exciting. Being sensitive simply means that your life’s a bit more colorful, more musical, more theatrical on a day-to-day basis. Lindsay Lohan’s Lola Steppe made me proud to be a Drama Queen.

As she sang,

I embraced the sensitive side of my personality. And if that makes me a Drama Queen, then so be it.

“Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira (2005)

I was in the backseat, staring out the window as familiar lights rolled by. Somehow, they felt less familiar than they did hours before. I was returning home from my first trip to New York City. My mom never took me because it made her feel unsafe. Instead, I tagged along with my best friend and her mom. They were arguing in the front seat.

I began to cry the moment the radio crooned these words. I felt as if I’d lost a piece of myself that day, as if I was involuntarily changing. Gone were the jazz, country, and classical music of my past. The music that my parents wrapped around my primal memories.

If there were ever a time when I felt most like Holden Caulfield, it was during that car ride. I didn’t know if there was a rye field nearby, but I wanted to find it. I dreamed of running toward it. Of getting there just in time to catch myself before I reached the edge.

“We Are Golden” by MIKA (2009)

These lyrics are my instant sunshine. If I were to connect one song to my high school years, this would be it. It’s the reason why I never gave up after arguments with friends, failed tests, the stress of learning to drive, of learning to be myself. After all, how else would I stay golden?

“Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” by Eurythmics (1983)

I came upon this song during my first month of college. At the time, life felt as though it was moving fast and I couldn’t keep up. I felt unsure in everything that I did. I wanted to press pause, to rewind, to stop the music altogether.

Only when I listened to these words did I feel my heartbeat steady:

These lyrics were my college lullaby.

 “Here” by Alessia Cara (2015)

That’s what I’m listening to right now, as I write this. And as of now, those lyrics are part of my memory too. All of those songs are part of how I remember my personal history. And there’s room on the playlist for more.

[Image via iStock]

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