We Hope You Like This Song

An Overly Honest Story about Friendship, Death, and Mix Tapes


By Bree Housley

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From fourth grade onward, shy, nervous Bree Housley and fearless, outgoing Shelly were an inseparable, albeit unlikely, pair. Their friendship survived everything from the awkward years of junior high to the transformative upheavals of early adulthood—until, at the young age of 25, Shelly lost her life to complications caused by Preeclampsia.

We Hope You Like This Song is a tribute to the ineffable, incomparable bond that we call friendship, and a celebration of living life to the fullest. Housley recounts how she and her sister found a way to keep Shelly’s memory alive—by spending a year doing crazy things that Shelly would have done, like giving Valentines to strangers, singing at a karaoke bar, and letting her boyfriend pick out her outfits for a week. In the process, she paints a vivid, often hilarious, portrait of her fun-loving, social butterfly best friend and the many adventures they had growing up together in '80s and ’90s small-town America. 

Sweet, poignant, and yet somehow laugh-out-loud funny, We Hope You Like This Song is a touching story of love, loss, and the honoring of a friendship after it’s gone.


Chapter 1:

a different kind of resolution

It’s Saturday, January 3, and holiday hangover season is in full effect. While most people are at the gym for the first time in 360 days or at the health food store buying plantlike snacks whose names they can’t pronounce, Foxy, Kerry, and I meet up at a local Chicago pub and belly up to the bar (literally, as we all have a serious case of holiday paunch).

I’ve known Foxy (Ami Fox) since high school. Back then, we were good enough friends to hit up Steak n’ Shake together on Friday nights after basketball games, but we weren’t close enough to cry on each other’s shoulder or anything. (Only Shelly was lucky enough to get my snot stains on her sweaters.) When I first moved to Chicago, Foxy was my savior. She was the only person I knew in the city until I met Christine at work, so our friendship experienced a major rebirth. I had met Kerry more recently through a mutual friend. We had hit it off immediately, thanks to our love of tap shoes and unitards, and we have been friends ever since.

“Anybody decide on a resolution?” Kerry asks. She’s practically holding her head up with the beer bottle in front of her.

“I’m not gonna drink pop!” Foxy says, much too eagerly. This is one of Foxy’s traits. She likes to do stuff. I’m impressed by her constant can-do attitude—and also a little grossed out.

I give Foxy a halfhearted scoff, offended that she would even try to survive without magic energy juice. This subject quickly devolves into a less than intellectual conversation about things we could maybe do for a short period of time, like a week, but definitely not a year. Ironically, “no day drinking” is one of them. It’s 2:00 PM.

“You wouldn’t have to commit to any one thing, and hopefully you’d feel successful every week!” I say, in an I-just-solved-all-the-problems-of-the-world way. I don’t know if it’s the beer haze I’m floating in or not, but this notion of a “new week’s resolution” makes a lot of sense to me. Why vow to do one thing per year and most likely fail when you can do one different thing each week and succeed fifty-two times per year?

We throw out a few more suggestions of things we could probably do for a week, and then we go back to talking about important things, like ham.

Now, usually these kinds of brilliant bar ideas disappear within one visit to the pillow (and thank goodness for that), but this particular concept hijacks my mind all day on Sunday. It makes me think of Shelly and her undeniable crush on life. Maybe it makes me think of her because the fourth anniversary of her death is coming up—or it could just be that she’s always on my mind in one way or another. Either way, the thought of trying to accomplish something new and different every week speaks so loudly to everything she was—spontaneous, outgoing, and sometimes batshit crazy. The girl was up for anything at any time, no matter what the consequences. And here I am wasting my days being VH1’s bitch. (I’ll watch anything they put in front of me.) The more I think about this random idea that was born in a bar just the day before, the more right it feels.

