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Friday, January 19, 2018

The Story of Geoff: Ch. 9

Recovery

It's January 2018.

I've made no official resolutions this year. I tentatively resolved in November that I would purchase a gym membership but that was a joke.

I see a psychiatrist regularly now. My parents attended a meeting with me a few weeks ago. My dad spoke one sentence and my mother carried on most of the dialogue, mainly defending me against a host of diagnoses, but at the end of our session it was quite obvious we have a family history of mental illness and I'm going to try a new medication. Because apparently Topamax, Trazodone, and Klonopin are not sufficient.

I tried a second antidepressant in addition to Trazodone last winter but it made my hair fall out so I quit taking it. I also tried Seroquel last summer, which robbed me of five weeks of sanity, and the memories of it's zombie-like effects haunt me still.

People with Bipolar shouldn't take antidepressants, I've since learned. But I still take Trazodone for sleep. Bipolar makes it difficult to sleep and every couple months I hit a month of waking up at 3 a.m. and laying in bed wide awake with racing thoughts til morning. I recently was diagnosed with Bipolar Depression. I've learned that I have a genetic predisposition to this disease, and that it's a real thing. Certain life events can trigger it into existence and my doctors all agree I have it. I was in denial at first but I'm starting to see myself through their lens.

I'm supposed to try Latuda next. Side effects include nausea, drowsiness, and inability to stop moving. I'm rooting for drowsiness. I don't mind feeling down. It's become a familiar and comfortable feeling. This drained out mellow nothing-to-do feeling. This must be how a heroin injection feels. Empty. Soulless. Like getting to die without having to say good-bye. Floating around and watching the world go by.

Geoff got married. I found out from Google. Up popped a page of he and her, together, with their wedding registry and the immaculate wedding venue photos. I looked at the date. July 29, 2017. I swallowed hard. The few fleshy edges of my non-calloused heart turned to stone and a numbness covered me.

She looked charming and cute in their pre-wedding announcement photo, and I could see in his face he was happy. He looked slim and healthy, unlike when he was dating me. She must inspire him to be a better man, I thought. I couldn't help but be happy for Geoff, for a moment, until I read the elaborate reception details, and imagined their magical day of bliss, shared with the family I'd lost, but I saw they belonged together. There was no way she didn't return to him all the joy I'd robbed him of, tenfold. Our break-up had surely been a gift to him. He was better off now. I felt a much overdue sense of closure and had a confused happy-sad feeling come over me. Then I began to cry.

Geoff never in our decade-long relationship spoke an unkind word to me. Not once. Lord knows I belittled him almost daily. I can't believe he tolerated it all those years, and was willing to marry me at the end of it all. After we called off our own wedding and he was openly dating again, I recall asking him what kind of girl he was looking for, and he told me, "I just want to find someone who is nice to me."

And here she was. The nice girl. I stared tearfully at the picture of Geoff and Sonia and I could sense instantly this girl was in every way kind. Sometimes you can just read kindness in someone's eyes. Geoff had those kind eyes too. He deserved her. She deserved him. They were truly a perfect pair. I cried myself to sleep as I pondered their amazin relationship and fairy tale wedding and how they would grow old together, sitting on porch chairs.

I woke up the next morning and swept the decomposing ashes of my heart and soul into some coherent blob and stood erect out of bed. I walked to the bathroom and peed. I washed my hands and stared in the mirror. My face was empty and pale and sad. I splashed some water on my face and pulled my pony tail out. That didn't help at all. Somehow I looked like I'd aged five years overnight. I went directly back to bed and covered up and cried some more.

It's January, I remind myself. It's the armpit of winter. In the Adirondacks. And I hate the cold. I never learned to ski nor do I have a desire to. If I were an animal I'd be a bear. A lonely non-mating bear.

I try to find something hopeful to grip onto in my mind. There's pill bottles all around and all I want to do is sleep the rest of my life away. Then I remember my mom's eldest sister, Patricia, who had just lost her husband of some fifty years this past year. They raised three beautiful daughters and shared in the birth of six grandchildren together before his passing. He was ill for almost ten years as she became his caregiver and watched him slowly die. She truly became the embodiment of love for him, as I know is the case with many couples when one goes before the other. But for her it was particularly difficult.

Then through some strange twist of fate, Patricia's ex-fiance from college tracked her down just months after my uncle's passing. He wanted to return to her a ring that he gave her when they were dating over fifty years ago. She gave it back when she broke up with him when he went overseas to fight in a war. It was a sad story and all, but she had moved on and never had any contact with him again. The ring somehow got stashed in a wall in the house where he grew up and when he tracked down Patricia to give it to her, they reconnected and are presently engaged.

What's even neater is he was even able to track down her old engagement ring at the pawn shop he originally pawned it at over fifty years ago, too. I think the stone was separated from the band so he just had the stone refitted to a new band. What a story. His wife died of cancer six years ago and he has grown kids as well. They both lived out their lives and found their way back to one another at the end.

So to ease myself as I came to terms with the fact Geoff is a married man now, I remembered this story. But I have to stop writing about Geoff for now. The story of Geoff waits. Waiting for another chapter that may never come. Love is a funny thing. Love can grip something so tight it suffocates the very life out of it. Or love can choose to let go. Surrender is an open armed gesture, and I stand here in the metaphysical realm barehanded, empty, waiting on life to someday return something to me that I've lost, once I'm deemed worthy of receiving it back.

Time is my friend. It's a vehicle that will carry me to old age, where I'll near the end of this rocky road and possibly figure out what it takes to make myself worthy of being loved again.

I heard about a study where people in their 80's reported the highest level of life satisfaction and personal contentment, so I'll shoot for making it that far, so long as I'm in good health. I wouldn't mind a companion in the meantime, just for company now and then. Someone with which to watch the leaves fall and share meals and watch movies and laugh. That would be nice. If not, that's okay too. I'm okay with doing those things alone.

Perhaps Geoff will someday fly back to the 'dacks, and in old age together we'll perch among the Will Rogers community or be roomies at the Dechantel.

If at the final end of one of our lives we got to spend just one autumn together, caring one for another, like I witnessed last Fall when a dying man I cared for was reunited with his estranged ex-girlfriend after calling out her name just days before he passed, "Nancy, Nancy..." If that's how our story ends, that would be entirely meaningful to me.

Geoff I need you to know I never wanted to part ways forever. That was unimaginable. I wish we could have just taken a long long break. It's impossible to grieve you when you're still alive. Please store some stories up your sleeve for me, in case our paths cross again. Remember me and the good times, please. Remember our journey because there's lots of it I've already forgotten.

And if our paths never cross again I'd like to think we're both better off for having had them cross once. Bye for now. You will always be my best friend.








Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Story of Geoff: Ch. 8

Guy

The 1960's arguably saw the most drastic shift in how music influenced the social and political climate of our times in the past century. Imagine being a young man, fixing your eyes on the future, but without worry because music eases your doubts.

You're invincible, for starters. Youth is on your side. The year is 1964. The Beach Boys have released the classic and timeless "I Get Around" with lyrics as careless as "I'm a real cool head," and "I'm making real good bread." It's silly. Borderline dumb. But who cares. It's fun. The melody and harmonies are there and hey, these guys are gettin' around. What's not awesome about that? The song is catchy. It makes you feel good. In fact, all the Beach Boys songs do. They don't write sappy love songs. Caroline No is probably as sad as it gets, but it's still a pretty song. I always thought it was "Carol I know" and it was a song about a man telling Carol he understood what she and they were going through. So it never seemed sad to me, 'til I listened to it again just now, but I still felt happy hearing it. So there. The Beach Boys write happy, feel-good songs.

