When I was in college, I fell in love with a guy named Hootie. And yes, back then, country music mega star Darius Rucker was known as Hootie, and yes, I realize that I’m showing my age when I call him Hootie. On any given day in my dorm room circa mid 1990s, the sounds of Cracked Rear View would be emanating from the boom box that sat on my dorm desk shelf.
Whether I was getting ready for classes, hanging with my girlfriends or catching up classwork, Hootie’s soulful voice would usually be crooning in the background. “Let Her Cry” and “Time” were the anthem of my college years. Every time I hear the familiar riffs of his guitar, I’m instantly taken back to a time when someone else paid for my meals and my piles of laundry consisted of oversized flannel shirts and baby doll dresses.
Over the years, Hootie has been with me as I’ve rocked babies to sleep and on days when my toddlers needed to dance off their extra energy. I’ve scrubbed toilets with Hootie blasting and I’ve lost count on the number of times I’ve belted out “Only Wanna Be with You” in the car, much to my teens’ annoyance.
Hootie and his Blowfish tethered me to a time when life didn’t feel so grown up. To a time when my worries were simple and I didn’t have the responsibilities of adulthood squarely on my shoulders.
When my father passed away seven years ago, the reality of being an adult came crashing down on me. Watching my teens muddle through the loss of their grandfather and dealing with my own debilitating grief was almost more than I could handle. On the days when I wanted to crawl into bed and sob, I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other because my teens needed me to be strong for them.
To this day, I recall those days and months after his death as devoid of joy and it’s almost as if my brain has erased all memory of the colors around me. For almost a year, life became black and white with shades of grey memories that clouded my mind. Grief and loss sucked the color of joy out of my life and it felt like I’d never be whole again.
Nine months after my father died, my husband surprised me with tickets to see Darius Rucker perform at a local music concert. As much as I was touched by his gesture, I dreaded heading to a public venue and pulling myself away from my melancholy. But, my husband was intent on taking me out for a night on the town and I grudgingly agreed.
As I stood in the summer night air, feeling the warm breeze on my skin, I almost turned to my husband to ask him to take me home. But, something about the stage lights on his face and the sounds of the opening band made me decide to suck it up.
Hootie, nay Darius, took the stage and I shocked myself as my face broke into the first real smile my face had seen in months. As he and the band played their latest hits, I swayed to the music dutifully, trying not to spill the $10 beer my husband had handed me.
And though, I enjoyed the music, my grief was still pulling at my heart.
Until I heard the opening beats to “Only Wanna Be With You.” As Darius and his band poured their all into their signature song from the 1990s, I found myself standing on my seat, singing the words right along with them just like I did when I was in college. And, when I looked at my husband, he was right next to me doing the same thing. We locked eyes and it was like a damn broke.
My eyes filled with tears and, in that moment, I let my grief go.
I let myself go back to a time when grief didn’t control my thoughts and actions.
I let myself go back to a time when I could pick up the phone and talk to my dad about his grandkids.
I let myself feel joy for the first time in nine months.
I let myself imagine my father telling me to move on, that he’d “Let Her Cry” long enough.
And on that summer night, Hootie helped me heal from my grief. Though I will always grieve the loss of my father, I left a large chunk of it behind me, albeit with a cracked rear view.
I recently asked my teen son if he had a band or a musical artist that moved his soul, wondering if he’d yet found “his Hootie.”
He smiled and said that for him, the Imagine Dragons will always be his go to musical band. He told me their music made him happy and had helped him through various parts of his teenage years, both good and bad.
“And there’s another reason I love Imagine Dragons, Mom,” he said shyly. “You took me to see them and it was my first concert ever.”
He went on to tell me that the memory of us singing “Radioactive” together in a crowded concert venue is one of his favorites he’s shared with me. He told me when he hears Imagine Dragon songs, he smiles and thinks of me.
Here’s hoping Imagine Dragons will be there for him long after I’m gone.