Taking a Beating

Photo by Emily Page

Photo by Emily Page

I am full of life and full of death at all times. Fissures forged by both etch my tissue and bone all the while coiled and ready to carry out the mission. Used-up spirit, worn-out cells, interloping viruses and bad bacteria ride the river of Death and yet Life holds sway in every single breath. Until that partnership loses balance. Then most of us will decline slowly, naturally, and finally, all will be quiet. As Ethan John sings, “We all know the future and the future knows us all, and everyone and everything must fall. The silence will be beautiful, the silence will be beautiful.”

I am deeply moved by all the suicides in our country. As reported by The Washington Post and the Center for Disease Control, 45,000 people in the US took their own lives in 2016. “Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and one of just three leading causes that are on the rise. The others are Alzheimer’s disease and drug overdoses…The report said people without known mental health problems were more likely to die by firearms than those with known mental health problems.”

These are scary times when living becomes an indictment, a life sentence. Most of us know there is help available of some kind or another, and even though no one wants to take it, some of us do. How awful for those who don’t. The suffering, the repercussions.

There was a time in my early thirties when I was at the end of my rope. I was living the life I always thought I wanted. I drank as much as I possibly could, had as much time to be as creative as I could stand, and had a beautiful body which I granted every known pleasure I or another could think of. But I could not win. My soul was wildly angry from neglect. I can tell you what I felt when I was drunk and inconsolable, too sick to ask for help. I wanted the alarm bells in my head to stop clanging. To SHUT THE HELL UP. No amount of alcohol (or drugs) could quiet them. I could not outrun the volcanic-like flow of anguish, loneliness and despair that made jumping off the cliff look better than dodging the burn path. Or worst yet, I could no longer feel the lava consuming my flesh because I was depressed and senseless, anesthetized. I could care less. I no longer mattered enough to try to overcome my debilitating shortcomings. I did not want to try ever again. And your love was not enough.

The only reason why I did not slit my wrists was because I passed out before I could do it. And of course, I really didn't want to die, I just wanted to stop hurting. And I did not want my cat to have to deal with my dead body or starve to death. And, my life force was clearly stronger than my death force. The bottom line: I was lucky.

I eventually asked for help and received something that continues to work for me. But I had to want it and go get it. I had to show up for myself. There are people I know and love who drink a whole lot and own guns. As much as I wish I could love them into wellness, I have to admit that jumping in front of someone else’s bullet gets us both killed. Instead, I just love them as is. No illusions about my power to fix someone else’s problems. If they ever ask for my help, I am available.

The opposite of struggle is surrender. But some of us won’t give up, can’t slow down, or trust that help is for real, for the taking. Some of us let shit go but shit keeps coming back in waves too big to transcend. We go under. Some of us hold our breaths and wait for the wave to pass. Some of us drown. Sometimes a beating tenderizes me. Sometimes it’s makes me murderous. It’s not a virtue to be lucky. I have learned to live with contradictions.

But it’s painful to watch people circle the drain. Especially people we love. Suicide is so hopeless, so violent. Maybe that’s why people we would never suspect would kill themselves do. They don’t want anyone to watch them drown. Remember how hopeless, how wretched it must have been for the person who grabbed the gun or designer scarf. And if you're on the survivor side of that tragedy, remember there's help for you, too. Let’s be nicer to each other. We’re all taking a beating.

A Country Singer wrapped in a Country Singer

Subtitle: An eventual music review of Laura Benitez and The Heartache

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In the year of our Lord, 1991, I fell in love with a country singer. I was married at the time, lived in Irvine, California and the singer was not my husband. My husband and I worked at the Improv Comedy Club but in our spare time we interned for MCA Records. MCA would send boxes of promotional CDs and posters which we would take to record stores in Orange and San Diego counties to make displays and provide other promotional services. It was my husband’s gig, but of course I helped. In one of the boxes was the newly coveted CD. I wasn’t familiar with or even into country music, except for Emmylou Harris and Lyle Lovett, and that was only because I had dated Emmylou’s tour manager way back in my Tennessee days.

