Pat Benatar Saved My Life

1979, the summer before I started the sixth grade for the second time. My sister and I were visiting our dad and watching America Bandstand. Dick Clark introduced a new singer, Pat Benatar. She sang Heartbreaker and hypnotized me. I wanted to be her. I wanted to dress like her, sing like her, wear my hair like her, be as cool as her.

That day changed my life.

A year prior, my mom, brother, sister, and I had moved out of my grandparents, very explosive home where we'd lived off and on throughout my childhood. My mother had qualified for an FHA loan, so we were able to get our own home. We had a new house but no money. We regularly needed food stamps, and many times my mother had to work two jobs to make ends meet. After school, my sister and I cleaned and cooked dinner. Schoolwork took a backseat. I didn't have cool clothes. I had a mouth full of crooked teeth and severe allergies, which made my nose and eyes run all the time. I suffered from debilitating endometriosis, which would occasionally cause me to pass out at school, and only a few years had passed since I was sexually abused by a man my mother married briefly.

But we had a TV/stereo console.

I owned two eight-track tapes, Queen's Night at the Opera and ACDC's Back in Back and one album, E.L.O.'s Out of the Blue. There was no streaming music.

In 1981, right around the time Pat started making her mark on the music world, a little thing called MTV happened, and the video for her song, You Better Run, was the second video aired on this new music network. The MTV era was initiated. Every day after school, we'd run home to watch MTV for the few hours we had control of the only TV in the house.

Christmas of 1982, my dad gave me a boom box, and my friend Kelly gave me my first cassette tape, Pat Benatar's Crimes of Passion. I spent hours in my room listening to Pat. When I should've been doing homework, I would sing into a hairbrush in front of my full-length mirror, sing and dream. Alone in my room, in front of that mirror, I was a rock star.

I wanted to look like Pat, so I'd steal bandanas from the local western store and tie them around one ankle or wrist. I tried to give myself a Pat Benatar haircut, but my mother had to take me to get it fixed at the hair salon. She was not happy.

Sometimes Pat wore mismatched earrings, a big dangly one and a small one. I didn't have my ears pierced, and I couldn't afford to get them pierced, so I did it myself with ice and safety pins. I also didn't have earrings, so the safety pins were still in my ears the following morning when I walked into the kitchen for breakfast.

"What the Hell, Carole Sue?!" My mother shrieked when she saw safety pins dangling from my ears.

"I pierced my ears."

"You don't even have earrings!" She screamed and stormed off to finish getting ready for work.

I wore my safety pins to school that day. I felt incredible and ridiculous at the same time.

Of course, mom had to buy me some earrings.

My sophomore year of high school was the pinnacle of my Pat Benatar obsession. I'd conquered her look and sound. I entered and won local talent competitions singing her songs. Once at a football game, some male classmates were sitting behind me and started singing "Fire and Ice" as if to irritate me or make fun of me, but I was flattered.

I watched Fast Times at Ridgemont High and saw the Pat Benatar Girls, and I couldn't believe they'd stolen my idea! How dare they copy MY THING and not give me credit. Indeed, I was the one and only Pat Benatar wanna-be!

In 1984 I was the reigning Miss Firecracker in my hometown of Okeechobee, Florida. Summer came, and it was time to crown a new queen. They asked me to perform at the pageant. I chose to sing Pat's song, It's a Little Too Late, and I dedicated it to my ex-boyfriend. For this 15-year-old beauty pageant queen bitten by love and stung by rejection, it was perfect.

I left home at seventeen and went to work at Jimmy Swaggart Ministries in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was a hardcore fundamentalist ministry, and they convinced me that all secular music was of the devil, so Christian music took Pat's position. I drank all the cult Kool-aide and threw my Pat Benatar cassettes in the trash.

Though sincere in my repentance of all "secular" music, I'd go into a record store, and a pang of regret would come over me, "What have I done!? Why did I throw out those cassettes?" But the fundamentalist cult guilt trip would bring me back in line until it didn't. Repeatedly I backslid and bought more Pat Benatar music. Then I'd feel guilty and throw it away again. It was a vicious cycle.

One day in my early twenties, I was at Sam Goody with my friend Ammye, and she saw me eying a Pat Benatar cassette. I saw the annoyed look on her face, "Don't buy that, and then a month from now, feel guilty and throw it away!" She ordered me sternly.

I stepped to the cashier with the cassette, paid for it, ran to my car, stuck it in the tape deck, and never looked back.

Pat wasn't "of the devil."

In the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, " is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which 'Escape' is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?"

Singing into that hairbrush took me away from a harsh reality. That escape was a gift from God that, for several years, saved my life.

To quote Pat's song Invincible...

"This bloody road remains a mystery

This sudden darkness fills the air

What are we waiting for?

Won't anybody help us?

What are we waiting for?

We can't afford to be innocent

Stand up and face the enemy

It's a do or die situation

We will be invincible"


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