Since Shelly’s death, I’ve been trapped in this weird space of guilt where I feel I’m not doing enough to honor her. Not enough crying, enough talking, enough grieving. What is grief, anyway? Who decides how one should go about it? Sure, there are seven stages, but I believe that almost as strongly as I believe there were seven chubby dwarfs that whistled whilst doing housework. In other words, no comprendo. I tried the traditional method of grief counseling a few months after Shelly passed. It was basically an expensive conversation with someone I would never choose to talk to in real life. At least when I talk to my friends for free, they call me on my bullshit.

Could this half-baked (half-chugged?) weekly resolution thing truly be a way to pay tribute to Shelly?

Would trying to live a little more like her actually make me a better/cooler person like she was?

Shit, why are you asking me?

Good question. Let’s go see what’s on VH1.

Self-to-self internal conversations continue late into the night; I can’t sleep. I decide it’s best to unload my thoughts onto someone else’s unconscious shoulders, so I hop out of bed and email my older (and much wiser) sister, Courtnee, to see if she thinks I’m crazy for thinking I can accomplish fifty-two resolutions in one year. I get her response first thing Monday morning: “Not crazy. Can I do it with you?”

Shelly was always at our house back in the day, so she was somewhat like a second little sister to Court. For the most part, we just bugged the shit out of Court by stealing her flashy outfits and spying on her phone calls, but deep down inside, Court loved Shelly. And although she lost Shelly, too, Court focused on fixing me instead of worrying about her own grief. She listened when I cried, she spooned me the night of the funeral, but most important, she made me feel like everything was going to be okay. Court lives in Des Moines with her husband, Eric, and I live solo in Chicago above a rib shack, but when it comes to our relationship, we couldn’t be closer. If anyone deserves to join me on this adventure, it’s Court.

“Hey, are there nerds on our backs?” Courtnee, Eric (her now husband), Shelly, and I at a high school basketball game in 1997.

Shelly’s “deathiversary” is Friday of next week, January 16. So if we’re going to do this, we gotta quit do-si-do-ing around the idea. We’ve gotta grab it by the arms and swing it around like we’re Johnny fucking Castle. Court and I giddily email all day Monday about possible resolutions, from the clichéd (weight loss) to the absurd (farting in public without shame). I make sure it’s cool with Foxy and Kerry, since they helped come up with this madness two days ago. They barely remember the conversation, so, needless to say, they’re fine with it.

What Court and I ultimately decide is that we’ll tackle a new “resolution” each week for a year (to reach our total of fifty-two resolutions). Whether it’s by escaping our narrow comfort zones, accomplishing a “daring” feat, or just living life differently than usual, Court and I hope to get off our proverbial (and literal) asses to celebrate the spirit of that popular blonde we miss so much. Of course, we’ll keep track of our progress via blog.

Court is a lover of blogs (I loathe them), so she convinces me that keeping a public online “diary” will put more pressure on us to follow through. Hell, maybe other people will even care enough to cheer us on or heckle us if/when we fail. One of my favorite books, Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia (in which she vows to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking), proved the power of blogging about a personal project, so I’m willing to give it a shot. I write up a rough draft introducing “fifty2resolutions” and email it to Court for approval. Apparently, she likes it, because the response I get from her includes a link to our new blog site she’s created, with my chicken-scratched intro front and center. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. This is happening.

We have one thing left to decide: What happens if we chicken out/fail/flee the country? We agree that for each resolution failed, the “faulty” sister must make a $15 donation to the Preeclampsia Foundation (PF) in Shelly’s honor. We hope this rule will help to promote preeclampsia awareness, but we also want Shelly to be an active part of this adventure—since, after all, she’s the one who inspired it. Well, she and a few beers with friends.

Court and I kick things off by emailing the blog address to everyone we know on Tuesday morning. The intro on the homepage announces that we’ll self-assign our first resolution the following Monday. I send a separate email to Shelly’s dad, John. He and I keep in touch quite frequently, so he’s one of the first people I want to inform about our attempt to live in Shelly-land for a year. John is extremely active with the Preeclampsia Foundation. Some people get angry and want to sue the whole world when tragedy occurs, and some people dedicate their life to trying to prevent that tragedy from happening to others. I am happy to say, Shelly’s family chose the latter.

