The Day He Died

Tomorrow marks the 36th anniversary of my father’s death. Most years it’ll occur to me at some random moment and I’ll calculate based on how old I was then (12) to how old I am on the given year.

It hit me a moment ago. A random glance at today’s date. And then a rush of emotion rising from my core and escaping my body through tears. I wondered why tears this year? Not that tears aren’t totally reasonable. It’s sad. He was 42. It was an agonizing, slow death. A disintegration. But I don’t usually cry.

This cry is selfish but also not. It hurts that he died such a painful death, but from my current vantage point, I can also see his longings, his insecurities, his talents, his heartbreaks so starkly. No longer through the lens of a child preoccupied with pleasing him and with my own self-protection (he was very tough).

A friend once told me, quoting Wayne Dyer, “don’t die with your music still in you.” I’m crying now, because I know that my father died with his music still in him. I’m crying because I’m terrified that I will do the same. And when I say terrified, I mean it causes genuine panic and sleepless nights. The worst part about this fear is the self-fulfilling prophecy of it. Stifling. It’s inexplicably enticing to hold on to this music. Is this a way bond with him? To relate? To not one up? To honor him? To say, in essence, it’s ok man, being your whole self is too hard. I get it. I get it!

Sometimes I’ve fantasized about dying young enough to validate never fully showing up. I mean, everyone could say, if only she’d had more time. My father was searching, struggling, hitting and missing. He was extremely smart, and by others’ accounts sensitive and funny and full of ideas.

I feel connected to my father in melancholy. He had a darkness about him that I inherently understand. He wasn’t glib. He was deep.

My father lost his children. He lost us in divorce. He lost us with his inability to allow us to be innocent and vulnerable. He lost us with his cruelty and expectations that we meet his brazenness with equal force. Meaning, he wasn’t one of those “shut up and be quiet” dads, he wanted children he could match wits with. He wanted nothing hidden. No inner or outer privacy. Try as I did, I could never feel safe enough to be myself with him, to be vulnerable, to be a child. I was just throwing darts at a moving target.

Which is sort of where I landed as an adult, in many ways. Trying to hit a mark, instead of showing up completely. Trying to fill in the notes to someone else’s songs vs making my own music.

In the most crucial ways, I am not like my father. I didn’t lose my children. I didn’t do to them what was done to me. And that has been more important to me than anything. And I know they have the confidence to show up and to make their own “music” and to make the most of their lives.

That’s an important distinction. Maybe the most important. Maybe one that enables me to unravel this perverse enmeshment with my father’s pain and terminal frustration with being human.

Watching my father struggle in life, then disintegrate and die, was humbling. And the way death came for him – like a compassionate savior – framed living as a much more brutal path. And I’m only really reckoning now with how much fear and restraint that engendered. How much I’ve sought to just muscle through. How every big step out has been followed by an even bigger leap back into retreat. The safety of being unseen, of keeping the music in me until I die.

But, I have time that my father didn’t have. Maybe I honor my father most by breaking the cycle and transcending generational despair.

I’m not going to define here what “music” means in terms of my own personal output. I can’t totally define it. I just know it hasn’t happened yet and we’ll all know when it does.

Tomorrow marks the day my father died. In his honor, I pray that none of us die with our music still in us.

Prince, My Granny, and The Meaning of Life

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I didn’t know Prince. Though I was lucky enough to attend a few of his shows, I actually passed on several opportunities to meet him. Growing up in Hollywood, I’d developed an intense aversion to celebrity worship and any sort of fawning or buying into that hierarchy. I’d heard enough firsthand accounts of the fickleness of Prince and the precariousness of interacting with him to know that, given my tendency to be awkwardly forthright, I’d “accidentally” say hello to him without being invited to or I’d spout off about some detail of some facet of some thing that crossed some seemingly arbitrary line.

In retrospect, I was a fucking idiot. There was always the chance that my spirit would have resonated with Prince’s. Or, perhaps more likely, I would have been banished in humiliation. Either way, I’d have a memory to cherish.

Why cherish?

It’s reasonable to say that without Prince my own precious children wouldn’t exist. Mathieu (my ex and father of our kids) credits Prince with fueling his passion for music and sparking his desire to move from France to the U.S. to work in the industry.

