November 28, 2005

Last Saturday I taught an aerobics class using a new CD I hadn’t listened to ahead of time. Everything was going well, and then a song came on that sounded familiar. As I called out the steps, I thought, wait, can this really be a cover of that song? And shortly thereafter it became clear that yes, this really could be a cover of that song. It was “Without You,” originally by Harry Nilsson, recorded later, Google informs me, by Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Air Supply, and Kelly Clarkson. The lyrics, for those of you unfamiliar with the song, go as follows:

No, I can’t forget this evening,
Or your face as you were leaving,
But I guess that’s just the way the story goes.
You always smile, but in your eyes your sorrow shows;
Yes, it shows.

No, I can’t forget tomorrow
When I think of all my sorrow,
When I had you there but then I let you go.
And now it’s only fair that I should let you know
What you should know:

I can’t live if living is without you.
I can’t live, I can’t give any more.
I can’t live if living is without you.
I can’t give, I can’t give any more.

After about fifteen seconds of trying to teach to the song, I ran over to the stereo, said brightly, “Okay, folks, I have totally traumatic associations with this song, so we’re going to skip it!”, and moved to the next song, which was, if memory serves, some Kylie Minogue thing.

I’m sure they all thought it was a breakup song, which was just fine by me. Because actually my traumatic associations with the song have to do with the fact that my mother conceived a child before me but miscarried. She told me a story once about coming home after the doctor gave her the news and waiting in the car while my father went into the pharmacy to get her anti-cramp medication, turning on the radio, and listening to “Without You.” And now I can never hear that song without thinking of my mother there in the turned-off car, mourning her dead child–whom they had been referring to as Junior–probably knowing that even if she had more children eventually her illness would ravage her body and kill her in the prime of her life, as in fact it did. I can’t hear that song without thinking of her blighted hopes and her constant struggle against pain and her childhood lived in fear of a monstrous mother and the magnitude of what she was able to accomplish in the world despite the deck stacked so mercilessly against her.

When I’m shopping in the drugstore and “Without You” comes on the radio, it’s not such a big deal; I can take a moment, get wistful, and then go back to hoping that Rembrandt® Toothpaste will make my teeth so white it will solve all my problems.

But when I’m in front of a room full of type-A twenty-somethings, shrieking, “Around the world! Knees higher! I know you can do it! Make the calories beg for mercy!”, hearing anybody sing You always smile, but in your eyes, your sorrow shows. . . . I can’t live if living is without you, I can’t give, I can’t give any more is simply more than I am equipped to handle.

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20 Responses to Last Saturday I taught an aerobics class using a new CD I hadn’t

  1. Logan says:

    Holy yikes.

  2. adam says:

    Wow. Thats heavy. Im sorry to hear about that. There would be something a bit odd about doing aerobics while having those thoughts in your mind. No worries, you handled the situation gracefully.

  3. Mush says:

    The Nilsson recording of that song is a truly amazing vocal performance. No one else has ever, ever done it justice.

    It’s a damn sad song all on its own. To have the image associated with it that you do would make it totally unbearable.


    (White teeth do help. What, I’m not certain.)

  4. I love your blog, Faustus. Love the thoughts that you post. The thoughts they invoke. Thank you.

  5. Annalise says:

    I somehow found your page randomly today and couldn’t stop reading. Hope you don’t mind if I hang around to see what else you have to say…

  6. David says:

    I can’t imagine trying to do aerobics to that song, even without the traumatic memories. Ugh.

  7. Marc says:

    I have always had a love/hate relationship with that song. It’s a fabulous vocal, but the words are bitterly sour with depression. And your reaction, especially based on your circumstances with it, was quite reasonable. Even without your circumstances, it’s not an aerobics tune, for the very reasons you state. I don’t think anyone should have had a problem with your skipping it. If anything, they probably wondered how sadistic you were when they heard it begin to play! 🙂

  8. Craig says:

    My mother miscarried before she had my older sister. But my mother always says that after my sister was born, if the doctors came into the room and said that she could trade in my sister for her miscarried child that there would be nothing in the world that could take my sister away from her. Everything happens for a reason I suppose. Had the baby not miscarried, she would not have had my older sister and me.

    This silver lining brought to you by Craig and the letter T and the number 5.

  9. S says:

    Hope you’re feeling better.

  10. Tara Dawn says:

    Found your blog through a link on someone’s page. Your writing is exquisite…raw and pure, heartwrenching and warm, filled to the brim with emotion…all the elements that compose phenomenal writing. I hope you don’t mind me reading. Please feel free to visit my blog as well.

  11. Patrick (the other one) says:

    beautiful post – and a great tribute to your mom. She would be proud of you


  12. Ruby says:

    You may not believe this, but this is the first song I heard after my twin brother, Ben died. I was in my friend’s car, and he was driving. While we were getting off was getting off the freeway, the radio played this song and I ignored it at first but when the chorus began, I froze. I find it amazing that you even continued teaching your class!

    I know what it’s like to lose someone and I am really sorry about your mother. I am sure that she is up in Heaven right now beaming with pride and boasting about the man you were, the man you are, and the man you are going to be.

    I, too, am proud of you.

  13. Jess says:


    I’ve always liked that song, but its meaning to you and what your mother endured is heart-rending.

  14. Scott says:

    I think it’s great that you remember things about your mom that happened before you even existed. Great post.

  15. christophe says:

    I m really sorry about your mother.
    Suddenly though, your entire blog makes sense to me.

    Hope you are feeling better…

  16. MzOuiser says:

    A glimpse into your very human past. Thanks for sharing this memory with us, Faust. Another reminder that we should appreciate our loved ones while we have them.

    And that sappy songs do NOT belong in an aerobics class!

  17. Ryan says:

    Love your site! Check out my new blog that I’ve started, partially inspired by yours.

  18. Celestine says:

    Who hasn’t traumatic associations with that song, but your story behind the song, got to me.
    And how much should you be equipped to handle?

  19. zenchick says:

    I have similar associations with songs as well…and similar events in my past that they can easily trigger. It’s quite a human experience, but your awareness and articulation brings a new dimension to it. thanks for sharing this.

  20. Kate says:

    That image is really freaking sad.

    You’re a good writer.


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