Oh, and just FYI: We’re not out to make the world a better place. In some cases, the world might become a scarier place with two introverted basket cases on the loose. We just want to play with life the way Shelly did. She was the biggest basket case of us all and would’ve done just about anything on any given day.

Chapter 2:

a week to remember

Balls. This is major pressure. What the hell do we do for the first resolution? I imagine this is how a baby must feel when deciding which word to say first. It’s imperative that we choose something 100 percent Shelly, since we’re starting the project on the four-year anniversary of the week we lost her.

You know where this is going, right?

As previously mentioned, Shelly was a social butterfly. More specifically, she was the kind of girl who would chat up a bloodthirsty mosquito if it would talk back to her (she also might dance with it, high-five it, and give it a nickname). Who has time for this? Who can set aside their own shit to care about the wackjob sitting next to them on the train? Or even the person sitting in the next office cubicle eating Long John Silver’s at ten o’clock in the morning? (His name is Lars Larsen, by the way.) Who knows how Shelly did it—she was just that kind of girl.

Court and I are not butterflies. We’re the chumps who walk at warp speed and skid to a halt when we spy a casual acquaintance up ahead. The less human interaction, the better. When I score an empty elevator in the office, I chant softly to the door, “Close, close, close” so I won’t be forced to indulge in chipper morning conversation. Sometimes I don’t even fake an attempt to kick my foot out like most people do when a straggler lunges toward the door as it closes. I just stare, like, Eh, it’s not you, it’s me. I’m not very nice.

The fact that Shelly and I occupied opposite ends of the social ladder only made our friendship stronger. Shelly’s acceptance gave me the confidence of someone much cooler than I actually was, and I gave Shelly the freedom to let her inner geek thrive. For instance, I took dance classes from the age of three until I turned fifteen. During my most unfortunate-looking years (approximately ages eight to fifteen), I looked like an Ewok crammed into fishnet tights and sequins. I had zero control over my mullet and wore glasses four times the size of my face. But you know what? I felt pretty up on that stage because the coolest girl in my whole class was there to see me shuffle-ball-change my ass off.

How did I pay her back for this sense of confidence? Well, I taught her all my dance moves, of course. I have the videotape to prove it. The very, very embarrassing videotape recorded in my parents’ backyard on a sunny day, the summer before we started junior high. It was one of those days you have only when you’re a kid: the kind of day where you just look at your friend and say, “What should we do today?” In this case, the answer was “Let’s make an exercise video!” We pressed “play” on one of my carefully constructed mix tapes and traded off between being the “instructor” (the one flailing like a jackass) and the “cameraman” (the one struggling to hold the forty-pound camcorder). Here are some things we learned about making a homemade exercise video:

1.Shouting, “Feel the burn!” doesn’t sound as motivating when you’re not Jane Fonda.

2.When the song “Hotel California” plays on your mix tape, you should simply press “stop” and find a new jam. You should not spend the entire six-minute-and-thirty-second song swaying to and fro while counting “reps.” You should also avoid attempting slow-speed tuck jumps.

3.An abdominal workout should not consist of giggling like a hyena when a cute boy from school drives by on his moped.

4.Breathing heavily when it’s your turn to man the camera makes your masterpiece feel like a very different kind of video. The porno kind.

5.This video will become one of your favorite possessions when you become an adult, yet you will refuse to show it to anyone.

Court and I know that in order to truly celebrate our favorite social butterfly, we have to do our best to become one. After we discuss the pros and cons of facing one of our greatest fears—being (gulp) social—I teeter on the edge of a diving board much too high for my jumping skills. The only thing to do is exactly what she would’ve done: “Cannonball!”

To make a true splash, we vow to make five new friends this week. Saying hello is not good enough. Photographic evidence is required. Have you ever asked a stranger to take a picture with you? Yeah, me neither. Oh boy.

