An Ode to Melissa Etheridge

I craved a “come to my window” kind of love.

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When I was a little kid in the early ’90s I was obsessed with MTV. Obsessed. I wasn’t one of those kids that got excited about “field day” or elated over the promise of Saturday morning cartoons. My childhood vice was music videos.

I didn’t care much for the traditions of childhood, in general. I longed to be a twenty-something (or at least a teenager) from the moment I came haphazardly tumbling out the womb. I ached for fiery romances, earth-shattering heartbreaks, and passionate, tempestuous friendships, the way most kids ache for a trip to Disney Land or a second helping of ice cream. Music, specifically music videos, were my only entryway into the titillating world of young adulthood that I was dying to be a part of.

By the time I was six years old my vulnerable eyes had already borne witness to an impressive amount of intense music videos. After all, the ’90s were the great decade of the intense music video! But of all the music videos my hungry eyes ravenously devoured, the one that struck the deepest, most primal chord in me was “Come to My Window” by Melissa Etheridge.

I was too young to know who Juliette Lewis (the star of the video) was, but holy shit. The way she breathlessly spoke, “I would dial the numbers just to listen to your breath,” before the song even started gave me goosebumps! It was probably the most stripped-down, emotional moment I had ever seen on television; the black-and-white aesthetic allowing the vibrant feelings to color in the blank scene blew me away and I hadn’t even made it to the actual song yet. I didn’t know about suicide or self-harm, but I intrinsically understood that the bandage tightly wrapped around Lewis’ wrist was somehow self-inflicted. She looked so fragile and gorgeously deranged in those understated PJs in that barren room writhing with this… this longing.

And when the sounds of Melissa Etheridge’s guitar began to make their way into the scene, it added a whole other set of elements. Those first few rifts sounded dangerous and comforting at once. Like a motorcycle tearing through the walls ready to whisk Lewis away, rescue her from her mundane reality, and satiate her primal desires. (I understand this sounds like a very dramatic reaction for a small child, but what can I say? I was a f*cked up kid, I guess.)

Then came the footage of Etheridge rocking out on the guitar, wailing, “I don’t care what they think / I don’t care what they say / What do they know about this love / Anyway!” There was something about Etheridge that radiated both masculine and feminine energy to me. It was the first time I saw a woman be the fearless knight in shining armor deeply in love with a flawed, feminine creature, who would do anything, anything to save her. To have her. But there was also a halo of soft femininity surrounding Etheridge that made her feel safe. And warm. I somehow knew men didn’t have the capability to be that connected to another woman, to be that empathetic toward her, to want to “crawl inside” and “wait by the light of the moon” with her (spoken like a true a lesbian, I know). The words of the song alone were so blissfully sweet, yet the way in which she sang them was no-nonsense and decisive characteristics reserved for straight, hunky men in Hollywood blockbusters. It was confusing to see a woman be so nuanced. Yet on a deeper level, the kind of level you can’t articulate when you’re a kid, it all made so much sense.

In retrospect, I realize that I was destined to be a surefire dyke. Only an intense baby lez would have such fervent feelings about love at such a young age! I also, in retrospect, now realize that the lyrics in “Come to My Window” are a brilliant recounting of the most classic lesbian love scenario possible. Drama! Painful longing! Wanting but not exactly having! Falling in love with someone no one wants you to fall in love with, but that won’t stop you! A strong dandelion saving the sorrowful weeping willow! And while my adult self has sat through countless therapy sessions and worked through my quintessentially lesbian addiction to fiery-passionate, codependent romances, affairs that culminate in flames and leave my limbs scarred for several months (and sometimes years) once the fire burns out damn, I still think they’re poetic, don’t you? My younger self saw the poetry and the electric rush of elevated feelings that intoxicate you when you’re in the throes of a rapid-fire romance, for the first time, in that video. And my adult self, who has read all the self-help books and taken all the workshops and been prescribed all the meds, still in her heart of hearts secretly believes that doomed love, that “come to my window” love is the most romantic, powerful experience a person can have. Sorry, shrink. I’m a sucker for art and good art lives in the dangerous extremes, not in the balanced. Blame Melissa Etheridge.

Melissa Etheridge kind of f*cked me up, truth be told. A few years later when I watched the music video for “I’m the Only One” that features the insanely sexy dark-haired daddy who grinds and smokes cigarettes and drinks whiskey alongside the hot femme in the white slip dress, I understood the incredible power of attraction.

“But I’m the only one / Who’ll walk across the fire for you / And I’m the only one / Who’ll drown in my desire for you,” Etheridge roars, in a way that is so deeply rooted in the underbelly of her desire, and it’s pure sex. And not just any kind of sex. Lesbian sex. Mind-blowing lesbian sex. The kind of lesbian sex that makes “straight” married women abandon their wealthy husbands and shame their conservative families because they just can’t get enough. The kind of lesbian sex that keeps us in relationships with toxic people because the orgasms are so explosive and primitive and powerful, we become addicted to their touch. I wanted to experience “come to my window” love and “drown in my desire” sex. I wanted to feel the infuriatingly sexy pangs of jealousy inhabit my body and I wanted to hang out in sleazy nightclubs and smoke cigarettes as sweaty girl bodies danced up against each other. This revelation rendered me both screwed and blessed.

So, here comes the part where I’m supposed to talk about how watching all of this made me realize I was a lesbian and that I had a huge life epiphany that I owe fully to the great Melissa Etheridge. But that’s not the case. Those music videos didn’t make me think about my sexual identity in the slightest. In fact, I didn’t even pay much attention to the fact that all the love and sexual prowess was happening between two women. I was overcome by the longing and the lust and this newfound awakening that love could be so blistering and so furious and so magnifying that it could actually drive someone as beautiful as Juliet Lewis or as tough as Melissa Etheridge to writhe around a room like an animal in heat. I didn’t intellectualize those songs at all. That’s what makes them so special. I simply sat on the couch and hungrily devoured those music videos like I had been starved of something my entire life.

My older sister loved those songs, too. She would come and pick me up from school in her Jeep Wrangler, clad in a torn crop top and baggy parachute pants, and we would take off into the suburban streets of Connecticut screaming along to Etheridge.

“I would stand inside my hell / And hold the hand of death / You don’t know how far I’d go / To ease this precious ache,” we’d passionately belt in perfect, sisterly unison. My sister is no lez (though she plays ice hockey and wears a lot of leather, so it’s a damn shame) but she was equally as moved by the music as I was. The message, the performance, the lyrics were so primitive and true to the raw human experience that you had to be one of those soulless entities, one of those people who remain dry-eyed during gut-wrenching movies like Sophie’s Choice to not be moved by Etheridge’s work. And because she was so damn unapologetic about her sexuality, because she didn’t try to water it down or suppress it, and because she just rocked the f*ck out and lived her f*cking truth, her lesbian identity wasn’t the focus of her music. She wasn’t making a statement. She wasn’t trying to be a hero. She’s wasn’t attempting to “push the boundaries” or be “provocative” and “coy” like so many of the disingenuous girl-on-girl pop anthems we hear on the radio today. She was merely expressing her wild passion for the women she loved and letting her swag flag fly high up into the sky.

So that’s my ode to Melissa Etheridge. For she made me tap into something I wasn’t able to put into words. But whatever that thing was, it felt right. And that alone validated the very core of my untapped lesbian existence. Etheridge exhibited the kind of love I didn’t even know I craved until I saw it. The “ride or die” kind of love. The “let’s run away together and never look back” kind of love. The “come to my window” kind of love, I suppose.