On the eve of my wedding day, my alcoholic mother hit bottom after a month without food, and my trusted friend (aka. fiancee) uncharacteristically got so drunk that he was still attached to the toilet the next morning and appeared on the altar with broken blood vessels circling his eyes.
The photographer’s car broke down on the way to the hotel, and up until the last minute, my father refused to ride to the church in the limousine with me because it would leave out my stepmother.
When the flowers arrived all wrong, I needed a drink, and so I had some champagne with my bridesmaids; but it was the the music that finally soothed me–at the church with If It’s Magic–and later at the reception with funk where I danced the night away, despite my father’s urgings to visit each table in conversation. It was selfish of me to ignore my seated guests, but I was in desperate need of the medicine of music and movement.
When my grandfather died the following year, music continued to be a source of solace. My sisters and cousins gathered at my apartment and we relived a dramatic rendition of “My Way” first given by our grandmother when we were children. We brought music along too, The New Jersey Mass Choir, and let their voices echo in the vestibule before and after that sad service.
From reel to reels with my father in the basement of my childhood home, to 45’s in my bedroom, to 8 tracks in my boyfriend’s car, to mixed tapes made for friends, music continues to soothe and celebrate the days of my life.
When I gave birth to my son, at home, I had my husband turn on the CD player with Lauryn Hill and then James Taylor to ease me into the opening necessary for delivery.
Music continued to be medicine when my mother was in the hospital. My sisters and I sang, Wade in the Water. and later infused the ceremony that celebrated her life with so much music that people called the funeral, “a musical.”
Landslide and Amazing Grace offered by two different soloists on guitar, and even an impromptu Tora Lora Loo, by me, in honor of the lullaby my mother sang all our lives. Lean on Me, brought us through the private burial; and mixed tapes got us through that winter when we encountered the dark face of loss.
Silly to think, that after ALL the sentiment your young heart poured out in love letters and flowers and proclamations of undying love, that it is unflinching I, who ended up being the truly romantic one.
That 25 years later, when a song stumbles forth from my shuffle of 2,000, it still stirs my heart with the aching loss of love…
It’s sad to think
We’re not gonna make it
And it’s gotten to the point
Where we just can’t fake it
For some ungodly reason
We just won’t let it die
I guess neither one of us
wants to be the first to say good-bye
And funny to think, that everyone around us–all those friends and loved ones who endured our ups and exponentially growing downs–could see the ending that we refused to find.
And even odder, that it was YOU–who once held on sooooo tightly–who was the one who finally let go, without so much as a goodbye… when I had been the one who was always leaving…
I keep wondering
What I’m gonna do without you
And I guess you must be wondering the same thing too
So we go on
Go on together
Living a lie
Everytime I find the nerve
Everytime I find the nerve to say I’m leaving
Those old memories get in my way
Lord knows it’s only me
That I’m deceiving
That all these years later, this last verse still racks my body with the truth of how fragile that gift of love came to be…
There can be no way
There can be no way
This can have a happy ending
So we just go on
Hurting and pretending
Convincing ourselves to give it just one more try…
In the end (our ending), this powerful, independent woman, discovered how to be a “girl”–weepy and dramatic. And you, a sullen and overly sentimental boy, discovered how to be a man–powerful and clear headed. Although it didn’t feel like it at the time, I got the better of the end–of our ending.
Farewell my love
We are each middle-aged now, and neither of us knew that I would be the one who refused to say Goodbye.
“Leave me in the past,” you plead, not wanting to be paraded in my mind–let alone in my work as a writer.
But what I’m coming to understand, is that it’s not really you that I want to hold onto, but the love (albeit a little dramatically)–the love which comes from the same place from which I pour heart into my life, and into my writing, and into my sons, and into the man who’s shared my bed since you made this room for him inside.
So that 25 years later, I am still moved by a song or a memory or a poem that I once shared with you~
It seems unfathomable that ten years have passed without telling about the gift that made such a difference in the year I lost my mother. I must have made mention of it in some piece, but I cannot place it, and certainly it deserves its own work of attention, especially at the tenth anniversary.
That December I lived in a big drafty house atop a hill with a view of distant mountains, open to winds and the long dark nights of a New England winter. It was the following year that I would have pneumonia; but it was this year that I clearly recall the chill–inside.
Of my seven siblings, only one lived nearby, while the others were strewn across the country from California to Florida to New Jersey. In the vacuum of loss, the separation was excruciating. Despite the presence of my newborn son, the anguish of missing my mother overtook me as I approached her Christmas birthday.
Michelle sent us each a glass globes with painted angels, nestled in felt boxes; and I mailed out collections of music to soothe our souls; but it was the gift that came from Josie that made all the difference.
Josie didn’t know my mother, and she hardly knew me. In fact, she was the bosom buddy of my stepmother who now had little to do with the 6 difficult daughters she inherited from my parents divorce–let alone the extraneous brother and sister who sprung from my mother’s “affair” and her second marriage.