I plod into my office building Monday morning after an unfriendly commute on the train. I work at a downtown Chicago advertising agency located in the Merchandise Mart. I do something called copywriting. This means I waste my entire day on the information superhighway and then come up with ideas for commercials when I’m out with friends. Things at work are off-kilter right now because I’ve recently switched ad agencies after four wonderful, friend-filled years. The difference between the old agency and the new agency isn’t even night and day; it’s more like pajama party and bridge club.

My previous office was like glorified high school. However, in this high school, I finally ran with the popular crowd. We wore the latest fashions, listened to the latest bands, and drank our lunch at the latest restaurants. My new workplace is . . . well, it’s meh. The people are nice, but they have families and shit. They drive in from the suburbs and wear freshly laundered clothes every day. And to top it all off, I no longer get to be partnered with my close friends Amy and Christine. The art director/copywriter partnership is a lot like a marriage. (I’m lucky to have not one, but two, beaus in this scenario, since Amy and Christine are both art directors.) The copywriter focuses more on the words in an ad, and the art director focuses more on the visuals, but really, we do everything together. From brainstorming ideas to jetting off to glamorous locations to shoot those ideas on film, an AD/CW team is practically one person with two bodies. So now, instead of being joined at the hip with Amy or Christine, I’m attached to Lars Larsen. This is not a joke. If you were to shut your eyes and picture what he might look like, you’d be correct. This dude is one thousand feet tall, weighs a ton, and eats big boat-shaped chocolate donuts for breakfast when he’s not eating Long John Silver’s.

I stop by the FedEx in the Merchandise Mart to buy an envelope. A chance to succeed at the week’s resolution falls into my lap. A tightly permed lady stands between the counter and me. She repeatedly turns around to size me up. The Mart is full of beauties, crazies, and everything in between, so I think nothing of it.

Suddenly, she squawks, “Aren’t you freezing?”

Cue the visuals. She’s stuffed into elf-size leggings and a flannel shirt that screams Farm & Fleet. I’m wearing my winter coat and snow boots. As she continues blurting nonsense, I panic. What do I say? Where’s my camera? How do I get her naked? Wait—not that last one. She’s loopy, twitchy, and fantastic, but I just can’t close the deal. I’m fully ashamed as I exit with my stupid, newly purchased envelope. What have I gotten myself into?

I awake to a blustery Chicago. My bones are cold. If I could feel my skin, it would probably be cold, too. I bundle up like a brightly colored robber and hike to the train. When I arrive at the platform, I spot my target: a young man, even more bundled than I am (less like a robber, more like a snow monster). He’s standing alone with a camera. Bingo!

I shiver my way over to the snow monster with a teeth-chattering grin on my face.

“Hey, uh, cold out here. Right?” Duh. It’s all I had.

“Yep, freezing,” he duh’d back to me.

“So, I just moved here from Florida, and I’d love to send a picture to my friends. Would you mind being in it with me? I’m Bree, by the way.”

“Sure, no problem. I’m Mark. My parents live in Florida; I was about to do the same thing!”

Maybe I fibbed a skosh. I did, in fact, live in Florida for a couple years. However, I did not “just move,” and my friends would judge my sanity if I sent them this picture.

I hold my camera in the air. “Look cold!” I direct, which doesn’t explain why I look mental in the photo.

We chat for a moment and the train pulls up, just in the nick of time. A few more minutes, and I’d have to add him to my Christmas card list.

Thanks to my new snow monster friend, glee bursts out of every pore in my body as the train jerks down the tracks. Do I actually like being social? Something about the warmth of an unexpected conversation on a frigid day elates me. I can only imagine this is how Shelly felt every day—and also how she made other people feel every day. When I enter my office, the aforementioned glee is vacuumed out of every pore in my body and is spit violently back into my face.

“Morning,” Lars Larsen grumbles from his side of our cube wall.

“Morning,” I mumble back.

Lars is the type of person who gets to the office extremely early, for no reason at all, and wants you to know he’s been there for hours. I am the type of person who breezes in late, for big sleepy reasons, and doesn’t want anyone to know I’m there, at all. Ever.

