Angela Featherstone is a film and television actress. Most recently she played the role of Jame on Girls/HBO. She has created sitcoms for Sony, DreamWorks and NBC television, and written nonfiction for Time Magazine, Jane, Flare and the Huffington Post. She also curated ‘Fuck Pretty,’ a gallery show featuring important and emerging female photographers. She lives and writes in Los Angeles. Excerpt, ‘God Said No’ from her memoir-in-progress, was published in the 2014 edition of Gargoyle Magazine and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. @angiesez twitter @fuckprettythebook instagram
This past weekend, on the outskirts of a small Connecticut town, I luxuriated at a plush green farm-like compound. There, I reconnected with my unwavering love of Anne Murray’s song of unrequited love and escape, “Snow Bird” while making a Dubsmash video of it at the request of a friend back in Los Angeles.
In between rows across the large pond filled with hiding ducks, nervous frogs, and confident water snakes that swam purposefully towards the waterfall, zip lining jumps into still frigid water, and secret jaunts into the woods in the hopes of spotting a yearling or two, I recorded the song on the meadow. The moist soil belied the not-so-distant spring and the hot, sunbaked grass invoked the sense of summer as my hostess, a pretty woman, sturdy in stature, sat down next to me.
“The peonies are about to bloom,” she said, nodding to the pregnant red bulbs so close to bursting open that moisture was seeping out of the crevasses, “I noticed you singing “Snow Bird.” I’m so grateful you reminded me of that song,” she said, smiling her sideways smile.
Mingus, the grounds’ cat, caretaker of the property when no one was around, sauntered over to us looking over his shoulder as though he were being stalked by the dragonfly that whipped past.
“Ya,” I nodded, reminiscing about the countless times I’d sung that song at karaoke, and alone in my apartment during a really tough time in 2005. I’d been unemployed for way too long and was getting clean from another round of cocaine and whisky after years of abstinence. Getting through the days without killing myself was like walking through tar. “Clouds,” “Snow Bird,” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” were my three best friends back when I still couldn’t handle the pain of having been abandoned by my father at age seven, thereby losing access to my beloved Nova Scotia and her blueberry fields, with her freshly made streams from winters melting snow, freshly picked Macintosh apples, bridges with imaginary trolls hidden under them, and tapped sugar maple trees that lined the moss-encased country roads. When themes of unrequited love, loss, fleeing, and the flawless escape of nature ran like a cold spring brook through my veins.
I was ripped from there, the land where Anne Murray and I were both from, and sent to the frigid streets of Winnipeg, where I was picked apart by predators and law enforcement, and the other girls in juvie jail and foster care.
A large bird flew by, drawing me back to my place on the meadow. I squinted to try to discern if it was an eagle or a hawk. Earlier that morning three massive vultures had flown into a tree in front of me and spread their wings open wide to dry them. No doubt they’d just come from a natural crime scene; there was something ominous about it, yet so profoundly powerful I stared for ages.
“I need to start singing that more,” she sighed, looking up at the clear blue sky and stretching out her legs.
“What?” I bolted upright.
There was something almost violating that someone else, an American no less, was going to take my song from me.
“Well, you see, it’s my song. It’s my karaoke song, and it’s a whole thing! I mean… there’s an innocence that comes over me…”
My freckle-faced hostess looked confused by my unwillingness to share what is for me a secret potion.
“Oh I know,” she laughed, “I saw the head tilt when you sang!”
“Anne Murray is my aunt,” I tried to explain.
“Well, through marriage but, yes.”
I smiled and pulled my crimson sweatshirt over my head. A cloud had passed in front of the sun and blocked her heat.
I smiled outwardly, but inside I grimaced. It was no use trying to explain what that song has meant to me. How truly heart-wrenching it was resigning myself to the fact that “the thing that I want most in life is the thing I can’t win.” Yet, still be able to believe in a world where a “breeze along a river” warns me of impending heartbreak “should I decided to stay.” Across my life, that song had allowed me to dream about escaping on the wings of a snowbird–flying away from all of my pain.
You see, singing that song for me is impossible without using the full range of my voice. There are times I hit the high notes with Anne, but then, skipping across all the delicate changes, I stumble into my lower register, my deep voice, the one I use for rage. The rage that has saved me. Protected me.