When we first got together in our early twenties, his preoccupation with Prince struck me as juvenile. I had long since outgrown my “Prince phase.”

Even though my own step-dad* had worked with Prince and I had grown up in the music business, I had NO idea the scope of his genius. I got schooled. Fast. Rare footage, unreleased tracks, hours of exposure. Prince on bass, Prince on drums, Prince on piano, Prince tearing up the guitar, Prince singing a cappella, falsetto, baritone … hours and hours of eduction that segued into exposure to Prince’s influences: George Clinton (Parliament Funkadelic), Sly Stone, Larry Graham, Shuggie Otis, Richie Havens, Betty Davis, too many to list, most of whom had slid by my radar while I was busy following the popular tide from Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, toward alternative music and only occasionally looking back to worship the Beatles, Eric Clapton, The Guess Who and a few other rock and rollers embedded from my youth.

Mathieu’s love for Prince as an artist transcended idol worship. It was founded. That’s why I was able to appreciate it. Prince was blended into the fabric of our relationship in a way I never realized until his death—his music the soundtrack to the most consequential relationship of my life. It doesn’t necessarily make it anymore personal or profound for me than for others, it just contextualizes my own swell of emotions.

On the heels of Prince’s death, my kids and I traveled to Toronto to attend a Canadian music industry event honoring my step-dad for his years of artist management. It was one of the highlights of my life to see his decades of work acknowledged. Prince had said of him that he was, “one of the good ones.” Quite a compliment, and I agree.

Following the festivities, we headed to Montreal to visit my grandmother. She had recently turned 99. Yes, 99.

Though several years had passed since I’d seen her, I’d been forewarned that she was in bad shape. No longer speaking coherently. Immobile. Photos of her broke my heart. I steeled myself for the visit.

I’m sure no one loves visiting old folks’ homes. I have a particular aversion. My biological father died of brain cancer when I was 12. His final weeks were spent in a convalescent hospital. Watching this handsome, vital 42 year old man, disintegrate into a corpse, fostered my subsequent preoccupation with the lack of fairness and probable futility of life. Further fueling this cynicism were the haunting memories of hallways full of abandoned elderly men and women. My guilt for not rescuing them, with their pleading eyes, is only assuaged now because they’re all deceased (it’s been 32 years).

The corridors of my granny’s nursing home evoked scenes from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. Classical music played from an unidentifiable source. Lining the walls were rows of wheelchairs filled with photo-doubles of the elderly I’d struggled both to look at and away from three decades prior. It hurt. I’m a grown woman and my teenage boys were with me so I kept it together, but my chest was full of ancient emotion welling up and threatening to burst.

99 years is a long, long, long time.

There she sat. Once the paragon of dignity—having been widowed and charged with raising two children alone—the matriarch, the vocal, self-possessed, sassy, always donning matching jewelry and coiffed hair, strong-willed woman—was now relegated to a babbling, half-blind, subsisting, almost-angel with thin strands of hair inadequately shrouding her scalp. She’d be mortified if she knew. I prayed she didn’t.

We had what was, under the circumstances, a wonderful visit. My teenage boys were delightful with her. There was no way to discern if she knew who they were, but she set her one able eye on whichever boy was in front of her and the light of life and love shone through. If she wasn’t marveling at the radiant innocence and promises of futures that stood before her, I certainly was. And as I watched my step-dad kiss his mother’s forehead, witnessed him somehow, magically rouse giggles out of her, connect beyond the crassness of common interactions—those we take for granted, fail to follow up on for confirmation that our words have been comprehended, that our intentions represented, our love received—as I watched this subtle exchange, I felt both profound grief at the inevitability of loss and relief that the essence of devotion exists in another realm. In that moment, there was palpable evidence.

Prince was 100% Prince. More-so than most of us will be our full selves for even a week, he was his full self for decades. That’s not a projection. I’m not pretending to know him or pulling this out of my ass. It’s common knowledge. One of the strongest sensations I had in the aftermath of his death was a desire to muster the courage to be myself. Just to know what it feels like to take all the constraints off and be a vessel for something pure to emerge. I know that sounds like esoteric new-agey word salad. It is. But, I’m trying here. I mean, the specter of death looms for all of us. We’re always balancing our will to live and thrive against our awareness of mortality. What we do in between means absolutely everything and absolutely nothing.

