Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lessons on top of lessons

In about an hour and a half, I will be at my very first official one-on-one guitar lesson, and I'm pretty excited about it because I have run up against my own limitations as a self-taught guitarist. The lessons I received at guitar camp were fine, but limited, usually way over my head, and only available once a year. And the only other person who taught me directly died almost 4 years ago. Beyond being my beloved, A was also my guitar guru. We could talk for hours about music and guitar-related trivia, and did. When he died, I lost all of that, too.

A few months after he died, in what I can, in hindsight, only describe as a fit of grief-soaked pique, I ordered a somewhat spendy DVD guitar course, rationalizing (as if I were rational at the time) that I would need SOMETHING to replace the guitar instruction and encouragement A had given me, since he'd upped and left me. When I get mad, I get coldly practical.

I vowed I would start working on them on January 1st, 2007, and I did. I did the first lesson, and then put the box on the bookshelf to be ignored with nary a thought until the end of last year. I resolved that I would become a better guitar player in 2010, and would do those damned lessons that I bought 3 years before. I did lessons 2 and 3 in January, and none since. Clearly, it wasn't happening.

The opportunity for lessons showed up in my e-mail inbox last week, and I took it as a sign. I e-mailed the guy, and within a handful of e-mails back and forth, I was signed up and feeling good about the whole enterprise.

My friend P was out of the office all last week, so I sent her an e-mail this afternoon explaining the appearance of my guitar in my cubicle. In it, I included this bit:

"So my first lesson is tonight, and I'm excited. And I kind of think it's a victory, too, of a different sort, that I'm ready to do this…you know, find a new guitar mentor."

I didn't realize that was true until I typed it. I had thought about A in regards to these lessons, but more in that I knew he'd be glad I was continuing with the guitar, and still learning, and that he'd be proud of his "guitar babe" for taking this step to keep improving. He would totally applaud this move. But until I e-mailed my friend, I hadn't given a moment's thought to the idea that it was another healing milestone I was passing, in allowing someone else to fill the role of guitar teacher for me. Maybe it wasn't laziness or disinterest in lessons all this time; maybe it was that I just wasn't ready to let anything, or anyone, fill that spot that belonged to him.

Lately, I've been feeling pretty good. Normal. Me. Like I've reached a good plateau, and the view from here isn't too bad, actually. So many times in this journey, I've thought to myself, "This must be it. This is all the healing I'm going to do." And every time, I've been wrong, because as soon as I think that, some new thing like this comes along and shows me that I've come further yet.

Wish me luck.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Safeway isn't safe

I probably can't even remember the number of times A and I went to Safeway together for groceries when I visited.  Not a lot.  Maybe half a dozen, give or take?  Not so many that it should matter.  And such a mundane activity, too.  But it's stuck with me, maybe because I appreciated doing the mundane things with him, because I didn't get to very often.

And every time I go to a Safeway (any Safeway), I see a man who reminds me of A.  Sometimes there's a strong resemblance in his face.  Sometimes it's the way he walks.  Sometimes it's the baseball cap he's wearing.  Sometimes it's a gray goatee.  Sometimes, it's nothing more than being of similar age and the store lighting brings me back.  That's what it was Saturday.  I was walking down the Asian foods aisle, and coming toward me from the other direction was a fifty-something man with gray several-day stubble and a baseball cap on his head.  And I felt the knife go right through my heart again. 

The path is well-worn, though, and it only hurt for a moment, plus a lingering ache as I thought about it until I left the store.  It's a powerful sensation, yet oddly fleeting now.  I sometimes wonder if anyone who might look at me at a moment like that would see me flinch, would see that knife as it passed through my soul once again.  Or does it all play out only inside of me, invisible to everyone?  Is it entirely a private experience?  I feel so alone when it happens, like I am forced to feel all of it by myself, though I couldn't tell you who else I might imagine should share it.  It's mine, of course.  Mine and mine alone.  Whose else?  I am what remains of the two of us.

I remember a time, before A died, when I was sitting in the airport in Salt Lake City on the way home from visiting him.  I had been crying on and off since we said goodbye at the airport (because I'm a sap like that), and I saw my fellow travelers in a totally different light that day.  I looked around at the people who walked by me or sat across from me.  I looked into their eyes, and saw all manner of emotions there.  For maybe the first time in my life, I didn't see people.  I saw souls, souls who had their own trials and pain and worries that they were going through, and nobody around them knew, in all likelihood.  I realized I had no idea what they might be dealing with right now, and it softened my heart, a heart that was usually annoyed by the people in the airports getting in my way and bumping me with their rollerboards and yakking on their cellphones.  You just never know when someone in the airport, or the Asian food aisle, is having a tough time.  It could be anyone.  It probably is.

