Wednesday, February 29, 2012

on darkness visible

In 1994 my parents separated.  A year later, after a considerably bluesy period, my mom spent some time in the psychiatric wing of North Shore Hospital.  My Dad said she was tired and needed some rest.  But I knew it was more than that.  Her life had exhausted her and she wasn't sure she wanted to be here anymore.  

I'm not sure what triggered the idea, but a few months later she decided to call William Styron at his Martha's Vineyard home.  At the time, the Vineyard was the only place where famous people still had listed numbers and finding it was as easy as dialing the operator.  She left a message on his machine, knowing that it was off season and he would most likely never hear it and, if he did, never return it.  But she spoke into the recording just the same, told him that she had been feeling helpless but that his work in Darkness Visible left her with some hope.  That the past few months had been a struggle but she was trying to find her way out.  When she hung up I told her that if he ever heard it he was going to think she was a crazy person.  And then we laughed, because wasn't she just a little.

An hour later the phone rang and I answered.  The voice on the other end asked for Laura and when I asked who was calling, William Styron told me that he and his wife Rose would like to speak to my mom.  I ran upstairs, found her marking papers in bed, and whispered his name to her.  She asked me what she should say and I nervously shoved the phone into her hand. 

She called him Mr. Styron.  He told her to call him William.  He said that his daughter had called him at their home in Connecticut to relay the message from the Vineyard of a woman who sounded like she needed him.  And then he told my mom that she shouldn't give up.  She had heard this before but she listened because this was Stryon, an author, a writer, he had suffered too, and she respected him for all of it.  She thanked him for his work and asked him if it ever got easier.  They talked for an hour and I sat curled beside her on the bed in quiet thanks for the man on the other end of the line.  

The bluesy times came and went and come and go still, but seventeen years later there is hope that it gets easier.  And I can't help but think that it springs from that afternoon, from that call, from his words:

“For those who have dwelt in depression’s dark wood, and known its inexplicable agony, their return from the abyss is not unlike the ascent of the poet, trudging upward and upward out of hell’s black depths and at last emerging into what he saw as ‘the shining world.’ There, whoever has been restored to health has almost always been restored to the capacity for serenity and joy, and this may be indemnity enough for having endured the despair beyond despair.”

Friday, February 24, 2012

on a leap

The funny thing about having a public place to write (even if I still haven't made it really public) is that once I hit publish I feel as if the words become truth.  Like I owe them something.  So the other day after I wrote that I needed more music in my life, I decided I should do something about it.  Seeing the words there made the need, the want, feel huge, obvious, real.   

Last night I clicked around on some ads in the musicians section of craigslist until I found one that sounded like I might fit.  And then I sent an email with some song clips.  Ten minutes later a reply came in that I should come by the rehearsal studio today for an audition.  Now this might not seem like much, but I don't do this.  I do this in the shower, I do this when no one is home and I think the neighbors won't hear, I do this in comfortable and friendly settings once every three years.  

But then something changed.  And last week when my friend Mary wrote about fear, about stepping into it, about making the big things happen, I felt as if she were speaking directly to me.  So a few hours ago I walked into Studio B on 30th street and sang a few blues songs for a band.  There was a woman in there before me and I'm sure they'll see a few more before they make a decision, but at this point, as much as I want them to choose me, I feel like just going there in the first place was big enough.  Because at least I tried.  I said hello to the fear, called it out from it's lurking place in the corner, and leapt right into it.  

Friday, February 17, 2012

on the one before

That Samson song comes out through the speakers, "you are my sweetest downfall, I loved you first," and for a minute I feel the words are for him.  But then I remember.  No, that wasn't love.  That was some fabricated version of it.  A cheap knock off.  If it were sold down on Canal Street it would be called lofe; something close to love, but not quiet. 

He was the one before Mike.  Technically, in the ways that matter, he shouldn't even be counted in the same sentence as Mike, but he is, because I thought he mattered.  When I was with him, I thought I mattered.  Even though he only really knew me when we were at the bar.  Or late at night after the party cleared out from his house and I was left over.  For a long time I didn't know anything other than that feeling of watching and waiting for him to open the Town Tavern door and walk in, his tall frame filling the doorway.  That flip in my chest as he took up the space and noticed me.  Of watching and waiting for a clue, a hint, a signal that I was his that night.  And of those early mornings, of the cloudy hangover sounds of church bells and his breathing, of how much I wanted him then.  Of how little he really wanted me.

