After twenty-four years of getting nostalgic every time I hear Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” because I listened to it the morning after my husband proposed, I discover the song is about a break-up.
It seems the heart knows no logic. Or perhaps it’s the ear or the body’s musical core that are immune to logic. Logic, after all, is the currency of the intellect, the Spock-ification of everything, the natural state of macho men. Illogic is the realm of the mysterious inner feminine, of dream fragments that flicker across our corneas, of the hormonal slurry polluting—or perhaps enriching—the veins of women of a certain age.
Can we manage to exist in both realms?
Living mostly in a slipstream of sensation overlaid with an insufficient webbing of reason, I drift in and out of touch with my inner feminine. I find myself dreaming of girls and boys too young to evoke any concept of gender. In waking life, hormones gone haywire hijack my sense of self, igniting a consuming anxiety that seems completely beyond my control and that transforms me into someone I don’t recognize. I find myself flummoxed by the tension between thought and feeling, by the possibility that sensations of all kinds, from the most pleasurable to the most unendurable, might take me over without notice. Yet the converse offers little comfort. If my thoughts influence what I feel, then I must be responsible for any unpleasant feelings. What a Scylla and Charybdis: Either I cause my suffering or my suffering is a random visitation.
And so I arrive at the familiar battleground of head and heart where, since childhood, I have found myself swept up in their epic clash. Head and heart stand in, of course, for masculine and feminine. Perhaps this recent takeover by feelings is a cry from the heart, a cri de coeur from my feminine side. “Listen to me!” she demands. “If you don’t pay me my due, I’ll fuck up your whole life.”
I have been paying dues. I have spent hundreds scrutinizing my emotions and tinkering with my biochemistry in an effort to ward off these ambushes.
All this unfolds against the backdrop of a family in the throes of adolescence. One son on the cusp of adulthood, one still in the depths of transformation. One who would never admit it but who is in touch with his feminine side, who nurtures the deep dreaminess and non-linear thinking of the artist; the other who sees no point in talking about feelings. He would rather discuss theoretical physics. Heart, head.
The thought occurs to me that perhaps theoretical physics is a manifestation of the deep feminine. In this arena, time doubles back on itself. I listen to Free Fallin’ and I’m on the road to work all those years ago with the windows of my ’86 Toyota Celica open to the clammy air of a July morning in New England. I am both there and here, then and now.
I should feel cheated that the song that became a soundtrack to pivotal moment of my life is not what I thought. Tom sings about being a bad boy, about leaving, about free falling into nothing. But all I hear is a voice tugging me into the slipstream where there is no Scylla and no Charybdis, where I am neither head nor heart, masculine nor feminine, young nor old.
Am I now everything, or nothing?