In my room, there is a colossal poster that encompasses the entirety of one wall. Printed over a brick wall background, it consists of every single song (and the corresponding lyrics) from Pink Floyd’s The Wall album. The poster came with a corresponding record, which was given to me for my 18th birthday by my mother. She winked handing me the record and the poster over my celebratory dinner, and while the rest of my family members did not understand why I clutched both items so reverently, I knew my mother and I were both thinking back to the same memory:
The year is 2006, and my mom had just picked me up from the bane of my 4th grade existence (violin lessons). We are driving home. It is a gorgeous fall day, and sunlight is filtering through the windows, striking the air around me to gold. At a red light, my mom abruptly changes the “Top 40 Hits” (much to my pre-teen dismay) that had been playing on the radio to a song I had never heard before: “Hey You” by Pink Floyd.
The song was dark with a cutting guitar baseline layered with disturbing lyrics, and I was confused as to why my gentile mom seemed to genuinely enjoy a song that contained the line “and the worms ate into his brain.”
I pulled my legs into the cradle of my chest and rested my head on my knees as I looked over at my mom in the drivers seat. The dreariness of the song was completely at odds with the brightness in the car and the brightness in my mom’s eyes. A soft, contemplative smile played at the corner of her mouth while she off-handedly tapped her fingers on the steering wheel in time to the beat of the song.
I had never seen this side of my mother before, which I guess is what prompted me to quickly reach over and grab her free hand resting on the armrest between us. She glanced over and beamed at me, and I remember in that moment I was struck by how perfectly connected we seemed to be; I didn’t know why this song was so important to her, or even what the lyrics meant, but I did know how, paradoxically, everything seemed to fit so faultlessly together in that sunlight-drowned car, on that random fall afternoon.
That afternoon in the car helped me realize how little I actually knew about the woman my mother had been before she filled the placeholder of “mom” in my life — which subsequently prompted the choice to religiously listen to only “Hey You” for the next two months as a way to both try and understand the meaning of the song and also to try and understand my mother. That obsessive phase ended when the image of worms invading a man’s head outside a desolate brick wall started to make an appearance in my nightmares. I deemed my hell-bent mission unsuccessful, and the inner workings of my mother still remained shrouded in obscurity. But I never really let go of Pink Floyd completely.
My mother remained an enigma to me. Growing up, she seemed constantly composed, untouched by her elusive past half a world away. I didn’t know many of her past experiences, and while she was never cold or aloof because of her poise, I still hungered relentlessly for more information; Sunday afternoons were filled with furtive glances into the pages of old black and white photo albums or sneaky escapades into the depths of my mother’s closet, fingers gliding over old fur coats and polka dotted skirts, always wondering what stories of my mother these objects held. Because while my mother is the warmest and most welcoming person I know, she is also selfless to a fault; selfless to the point of never talking about her past experiences because she never deemed them important enough to be brought to the forefront. She was always ready to bring in other family members, always ready to put other people before herself. That one afternoon in fourth grade was one of the first times I had seen her indisputably put her interests and history in the spotlight, separate from anybody else.
I listened to “Hey You” again as a junior in high school, curious to see if the years that had passed would help me solve the riddle that was my mother. While she still remained largely unsolved, I did notice that my interpretation of the lyrics had shifted. When I was younger, I remained fixated on the descriptions of grotesque death, taking everything quite literally and morbidly. However, as time passed, I found myself looking past the surface level bleakness to the song’s underlining theme of perseverance and yearning for closeness that shone out like light escaping from cracks in a wall; a contradiction in all aspects, this song seems to gain strength from its own vulnerability. I like to think my mother does the same.
I recently called my mother, desperately looking, like most college kids, for yet another piece of advice on apartment living. Toward the end of our conversation she did not hesitate to inform me that Roger Waters, an old member of Pink Floyd, is stopping in Michigan for his 2017 tour. My mother still hasn’t told me exactly why she has such a connection to Pink Floyd, or even why to “Hey You” in particular, but I’ve found that my need-to-know desire and wild daydreams have significantly diminished since the early days of fourth grade. I do not need the entirety of my mother’s memoir laid out before me in order to understand her. All I need is the excitement in her voice making the phone line between us dance and leap as she tells me about tickets on sale. All I need is the fact that when I smile, despite the miles between us, I know she’s smiling too.