Release Me: Wilson Phillips Means Freedom

Updated: May 2, 2019


This is the most vulnerable piece I've written to date, it's going to be a part of a series of stories where a song is the focal point of my storytelling.


I love music. Music, for me, is what I imagine heroin to feel like. It's mind-opening. It's pain relieving. It can take me to a different place or even to a different time in my life.


There was a time in junior high, after reading a Lois Duncan book (she was my favorite author then) when I became obsessed with astral projection. It's the ability to separate one's consciousness from their physical body. If I could master it, then I could travel to those places I'd only seen in movies. I'd float to the West Coast along the Pacific Coast Highway and be still while the waves collapsed into the ocean floor. I'd let the winds carry me like a kite, uncontrolled, at the mercy of their motion. I am saddened to say that I was never able to astrally project.


As I entered adulthood, I began to see that music could do what laying on my back begging to leave this astral plane couldn't. When the first few chords of Wilson Phillips's Release Me play and the harmony begins, I'm there again. I'm in the back of my aunt's suburban, circa 1991. It's hot and muggy like many Houston summer nights are. I'm sitting in the back seat between garbage bags of clothes and a never-ending supply of emotional baggage. There is no air conditioner. Odds are the vehicle wasn't in legal driving condition, but it didn't matter. The cops had come and gone and that was likely the last of their worries. After all, when they arrived: there was a man unconscious, a woman with bruises on her face and arms, two children crying, and a large woman holding a cast iron skillet. Prior to their arrival, perhaps an hour or so, I had decided to take a shower. That's when the yelling began. His voice deep and angry, a visceral anger, a hateful anger. Hers pleading, high-pitched, hurt, very childlike.


My mom always wanted to be an interior decorator. If they could design on a dime, she could design on a nickel. She'd hung this large picture she likely found at a yard sale or thrift store in the bathroom. There weren't many studs in the apartment so it was hanging by a prayer.


I heard that scream. That sound that forever haunts me. That sound that pierced parts of me I'm not sure can be healed. To this day, a woman crying or screaming will break me. Complex PTSD my therapist calls it.


"Please don't hit the wall. The frame will fall! He's gonna get hurt."


If the frame had fallen, the glass would've shattered into a million pieces on the small bathroom floor like shimmering crystals on dull, tan linoleum, albeit sharp as shark's teeth.

Then he did it. He threw her against the wall.


"Paul! Get out!" She'd managed to utter between sobs.


I hurried to get dressed as he pushed her against the wall again, the frame rocking. I ran into the living room.


"Go outside!" She screamed at my sister and I as she always did. She couldn't stop him, but she always did her best to keep us from seeing it. Though hearing it from a distance made our imaginations run wild, perhaps seeing it would've been better. Who can really say?


And, like so many times before, we'd run to the neighbors to use their phone to call 9-1-1. I'm pretty sure the operators knew who we were by just the sound of our voices.


"Oh brother, it's Baby Paul calling about Johnny and Gina again." I imagined one operator telling the other.


There simply aren't enough fingers for me to count the times I called 9-1-1 as a young boy to stop a man from killing my mom.

As luck would have it, God sent an angel in that very moment. Well, not exactly. It was my aunt Chrissa. She was six years younger than my mom and took shit from no one. She too experienced her share of domestic violence, but she wasn't afraid to punch back. She saw us on the porch crying and knew exactly what was happening without asking.


She barged inside the apartment. My aunt has always been a large woman. It's a part of her charm. Imagine a Mexican version of a 90s Roseanne and that was her. They must've been in the bedroom still. I'm sad I didn't get to see it, but my aunt was so proud of her role that day. While we continued crying outside, she'd gone into the kitchen and grabbed my mom's cast iron skillet. I imagine he thought she was joking when she threatened to hit him with it. My aunt was not known for empty threats.


She knocked him out cold. How he survived without any fractures is beyond me. I imagine his thin frame and bushy, Geraldo hair falling to the floor, his face lying motionless next to a burn from a cigarette butt he put out into the carpet.


This, the man who beat my mom while his mother watched and cheered him on. This, the man who used to walk on my 7 year old back for fun. This, the man who just a few months later (yeah she went back) would begin molesting my sister sometimes while I was in the same room (someday I'll forgive myself for not stopping him). This, the man, who put my nose into an active gas line and said he'd kill me if I told. This, the man who I testified against as a 9 year old when CPS began their investigation, after they'd given me a stuffed animal named Tejas Teddy cause that would fix it all.


As I sat in the back of that suburban, I felt so incredibly free. Those harmonies were heavenly. I knew she'd go back. She always did. And I knew she wanted to be free of him, but like the song says, it's just not that easy.


For once though, I sat in the peace of that moment and allowed myself to feel relieved. These moments were few and far between.


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