The force of my attraction to the music on the promotional CD consumed me. At the time, I did not realize I wanted out of my marriage. But the way the country singer sang about the sidewalks ending and albeit faraway yet achievable planets of love...it unhinged me. I felt the singer’s feelings, his passion, and the utter heart broken-ness that pierced holes into my cynical soul. I wanted his breath in my hair, his arms around my waist and his voice coming out of my own throat. I wanted to be him.

I left my first husband and moved to San Francisco.

In San Francisco, I dusted off my desire to be an artist. I started writing poetry and songs and read my work at poetry slams at the Paradise Lounge and Kilowatt. I drank and smoked a lot. I wound up working as a cocktail waitress at the Warfield, and the San Francisco Improv, the very club my ex-husband and I had opened only two years earlier. I found my pack of wild and woolly “artists,” and for the first and only time in my life, I was single. I was in love with suffering. Having my very own apartment on the corner of Golden Gate and McAllister Street was revolutionary.

One afternoon, while wandering the aisles of Haight Ashbury Music, I saw a sign on the bulletin board that read, ”George looking for Tammy.” By now, I was a fixture at the cutout bins at Amoeba and Rough Trade, digging around for anything I did not know musically and cost about a buck. There were shit-tons of CDs for .99 cents. I was learning about country music. So I auditioned for the band, Western Electric, and low and behold, I got the gig! I learned songs from a cassette tape of practices with the former Tammy, who happened to be none other than Wholesome Jill Olsen, and I started gigging fairly regularly with this Alt-Country band in the Bay Area of California.

Guess who came to town and had a gig at Slim’s?

Guess who became the country singer’s favorite San Francisco girlfriend?

I dated that country singer off and on for years, even had an ill-fated move to Nashville because of an unrequited, unrealistic hope for a future that was hogtied in liquor and lust. I just wasn’t ready to become who I would become.

Instead, I was a cocktail server at the Bluebird Cafe where I shit-talked  other country singers with the bartender who was my bestie-in-woe-begotten-love into the wee hours every night after the cafe closed.

 

All of this to say, it’s not about the man; it’s about the woman. And the Bay Area country singer-songwriter, Laura Benitez and The Heartache’s most recent recording, with all its thorns slays me. It takes me back to so many of the country artists from my early 1990s induction into Sandy’s Country Music Hall of Shame. Falling in love with something I could not have led me to what I could -- my own imperfect voice. Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Jann Browne and Kelly Willis taught me. Freakwater, Sally Timms, Gillian Welch, Maria McKee and Victoria Williams raised me up. That led to Patty Griffin, Candye Kane and Iris DeMent showing me who I  am. Benitez is part of a new generation that continues in this tradition.

with all its thorns is a collection of short stories told through song. Laura's voice reminds me of both Susanna Van Tassel and Lucinda Williams. Her songwriting blends classic elements of honky tonk, country and folk. She hits all the most human places with its earnestness and ire. She is funny, smart and forlorn. My favorite cuts are Whiskey Makes Me Love You (honky tonk) In Red (Murder ballad) and a folk-ballad about the Oakland tragedy, Ghostship, which makes me cry every single time I listen to it. Almost the Right One/Cai mi Cielo brings Doug Sahm & Texas Tornados to mind and Nora Went Down the Mountain is an updated version of To Daddy by the one and only, Dolly Parton. The Heartache are a crack shot country band and Laura is their rose. Here’s your current opportunity to see them.

Laura Benitez & the Heartache play "Whiskey Makes Me Love You" at Neck of the Woods, San Francisco on August 1, 2015

The road to my father’s home is paved in patched potholes.

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My recent trip to Florida to visit my father had a bumpy start. I flew out of Oakland through wind and drizzle then landed under buckets of rain in Orlando. There was so much turbulence on the flight -- hot bumpy air shook our metal tube from one coast to the other. I found it exciting, and a fitting start to my adventure. Visiting my Dad has never been easy, but then, neither was visiting my Mom. We are uneasy people.