We should probably be kinder to each other as a matter of course, no?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"The past didn't go anywhere"--Utah Phillips

My best friend from high school and I recently reconnected through Facebook after 15 years of no contact due to a falling out we had. Back then, she was involved in things I couldn't condone and didn't understand, and was too young and clueless to know what to say to her about it or how to say it. Anything I thought to say would've come off as judgment, and I didn't feel I had the right to judge her, so I said nothing. But I never forgot her, never stopped regretting how it had ended, never stopped wishing I could fix some of the damage of that ending, even if I couldn't fix the friendship.

She finally showed up on Facebook; I ran across her name as I was looking through a list of kids I graduated with, marveling at how we all had aged, and I sent a message-cum-apology. And then I waited a couple weeks, not entirely expecting an answer, but knowing I'd done what I could.

When the answer finally came, late because she's a proud Luddite, I was almost afraid to open it, but I did, and when I read her words, I let go of a breath and a weight I'd been holding since we parted not-so-amicably. She was glad I found her, and had her own apologies to offer. And with that, a piece of my past that I had always regretted was rewritten.

It was surprising to me that it was possible to change the past, I guess. As a widow, you have to live with a million things you can't change or undo, starting with the death of your beloved. It's not news, I suppose, that as long as we are alive, we can make a change; I've done it before. And truly, I have finished unfinished business with A, despite his death. But this particular reunion expunged one of the great regrets of my life, one of the kind that haunts you until the end. I thought back to those early days of grief when I wondered what the point of life was, or rather, the point of mine specifically, and realized that this was probably one of those things I still needed do before I left this world, and before I could leave this world without too many backward glances. I feel less encumbered since it happened.

If it had stopped with the exchange of FB messages, that would've been good enough, but we've had two long conversations on the phone since, and marveled that our divergent paths have not only brought us back together, but that our thoughts and philosophies are also oddly in line. The connection is still there.

As we were talking last night, my chronic pain came up, and she asked me if I was under any stress. I was enjoying probably the best day, across the board, I've had in the last 3.75 years, and I said "Not particularly." And it was true; my stress is everyday stress—work crap, physical crap, the occasional marital moment, chores around the house.

But my voice wasn't convincing, even to me, and I alluded to the last 4 years being "rough" and it being a long story. I wasn't sure I wanted to get into the whole thing with someone with whom I've only just reconnected, because, honestly, I'm not sure this reunion will be a lasting one. I hope it is, but I just don't know, and there's really no point in spilling my guts if we're just going to fade out of each other's lives again. But she said she wanted to know if I was comfortable telling her, and so I did.

I told her about A, and how we met, and how he died, and how that all worked with E, and what it had done to me; I gave her the Sgt. Friday version, just the facts, really, plus how I was actually pretty okay now, and just really missed him. So yeah, I had stress, and yes, there are still undercurrents of that that I'm sure have an effect on me. But yesterday I was having a really good day, and I didn't want to go deep and end up crying. And you know, you just can't explain all that to someone who hasn't been there. I'm not even tempted to try.

She offered her sympathy and comforting words, and hoped it hadn't hurt me to talk about it, and I told her, no, it was nice to talk about him. So few people ever offered their sympathy because of circumstances, and no one bothered soon enough. I never got "The Look," the pitying one the other widows grew tired of, or the tilted-head "How ARE you?" from all and sundry. And I'll admit there have been more than a few times I wish I would've been thrown a grander pity party than I received. Maybe the grass isn't greener, but you can't blame a gal for wondering.

But when I got off the phone, I realized that it actually wasn't nice to talk about that. That's no fault of my friend's; it's just that I realized in hindsight that I don't really want to talk about his death anymore. What I really yearn to talk about is his life, who he was, what was so great about him, why I fell in love with him and remain so to this day. I want to talk about my awesome boyfriend and all the little things he did that were so hilarious and clever and brilliant and loving. But it's kind of late to do that; people don't mind when you share the occasional amusing anecdote about a dead person and everyone can nod and say, "Yep, that was A…what a guy…" if they knew him, or "Ha, that's great!" if they didn't. However, if you want to gush like a schoolgirl about your dead lover, people are going to question your grip on reality.

