If you’ve been listening to the radio lately, you will have heard Kelly Clarkson’s beautiful song “Piece By Piece.” It’s a heartfelt performance, sung from a daughter to the father who abandoned her. I’ve always been a big fan of Ms. Clarkson’s but I have to admit this is one song I can’t listen to, at least not often. It’s not because I don’t appreciate the song. If anything, I appreciate it a little too much.
The first time I heard it, I was thrust back to a time I don’t allow myself to visit very often. My father has been an absentee father for much of my life. There are reasons for it. He is a compulsive gambler and we had to make the decision to remove him from our lives. When someone is in complete denial, there is only so much one can do to help. My family’s story was the inspiration behind my book Vice.
Writing Vice was cathartic. It was something I always knew I’d need to write about but once I did, I was ready to put those feelings to bed.
I didn’t expect them to flood back while listening to a Kelly Clarkson song. The first few times it came on the radio, I changed the station. My husband gave me a comforting smile as I did so.
“You don’t mind?” I asked.
“No,” he replied. “I understand.”
But not long ago, I forced myself to listen to the song in its entirety when I was alone in the car. It’s raw and emotional. Kelly’s voice wavers here and there and yet one can hear the passion behind it. You can hear how the topic affects her. Before I knew it, I was confronted with memories I’d suppressed long ago.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t turn into a blubbering fool when I think of my father. If anything, I feel sorry for him. He was offered help, time and again, and refused it. He’s probably still at the tracks, waiting for the right horse to come in. That’s got to be a lonely existence when it’s all you have.
I moved on with my life. I healed and raised my own family. And yet, whenever I hear Kelly sing that song, I am destroyed again. Dismantled, piece by piece, as she describes.
I suppose that is the power of good art. It doesn’t have to be highbrow or hanging in an art gallery. It can be a pop song or a book. If it makes us feel, sometimes even a little too much, it has value. Sometimes, we need to experience those brutal emotions so we can get them out of our systems and resume life. Sometimes we need to feel the pain, if only to remind ourselves of how far we’ve come. Her song reminds me I survived.
It might be a song I can’t listen to often, but it will be one I never forget.