That first morning when I went to my father’s court-mandated home for mentally challenged seniors, and he did not recognize me, I was shaken. But not for long. Even when the rain poured down in frothy white sheets as we drove along two-lane Malabar Road toward the river, I just slowed down. I could tell my Dad was nervous because of the way his legs kept jerking. And small talk became no talk. He air-braked, just like my Mom used to. To my surprise, I did not take it personally. I was given all the strength and courage I needed maybe because I asked for it. Each morning before I picked-up my Dad, I’d say, LOVE, I need you. Give me strength.

Eventually the rain would die down and we made it three days in a row to The Shack on US 1, which is a cool old Florida restaurant perched on the Indian River. We became re-acquainted meal by meal, ride by ride. It got easier between us. We also made trips to Walmart and the beach. Ice cream is our family’s drug of choice and so, we had hot fudge sundaes each afternoon before our goodbyes.

 

There was a time, not that long ago, when I was scared of my father and what he might do when I visited him. I was scared that he might attack me physically when I was driving. Or that he might run off when I thought he was in the bathroom. That we would argue about reality. Or the scariest proposition of all, that he might ask me to help him realize his dream of not being court-mandated and to find a way to live on his own. I noticed I spoke differently with him than I did with other people -- I was a little too cheery, too alert.

 

 

But this trip was different. He’s proven himself to be trust-worthy. And I have changed, too. I no longer see my father as a burden. He is a man who has lived through incredible odds and is still standing. His thoughts intrigue me, and his appreciation of my interest in him is unmatched. He is thrilled that I care. To get to know him, even though it’s late in the game, and let him know me, a fairly true version of me, is deeply satisfying. I have a friend who says, “It’s never too late in soul time.” It’s incredible to come from such a dysfunctional family and to pave avenues of healing. Those family-potholes of shame and neglect and lost-connection can be patched. Bumpy rides are fine, they get me where I need to go.

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Reason Things Out

I am 55 years old

I am an average white woman in an average body

I am happily married and child-free

I live in Northern CA

I am employed

I am restless and anxious

I am medicated for anxiety

I have survived alcoholism, cancer and living in the South - both Souths, both Orange Counties

I share my survival techniques with anyone who asks

Oftentimes I don’t know what to do with myself or how I feel

The day after David Bowie died, I sat in my sensible Toyota in my sensible work clothes, ate a sensible sandwich and cried

I daydream less about personal glory and revenge and more about Netflix plot lines

I feel pretty damn lucky most of the time

At this writing, I am in Brevard County, Florida visiting my elderly father. Since my mother died a little over a years ago, I have turned my focus to my Pops. Pops has been neglected or avoided or relegated to the bench for most of my life. We’ve lived so far apart and have had such different lives. He’s been institutionalized for decades because he is severely mentally ill. Funny thing is, now that I see him more often, I am astonished at how well his mind does work. And his dear heart.

Before I left Oakland, I took a mini-inventory of my fears and expectations for my visit.

Ideally, I hoped things would go like this: In my perfect AirBnb I would do 20 minutes of barre exercises upon waking, walk for half an hour then eat only lean proteins and vegetables. Coffee is encouraged. I plan to write 500 words before a quick shower. Pick up Dad by 11:30am and after big hellos and hugs we proceed to our favorite restaurant on the Indian River where we lived as a family 45 years ago. All the while the sun would be shining and the adorable Florida critters would make themselves available for pictures. Afterwards, I would attend to my spiritual life and then find the local karaoke scene.

My fears were basic:  

I feared my Dad would be weird and difficult.

I feared family members might be weird and difficult

I feared I could be weird and difficult

I feared my back would become tweaked from all the sitting

I feared the woman who runs my father’s home would want me to be more involved in his day-to-day care

I feared someone would show my Dad the book I recently published

 

The best way I know how to relieve worry is to reason things out with others. I run my concerns through trusted filters and this time I came away with a more realistic attitude: loosely hold the hope that things will go well. Know there will be some misbehaving and forgive quickly; don’t nurse the hurt feelings. And always have a rental car.