It's also 1964 when The Beatles (introduced once on the Ed Sullivan Show as These youngsters from Liverpool), release "I Want To Hold Your Hand", and women everywhere (at least the ones that recovered from Elvis-induced heart attacks) become sex-crazed swooners at the thought of a guy wanting to hold hands. All of a sudden anything the Beatles say or do or wear (or sing) becomes the benchmark for sexy. And girls everywhere want it all. And if I remember middle school correctly, I know what hand holding leads to. It leads to sex. Not that I had sex in middle school. But it gets the ball rolling. Those butterflies in your stomach.

The Beatles changed the playing field for young men in the 1960's. Guys could get a mop-top haircut or learn to play guitar, or even better, learn a Beatles song to entice their lover. They could wear ankle-length boots with a fitted toe to school or a paisley shirt or pants with floral patterns to a party to look desirable or suit up in all white for a formal event and girls would flutter. Gone were my grandmother's days, when attraction came with poetry and bashful requests for first dates at the movies. Buying flowers, walking her to class, carrying her books - these acts became secondary. My mother even told me that she was disgusted by a guy in high school who tried to carry her books to class. She said what attracted her to my dad was that he ignored her. She found allure in that. And if you're curious what their marriage is like, 37 years later, not much has changed. The only thing they do is watch Fox News and fart on the couch together.

Old fashioned romance, even reflected in the music written today, started to become endangered. Now women wanted their ears tickled and their eyes hypnotized. Playing hard-to-get was taken to a new level. A sexual revolution sparked a sense of freedom for women and men alike to be with multiple partners, to engage in homosexuality with less shame, to experiment with hallucinogenic drugs. In a nutshell, people did what they wanted. Social and religious and cultural constraints loosened.

Geoff's father, a budding young professional during this time where women wanted it all, wanted to be a guy that could offer it all. His name was Guy, and he was raised by his grandmother, likely missing out on the emotional spoils a mother and father could offer. Later in life, material possessions and wealth became his love currency, which he shared generously with his family and extended family when Barbara brought others' children into their home, and even through their help in taking care of me when I was in a pinch.

Guy played Division 1 football out West before being accepted into law school. From there he built himself a successful practice and later in his thirties wed Barbara and had three children by the age of forty-five.

He told a story about a football player injury at the dinner table one night while the whole family was gathered round.

"One game, a player was taken out after breaking his femur bone. Does anyone know the sound a femur bone makes when it breaks? It's extremely loud! The whole stadium went silent. It was as if a very large tree snapped in half."

We all continued to chew our food, reluctantly.

"The femur is the largest bone in the body," he added.

Nothing seemed to bother Guy. Ever. He was trapped in a 60's mind mist. Still. After all these years. As if Don't Worry Baby still played on rerun in his mind. The morning fog that 60's music emitted must have generated a vapor only those who didn't witness the 60's could see from afar off. Like I watch these old(er) successful professionals with hippie mindsets and wonder how they balances work and play all their lives. I'm just sitting here feeling too agoraphobic to go check the mail most days, let alone get a job or have a social life.

I didn't grow up in such a hopeful, happy-music generation. I grew up with Kurt Cobain, Dave Matthews, and Phish. And those were the better bands. I'm trying to suppress Madonna, Mariah Carey, Boyz 2 Men, TLC, Ace of Base, Hanson, and Creed.

Women's rights in the 90's were more about abortion than equality and political wars were more about trading blood for oil than liberating oppressed countries. Not to say Vietnam was completely pointless. I guess all decades have their meaningless wars. But the 90's were so apathetic compared to the 60's. No hippie love. Just cancer and suicide and instant messenger to replace human conversation, tapered jeans to make the tops of my legs look extra fat, and lots of cigarettes and anorexia to combat those tapered jeans. If my memory serves me. I got gypped.

But the 60's cloud that followed Guy well into his later adult life kept him up in the air on some kind of unnatural high. A trance-like haze that even closet hippies walked through unknowingly and got trapped in. Maybe they didn't see it, but what a beautiful blindness. Growing up in the 60's distorted the reality of what really was going on in the world. Truly 60's songs served as escapism music, even if many reflected the political climate or used it to inspire people to be more kind. And people needed this. They needed an escape from the horrors outside our borders. I would have lost myself in it, too. The feel-good music. The feel-good generation. But instead I'm a product of the damage it created. It created an American dream delusion. The idea one could live on borrowed money. Do what you want. Go after your dreams. Now look what happened.

Suddenly Guy's generation had everything. Things that my generation now has to pay for. Few generation X's I know will get beyond student loans. Forget owning anything. All we own is our parents' debt. And if we're lucky, college debt. Then comes credit card debt. And if we're really lucky, and qualify, a home mortgage.

I digress. Guy has paid his loans. But other products of the 40's, 50's, and 60's have not. Which is why children today will have a very hard time even dreaming.

The only downfall I really saw to Guy being a bit stuck in the 60's was his wardrobe.

I've seen him wear corduroys straight out of a Syms or Klopfensteins likely purchased fifty years ago, since it was cool to wear worn down corduroys then. His informal and dated style of dress provokes one to wonder if he is not only stuck in the 60's but believes at all times it is Sunday afternoon.

Guy also has mixed priorities when it comes to caring for living things. He needs to snap out of the do what you want mentality, at least when it's dinnertime. On more than two occasions I witnessed the underhanded serving of handfuls of sirloin and other fine cuts of meat to the family dogs that sat drooling beside Guy at the dinner table while sophisticated humans ate with napkins in our laps. This was appalling, to say the least. And this coming from someone who lives in Tupper Lake!

I not only thought of starving children around the world when this happened, but of my father at home who would have lit up like a Christmas tree if I'd brought him home even a scrap of one of those fine pieces of meat, and to hear his big stinky dogs swallow those pieces whole without even taking the time to chew and enjoy the meat one bite at a time? What a waste! Why not throw the meat straight into the compost! It made me so angry, but the anger dissipated quickly when I took my next bite of steak dipped in mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans, and followed it up with a sip of Shiraz.

Road trips with Guy and Barbara were always fun. I enjoyed Guy's childhood spirit which always came out on family vacations. Guy kept the tunes rolling and always sang along. If we weren't listening to Carol King or The Carpenters or The Drifters or The Supremes or James Taylor, it was most definitely the Beach Boys. February 2002, the middle row seat of the Ford Expedition Geoff and I sat, Sophomore and Junior in college respectively, on our way to Montreal, listening to Guy belt out "Barbara Ann" seemingly more to annoy his wife than to enamor her, as she slurped at a fountain soda. We all had snacks in our laps. It was a rare moment Geoff's family went without food at arms-reach. But in-between the slurps and burps and stories and songs, Guy would take a moment to educate whoever cared to listen about whatever was on his mind at whatever given moment.

"Exciting news Geoffrey. The APA has recently approved the construction of cell phone towers in the mountains of the Adirondack Park so long as they don't jeopardize the Adirondack scenery" (chuckles). How do you suppose the map surveyor on that team will fair at those approval meetings?

"Oh, yeah, he'll have to think creatively for sure!"

"I hope he is prepared to draw up several drafts!"

"Oh, for sure, a whole bunch."

"Talk about job security. Approving this policy approves everyone's wallet for the next 5 years."

"Why don't they bury them underground?" I interject.

"They have to be out in the open air - we did an experiment at school." Barbara replies.

"Geoff did you cover the wood pile and ever get around to putting air in your mother's tires?"

"Yes-"

"Because if that tarp is not securely fastened and flies off that wood pile and we get that storm all that wood is good for nothing-"

"I covered the wood and fastened it!"

"And mother's car is not for you to borrow unless you can be responsible for it."

"I put air in the tires!"

"Changing the oil. Checking the lights. Fluids. Gas. Insurance. Lots of responsibility-"

"Dad."

"...You see 'em wearing their baggies, huarachi sandals too, a bushy bushy blonde hairdo, surfin' USA..."

