Dear Linda Ronstadt,

May I call you Linda? You see, your voice is the soundtrack of my youth. I’ve always felt through your creative work, that I know at least the musical part of you. I’ve never known life without your music. My Mother is a music teacher, and your album (Hand Sewn...Homegrown) was playing when my parents swaddled their first born, on the fragile drive home from the hospital.

Linda, thank you for always being there when I needed reassurance. You were there when I first felt like a woman, and you were there when I was longing for someone, or blue. You were there when I fell in love, and you were there when I watched that love walk away. You reminded me to be strong and gritty, yet feminine and playful. You were my way cooler hipper big sister, who knew things. I hung onto your every word, because everything in my world felt alright, when you sang.

We were diagnosed about the same time. You and I, sitting in somebody’s office in shock, trying to make some sense of the devastating news. I am a dancer. You are a singer. Parkinson’s is a cruel thief, taking the one thing brought us the most joy.

The problem with Parkinson’s isn’t the pesky tremors or loss of coordination that make it hard to pull shoes on, nor the stiffness and freezing episodes that prevent mobility by car and on foot... I’m housebound again today. These painful episodes can be expected though, and as humiliating as it might be to admit, I am now disabled. My voice, like everything else, is changing... no matter how I shake my little fist at the sky asking why.

I can handle the physical symptoms.

The part that’s killing me is the isolation of a neurologic condition we all know (based upon medical facts), will dismantle EVERYTHING that makes us human. Well, almost everything…

Linda, I wrote this note for you to use as a touchstone. Parkinson’s cannot take our spirit. I look at our peers and marvel at their perseverance and tenacity, even when there is a mountain at the gate that disturbs any sense of well-being.

I stand by you, and never give up because I don’t know who among our peers might be like I am with you- listening, for some reminder of connection. Listening, to stay alive. You may not be aware of this, but you might be someone’s hero. Someone Who is barely hanging on by their fingernails and ready to drop off the edge into the abyss of despair, of depression and apathy. Parkinson’s, like depression, is an incessant liar.

I’ll try not to sing off key.

You might be surprised to know I sang pretty well last night, for a dancer. I sang for you, and also for our Parkinson’s family. My song might have been raw and imperfect, but all I have to offer, standing there shaking the microphone, is the kind of swagger that can only come from a woman with nothing to lose.

All the lyrics and experiences, I’ll soon forget. But right now music is keeping me alive. I won’t forget those rides I took in my moms car when I was so excited to hear her new eight track ... oh Mom, wow! It’s Linda Ronstadt.

I’d have goosebumps along my scrawny arms and rolling the window down to shout along was a rare pleasure. You and I, we had the same questions!

When will I be loved?

Why was my crush no good?

How is it so easy to fall in love?

Your velvety voice was a beacon. Like Roberta Cleopatra Flack, Nina Simone and Bonnie Raitt... I had only brothers, so you became my sisters.

Sometimes I imagined that you were my best friend and I was invited all your cool gigs, sitting so close I could see beads of sweat on your shoulders. I would try to dress like you but didn’t have breasts or confidence to pull it off. What I had was your lyrics, running on a loop.

You’ve stated that people with Parkinson’s can’t sing, that it’s impossible. If you are referring to the perfection that was and is your talent, I would like to add that nobody can match that... with, or without a brain disorder. Your legacy remains untouched, unparalleled, and has nourished me all this time.

I would be honored to sing for you sometime. It’s my turn to remind you that the queen of hearts is always your best bet.

Heather Kennedy

PS. My stage name will be Kathleen Kiddo (The nom de plume adopted after diagnosis). Though I can’t do justice to your epic legacy, I’ll dedicate these songs to you, sister, until my one small voice is taken away.