Well, she was an American girl raised on promises…
That’s one of the first songs I start singing when someone mentions Tom Petty to me. There’s that one, there’s “Refugee” which I have a separate, and potentially funnier story about if you like off color humor and misinterpreted lyrics, and of course the standard “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”–the first Tom Petty song I ever knew.
I always end up coming back to American Girl though.
I have a very vivid memory attached to that song. One that brings me joy even on dark days like this one…
Back when I was a preteen, you know those awkward years between being a child and a cool, know-it-all teenager, my dad got a go-kart for my brother and I. Truth is, he picked it up off the side of the road on his way home from work one day like a wounded stray puppy and brought it home for us. (He’s the “do now and ask permission later” type–it’s where I get that same behavior from.)
My brother was more excited than I was; he’s always had a propensity for vehicles and a “need for speed.” I was never the vehicle type–as much as I loved watching auto racing, partaking in it myself (or even in driving) was never my speed. In fact, there’s only one picture of me behind the wheel of a car.
(Yes, it’s a Power Wheels Jeep.)
But that go-kart was awesome. It had two seats, purple rollbars and yellow accents that my dad, brother, and I covered with various stickers and the pool noodles we tied on with wireties to make sure they stayed on–safety first!
There were no seat belts; we only ever drove the thing around the backyard. It was a hallmark of summer days being able to bring out the go-kart and take it for a spin, always making sure to watch out for any various animal excrement in the yard–whether from the household dog or from coyotes or deer.
There was no excrement on the particular day of this story.
It was a beautiful midsummer day–probably early July and my brother and I had taken the car for a spin. I’d just loaded my iPod nano–my very first and only hot pink electronic device–with some new music, including Tom Petty’s “American Girl.”
Over the years, my parents had managed to introduce me to a wide variety of music–Springsteen, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead–thanks to the advent of satellite radio. (You can only get so many FM channels in Upstate New York; there are too many trees.) My music library was essentially all-encompassing by this time.
My latest obsession was that song. It was the “driving the go-kart, hair down, no cares in the world” song at the time. I was that American girl, raised on promises. I was that American girl, thinking there was a little more to life somewhere else. And I was attached to the song deeply.
My brother and I climbed into the kart and drove. The song blared, I sang, I sped up and drove like it was the only thing I ever wanted to do.
I took a turn too fast and my brother flew over the side of the rollbar.
I, instead of letting him back in, thought it was the funniest thing and would slow down so he could catch up, and then speed off. Because, as a big sister, it’s my job to antagonize.
To this day I haven’t forgotten that day and how much fun it was. My brother and I laugh about it now–he’s gotten over it and since I don’t drive, it makes it a little easier.
Today’s a hard day. And on the hardest days, I find myself clinging to memories like this one. Because… After all it was a great big world, with lots of places to run to…