Geoff's dad didn't quite reach the falsetto of Brian Wilson but made an effort that fooled the listener into thinking he did. He was quite brilliant at fooling people this way. Accomplishing the task at hand with autoschediastical fervor. The way he told stories, he could have convinced a conspiracy theory skeptic that Bigfoot existed and that he'd personally nursed him during his military training days in Madison County, Illinois. No questions asked. This is the effect Guy had on his story-telling listeners.

Sometimes I think Guy convinced himself that his big fish stories were true. But even with potential embellishments the ends always justified the means when everyone enjoyed a good story. And the stories were always believable. It was the kind of stuff that couldn't be made up. There were no Bigfoot stories. But these incredible accounts were worthy of being pitched to Hollywood execs. The setting and character depictions and plot details and climax were all there. All the elements of a good fiction. (Or non-fiction. Creative non-fiction to be fair).

One time Geoff and I went to see a movie called Big Fish. It was about an older dying man who told incredible stories. And one story was about catching a big fish, if I remember correctly. But what I remember most about the movie was how similar in appearance and demeanor the main character was to Guy. The way he told stories - there was no room for interruption. Let alone a sneeze. Stories that captivated you one moment and made you roll your eyes the next, and left you wondering at last which parts, if any, were embellished. Also the character's jowls, the roundness of his face, and rosy cheeks, and how every part of skin on his face moved: from the muscles beneath his fleshy cheeks to the bulges of his eye balls to the lines on his forehead, his entire face told the story, one detail at a time, each one carried word by word with its own energy.  Nothing was dull or irrelevant. This character resonated with Guy so well. It was as if the producers and writers of the film had known Guy personally and based the character on him, it was that uncanny.

Apart from being a storyteller and lawyer, Geoff's dad was a drill sergeant. He wasn't appointed by the military with such ranking, but rather gave himself that role at home when he was board.

My father, being a pastor, always said "The truth shall set you free." The first time I told this to Geoff, Geoff told me his father said "Work shall set you free." Since Geoff was the oldest son, and his little brother went to a boarding school far away, and his little sister was a delicate flower, Geoff became the bearer of his father's command. He often had work to do at home.

One summer it was excavating a driveway. Guy told the entire neighborhood he was putting in a stone driveway. Then when the time was nigh he handed Geoff a chisel and some other tools and told him to get busy. Since Geoff's reward would be a Jeep Cherokee, Geoff obliged. Barbara, feeling sorry, offered lemonade (the spiked kind) to Geoff's friends when they came to offer a helping hand. That driveway got beat up with chisels all summer and pieces of pavement got carried away. I watched my boyfriend become thin as a door-rail, chiseled as his chisel. He amazed me. Guy struck me as a hard father. He ate sandwiches and sat in an Adirondack chair and watched Geoff and his friends and sometimes Barbara burden themselves day in and day out, drenched in sweat clear into mid-September. The only sweat that exited Guy's body was a few drops from his temples where the warmth of the sun struck his face as he sat and drank iced tea while watching the work get done.

I tried to kidnap Geoff from his driveway job on Sunday mornings so he could come to church with me. This was a constant battle throughout our decade-long courtship. We never had outright fights about attending church but I always knew that Geoff preferred not to go. But this summer he seemed more than willing. Obviously as an excuse to get out of slave labor. We'd go to church, grab a couple beers at a bar, then return to his house and he'd put in a half-ass 2-3 hours of digging. He actually started listening to a Tool song called Dig that summer and he said it helped him to dig faster and harder. I think the beer drinking helped his digging too. And I'm sure church helped. I know when I go to church on Sundays, my whole week just turns out better.

When the truck delivery came with all the stones in mid-September, you would think only the Grand Pontiff could maneuver these pieces of earth. Yet somehow they were miraculously strewn about in just the right places when all was said and done. And Geoff got his Jeep.

Exciting improvements were always happening at Guy's household. One winter he put in an outdoor Jacuzzi. Geoff and I frequented it during blizzardy college weekends. Later on he purchased a vacation home in Rhode Island, and we eventually moved there. At some point in between, Guy bought a motel restaurant business where I tended bar and waited tables while Geoff entertained patrons with his singing and guitar playing. Sometimes I brought my keyboard and played songs, too.

We truly felt like family during those times. Me and Geoff's family that is.

I don't know that my family ever felt like they got to know Geoff like Geoff's family got to know me. My family never had all that much to offer Geoff in way of entertainment or spoils. And that was pretty obvious to me by way of how often he chose not to visit.

Guy was also able to be more generous to me than my parents were able to be to Geoff. When I first graduated from college and was doing graduate work at Plattsburgh State, Guy bought some condos up the road from his home, and let me live there rent-free for over a year. I worked my first teaching job, and saved enough money to play Party-Poker and eat expensive cheese like there was no tomorrow. Times were good. Geoff still lived at his house, but slept over at my place a lot, and came over when we had friends visit. He even put the electric bill in his name since my credit score was bad. When I got behind on my electric bill, Geoff's credit score was affected. We had a big fight about it.

The electric eventually got turned off. I couldn't pay it. Out of the apartment I went. Back home to my parents' house. Found a homeschooling job. Good money. Private pay. Did save money this time. Paid Geoff back. So Geoff and I agreed to move into a house together back in his hometown, just down the road from his parents', not far from where I was living before. Our hopes were high.

It was a fresh start after a very bumpy year. While I was living at home, I'd become depressed. I abused amphetamines to get through my second and final year of grad school and also found myself drinking shots with patrons while tending bar at a golf club. On two occasions within 6 weeks of each other, I was arrested for DUI. I spent a night in jail each time. I had to strip squat cough, the whole works. The severity of having two offenses should have really destroyed me. I should have served at least 3-6 months in jail and paid thousands of dollars in fines, but Geoff's dad got me out on a technicality.

Barbara, I should add, even marched into the police station after my second offense and from the temporary cell I was being detained in, I could hear her in her Rhode Island accent hounding the cops who arrested me:

"You couldn't give her a break? The girl's gettin' her degree and she blows a .08 for Christ's sake! We live right up the road. She said she'd walk home! All this over an out tail light? You gotta be kiddin me! This is ludicrous. A downright shame."

I'll never figure out how she in her right mind could defend me after I'd blown a 1.5 the month before and driven straight into a telephone pole, taking out an old lady's stone wall and totaling my parent's vehicle at 3 a.m. I'll never figure out how her husband could go to court as a retired, unpaid lawyer to bail out a girl who was clearly not good enough for his son. I was from the other side of the tracks, so to speak. He should have told Geoff to head for the hills.

When I ended things with Geoff many years later, Guy finally did tell Geoff to head for the hills. He bought him a membership to an online dating website. He told Geoff it was unacceptable for him to remain friends with me, after learning we were pursuing a friendship long after our break-up. Geoff shared this with me during one of our walks down Westwind Road in Wakefield, RI in 2012, one year after we'd split.

"My dad thinks it's weird we still hang out."

"Do you think it's weird?" I asked.

"Well, we are broken up. My dad offered to buy me a membership on Match." Geoff laughed in his typical way.

"But we still love each other." I reached out and tried to hold Geoff's hand. He resisted.

"My dad's right. It is weird. This is weird. Going on a walk with you right now is weird. Holding hands is really weird."

"It's hard for me to think of you dating other people. I can't even imagine dating someone else right now."

"Well at some point we both have to move on. You're the one that didn't want to get married."

"You didn't want to get married long before I gave you the ring back."

"I don't know what you want me to say."

"Nothing. There's nothing to say."

A month later I packed up what was left of my life in Rhode Island and moved back to New York to live with my parents. I told Geoff I'd always love him as I collected the last of what I could fit in my car from his parents' vacation house where we'd accumulated so many things. I told him I'd be back within a year to get whatever was left. I blew him a kiss and he just stood there and waved and smiled. I think he was relieved to finally see me go. He needed some closure.