I call Court to recount the details of my morning victory. She’s proud of me, but she hates me a little because she’s frustrated by her own failure to make fast friends with a festive department store clerk.

“Just get one and the rest is easy,” I assure her.

And then we hang up. I give myself one more hash mark on the fib tally. Nothing is easy about this. Nothing. How did you do it, Shelly?

I escape to my usual afternoon perch a few hours later. I call it couch city. Most people call it the lobby. It’s a huge open space in the Mart littered with rich-people couches from the nearby home stores. It’s my happy place. No one at work ever questions where I am, because I’m now a “senior copywriter.” This position comes with the privilege of being dodgy and disappearing for hours. Out of respect, I always alert Lars Larsen as to my whereabouts. He simply cracks a smile, nods his giant Viking head, and goes back to his double cheeseburger with extra burger.

I curl up on one of the couches with my laptop and gawk at the characters milling about, and I begin to hunt for another unsuspecting stranger. My thoughts quickly turn to Shelly. It’s three days before her deathiversary. It’s also three days before my mother’s birthday. Yes, they are one and the same. Life is a fickle bitch like that. My mom has temporarily moved her birthday to the week prior to avoid happy sadness.

I peck away at the keyboard in an emotional flurry. I’m sad she’s not sitting next to me right now. I’m sad we can’t eat the hell out of chocolate malts at midnight anymore. I’m sad she died while I was still dating someone we called Lazy Eye, instead of my kickass current boyfriend, Eric. I miss her, I miss her, I miss her. A tear fights its way out of a perfectly mascara’d duct. I look up and try to blink it away. Holy shit. You will not believe what I see midblink.

So, a chicken walks into the Merchandise Mart. There is no punch line; this is actually happening. As I watch the lady-size chicken put on her coat, I know this is a pivotal moment. If I let that chicken walk out the door, I fail at life.

I grab my camera and leap from the couch. Cannonball!

“Hi, ma’am? You look awesome. Could I get a picture with you? It’s not every day you see a chicken in the Merchandise Mart.”

One point for honesty.

She hesitates. I can’t help but wonder if she’s thinking about her integrity.

“Oh, well, sure. I guess.”

“What’s your favorite thing about wearing a chicken suit?” I ask, trying to learn more about her (other than the obvious fact that she makes a living imitating poultry).

“It’s warm.” Okay, then.

There’s no denying who was responsible for this bizarre encounter. Shelly never failed to amuse me. She may not have dressed up like a chicken, but she had that same effect on me every day. Her presence alone made me smile. Apparently, she has figured out a way to amuse me once again. I laugh to myself as tears tiptoe down my cheeks. Thanks, Shelly.

My boyfriend, Eric, and I are heading to Fish Creek, Wisconsin, to stay with his childhood friends Mike and Nancy for the weekend. I’m secretly hoping to become a fiancée on this trip. Before you roll your eyes, please understand that I am usually not that type of girl. In fact, I’m usually the eye roller. Before I met Eric, I was a relationship whore. I was in them all the time, but I never really felt anything particularly deep for anyone. Sure, it was fun, and I definitely liked the dudes I dated, maybe even loved them, but the idea of marriage freaked me the hell out. Then Eric entered the picture, and everything just seemed easy. I know that’s not romantic, and it’s not the word most people would choose to describe their dream relationship, but in the words of the ’80s rock group the Cars, I guess he’s just what I needed. Eric is artsy (a photographer) and sweet (but not too sweet), and makes sure I eat more than Velveeta cheese dip for dinner. We’ve been together for almost two years and have recently decided to buy a place together. However, before we start condo shopping, Eric has to sell his loft, so unfortunately, the atrocious housing market is keeping me shackled to my shitbox apartment.

The only chicken I’ve ever met who can say, “cheese!” Or any other words.

I call Court on the five-hour drive to Fish Creek and learn she’s currently kicking my ass on this five friends, five photos thing. She started slow, but thanks to some ice fisherman, a dude on a scavenger hunt, and a lady footballer, she’s well on her way to completing resolution number one. Let’s hope I can find some friendly Wisconsinites to help me out.