There was hardly a time when we were all under one roof–it wasn’t tolerated–until the morning of my mother’s funeral. Then all allegiances were set aside and the 8 of us became one. To hell with step-parents and divorce and half-status siblings, we were all Bonnie’s children.
That Christmas, Josie sent gifts to each of our children, especially the new baby. I received a clothes line fashioned out of garland, lit up by lights, and adorned with outfits, and onesies, and blankets, and socks, and tiny bears of different colors.
But it was the set of candles and the brass candle snuffer, adorned with dangling glass beads, tucked into a crimson bag of satin that deeply touched my soul. For I discovered that Josie had sent these to each of Bonnie’s children… like my mother would have done.
I watch the smoke spiral out of the brass cap in the hand of my baby who is now ten, begging for the pleasure of extinguishing each candle–in an act that rekindles the exquisite blessing of Josie’s Gift.
As an adult, I’ve never been a pet owner so it’s surprising to finally realize that one of my best friends–ever–was a cat named “Licorice.”
My dad was stationed in Colorado when this wonderful black cat came into our lives. My Aunt Rene found her, meowing from a storm drain. She was only a kitten then, abandoned.
“Can we keep her?” sang the chorus of my sisters and I.
In the meantime, we fed her and held her and cooed over her tiny frame until the day that she was to be given away to a young couple from the hospital where my dad worked.
On the afternoon of her departure, I sat outside on the front lawn, praying with all my might that I would get to keep Licorice, despite the inevitable. I held her close to say our last teary goodbyes.
Just before they were to arrive, the couple called to say that–THEY HAD CHANGED THEIR MINDS! They had just purchased a new couch and a kitten would be a big mistake.
Licorice was mine!
Though it’s been over thirty years since this time, I can still recall my dear Licorice’s presence. I can feel her soft fur, sense her purr against my belly and smell the milk on her rough tongue as she licks my hands. In our most intimate of love rituals, Licorice dragged her paws from the top of my head, down my face.
Ours was such an intimate relationship, that I insisted that Licorice treat all beings with the kindness we shared. I had her practice with my neighbor’s cat, and scolded her each time she howled or clawed– and praised her for her friendliness. The progress was slow, but with an 8 year old’s fervency for justice, I wouldn’t give up.
On the night that Licorice had her first and only litter of kittens, she must have come to get me for support. I know this because when I woke that morning, I found blood on the comforter of my top bunk. When I called out to my mother, Licorice came running into the room with insistent meows, pacing back and forth until she was certain I would follow her.
She led me into the storage room to an open box on the second shelf and to the sight of two black newborn kittens. She jumped in beside them and licked my hands as we marveled at this miracle together. For days, she refused access to “our” babies to anyone but me.
Licorice changed after becoming a mother. My parents had her spayed and she wasn’t a spry young thing herself anymore. We were allowed to keep “Jellybean,” the kitten who most resembled the slender form of Licorice’s youth, but we were forced to give up chubby Gumdrop to others across town.
Gumdrop’s life came to a tragic and early end, and Jelly Bean disappeared a year later when we were away on vacation. And then one day, so did Licorice. I searched for her everywhere, canvassing the neighborhoods in our suburb outside of Denver. I’d even go so far as to jump over fences into back lawns to chase and retrieve any black cat I spied.
“That’s not her,” my mother would chide, each time I dragged another clawing stranger home. In later years, she would confide that I had gone a bit “mad” in loosing Licorice.
I know that my heart was never quite the same. Never again did I give it so fully and never again did I ask for a pet.
And yet, Licorice comes to me still– forever, my dear friend.
I’m one of those people who needs a support group to handle the end of summer. I cringe each time someone mentions the colors changing or the air growing crisp. I look the other way when leaves begin to fall and try to pretend that the whole thing isn’t happening.
On days like this, I’m riveted by the summer-like weather; delighting in the exquisite exposure of skin–of tank tops and shorts and feet bared to the Earth once again. I feverishly pack my bag for the pond with the plan to make camp until the day grows dark.
On days like this, it’s outrageously warm–even after the sun dips behind the mountain. Though we’ve packed them, the sweatshirts and socks aren’t needed. Our Friday night potluck crew is downright giddy with this good fortune.
“You must be loving this, Kelly” friends say from across the picnic table, knowing how gloomy I was the week before when fleeces weren’t enough to keep us warm. All I can think is: How do they do it? How do they give up the splendor of a Vermont summer without a fight?
I smile and nod my head about the return of the summer-like weather, but I don’t tell the truth. I don’t tell them that days like this are actually bittersweet for me–like spending an afternoon with a dying friend who’s having a “good” day.
When a loved one is barely breathing, it’s easier to let go, but when face to face with the delight of her exquisite presence, the goodbye is excruciating.
While friends gather around the fire, I head out in my kayak to chase the day’s end. I turn my boat toward the last rays of light, and set down my paddle, letting my head fall back and my fingers trail through the water.
No wonder my mother died in September. What a perfect time to let go.