I spent the remainder of 2012 and all of 2013 with my parents. I visited Geoff once in the spring of 2013 to collect the rest of my personal belongings. We met at the Chophouse Grille, which used to be a place we frequented under the previous name Casey's, just to grab an appetizer and a beer. We had a humorous yet bittersweet conversation, which ended all too soon. As I went out to my car to leave, he helped me load boxes into my trunk and beckoned me to stay a minute more.

"Isn't there anything else to talk about?" he asked.

"No, I don't think so." I replied.

"Oh," he frowned.

"But if you think of anything you can call me..." I said.

I drove away. He stood outside his car watching. I cried but it was just a couple tears. He never called. Well, about 8 months later he did. To wish me a Merry Christmas.

That was the longest 8 months of my life.

And the following year was the longest 12.

Presently we have no meaningful communication. It's probably a good thing. There's no way to have a healthy friendship. I re-experience the breaking of my heart just thinking about him. No sense in trying to communicate.

Speaking solely from my own experience, I'll say that letting go of someone you love is like putting a piece of your heart into a drawer. Shutting the drawer and never opening it again. You know the piece is in there. You'd like to open it, look at the piece, hold it, massage it, maybe even someday put it back in your body. Feel complete again. Even for a moment. Maybe longer. You see the possibility.

But alas. The drawer is closed. I'm sad again. Sad for even dreaming.

You're never quite right. Fragmented, sad, broken. Just a few words to describe it. The feeling of knowing you're incomplete. Your shattered pieces exist outside of you. You are simply incapable of putting them back inside, let alone together, the right way, the way they used to be. You can never go back to who you once were.

You don't just get over someone. You don't just pick yourself up and move on. You and somebody else exchanged parts of yourself with one another. When you split up, you don't get those parts back. They're gone. Forever. Parts of your heart. Your heart even beats differently. It's been shown scientifically that living creatures can and do die from loneliness. Breaking up is beyond hard to do. It's deadly.

All the memories I've lost, too. Many I've forgotten, just because I have a poor memory, and don't have access to all the pictures Geoff and I took. I've lost our memories. A decade's worth. Which makes writing about our relationship even more difficult. I've lost a friend. A family. The security of feeling unconditionally loved by a person in this world that isn't obligated to love me, but chose to do so.

As for Guy, I hope if he were able to conjure up some empathy for his son's runaway bride, he'd have sat me down and consoled me like he did Geoff. I never got any pity or counseling from his parents nor mine. I just went on solitary midnight drives to scream my lungs out after the break-up. That was what I resorted to. If I could go back and have a conversation with Guy and Barbara, I'd tell them first Thank You for all they did for me, and apologize for not being a better girlfriend to Geoff or better friend to Geoff's sister. I'd apologize for a few other things, too. I'd also say good-bye. It never really occurred to me that I'd never see them again. And to face that reality without any real closure has been unsettling to say the least.

I'd also tell Guy I'm sorry for never amounting to anything. My best excuse maybe would be that I just wasn't made for these times. I'd ask him to tell me about the 1960's and help me to imagine a better world, where people did dream and did get jobs and have marriages and families and have decent lives. I would ask him if he ever had to break up with a girlfriend. What was his secret to happiness? He had so much wisdom and I had so much more to learn from him. Wouldn't it be nice to have more answers? Guy always had all the answers. And if he didn't he made them up. I miss talking to Guy. Or rather listening when he spoke.

I'll close with a more happy and fitting memory of Guy. When I first started dating Geoff, Guy made me try escargot (a snail!) at a fancy restaurant and I firmly objected but he more firmly insisted so I plugged my nose and swallowed one whole! And that's a memory I'll definitely never forget! I'm really glad I tried it. I think he was proud of me for doing it.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Story of Geoff: Ch. 7

Dating Again

I haven't written in almost a year. I tried to tackle a chapter on Geoff's father, but he couldn't be captured. Too big of a man for my mind to grasp. Completely out of reach. I let my mind spin around in the past trying not to forget him... but sometimes you need to step away from the past to remember.

I started dating again. I didn't want to write. All the words I wrote for a season drained me of all the emotion I'd carried for years, leaving me feeling empty again. A good empty. Like when you haven't eaten for a long time.

The words, or building blocks of a well-written sentence are like threads of a loom, the various colors being the emotions directing the needle. My fingers were paralyzed, my heart calloused over, and my mind drifting contentedly toward a supervoid, when suddenly I was escorted into a wave of ecstasy. It just came upon me one day. I almost didn't recognize the feeling, a puddle of fear and excitement, pessimism and hope. A longing and a pushing away. My heart was at odds with itself, being that what evoked these feelings was a 19-year-old boy. An emerging man who seemed almost as lost and afraid of life as me. And hunger returned. I craved him like a starving child.

Jesse worked with me at the health food store. We started out just having tea together when the store was slow. I gave him a ride home when it was too cold to walk, though usually he preferred walking. We became friends quickly.

Daily he educated me on teas and herbs. Supplements he'd discovered and the illnesses they might cure. His dreams - literal dreams - as he seemed to somewhat loiter in them during his waking hours.

By the time we spent too much time together, we fell into something that felt like love. It was a crushing fall for me. The age difference made me question my own sense of morality. My friends didn't judge. Though it was still uncomfortable having these feelings.

I went to a house party to meet some of his friends one day and one of his friends was a boy I'd babysat. My father forbade it. "I don't want you having a relationship with him until he's 25."

I explored in my mind all the different ages we would be as he grew up to catch up with my adultness, and at just the perfect ages I imagined him, my age did not fit the picture. He would be 30 and I would be 46. He would be 46 and I would be 61. All the best retinols and serums and eye creams wouldn't keep me beautiful enough to match the majestic man I knew he'd turn out to be. He would certainly leave me someday.

I had to stop thinking about the age difference. It was a conscious choice I made. I gave up that worry. And one night, in full abandonment of the modesty mask I'd worn as a single woman for 5 years, I gave Jesse a hickey.

It was a playful kiss, void of any passion. The passion may have preceded but it left as soon as I lunged. We'd already exchanged verbal concurrences of our shared feelings, and I felt that his neck was safer than his lips. His lips might melt me. They were unapproachable. Full, soft, passionate lips - the ones all his beautiful words escaped from. A sacred part of his body, maybe, based on how he spoke to me. When I wasn't lost in his gaze during conversation, I mostly stared at his lips. They were perfect.

I loved talking to him. He preferred tea to alcohol and conversation to activity. He loved the things I did and had a spirituality so profound I wondered if he'd be a famous guru someday, and told him so. I wondered if God could have orchestrated this unlikely and socially frowned upon relationship. A 35-year old woman and a teenage boy? I convinced myself yes. It had to be. The feelings were so strong and held me hostage to believing so.

If Sheldon Cooper took a liking to health food and nature - he'd be Jesse.  Jesse spoke in poetry sometimes. One day over tea he was telling me about his dreams, and how difficult it is to wake up. But when his eyes would open in the morning, he searched for God. A sign that today would be alright. "If God isn't the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning, I need to go back to bed," he said.

In his waking hours, when taking a pause from the company of his dream friends, he devoted himself to me. He introduced me to mystic music, guided me on night walks through the woods in foot-deep snow, and made me tea. Sometimes he would reach out and hold my hand or hug me for no reason at all. We squeezed when we hugged.  I felt so close to him when this happened. These hugs. Like if we held each other long and hard enough, we'd become one person.

Much to my embarrassment, Jesse's dad commented on the hickey one day, elbowing me when he visited the store, and reminding me how unfortunate it was that Jesse suffered such a serious burn injury on his neck while fixing that muffler.

"Oh yeah. That was a shame." I answered back in all seriousness.