Something feels strange when we arrive at the cabin. I’m in a house full of friends, yet none of them knew Shelly, not even Eric. I don’t know Nancy and Mike all that well yet, and I don’t want to worry Eric, so as we all sit by the fire and talk about our lives and laugh about ridiculous stories, I keep my sadness hidden. She died four years ago today. It feels like yesterday, but it also feels like a million years have passed since I’ve heard her voice . . . and her laugh. Oh man, do I miss that snorty laugh. The last coherent conversation I had with her was the day before she was scheduled for induced labor. At that point, the doctors had already diagnosed her with preeclampsia.

Here’s your lesson for the day: Preeclampsia is a pregnancy condition characterized by hypertension and damage to the linings of the blood vessels of the brain, liver, lungs, and kidneys, which can lead to multiple organ failure, convulsions, coma, and death. But we weren’t supposed to be concerned. It’s common. Everyone seems to know somebody who has had preeclampsia (yet more often than not, none of these people can explain what it is, exactly).

We were in the midst of one of our usual high-energy phone calls, but this one was different. She was going to be a mother the next day.

“Ohmygod, I’ll be fine,” she said. “Wait until next weekend to come home so you can actually spend time with me and the baby.”

I believed her—that she’d be fine—because that’s what I’d always done. I’d never questioned anything she told me. In hindsight, I wish I had done some research about preeclampsia and what was happening to her. It wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but I most definitely wouldn’t have disregarded the severity of the situation like I did. We continued to gab, discussing the craziness of her being in charge of another little being for the next eighteen-plus years.

“Hold on a sec, I have to pay the cabbie,” I interrupted.

Her response: “Oh, I’m so proud of you! Bree in the big city, paying cabbies!”

All I could do was laugh. “You’re having a baby tomorrow, Shelly. I’m proud of you.”

That’s who she was. Always thinking about others. She did indeed give birth to that beautiful baby, Hailey, the next day. However, my visit was much different than we had planned. Shelly held on for a week, in and out of consciousness, and then died due to complications from preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome (hemolytic anemia, elevated liver enzymes, low platelets) at almost the same exact hour she gifted Hailey to the world a week earlier.

I go to bed with Shelly on my mind—and that’s just where she stays for the night.

Sunday night, we’re wiped out like senior citizens after a trip to the mall. We nestle into pajama mode and sit in front of the fire. It’s snowing, and I’m in a cabin surrounded by French onion dip and friends—not a care in the world. Except . . .

Oh shit. I still need one more photogenic friend! I can’t fail the first week! Must. Leave. House.


On Sale
Oct 30, 2012
Page Count
256 pages
Seal Press

Bree Housley

About the Author

As an award-winning advertising copywriter, Bree Housley has mastered “the voice” of moms, kids, dads, and dudes in order to sell products ranging from Pepsi to mustache wax. She has also had the pleasure of writing ad campaigns featuring some of the most quick-witted ladies in showbiz, including Amy Sedaris and Rachael Harris.

Housley always knew she had a passion for entertaining others through the written word, so after graduating with a degree in advertising at Iowa State University in Ames, she traded in her snowsuit for 0 SPF suntan lotion and attended the widely respected advertising industry darling, Miami Ad School, in Florida. At MAS, she learned to write snappy TV, print, radio, and web ads for a broad audience. She also dabbled in stand-up comedy and realized that stories of her small-town childhood made people laugh. A lot.

Along with her sister, Courtnee, Housley wrote a successful blog, Fifty2Resolutions, to document their goal of accomplishing 52 resolutions in 52 weeks. The first week Fifty2Resolutions hit the web, it was ranked number 55 on WordPress’s top 100 growing blogs of the day.

Today, Housley lives in Chicago with her husband, Eric. After a decade of crafting product-focused copy, she is thrilled to write in her own voice about a subject that means the world to her.

Learn more about this author