 

What happened the night before seeing my Dad:

It was pouring rain, Florida rain, even as the plane landed Sunday night. My Toyota Yaris had plenty of pick up and go, especially between semi trucks as it hydroplaned in their dinosaur-sized rooster tail spray. But I was alright even though I couldn’t figure out how to pair my iPhone Bluetooth to the rental car because the prior driver had the radio set to a local Country Classics station and they were playing some choice tunes.

 

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An hour and a half later, I find my *perfect* Airbnb and it is not.

I knew it would be old and rustic since it’s located in historic downtown Melbourne. I knew it was built in 1929 and was decorated by a surfer with a recycled-chic vibe  because I have eyes and I had poured over the pictures for weeks. But everything looks worse in the rainy dark doesn’t it?

I held my breath as I reached deeply into a wooden shoe on the drenched and creaky wood porch, in the dark, to find the house key. My glasses had fogged up and I could not see the door knob very well. The surfer had left the lights inside on which was very kind. And the AC hummed nice and loud so that was a relief. But the lights were big and weird and pooled only below where they hung. The unknown was not bathed with the desired illumination.

My first impression was not good. It seems like I had been given the keys to the Head Counselor’s personally-decorated cabin at a church camp in Bolivia. It’s not so much shabby-chic or vintage as it is Missionary left-overs from a 70’s flea market.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t sleep well. Did I mention the train?

 

 

Day One of my Dad Visit

I got up after a few hours of tossing and turning and managed to pull the nylon sheets off the bed. That’s right - slippery nylon sheets - without a mattress pad to protect me from the defunct old mattress. My back was on the verge of going out. I had instant coffee and some turkey jerky for breakfast. It was pouring outside. I felt like a prissy middle-aged lady and that realization was a bummer.

However, I stretched and got gussied-up and sweet-talked myself into allowing grace to visit. Then I set out to see my Dad.

I rang the doorbell of his home and a sweet woman welcomed me in. She said, “Mr. Hugh, you have company.” My 81-year old father sat slouched in an upholstered chair wearing a red hoodie with the hood up over his bald head. He looked like a bratty teenager. I said hello Dad, and asked if he would like to go out to lunch with me today. We had just talked on the phone about my trip a few days earlier. Dad didn’t seem unfriendly, but he also didn’t seem very enthusiastic. I said, “Or we can just stay here and visit if you prefer.” He said that would be fine.

So I pulled up a chair and asked him how he was feeling because he had been sick. He gave me the particulars and thanked me for asking. Somehow the conversation verged to where I was from, and when I said, “California,” he said, “Oh I have a daughter in California and she’s coming to visit me this week.”

A sinking feeling hollowed me out and I sagged. Dad didn’t recognize me and, so, my fears were realized and this trip would be weird and difficult.

“Dad, I am your daughter from California,” I said’ “It’s me, Sandy.”

I took my baseball cap off. I had forgotten I had a cap on because of the rain. My Dad was flustered and unbelievably apologetic. He said, “I am so ashamed of myself for not recognizing you.” That made me feel even worse. Then I reached inside where the goodies are stored and pulled out handfuls of recovery and let go of my hurt feelings. We walked out together into the rain, got in the rental car, went to our favorite restaurant by the river and had a nice visit. We have days to get to know each other again.

 

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Take Out the Poison Bye Bye Blackbirds

I stopped reading music reviews years ago because reviewers stopped focusing on the music and instead, made it about themselves. But reviews in the East Bay Express, SF Weekly, Bay Guardian, Mojo Magazine, even Spin and Rolling Stone used to be instrumental in leading me to the shows I wanted to see or records I wanted to buy. Being guided by the World Wide Web is more like dodging fuzz from a riverbank lined with dried-out and exploding cattails. When it comes to tracking down my musical desires there’s just too fluff a’ flying, and I don’t have the attention span needed to let anything take root. Luckily for me, my husband is tireless when it comes to procuring music.

