I’m 19
I’m on the way to a singing engagement
(because all teenagers do that)
I’m driving my first car
a ’62 Volvo sedan, standard shift
Her name was Marie Dressler
“Big, white, built like a truck, but a lot of class”

I’m pulled up to a stop light
One glance in the rearview says
somebody doesn’t see the stop light
and is barreling toward me fastfastfast

Instinct kicks in
I hit the clutch
Pull my foot off the brake and brace myself
SLAMCRASHCRUNCH AND riiiiip (this last, my seat running back in its track)

I pry open the door
I run back to the other car
I have, in a matter of seconds, prepared a diatribe
for which no amount of punctuation will do
but it begins with “WHAT THE F&%$!!*&???”

The driver rolls down the window of her
equally solid ’69 Buick sedan
and before I can get a word out, says sweetly
“I’m Sister Mary Elizabeth from St. Joseph’s Hospital”

Even though I am not Catholic
and still pretty steamed
I say, “Oh, Sister, are you all right?”
because my best friend is Catholic
(He was later a priest but is now retired and agnostic
Perhaps The Church didn’t celebrate PRIDE properly)

Sister whimpers, “I’m all right…
but my mother cut her lip”
Her mother. A NUN’S MOTHER
in the passenger seat
bleeding from the mouth but assuring me that
“I’m all right, dear”
in the tone of that mother in the how-many-moms flashbulb joke:
“That’s OK, honey, I’ll just sit in the dark”

I close the door
on her rosary beads

And now the full weight of consequence is clear
my first lay was a priest… yup
If that affair hadn’t condemned me to Hell
(and the requisite accordion – Gary Larson warned us about that)
this surely would

And then I hear my mom’s advice
her voice honeyed and in the key of Ab
“Never put your mascara on before you get to the venue.
You never know when something will make you cry before you get there.”

Marie Dressler was totaled
I was in shock, but was later told that
I got to the gig in a police car
and played piano and sang full voice
for four hours straight without a break

The nun never even got a ticket but

The Catholic Church shelled out $600 (twice what I paid for the car)
That money bought me a ticket to LA
and three months’ rent, into what would be
fun, music, and a whole lot of hurt

But that’s a story for another day

© 2022 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Beehat Baby Words & Music

True story, like all the best ones. It’s a wonder I ever made it out of my teens. The gig was quite successful, the tip jar was filled to overflowing. I sang a bunch of requests I really didn’t think I knew, but I must have heard them in an elevator. I even sang “Feelings,” the song I despise more than most. Also “Piano Man,” which is another song I despise more than most. Ah, life!