We build these things up over time.  In truth it was just a handful of nights over a handful of years but now they are solid, inked, permanent in my memories of then.  I seem to be able to make them more than what they were.  For a minute listening now I can almost convince myself that it was something, that I loved him first.  But not quite.  Maybe only in a Canal Street kind of way. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

on Stuart, years ago

This morning I walked into the Key Food around the block and saw the front page of Newsday, read the words, and stopped moving.  I leaned down to pick it up and felt Mike stop to look behind him at what had held me up.  It was the headline, "16 Deadly Miles, the riskiest road on LI for pedestrians."  For a second the tears welled and I remembered him as if that last night were last week.  I didn't have to read anymore to know where they were talking about.  And then I came home and found the paragraphs below which I wrote a few years ago.  Today, for Stuart, for the boy he will always be, for the road that took him, for all the others along with him.

I am performing a search for a dead man on the internet.  An ad on the side of the Google page tells me that Dave Stuart is for sale, an advertising gimmick that takes the item you are searching for and plugs it into a “find here” field for eBay’s auction site.  For an instant I want to click on that ad.  Maybe I will be directed to a page where his face will smile out from the screen.  Maybe I could bid on his life, take back that day, slow the speeding car, turn him around and tell him to just wait a minute.  Maybe that's all it would have taken, just a minute.  I decide against it.  Instead I refine my search to the local long island newspapers where the accident occurred and find a brief and non-personal obituary in their archives.  “Upstate Man Killed While Crossing Street, December 1999.”  Two dollars and ninety-five cents later I have a print out.  A small morsel, but I have a piece of him again, to remind me that he happened, he was here. 

The night we came back to school from winter break, just two weeks after the accident, we gathered in Dave's dorm room.  His parents had been up the day before so his bedroom was void of his likeness.  His bed had been stripped and as we swallowed beer after beer, we threw the empty cans onto his now soiled mattress.  We thought if we trashed it enough the school wouldn’t be able to move someone new into the room.  And then the end of my life with them began.  Alex cried out that we were destroying Dave’s bed.  He spoke as if at any moment Dave was going to walk in and be angry with us for ruining it.  Jess yelled for him to stop whining, that a beer soaked shrine was fitting.  John slumped into the corner as Eric quietly wiped the puddles off the mattress and onto the floor.  The January wind whipped against the building and Jess and I left without saying goodbye.  When we were back to our room she jumped onto her bed and wrote Dave’s name across the width of the wall.  Days later we tried to remove the letters, their image a haunting and constant reminder of what was lost, but they wouldn’t budge.  I assume some janitor had to paint over them in June, cursing the girl who loved a man so much she had to stain her wall with his name.

The last night before winter break we had all been in that small room together.  Stuart was in my bed and I told him to get out, there wasn’t enough room, I wouldn’t be able to fall sleep with him there.  Instead he wrapped his arms around my head in an awkward embrace and drunkenly kissed my face, hoping his affection would keep me there.  James was on the other side of me, the three of us squeezed so tightly into my single bed that I had to get up, climb over them and sleep on the couch in the common room.  For a few minutes the two men lay in my bed together until they realized that I had left and there was no female body separating them.  I heard a shout, and I laughed out loud as Stuart tripped his way out of my bedroom in surprise.  He found me lying on the couch, smiled, leaned down to kiss my forehead, and then left to make his way back to his dorm.  I never saw him again.

I didn’t go to the funeral.  I was the only one of the group who didn’t come from their hometown and I missed it.  Jess and I fell out of friendship and in my last two years at school I would only see the rest of them occasionally.  When we met there would be a knowing look, a small smile and recognition that I shared something tragic with them.  But I was never one of them.  I never felt that I was allowed to mourn like they could.  He was only a part of me for such a small time; he was theirs for years before.  But I mourned just the same.  He was still mine to share.  And that is something.  As I close out of the search screen and return to work, it is something.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

on home and what's next

Home from Mexico.  We left there yesterday morning after walking across a warm tarmac to a plane in Leon and arrived home 10 hours later to a New York February.  But it's still with me.  It's in the sun that's tattooed on my arms and forehead and in the dust on the bottom of my boots from the canyon hike on Sunday.  And now there are hundreds of photos to sift through but not too quickly, because that's still with me too.  It doesn't all have to be so fast.  Even here with the cell phones back on and the computer and the tv and the cabs and the noise.  For a little while I can keep that part of me here that was different there.

There were highlights.  Food and sun and a visit to a 500 year-old tree among them, but this is the best for me.  On stage with my Dad, something we've only done once before (twice if you count that open mic in 9th grade when he played "Round Here" with me).  This time there were four songs at a San Miguel open mic and then another when I joined him for a song during his set at a sold out show a few days later.  It's a funny thing to be reminded of something you love so much, something that feels so much like home, it's forced me to think about what's next.  I know I'm no rock star, but I think I need this in my life.  Maybe a little more often than an every few years attempt. 

Oh My Sweet Carolina

Angel from Montgomery