One of the bands Brian plays in, Harold Ray and East Bay Dynamite, had a recent gig with the Bye Bye Blackbirds.  And even though I did not go to the show (boring excuse) I did listen and watch the videos that flew up on Facebook afterwards. HOLY SHIZA! What a great band this Bye Bye Blackbirds is!

We writers, musicians and other artists rely upon each other to get the word out. With that in mind, I am going to make this review as much about the music as I can, but I learned something when I started writing that had me re-examined my bitchy attitude toward music reviewers – music IS personal.

Bye Bye Blackbirds - Take Out the Poison.

Some families are not awful. Take for instance all the generations of The Beatles offspring: ELO, Big Star, Todd Rundgren, Cheap Trick, The Knack, Crowded House, The Posies, Chris Von Sneidern, Jellyfish, Nirvana, Fountains of Wayne, and Spoon. In these bands the use of melody is paramount. You gotta wanna make folks sing along if you consider yourself kin. And, you must worship love, adore beauty, and be willing to layer up the harmonies. The songs need to be fun but not silly. And romance is key. Whether it’s the love of pain and suffering or the length of the thigh on the woman sitting across the room - you want to swirl that romance around in your mouth before you kiss the mic. The Bye Bye Blackbirds are a rootsy, glammy, pop-rock outfit that offers up eleven lovely songs on their most recent recording, Take Out the Poison. These smarty-pants white boys from the East Bay don’t need to get their Ancestry.com results checked because clearly, they are third or fourth cousins of The Beatles.

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Take Out the Poison

1 - Earl Grey Kisses

Aaron Rubin’s bass drives this song. Bradley Skaught’s lyrics and vocals are sneaky-sublime. I learned the chorus first, as one should, and before I knew it, had my window rolled down and hand tapping the roof of the car as I drove a little too fast.  

2 - Let Your Hair Fall Down

Another finely crafted up-beat number impossible not sing along with, Let Your Hair Hang Down has a glam-rock horn section with Jamison Smeltz on sax and Scott Jensen on trumpet. Ala Suffergette City, I forgot how cool horns can be in pop rock. Singing along with the bridge, “What time is the right time to tell you?” is absolutely mandatory.

3 – Duet

Duet is a lovely country-rocker that brings the Jayhawks to mind with wistful visits from Tom Petty when Bradley occasionally channels our dearly departed. This sweet song intertwines Skaught singing and song-writing duties with Lindsey Paige Garfield, a fine singer-songwriter herself.

4 – Wasted

I love the combination of chime and swagger Lenny Gills’ uses in his guitar playing on this shuffle. The shine Brad Brooks’ harmony brings to Skaught’s lead is tight! Reminds me of Jellyfish and that is always a good thing.

5 - I Meant to Write

This minor-key folk lament invokes the spirits of two more dearly departed, Elliot Smith and Nick Drake. Lush with strings yet sparse instrumentation, this song highlights Bradley Skaught’s lyricism:

Do you think this breeze is never ending

Where land and sea conspire to keep me standing

Don’t tell me how the winners will be spending their

Cold, dead nights

It is the remorseful soul of the album, and the words, like the vocal are taut and wary, a drifter straying from the bustle and clamor.  

6 - Alfred Starr Hamilton

This song is chewy and delicious, and mighty catchy for a song named after a 20th Century poet. It brings another songbird onboard, Ms. Julie Wakefield. And for whatever reason it makes me think of a funny little band from the 80’s called The Dancing Hoods that I loved. They later became the Sparklehorse, and the lead singer, Mark Linnous, much like his pop brethens from Bad Finger became tragic figures. Bradley – let this be a cautionary tale.

7 -Baby We’re Fine

This twangy mid-tempo duet with Olivia Mancini invokes San Francisco’s finest, Chuck Prophet and Stephanie Finch. A couple trying to cajole each other into believing everything is okay, “rolling and tumbling, baby we’re fine, believing in something like ‘time flies’.”