Finally one day Jesse and I kissed. I mean really kissed. It was out in his dad's garage where he'd built us a fire in the wood-stove and laid out a deck of cards to teach me a new game. I stood up and faced him to say good-bye for the night when the fire started to die, as I can't stand the cold, and he stood up too, but we had run out of things to say. He put his hands on my hips. Whether he was overly respectful or just scared to touch me anywhere else, I'll never know. The relationship didn't last. But that kiss filled me. I was warm all over. As if I'd never been kissed before, my body got the tingles of a teenage girl. I was young again. I was swimming in the puddle. My first love all over.

But the age difference was too much. Sixteen years. I was the same age as his mother. Something was wrong with this picture. Even though his parents supported it. I couldn't stifle these pressing concerns, this generational gap that made itself more evident as time went on. It crept up like a Jack-in-the-Box, and one day frightened me so much I began missing my empty feeling again.

To just go back and rewind and suppress...

If only he'd not come to volunteer at the store...

If only he wasn't born... 

If only...

I kept a letter he wrote me. He handed it to me one morning at the store, after we had our first fight the night before. He probably suspected that some things better left unsaid are even better written down. I have it here with me:

"I'm happier with you. I love every dimension of you: personality, soft warm body, colorful face, colorless teeth, blue eyes, long brown beautiful naturally curly hair, the way you are, the characteristics of your uniqueness. I think about our smiles when I'm alone. How you balance me and teach me. You're making me better. You encourage, model, and motivate me to make better decisions. I can be myself with you. I can relax. You are so nice, so funny. You cook amazing food. I'm grateful for every hug, every kiss, every touch by you. I appreciate all we have done and all you have done for me. I feel unworthy, that I can't give you adequate repayment at this time. I want to give to you. I want you to be happy. Everyday I want to say, "I love you." You took a huge risk in dating me. I realized it would affect your personal life in negative ways if I were to disappoint you. You look and dress nice every day, clean well, drive well, take good care of your dogs and family and self. I am having difficulty expressing my feelings and concerns and I don't know what is best to say next, so I made this gratitude list that I may more clearly hear the voice of God if I am aligned with love and kindness."

That letter validated my existence in the moments I tearfully read it. I gave him a hug. We were cutting onions and both began to cry. I forgave him for what I felt was a grave offense against me and wanted even more to make us work, but when we had our next fight, a couple weeks later, it was our last.

One thing I do hold onto besides that letter is a silver chain. One he said he wore daily in high school. It's shiny and beautiful. Like his eyes. His eyes were deep and troubled as he handed it to me, like he might regret giving me this extension of himself. I put the necklace on remorselessly but took it off after our fateful second argument.

I kept the chain in my purse, thought of pawning it, sheerly out of financial desperation, but couldn't let it go.

Life is sad. Sad and hard. It's hard to let go of things. Harder than letting go of people, sometimes.












Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Story of Geoff: Ch. 6

Barbara

Few girlfriends gain such favorable rapport with their boyfriend's mothers as I did with Geoff's mom. Barbara took me in like her own baby duckling. She did things like that in general. It was in her second nature. She fed and housed orphans, adopted children, donated gifts and money and time to charities, and in her day-job, worked with children who had special needs. And she became my specially needed mom for ten years.

My first impression of her was that she was too short to be Geoff's mom. And that she didn't speak right. There was an accent I couldn't place.

"Hi, I'm Bah-brah, so nice to finally meet you, Geoff has said such nice things, let me take ya coat."

Was she from Boston? Long Island?

"Hi I'm Erin. Nice to meet you too!"

"So come on in. You can leave ya shoes offo on, doesn't matta ta me. Geoff can show ya around. I'll show ya what's ta eat though."

She showed us what was leftover from dinner. There were some Mike's Hard Lemonades in the fridge which Geoff pointed at and raised his eyebrows when Barbara opened the door and I grinned at him from behind.

"Guy's upsteah's workin but he'ahs the clickah for you two if you wanna watch TV in the kitchen or Geoff you can show her both living room TV's but downsteah's TV is bettah since Dad is up and he has a deposition hearing tomorrah."

Barbara handed us the remote and poured two differently colored Mike's Hard Lemonades into a glass of ice she had sitting on the counter then scuffled around the kitchen island in her velvety slide-on slippers, and up the stairs she went to leave Geoff and I alone, as we slid into the booth-table and turned on the TV.

"So where's your mother from?"

"Um, she's from, uh, whatchamacallit, Warwick, Rhode Island, yeah."

"Oh, I could tell something like that cause of her accent. I was thinking Boston at first."

"Oh yeah. Yup. She gets that a lot."

 "So what she was drinking looked tasteh." I poked my finger into Geoff's ribs to tickle him.

"Oh! Yes. So 'mazin. Indeed." Geoff slid out of the booth and went to the cupboards for glasses, then filled them with ice from the inside of the freezer as to not make noise with the ice machine. He brought the glasses and three hard lemonades to the table. I poured.

"Does your mom still have family in Rhode Island?"

"Yep, she goes there quite often. Her sister Jeannie and brother-in-law Bob, and her mother all live together in Matunuck Beach, and she has a sister named Rita who lives not far from there. She goes down several times a year." Geoff let out a laugh. "She's always begging the rest of us to go with her but nobody ever wants to."

"I want to! A beach? Why don't you want to go?"

"Well, it's a beach but mostly it's a bunch of older people sitting inside a house and smelling the salty beach air and listening to the sound of the beach waves." Geoff let out another laugh.

"Well we should go and WALK on the beach and go SWIMMING in the beach!"

"Yeah I will mention it to my mom. She would love that. My dad would love it too, so he doesn't get dragged down or made to feel guilty for not going." We both laughed.

_________________________________


Barbara came to me in the guest room of her home as I prepared for my job interview. I'd only been out of college for two months. I held my English Teacher Certification shakily in one hand, seated on one of the twin beds, whilst penning at my resume on a clipboard with the other. Soon I would print out a final copy of my cover letter and resume, and turn in everything altogether the following morning when interviewing for my first teaching job.

The job was for teaching tenth grade English, at Saranac Lake High School. Barbara wrote me a blushing letter of recommendation two weeks before. I had another letter from my student teacher advisor, and another from a writing professor at St. Lawrence. All my ducks were in a row. All that was missing was an outfit. And somehow Barbara knew.

She came to me and asked me if I had anything to wear. I worried that she was going to take me on some kind of mother-daughter shopping spree, and I'd have to politely-awkwardly decline, since she'd already done too much for me all these years, and this was really my own mother's job, but one my own family could not afford, nor would afford me, even if they could.

"Erin I have something, an old outfit, you probably wouldn't even care to wear it, it's so dated, but you might want to try it on, just in case you like it. It might fit you. I outgrew it a long time ago-"

"-I'd love to," I interrupted.

"You can just give it a try, and it might be over the top, or not right for the occasion, or it might not even fit, but-"

"No, no, let me try it, I just need something, anything to wear-"

"Okay, let me go check my closet, I think I know where it is, just gotta pull it out, I know it's clean-"

"Yes, thank you so much."

Barbara came back within a minute with a beautiful vintage jacket and skirt suit in hand, covered in fitted plastic, which Barbara laid on the twin bed opposite me. She promptly removed the plastic from the hanger and then the hanger from the jacket, and detached the skirt as well. The jacket had a nipped-in waistline and seven buttons, and a delicate collar that folded naturally down. Nothing was masculine or bold, yet the jacket said, "I am assertive, I have fashion, I demand respect." This outfit was a winner, and I felt it would win over my interviewers the following morning.

I gave Barbara a hug, and asked her for privacy so I could try it on right away. She hesitated, as to show me where a clasp was hidden above the zipper on the skirt, and then left the room. I stripped down to my undies and put the thing on. There was no mirror in the guest room so I flew out of there and into the adjacent bathroom to get an almost-full-length glimpse, and caught a lovely torso-up view. Then I flew up the stairs to Geoff's sister's room to see the whole thing. Without shoes and with my muscular bulging calves it seemed slightly awkward, since the pencil skirt cut at my knees, but I knew with the right shoe this outfit was a hole-in-one, and so was I.

