To Be Still
As a little girl I was obsessed with grass. I ran through un-mowed lawns and rolled down hills; I basked in yellow stains, cartwheeled through cow fields, scratched at chigger bites in my bed just to wake up and do it all over again. Now that I’m older, I rarely touch grass at all. Instead, I walk to class on concrete, ride in small cars to grocery stores, and try not to think about all the green things and all the girlhood that have turned to mush inside me—rotting concave like spoiled fruit. It wasn’t until the summer of 2018 that I realized, sitting in the window seat of a Greyhound bus, that I had not skinned a knee in over ten years. For the long bus ride, I had chosen to listen to Florence + the Machine’s latest album, High as Hope. Staring out the window, Florence sang to me:
and we're just children wanting children of our own / I want a space to watch things grow / but did I dream too big? / do I have to let it go? / what if one day there is no such thing as snow? / oh God, what do I know? / and I don't know anything / except that green is so green / and there's a special kind of sadness that seems to come with spring
These lyrics, from the track “South London Forever,” hit something deep inside me, unlocking memories of a lost wildness. It was 2018 and I was so very alone and so very adult—a good, quiet girl sitting on the bus—but somewhere I was still eleven years old, still spinning in a world of rabbit hearts and howling wolves, where music ran right next to me, dark and genderless in the grass.
It was Christmas morning, 2009, and I was squealing in the living room. I had received Florence + the Machine’s debut album, Lungs, and this was, without a doubt, Santa’s best work yet. Being too old for Barbie dolls but too young to abandon imagination entirely, my fixation had turned to Florence + the Machine. With all its heavy drums and Alice in Wonderland-inspired dreaminess, Lungs was my playground, the soundtrack to which I would dance out dramas in my parents’ kitchen. For months leading up to Christmas, my sleepy after school hours were spent in front of the family desktop computer, following along to lyric videos of Florence’s music on YouTube, utterly entranced. In my excitement at seeing the Lungs CD beneath the Christmas tree, I bolted from the house and into our freezing backyard. Dressed in my velvet pink nightgown, I did what I always did when I heard Florence’s music—I danced. With the song “Howl” tinning out from my rusted boombox, I spun like a wild animal on our family’s trampoline, cold and feral in the early Georgia morning. When I jumped into a back flip—my nightgown falling down, body unembarrassed—I landed on my knees in the grass. Skin scraped and smeared with red, I sat there in the frozen grass, stunned, and I began to laugh. By now, my mother had given up on trying to persuade me to come back inside; I was all alone, back door closed, just me and Florence and the blood in the grass. In that moment, I had no idea what the years ahead of me would bring—bras and razors and a shame that would dry out everything. When I think back to this moment now, I wonder if Florence Welch knew who she was singing to back in 2009, if she ever imagined that she was making music for little girls who danced rabid on trampolines, who used her music as one last green and shimmery veil to shield them from the painful process of growing up.
After that fateful Greyhound bus ride, I continued listened to Florence’s High as Hope album for the rest of the summer, and, for a time, I was able to relive some of the freedom I had known back in those Lungs days. The next time I would skin my knee wouldn’t be in grass at all, but on the pebbled sand of a Florida beach. It would be in the dead of night and no one could see my slipping bra straps, my unshaven legs, the unladylike movement of my body. As I ran hard and fast to the shore, I would trip over myself, landing hard on pebbles and shards of seashells. Later, as the salt water lapped at my knees, I would laugh again, think about the trampoline and the bus and the blood—all this history, all the sounds and stories within the music. I would stand in the water and thought of the song “No Choir,” in which Florence sings:
and it's hard to write about being happy / ‘cause the older I get / I find that happiness is an extremely uneventful subject / oh, darling, things seem so unstable / but for a moment we were able to be still
The song would breeze through the moment like cold air, like the release of finding that green place, like the stillness of choosing to stay inside of it for good.