Interlude Docs

Doc 087: Drew Arriola-Sands

Drew Arriola-Sands 001

One of my favorite photos of my mother is one where she is dancing in a brown living room in maybe 1979 or early 1980. She has a red dress on and her hair is dark brown, curly and shoulder length. Both her hands are up as if she’s waving while dancing; my uncle is directly in front of her as her dance partner and her expression is a big smile, girly and sweet. She’s young and looks happy, newly married and pregnant (maybe). She looks like she’s lost in the rhythm and having a blast. I pull out that picture now that she’s gone and it lifts my spirits—you can almost hear the song she’s dancing too.

My mother loved music, felt it, needed it and studied it. She was a hardcore fan of old and new music, loved Sade, Gypsy Kings, Carol King, Culture Club, Fleetwood Mac, Patsy Cline and countless other artists, bands, and genres. It’s no wonder I absorbed it. I appreciated the music she played at such a young age. I remember her playing Patsy Cline in the car and turning it down to say, “You have to watch the movie they made on her, it’s so sad,” and then turning the music back up again.

When I turned 13 years old, I took my love for music a step further and took guitar lessons for about a year. Thank god my dad allowed me to choose; the year before he took it upon himself to sign me up for baseball at my local park, with try outs, full uniform and even my initials embroidered into my cap and glove. I was miserable and for the first time knew what it felt like to want to die. The other boys tortured me, so learning an instrument seemed like a no brainer.

The day I got my first guitar my mother held it and got into the position to strum it; she even placed her foot on one of the dining room table chairs and pretended to strum. She said, “If I was born in another time I would be a guitarist.” She closed her eyes and continued to strum as if she could hear some jazzy breakdown that no else could. I remember her gold bracelets clanking on the fret board when she handed it back to me. It ignited something in me, because my mother, the woman who knew everything and everyone, didn’t know how to play an instrument and there I was, her little 13 year old cherub, about to master something that wasn’t accessible to her at my age. I wanted to learn to play for her. I learned “California Dreaming” and could half-play the intro and chorus. She looked so proud. 

I put down the guitar when I got into high school. My focus went to MTV, MySpace and gossiping with friends. I didn’t care to learn anymore. I wouldn’t pick up the instrument for the next ten years and when I did my life changed. I came out a second time as trans and finally felt like myself. My mother struggled with accepting my femininity but she loved me and would say cute things like, “I wish I had your legs!” when I started wearing skirts. I know my mother would have understood me more now if only we had more time.

Drew Arriola-Sands (photo: Shelby, 2022)

In 2014 I decided to write about my experience and what I had been going through as a trans person; to help me write I would play along with the guitar. She sounded even better than I remembered. How I neglected it for so long. But there I was back at the beginning; naturally my poems and pieces would become songs. I started to play with other musicians and starting a band seemed like the logical thing to do. I once played one of the new songs that I wrote for my mom before I played it for anyone. She looked at her nails while I sang “Bite me you bitch!” over and over during the ending chorus. The song finished and I nervously looked over at my mom to get her reaction. She looked up, raised both eyebrows, and with a stoned faced and no smile, she said, “You’re gonna be a star.”

Header: Drew Arriola-Sands’ mother. Photographer unknown, 1979.

Drew Arriola-Sands is a musician and artist and currently the lead singer of the Los Angeles-based queercore punk band Trap Girl.


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