I flew down the stairs to the guest room and Barbara was waiting in the hallway and she smiled. She read my face. I put my hands on my hips and did a half turn in each direction.

"So you like it?"

"I love it."

____________________________________


I never did get that teaching job, so Geoff's parents bought a home in RI and helped us move there and start a new lease on life. It was meant to be a hopeful new future. A fresh start.
___________________________________


There's just one thing I'll hold to forever, there's just one little glint in your eye...

Barbara's eyes bent downward and sparkled, a melody her gaze cast upon the dinner table sang volumes louder than the momentary laughter that followed. Geoff's eyes matched hers, their smiles a mirrored image from a generation past. I imagined over dinners shared at the Hayward household, Barbara nursing Geoff from birth, her firstborn son, watching him grow, her good one, searching his eyes as a baby, before he could speak, how he'd speak with his eyes, and smile with them, as she smiled back. That mother-baby talk. How maybe I'd have a baby like Geoff, those glinty smiling eyes to look back at me someday.

Barbara passed the long string beans around the table once more, almost begging someone to finish them. I obliged. She knew I was a healthy eater, loving my veggies. Geoff and his father took seconds on mashed potatoes and gravy. Scraps of meat fat and even some good cuts I noticed Guy sneak off the serving platter to the dogs as they begged at the dinner table, come end of meal...

...The last time I saw Barbara was at her workplace in 2013. I took some time off to spend with my family that year, and worked part time as a substitute teacher. One day I got called to substitute for Barbara. She met me in her classroom before leaving for an in-house meeting. It was nearly two years since I'd seen or spoken to her, and I wanted to throw myself into her arms and unleash a well of tears into her goosy neckpit and explain everything I'd felt and held inside all this time. But that's not how our encounter went.

How do you explain? Explain to the mother of her dear boy she raised from birth, that he disappointed you by making you wait a decade for an engagement ring? That he complained about the wedding details as I planned our special day, alone? That he didn't seem to want to marry me at all, after he asked?

But I couldn't explain, because I knew, all too well, that I hardly deserved him in the first place. I'd never fully remained faithful to Geoff. There was a flirtiness in me that had gotten me into trouble on at least two occasions. And Geoff knew. I'd confessed. Partially just to hurt him. I was mean to him. Impatient. Ungrateful. Spoiled.

I couldn't complain to Barbara. She had raised a good son. There was no venting to her. I'd already done enough damage by leaving.

There really was nothing to say. Just sadness and pain stood between us like an invisible third party stranger. Barbara handed over her sub plans to me like she would to any other substitute teacher. All businesslike. She was decent and pleasant but not overly so.

She handed over the plans. That was the last I saw of Barbara. A stack of papers handed from her hands to mine. A forced smile and a shadow in her eyes where a glint used to be. I knew this would be one of her last years of teaching and perhaps the last time I saw her.

She would retire two years later and have some time to finally embrace her life. Enjoy her family and children and the grandchildren she already had, and future grandchildren Geoff might bring her with his new present girlfriend, since I was unable to bring her the ones she'd probably imagined having by now, as I write about her from my empty bedroom at home.

If she reads this someday I hope she knows how special she is to me and that I love her as deeply as anyone can love a second mother.



Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Story of Geoff: Ch. 5

Paraphernalia 

Definition 1: miscellaneous articles, especially the equipment needed for a particular activity.

Definition 2: all the objects needed for or connected with a particular activity.

I'm using definition 2 here, taken from the Cambridge English Dictionary, and blending it with definition 1, source unknown (popped up first on a box on Google) to discuss miscellaneous articles connected with particular activities Geoff and I did together.

I came across these articles by accident just this morning, while searching for my box dvd set of Seinfeld. A friend was asking me to take him a blanket and pillow to his work so he could take a nap, and it reminded me of season 8 where George takes a nap under his desk.  I felt inclined to show the episode to my friend, a younger man of just 20 years, who'd never seen Seinfeld. In my search for the dvd's I accidentally opened an old storage bin with some paraphernalia in it.

I began fingering through some manila envelopes that looked like they may have old tax information inside, but were labeled "Music," "Cards," "Grandma Dukett," "Stickers and Pins," "Misc. SLU," "SLU Poems & Assignments" (with a paper inside entitled On the Limited Selection of Guys at St. Lawrence which discusses the lame toss up between jocks, Beta boys, Phi Sigs, and nerds), "Travel Memorabilia," Paystubs," and "Photofilm."

I didn't go through all of them meticulously, but some I did. It was emotional but I didn't cry. I found pieces of things I didn't recall writing or receiving. Especially the cards. There were concert ticket stubs and newspaper cutouts and pictures and receipts, all kinds of memorabilia. Special remembrances saved I suppose for today, February 25, 2017.

Since this is the story of Geoff I'll mention a few things that reminded me of him. A Valentine's Day Card with a Tetris theme to start. The cover looks like the game screen, and when you open it, it still makes the sound of a Tetris piece falling. My heart started to beat in rhythm with it when I opened and read: Hope your Birthday (crossed out to read "Valentine's Day") is one good thing on top of another! And written below, "I love you Erin! (Even if you sometimes beat me at Tetris.)"

NOTE TO READER: I always beat Geoff at Tetris.

"Love, Geoff."

Geoff probably gave this to me on our first or second Valentine's Day. 2001 or 2002. We had exchanged the words I love you, quickly. It was located in the manila envelope with my oldest things - not with the other cards. It was mixed in with newspaper clippings from my freshman and sophomore years of college. So this card is old. It is special.

In the manila envelope labeled "Cards," I found a card from 2011. It is from my parents. Mostly from my mom. Inside the card reads, "Feel free to flaunt your love! Congratulations." My mother's chicken-scratch handwriting covers the rest of the card with messages of frantic hope. "Looking forward to the Big Day with MUCHO anticipation! Love, Hugs, and Prayers!" There is a picture of a diamond ring on the front of the card, quite like the one I was wearing. My mother has drawn smiley faces all over. Exclamation points abound. It's too much excitement, even now. I have to close it and put it away, all over again.

A birthday card. The last birthday I spent as Geoff's muffin. I turned 29, not realizing my thirties would be so impossible. The card actually just has a great big number 9 on it. Geoff has written in red marker above the 9, "So, you're turning 2 (9) ... That's cool ...

I open the card. It reads, "Today's your day to shine! Happy Birthday!!"

He writes below: "Tineh! I love you so much! You are my older woman, and I am proud to be your trophy muffin. Love, geoff."

NOTE TO READER: I am only 4 months older than Geoff.

He has drawn red and blue balloons and a muffin cupcake hybrid on the left blank inner page of the card. He is a good sketch artist and it's worth framing, but I'm closing the card now, as my eyes begin to water.

I take a glance at the back of the card - it was only $2.75. My eyes dry up. He definitely went somewhere cheap for that card.

I've discovered in "Stickers and Pins," a Mountain Music Meltdown press pass from Geoff's days working as a reporter for the Enterprise in Saranac Lake. The Gibson Brothers are listed as headliners, as well as Ana Popovic and Tcheka and Doc Watson and New Riders of the Purple Sage.

I've found a National Grid bill for $523.44 dated 9-25-06 while we lived in the birdhouse, though some of that bill was carried over from my previous apartment on Cliff Ave, where Geoff's dad let me live free of charge as he owned the property. There is a note penned in on the bill, Geoff's handwriting, that says "Pd 75- 10/4/06" as Geoff was probably chipping away at my debt while he worked at the paper. I was a grad student and trying to substitute teach. These were tough times before we got out of Saranac Lake and moved to Rhode Island, though we couldn't make it work there either. Money. The root of all evil. Bills. Oil. This oil bill. I remember crying to the oil delivery man one night when I had just made a $600 sub paycheck and had to spend the entire thing on a midnight delivery. We'd run out of oil in a matter of days during a really frigid cold spell in winter. Geoff kept saying we couldn't keep the heat up past 68 and I hated wearing blankets on my head around the house but had to thereafter.