8 – Broken Falls

Bradley Skaught writes really well. This straight ahead roots rocker suggests a heartbroken state of affairs, whether it’s a sentiment with the nation or a specific relationship, the opening line, “Come alive or don’t come at all,” sets some serious philosophical boundaries. 

9 - Your Spell is too Late

The relationship between the couple in this duet (Julie Wakefield & Bradley Skaught) is not going to get better. But there’s a restraint of cruelty. It’s dark and passionate, “I’m spinning webs, to catch stars that won’t bring me their shine.” Khoi Huynh plays growling organ that accentuates the mood beautifully.

10 - Poison Love

A country classic played in an early rock ‘n roll style brings levity back to the fore. I asked Bradley why this particular song on this album. He responded, “I write a lot of art-y pop rock and I feel like the rootsy influences help keep that grounded and give it all a grittiness or soulfulness that could otherwise get lost in the smarty pants pop music I love in equal measure.”

11 - Earl Grey Kisses (Reprise)

Here we are right back where we started. Oh how I love the bookended reprise! In this stripped-down version, we can really admire Bradley Skaught’s song writing, his voice and the words. This song is made even more beautiful by strings and Julie Wakefield’s harmony. Her voice is honey butter and she makes me want toast.

Upcoming show: May 11, 2018, The Hemlock Tavern, San Francisco

Bye Bye Blackbirds are Bradley Skaught (singer-songwriter-guitarist) Aaron Rubin (bass) Lenny Gill (lead guitar) Joe Becker (drums) as well as other drummers, a host of singers, piano and keys, horns, and strings.

 

 

Still Nobody

Living is great. But it’s also tiresome.

I like to dig into my sticky weird soul and I like others to go with me. And even though an industrious and creative project can occupy my deepest-deep and heal my chronic soul-sickness, I know I’m a nobody. And so are you. Humans are the new termites. There’s just too many of us to keep track of anymore.

What will our aardvark be, I wonder? The Russians are human, too, and multiplying, so they are as plentiful and edible as the rest of us. Still, they’re getting out of hand and so, maybe, just maybe, the aardvark will be an antibiotic-resistant bacteria or thoughtless press of a big or little button. We just don’t know yet, so thank goodness for denial.

Can I get an AMEN?

In light of our limitations, why do we make art when life is scary and not nearly as sweet as it could be? There’s so much art around, already made. Ready-made. Factory made. Made to order, even.

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I continue to dig and create because I have to. Yet it’s not a compulsion; it’s a love story. I am in-love with living, as tired as my middle-aged bones are. Music, art and the written word fill me with passion. As I age, I adapt. Am I whittling away my life force with a bad attitude and sour grapes? Or am I giving my goodies the attention they deserve?

These days I find my life force coiled in the blankness of a new document. I tap the keyboard instead of thumping the strings of my Danelectro Longhorn bass that once sustained my younger creative self. Back when brushing my lips against a mic and having my voice grow flowering vines along with Brian, Marissa, Michele and Mel was as romantic as a wild spring sky over Joshua Tree. That was then, this is not then.  

This year, on Valentine’s Day, I decided to send my first-born novel out into the wild blue yonder. I did what I could to set her onto a path where people might find her and love her. I wonder, do you read fiction? Family dramas? Stories set in the 1970s along the Florida Space Coast?

I hope so.

Please buy my book. Please read it. Please tell your friends if you like it. Pretty sure WHAT YOU CARRY is a great choice for book clubs. And remember -- I’m nobody and so are you. It’s freer to be a nobody. Dig into your own stickiness, your own weird soul. I’ve been saying for years that our souls are like sink holes - deep and dark and old - nobody knows how deep they go. And still, they connect like ground water when it finds the river and flows out to a sea as vast as the universe. Enjoy the waves.

Photo by Al Satterwhite

Photo by Al Satterwhite

 

 

 

 

Name Changer

The manuscript I had been writing most Friday afternoons for nearly ten years had a name. It was EXACT NATURE. I identified with that title, and I was not only attached to it, the title seemed ordained. I talked about my writing regularly by name. And then, less than six months before my plan to publish this sweet-ass novel with its provocative title and beautiful cover, another book came along with the very same name. The other EXACT NATURE was released in January 2018, is also a family drama, and this book is published by St. Martin’s Press.