I think it's that, as much as anything, that cements him in the past-tense, and I feel like I've just bumped up against that hard enough to bruise. To me, the love is alive, the connection to him is still present and strong, and I know he's out there, somewhere. Maybe he's reading over my shoulder as I write this. I don't know. But while our love is as much "now" as ever for me, every story I have is "then," and with every day, it gets further into the past. How do you share that past/present reality with another person and have it make sense? How do you explain how you're still giddily in love with someone who you haven't conversed with, who hasn't walked the earth, in years now?

You don't. But that doesn't mean you don't want to.

That's the bitch of widowhood (well, one of a gazillion); so many of us were left with a love unsullied. We are loyal dogs waiting at the door for a beloved human who is not going to pass through it. When they left us, we were in love, and they haven't done anything to wreck that beyond their absence, so the love remains intact, if frustrated. If anything, my love for him has deepened as I've processed my grief and our joint past, and understood and forgiven both him and me for all kinds of things.

He was tall and thin, but muscular, and I loved to run my hands across his back. He had a million freckles. He had beautiful blue-green hazel eyes and a white goatee. He looked awesome in a tool belt. He always held my hand, and when we'd drive anywhere, he'd kiss the back of it as the spirit moved him. He was a good cook. He was respectful and good, but swore freely. He was funny as hell. He loved to dance. He made me hot chocolate with 2 packets of mix. He always opened my door on his truck and handed me my seatbelt. He felt things deeply. And I adored him more than words can ever express.

Shit. Crying now.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Widow's Dilemma

You broke my heart. You really did.
I've patched it up as best I can.
It works pretty much like it's supposed to now, I think.
But I know if I could look inside me, I would see it criss-crossed with scars,
atrophied and dark in some spots, skipping beats here and there.
My heart works again; but you broke it good.
And even if it's not your fault that you did,
part of me may never quite forgive you for that.
I hope you can forgive me.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Beautiful music, not together

Last night I attended the concert of an artist A had introduced me to early in our friendship.  He was the king of buying full albums based on a single song he'd hear on KFOG, only to find that he'd heard the sole good song on the record, and while he shared her with me, he confessed that she hadn't quite grown on him yet.  I think his complaint was that she was a little countrified for him. 
I was instantly smitten by her music, though, and quickly got the rest of her albums.  I remember being in Akron, Ohio, sitting in a hotel room that had been fashioned out of an old grain silo, listening to her album and being inspired to write a song of my own.  I don't play the song out anymore; it's not that good, but she truly was an inspiration to me.  My interest in her piqued A's, and he grew to like her upon subsequent listenings. 
I was really excited when I found out she was coming to town, and though I was buying tickets three days after sales opened, I was the first person to buy any, and I couldn't have asked for better:  front row, first two seats of the center row.  I didn't know who was going to go with me, but I am always prepared to go alone if need be, and I wasn't going to miss this show.  Even as I bought the tickets, I thought of A, and how he would've enjoyed seeing her, or been satisfyingly jealous of my going.  That's how it was with us; he saw tons of great shows by virtue of being in the Bay Area; the whole world came there.  Pickings are slightly slimmer here in the desert, and I complained of how musically spoiled he was; he responded that it was my fault for living in the boonies.
God, how I loved that man.  Love him still.
My mom ended up being my date for the show; we were two of a relatively small crowd.  When the artist finally took the stage, though, I was unprepared for the waves of emotion that washed over me as she entered and began playing.  I love her music, but I don't know that it's ever had a visceral effect on me.  But this time, it did, and I felt like I was going to cry, my heart and soul full to brimming.  I don't know what it was, though I suspect it was that all the disparate connections between her, him, and me came together when her fingers touched the guitar strings.   It kept happening through the first few songs, and then I guess it passed.  By the time she played the cover that was important to us (and that I wouldn't have expected to hear, but really hoped I would), I was just giddy and grateful.  I clapped really fast when I heard the opening chords, like a big dork, an especially noticeable dork considering the small, quiet crowd and the fact that I was front and center.  But it was a gift, and I appreciated it.
As time has passed, I have relinquished the fear that I would forget, that somehow he would fade for me as the result of his persistent absence.  Even so, I am still surprised at how meaningful pieces of our life together converge sometimes, overwhelming me with a sum so much greater than its parts.  It is breathtakingly poignant, but comforting, too, in that I know I am really not alone, that he is still out there, that love remains our unbreakable bond.  I miss him so much, but in moments like those last night, I can almost imagine him holding me up, my entire life wrapped in his love, almost a tangible thing.  Almost.