I've found an Ernie Ball Custom Gauge 9 Electric/Acoustic Guitar String - probably the top E string, since it's so thin.

A receipt from Cove Electronics Repair Store in Newport, RI for $25.00. Bad Input, Replaced Jack. Date 10/30/07.

A receipt from Smokey Bones Restaurant in Warwick, RI for $23.89. No items listed. Signed by me. Date 4/12/08.

A receipt from The Incredible Pulp Comic Book Store in Narragansett, RI for $14.96. No items listed. Date 8.8.09.

I also found a stack of envelopes along with fourteen one-cent stamps, three two-cent stamps, and one twenty-eight cent stamp and felt like I hit the jackpot.

All in a morning's work, and chapter five is done, and I feel like a healing is in order.

It's okay to cry and to feel things.

It's okay to need medication and rest and pity parties.

It's okay to lash out at your friends and family sometimes. They'll understand and they'll forgive you when you apologize.

Write, talk, embrace new friendships. Share your pain with others. You'd be surprised at how willing even strangers are to listen.

It's okay.

It's okay even when it's been six years since your break up with the boy-man who maybe never wanted to marry you in the first place.

It's okay if he moved on easily and you still can't.

It's okay if letting go seems impossible. For most normal, caring people, letting go of someone you love isn't normal at all. It's the most abnormal, unnatural, tear-out-your-own-intestines feeling in the world. Like cuttings without the euphoric release. It feels like self mutilations, suicide, and death, only without the luxury of dying. And you live through the process all over again every day you work at letting go. Letting go is hard. So whatever amount of time it takes to do that, it's okay.

Even when you're the only person telling yourself the words, it's okay, it's okay. Because most days, yours will be that only voice saying those two words you so desperately need to hear. If you listen even closer, you might hear the Lord say them too.

Whatever the process looks like, that's okay too. Just let it out, keep it in, everyday is different. At least that's what I'm learning. Expression comes in all different forms. Healing does too.








Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Story of Geoff: Ch. 4

                                  Chapter 4: Music

Songs

I started a singing group in third grade. Ellee Loffler and Erica Beggs and Mary Hornig were in it. I named it The Bad Girls, and wrote our first title track, appropriately named after the band. The refrain repeated, "We're the bad bad bad-bad girls, We're the bad bad bad-bad girls." I added verses composed of clever rhyming depictions of ways in which we would torture unsuspecting other girls if they didn't watch out for us.

This was presumably the development of some alter-ego I formed shortly after I realized I was not going to be popular. I was smart enough to understand what being left out and bullied felt like, and it seemed a harmless enough outlet for expressing my feelings. Ellee and Erica and Mary were good sports. I choreographed dance moves I'd learned from after-school fame dance lessons my mother took me to and wrote maybe two other songs, three in all, and talked one of the older school aids on the playground into letting the four of us girls use the auditorium stage for practice on rainy recess days. Our group lasted all of three weeks, if that, then fizzled out, like most bands and great ideas later in my life did. But it served its purpose for the time being. I had a creative outlet for my momentary childhood rage.


Piano

My mother put me in piano lessons at the age of 5, probably to stop me from banging out heart and soul already on the household Wyman. But after coming home in tears week after week, entirely disenchanted with how the ivories and ebony had been reduced to nonsensical two finger exercises called "ping pong" and the like, mother pulled me out. Thank God. Back to heart and soul, and on to the feather song from Forrest Gump and the love song from Titanic and other melodies I could hear and emulate. What a mystery, to play by ear, and the satisfaction thereafter of matching up the notes just right. It brought me such joy. Much more joy than ping pong. What a joke that was. What was mother thinking. Or that piano teacher. I felt sorry for her other students.

But later on I came to envy my cousins and friends in school who could open up more advanced piano books in school and play beautiful scores, and songs I could not play by ear. They baffled me, these rhythms and riffs. I hit a wall at an age of 10 or 12 and stopped playing piano altogether. I joined the middle school band and played flute instead.

Come high school I couldn't play flute very well either. I never did learn to hit the high C. My cheeks were too fat to tighten them and blow any solid note really. And when I tried, I felt goofy and smiled, and ruined the seriousness which was necessary to blow. I fudged recitals, All State competitions, and even band practices. Maybe that's why my band teacher who became superintendent fired me so easily years later when I took pictures of fifth graders' art projects and posted them on FaceBook. He remembered that I couldn't blow my flute notes and didn't take band as seriously as he most certainly did. He never so much as smiled, as even practice was war to him. He sweat globs of perspiration down his sideburns while conducting full band rehearsals with his tiny baton. He would be soaking wet from head to toe by the end of performances, bowing a long time after each ensemble as if he'd written and performed it himself.

I did try to learn piano chords from my mother so I could play in church during my teen years. On a handful of Sunday mornings, when services were short an entire worship team, I offered to lead, and had to learn to play instantly, and my mom came to the rescue. I would choose a few songs with three chords and learn how to play them that very morning. I knew the words already and by the grace of God managed.

In eleventh grade I joined a high school rock band. There were three guys who played guitar, bass, and drums. They wanted a female keyboardist who sang. That was me. I did a Sheryl Crow and Janis Joplin song and a few others. Natalie Imbrulgia. Some harmonies with the guys. I can't remember everything. But it gave me my first real experience playing in a band. I went on to play with a few more bands in Rhode Island but won't delve into that here, other than to say it happened and isn't worth mentioning. One was a loser basement band with a few old men who wanted a lead singer who could shake it. That went terribly wrong at our first paid gig and I quit. For starters I have nothing to shake. The next was a lesbian rock band and I did not get along with the angry lesbian lead singer and didn't like rocking my keys to her lesbo lover rocker rage lyrics. The end.

I also tried a duo with my friend Fred, who I devote a later chapter to. He's the best piano player I've met, and also my best friend. Fred. I really should write a book about him.

In the Bloomingdale Ave house where Geoff and I and the bird resided after I graduated college, I really learned to play keys. I bought my first real keyboard, which I still have today. A Yamaha Portable Grand, 76 keys, light as really heavy feather, and purchased a sustain pedal and stand and padded foldable bench to go along, and let it sit in my bedroom for about two months before attacking the damn thing.

Yes, Geoff and I had separate bedrooms in the Bloomingdale Ave house too. Maybe we weren't meant to be after all. I'm beginning to wonder that as I write this book. Maybe these chapters are meant more of a farewell than as a fetching fare for him. I digress.

The first song I decided to learn to play, of all songs, was a ridiculously difficult one, by Journey, called Don't Stop Believing. I looked up the riff on YouTube and got busy. About a month later I had the right hand down. Then came the left bass riff. That took all of one day. Then was putting both hands together.

I cried like there was no tomorrow. My brain just became mush when combining these left and right hand parts. It wasn't going to happen.

But then one day, maybe a week later, out of the blue, it happened.

But then I had to sing the words along with it.

Oy Vey. Another two weeks. And then I had the whole thing memorized. Left and right hands together and words. I was afraid to stand up from my keyboard after the first time playing it through flawlessly, like I might unglue my brain from it's knowledge by lifting my hands and going to sleep that night. But the neurons and synapses had fixated themselves, had solidified something in the neurotransmitter nonsense in my mind that still exists today somewhere up there in the electricity upstairs, so that whenever I sit down to play, even after a year or more of playing that song, I can place my hands and bust out that tune. I know I can. It's a song I'll take to the grave, watch me.