Well good for you, Janet Peery. I wish you well.

It took a while to adjust to reality. Then I went on the hunt. I searched for phrases to jump out at me from the text, phrases like Radiance Stretched, The Sun Droned, and The Readying Sign. But these were clunky, hard to say, pretentious. I could not capture a title. And the few times I almost had something, I would google it and there would be another book with the same or nearly the same title. After a few weeks, I stopped looking. I took a break and trusted something would reveal itself when I was ready to know it.

The day the current title showed up, I was an emotional wreck -- full of fear and off-balance about several life-changing events surging towards fruition -- one of those changes being the decision to become a self-published author. That day, when I was driving home, the words what you carry grew legs and walked into a suddenly sun-lit meadow in my mind. The words carved a canyon through my skull…what you carry, what you carry, what you carry…

Of course! That’s it! Finally, you are here, you are mine, you are perfect. Flustered, I sat in the car after I parked, letting the potential title sink in. I had a brush with mania and was kissed by the universe. I was downright giddy, and started to cry.

The novel tells the story of what each person in the Thompson family carries – their hazel green eyes and clenched jaw -- a pound of flesh and the type of grinder. WHAT YOU CARRY is about one’s resilience, one’s ingredients, and one’s cradle. It’s how the sausage gets made.

But something wasn’t right. I became suspicious of this manna from heaven. Before I got out of the car,  I realized What You Carry is the title of one of my husband’s, Brian Mello’s, more recent songs. I simultaneously lost my breath and laughed out loud.

You can’t leave what you carry with you

I’ve been dragging these memories through the years on a chain

Count every grain of sand that slips through my hands

Holding on so tight to all that pain

I am floored by the symmetry in this shoulder-to-shoulder trek.

WHAT YOU CARRY, a novel, will be available in print and e-book Valentine's Day 2018.

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The Last Time I Saw my Mother

The last time I saw my mother was the day our friend Jon Cavaluzzo died. I was visiting Mom at her home in Cookeville, Tennessee, and Tuesday, February 9, 2016 was the last day of a sorrowful visit. Her health was bad, and her state of mind matched the cloudy winter sky: gray, tired, and not able to hold the heaviness much longer.

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After a teary goodbye, I was filled with dread. Mom had been beleaguered. Something deep and dark hollowed out my insides as I left her apartment. Maybe this really would be the last time I would hug her, be embraced by all her fluffy warmness, feel her claw of a hand pat my back and intuit that one-of-a-kind love that housed only in her watery, hazel-green eyes.

I got off the elevator and walked into the common room of her building where a Bible verse was written neatly on the whiteboard in blue dry-erase marker. Cheerful potted plastic plants with flowers sat on top of board games and a row of Britannica Encyclopedias. Sweet people lived in my mother’s building, and I was so grateful to know she was safe. I walked past the long table covered in items other residents were giving away (half a package of cinnamon rolls, adult diapers, a Christmas tree candle) that ran the length of the room. I hurried across the parking lot to my rental car because it had started to sleet and I wanted to get to my hotel room near the Nashville Airport before the weather got too wild. I buckled the seatbelt and checked my phone. There was a text from my husband that said he had very sad news, and how sorry he was to tell me that our friend, Jon Cavaluzzo, had just died.

  San Francisco   Jon Cavaluzzo     2015

  San Francisco   Jon Cavaluzzo     2015

My husband and I do not have children and our friends are our chosen family.

I gasped. The motor idled. The headlights lit up a retaining wall. I looked up at the darkening sky and sobbed. We knew Jon had serious and difficult to diagnose health concerns, but he was only 55. I texted for more information then looked back at my Mom’s window. I had hoped she would be there, bathed in golden lamplight, watching me leave as she usually did for one last wave goodbye. But she wasn’t. I cried for a few more minutes then put the car in reverse.

Mom died November 30, 2016, one year ago today.

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