Lots of songs make me tear up, “For Good” from Wicked, and Ben Folds’ “The Luckiest,” for example. I’m a big fan of Broadway musicals, but one song that always gets me is “Somewhere Out There” from “An American Tail.” Its poignancy gets me every single time. Perhaps that’s because in 1986 when the movie came out my daughters were growing up way too fast. I could see a time when they would be gone from home and be literally somewhere out there.
In fact, that’s why I chose to make the song part of my main character’s backstory and motivation. At fifty, Claire is single and has spent decades of her life on the road, leaving what she believes to be burned bridges in her wake. In this excerpt from Chapter 3 of Us, Now and Then, we come to understand why Claire has stayed away from home.
The hour drive south from Reno to Carson City, through Washoe Valley was one of Claire’s favorites: the jagged, snow-capped Sierra Nevada to the west, Washoe Lake, and the Virginia Range to the east, and the ribbon of US395 running straight down the middle. Whatever the surrounding weather was, it was always worse here. The wind blew harder, the snow fell heavier, but still, it was beautiful. And today, even with the wind buffeting her small rental car and threatening to force her into the lake, this place caused her heart to ache with joy and sadness, comfort and pain. She had stayed away too long.
She remembered the last Christmas she was home, when she’d taken Libby’s then-little girls to see “An American Tail.” No one would ever think of that as a disaster movie, but it was. A story about love and separation. Claire had sat in the dark, sobbing, as the sad little mice sang that killer lullaby, “Somewhere Out There.”
“Don’t cry, Aunt Éclair,” six-year-old Annie had whispered and reached for her hand. Claire still smiled at “Aunt Éclair,” the sweet, conflated name for her. “It’s just a movie. It’s not real.”
But it was real. Too real. Two people looking at the same sky, wishing on the same star, even though they were apart. She had too many people somewhere out there. And the guilt over what she’d done meant that seeing Libby’s little girls grow up was simply too much to bear. No one could protect her from that. She had to protect herself. So, she stopped coming home. Instead, she poured herself into her work, more than once using it as an excuse for her absence. As Libby’s girls grew, Claire kept her distance, sharing letters, her best wishes, gifts–but not her presence. Of course, that only added to the guilt. Would Libby even want to see her after all this time? Or would it just remind her of how Claire had failed her?
PS: Careful readers of my book may have noticed I used song titles as chapter titles to perhaps provide a subtle soundtrack to the story.