Everything else came somewhat easy after learning Don't Stop. So I didn't. I looked up chords on the internet, blues progressions mostly for songs not involving complex riffs, and simply placed my fingers in position and remembered. I bought a mini spiral notecard flipbook I still have today with all my song notes on it for about 50 cover songs. Carol King, White Stripes, Carly Simon, Ben E King, Elvis, John Prine, Regina Spektor, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Van Morrison, Indigo Girls, Beatles, Counting Crows, Coldplay, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Grace Potter, and John Lennon. There were even more. Dolly Parton's Jolene though White Stripes did a version, too. And there was House of the Rising Sun by The Animals. And Breaking Up Is Hard To Do by Neil Sedaka, which I learned for a Josh Hartnett film I was once cast in as a bar room singer, but then a promoter pulled out of the film last minute and the movie was never made.

I would have learned more songs - Elton John and Joni Mitchell and Fiona Apple and Tori Amos and Stevie Wonder and Natalie Merchant and Christine McVie were just a few personal idols and bar room requests I'd get from time to time. But alas I couldn't please everyone, lest myself, mostly because I was pursuing work and pleasing Geoff and often times playing in a band where somebody else chose the tunes. Learning a song well enough to perform took me a good week or two, and getting down 50 tunes was a feat in and of itself, and I kind of sat on that flip book for a while and retired. Today though I feel like going back and learning a few more.

I also spent a few years writing songs. I wrote my first piano song, Bottle of Tears, on my Yamaha, at the birdhouse on Bloomingdale Ave. I went on to record a full length piano song album with a record studio in Rhode Island shortly after moving there, having written most of my remaining songs for the album at the cottage on Matunuck Beach. They were mostly sad songs, but Geoff helped me record demo's and get them up on Myspace Music, and a music producer in the state found me online, saw potential, and reached out. The rest was history. He and I spent the past eight years working on the album, which is in mastering this winter. The songs are beautiful, and he is the only man in my life besides my dad who has never given up on me. Rob. He's believed in me more than any other person ever has.

Rob introduced me to other artists he worked with, including a world renowned folk singer named Virginia Dare, who tells me to this day her greatest compliments come from her song Mother Mary, on which I sang harmony with her for the album Divine Mother.

I'd taken a fairy out to Block Island one day with Rob and just scrapped the sheet music handed to me since I couldn't read it anyways, and made up my own vocal harmony line, often discarding the actual lyrics for oohs and aahs, and Virginia loved it, and so did Rob, and six hours later we called it a rap. I was even paid several hundred dollars for my effortless attempts at coloring this song of hers with my voice.

On the fairy ride back to Point Judith, Rob told me I was special. He gave me a high five and said, "Good job Erin. You really are something."

He also said, "You know what else, Erin? You're going to make it someday. And this whole thing with Geoff. Don't worry about it. You're going to make some guy feel really special. And that guy will be really lucky to end up with you."

Rob always had a way of making me feel like I mattered. I really did feel special that day. Rob's one of my most special friends, maybe even as special as Fred.


Guitar

My late grandfather bought me an acoustic Roy Clark Signature guitar for $100 and gave it to me when I graduated high school. I took it to college and wrote two songs on it right away. They were called Distractions and Hey, Hey. They were inspired by a break-up with a high school sweetheart I'd dated for only two months, but shared some firsts with. I won't share his name here, because I feel his family would be sensitive to that if reading, but he was a special first boyfriend. And I was depressed leaving him behind. He'd applied to St. Lawrence and didn't get in. But I did. It was the most bitter bittersweet thing I'd gone through, that break up. But the two most beautiful songs came out of it.

I played those songs all year, and even competed in an open mic with the song Distractions, beating out a local artist at the time who often played in the Brewer Bookstore, named Grace Potter. But I gave up guitar after writing those two songs. I got depressed, put my depression into writing poetry and throwing up my food and starving myself, but then met Geoff a year later, and took to letting him play guitar for me. Music as I knew it, my love for it at least, went on the back burner for about 5 years after that. Those two songs though, sit in my mind as if I wrote them yesterday. Like little children that never grew up. I like it that way. They stayed just the way I liked them.

Maybe someday I'll write more songs on guitar.

I did come to inadvertently acquire another guitar. Geoff and I competed in an open mic competition in Matunuck Beach. At the oldest Irish Pub at the end of nowhere. Where Geoff and I drank Guinness and left the day behind.

For nine weeks finalists were narrowed down from twenty some-odd musicians to somehow, just Geoff and I. A strangely competitive match-up, but I thought a fair one. We were the best. Some slightly competitive talent had chosen poor songs for this older Irish whiskey-drinking crowd. Other performers had poor stage presence and audience interaction. Surely the judges were using some sort of rubric.

Geoff and I played songs we'd played before, at non-competitive open mics, that we knew would be crowd pleasers here. I saved Don't Stop for this epic finale performance, and won. Geoff felt slighted by that, I could sense, but I was too happy to care. I'd played it with all my heart, and a drunk man told me my foot was going wild. I took that as a compliment since I'd marveled at other keyboardists whose playing would get so wild their non-pedal-using-foot would start dancing around like a puppet on strings. And mine had. What a cool night I'd had.

Geoff mostly played it. Really I barely touched the thing. But when we split 3 years later, he sadly gave it back to me.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Story of Geoff: Ch. 3

                                            Chapter 3: What Went Wrong?


I was a wonderful child, according to my parents, who beam from ear to ear when reminiscing of my earliest years.

My mother says I never argued back with her, and she found that odd but pleasant.

I recall my dad spanking me once when I was eight, and I had a belt on that was hard to untie, and I had to help him untie it.

"Hold on Dad, let me get it. I did this knot thing since it's too big for me. Just a sec - almost ready. Okay you can spank me now."

And my dad gave me the weakest spanking ever that night.

My sister's spanking must have been harder because I remember her screaming bloody murder as I started walking up the stairs without so much as a tear in my eye.

My parents really marveled in me as a child. They didn't know I was being picked on at school or molested by a babysitter next door. Things that happen to lots of little girls, I suppose. And that by the age of 11 I'd become rebellious and sneak out to middle school dances since I wasn't allowed to go, and a few years after that I'd start throwing up my food, and shortly after that, I'd start smoking cigarettes and experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

Such is the epidemic of modern society's treatment of little girls. We let society molest them, even when they don't get raped.

They are stripped of their innocence. They are robbed of their simply put words and thoughts and views of the world, simply by having to grow up in it.

Today I sit around and my eyes water like a leaky faucet. What went wrong? I ask myself. Everything, God whispers back. It's like the earthquake in my life that pulled everything apart, so I need to rebuild from scratch. But I don't know where to begin, and I'm still picking up all the pieces, and it's so exhausting. The pieces of my brokenness. I don't know where this part goes. Or that. Much of it is reduced to ash. Nothingness. Irredeemable burnt up dust. I must start new. A new me. All over again.

My lawyer calls and says it will take five years before I can see a judge about my case concerning work. So I have another eternity to wait in potential sadness and misery. Only the prison bars are not some steel bars I can wrap my hands around. They're inwardly projected. I'm a prisoner in my mind. It races. This black hole of sad thoughts. Anxious thoughts. Regrets. What ifs. Where is he. Will he come back. Will anyone want me. Will God just take me. What will come of this.

A prisoner in my body. Where panic works its way around like ants, busy building homes and procreating new thoughts to worry about. Panic breeds panic. I have no medication for this, because it would interfere with my seizure medication. I don't drink caffeine. I don't drink alcohol. I sit with my panic and I write as to distract myself. When I stop, the panic returns. I turn on the TV, I cook, I vacuum, I play with the puppies, and then the panic returns. I take my Trazodone at night and go to sleep, only to wake at 3 a.m. and panic some more, and write, and take two more pills and then go back to sleep until morning, and have another day of panic. Panic and sadness and misery and tears.