In the summer of 1996, right after my sister died, Virginia was beset with the 17 year cicada (Brood II). As I tried to escape from under the suffocating weight of my grief, the cicadas would continually scream their chorus like background music for my struggle. Sometimes I felt like screaming back at them. Their wavering buzz would fill my head as I drove my little white Volkswagen GTI around northern Virginia in the oppressive summer heat.
I was always driving somewhere: to work at the daycare, to my therapist twice a week, to various friends’ homes, the boyfriend’s house, Fairview Beach, Cousin Scotty’s apartment, Uncle Eddie’s house in Nags Head, the cemetery in Fairfax City, and home again.
Home was a dark and sad place that I tried to avoid. Shadowy curtains of grief hung around the living room where my mother sat silently in her rocking chair with the lights off and the blinds drawn as she listened to Enya’s album Shepherd Moons over and over and over. “Shepherd Moons” was one of the songs played at Lisa’s funeral, that and Collective Soul’s “Sister Don’t Cry,” which people probably thought was meant for me, but really was a song I had included in a mixed tape I had sent her a few months previous. We found Shepherd Moons in Lisa’s CD collection and its aching sadness was appropriate for her funeral.
Music was the key to my survival then. Not only would it drown out the cicadas some, but it alternately made me feel less alone in my heartache and closer to my sister. Each night I’d lie in bed listening to Peter Gabriel’s Us, an album in which nearly every song addressed the heartache and ripping apart I felt. Peter Gabriel’s amazing voice and lyrics soothed me to sleep every night, enveloping me in the visions his words created, while tears ran from my eyes, across my temples, and into my hair. I’d also occasionally listen to the song “Shepherd Moons,” marveling at how just a song could take me back to that funeral feeling.
Now when I listen to Us, I can vaguely remember how I felt then, and now I am able to simply enjoy the album for its amazing music. (Shepherd Moons is still too funereal for me.) I remember how Peter Gabriel’s songs took me by my elbow and escorted me gently across the dry and rocky landscape of anguish that had swallowed me. I remember how they brushed my wet-with-tears hair away from my face and told me that I wasn’t alone, and someday I’d get used to my life with the gaping and bloody hole where my sister had been torn away. Someday I would be whole again. Maybe. Maybe just patched up.
Each summer since my sister died, the cicadas fill the long, hot days with their intense summer anthem, but none seem as loud, invasive, and maddening as in 1996. I suppose my feelings amplified certain sensations then. It seems we get some sort of cicada every year or so, and their sound can either remind me of the happy warmth of summer or the gloomy loss that filled the summer after Lisa died. Often those buzzing, chirping, singing cicadas initially bring up the dark sad feeling, a feeling that makes me glance over my shoulder to see what monster is coming for me now. Quickly I remind myself of happier cicada summers and the how the giant bugs fascinate my daughter. Like music on my iPod, the cicadas bring reminders of the various phases and scenes of my life, both good and bad.