Earlier this month, I took a roadtrip to California, to help my friend P settle in to her new place. She retired 6 months before I did, at the age of 75, and had been in the middle of a long run of ill health with few answers when she did that continues unabated. Last summer, a year after her retirement, things had gotten bad enough that she had to go live with her daughter, which is where she's been until this recent move. Until now, she hasn't been well enough to live alone again. I helped her kids pack up and move most of her stuff to storage at Christmastime, and moved it all onto a truck Easter weekend so it could join her in California. Her kids were going to drive the truck out and get her reasonably set up, and I was going to follow a week later to continue the settling in.
It's been twenty years since I took such a long solo road trip, and I was a little nervous about it, because I have a horrible propensity for falling asleep at the wheel on long drives. Fortunately, or unfortunately perhaps, the wind was so terrible on the highway that it required all my attention and effort to keep the car on the road, so falling asleep wasn't ever a consideration. Keeping me company was my iPod, the music's volume cranked high above the wind and road noise.
For the last nine years, a group of my fellow bloggers and I have swapped mix CDs every year at Christmas, and I decided to listen to all 9 of them in a row in a bid to not be fiddling with the iPod while driving every time an album ended. Safety first and all that. The thing about these mixes is that they are, in their way, a time capsule, both in the annual theme and the songs themselves, because they reflect what I was listening to, and living with, at the time.
I was tooling down the highway, happily singing along to the mixes, including Year 3, which was the Christmas five months after A died. The theme that year, the organizer told me, was chosen in part because of me, and what I was going through. I faltered a little on "A Dream Goes on Forever," but recovered and was going strong right into the penultimate song on that mix, "I Know You by Heart," until, somewhere in the second verse, without warning, I had an instantaneous meltdown. The words were strangled as my throat closed up, tears ran down my face, and I began to sob. None of these things are good things when you're going 80 mph in a dust storm down the interstate, but there was nothing I could do, and no place, really, to pull over.
I don't know if it was because I was headed to California; I wouldn't have thought so, because I was headed to SoCal, and all my memories with A are in NorCal. Maybe; it was probably the song itself, because I'd sent a section of it in an e-mail to A as part of a love letter when he was still alive. But I cried harder, and felt his loss more immediately and more deeply, viscerally, than I have in quite some time. I can't remember the last time I cried that hard for him, or ached so much for missing him, but it was all right there in that moment, reminding me how glad I am that I don't feel all that very often anymore. At the same time, it was reassuring, because sometimes I feel like he's "so long ago and so far away," like I've forgotten too much; forgotten more than I ever wanted to.
The outburst didn't last long. I cried hard for maybe five minutes; probably less. But the melancholy stuck with me for many miles afterward, and on and off throughout the three days I was in California. Because the fact of the matter is, my friend is dying. There is no cure, and the treatments are burdensome, exhausting, and seemingly not of much help to her. I am astonished at how tired, frail, and elderly she seems now, something that was not at all evident previously in our friendship, despite our 30-year age difference. It's not happening in a terrible hurry, but what P is suffering from is no doubt going to take her life eventually. And there is not a damn thing she, or I, can do about it but appreciate the time we have, and expect the inevitable. I remember telling E that he, A, and P were my best friends in the world, of my whole life, and now I was without one. I dread the future where I'm surely going to be without two of them, and all the jokes about their being at my gigs "in spirit" will be all too true, and not a bit funny anymore. I selfishly contemplate my own heartbreak, and fear going through it again, though I am resigned, because I know too well there's nothing I can do. I know that wishing and loving cannot keep someone alive. And I am once again angry in the face of my ultimate helplessness.