My granny lived a more simple life. Her purpose was to put food on the table, raise decent humans, eventually love a second husband until his death, be a granny, and now … I guess, keep living until she doesn’t anymore. I really struggle with this, the notion of purposefulness as pertains to someone confined to a life without the option of purpose. Maybe her purpose is to expand the hearts and compassion of those who love her. I don’t know.

This past January, my granny had her 100th birthday. My father died at 42. Prince passed at 57. People die tragically young everyday, yet my 100 year old granny continues to breathe enough oxygen to stay alive. I’ll never be able to reconcile the randomness of that. Trying to make sense of it just plunges me into an existential vortex reminiscent of my teenage episodes.

What’s it all for?

I wish I could impart some concise profound wisdom, but we all know it’s impossible to fully intellectualize our existence in this realm, in this incarnation. I feel pretty certain it’s a worthwhile pursuit to strive to be our uninhibited selves and to connect with the world and each other from that authentic place. Beyond that, for now, I’ll defer to the simple, jarring eloquence of the Purple One:

You better live now before the grim reaper comes knocking at your door.

*I only used the term “step-dad” for clarification since I had two fathers, but in every meaningful way, my step-dad is my real dad.

I don’t know wtf to do about the murder of black people in America

I’m white so I generally take a very respectful, reserved approach when speaking of my own pain and grief in watching black men and women needlessly perish at the hands of cops. Murder is what it’s called. Government sanctioned murder. But the truth is, I cry every time. I’m haunted every time. I think of Sandra Bland every single day.

I’m a pacifist, averse to images of violence. I watched the video of Alton Sterling’s murder, not because I’m sadistic, but because we deserve to suffer through watching the horrific truth of what’s being perpetrated on black people. You don’t get to look away. We don’t get to look away.

I saw a man murdered. I immediately recalled the words of Jesse Williams “… we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day.” It’s undeniable.

I cried this morning. I tweeted my outrage (as if that does a damn thing). I accompanied my son to a national basketball championship where there were hundreds of young black boys with their doting families. Our own teammates among them. And I struggled to hold back tears. And I wanted to talk about Alton Sterling but that would be a sort of emotional terrorism. We were there to celebrate these dedicated young people and their bright futures. And I kept thinking, it could be him next, or him, or him over there. And I’m white and I know that, as much as I worry about my sons, I have the privilege of assuming unless my kid goes way the fuck out of his way to literally force a cop to shoot him, I do NOT need to worry about him being murdered by the police. And, I realize that growing up with his privilege and the safety and security of feeling at ease in his skin, gives him great advantages in every facet of his personal well being. I’m a mother. I worry enough. But I can only imagine parenting, living with this level of fear, alienation, and oppression.

I’m a mother.

I love these kids. Every one of them. I’m not ok with this. I’m not ok with our children growing up in these conditions. I’m not ok with people of color getting fucked economically, educationally, socially, environmentally and then, on top of it, disproportionately incarcerated and murdered.

I’m a white woman. I’m privileged. I know that, but my heart is breaking and it’s not enough to post on Twitter or write a blog post or walk around a coliseum crying with no one even knowing why.

I must do something. We must do something. I honestly don’t know what the fuck to do.

What Loss Can Do

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Loss can crack you open

Until you almost break

Or until you break

And either stay broken

Or put the pieces back together

Ignore the cracks?

Embrace the cracks?

Seal the cracks with love and gratitude?

The cracks remain

Loss can make you feel

Too much

Too often

Too fully

Or just enough?

Loss can remind you

That you cared that much

That you could again

That some things do matter

And some things don’t

Loss can make you choose

To live with it

To accept the deal

To risk its barbs

Again

And

Again

Loss can make you

Realize

It’s worth it.

 

On parenting and the speed of time…

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I was just speaking with someone who has a six year old.

It brought back memories of those days—long and full of Legos and questions and battles over getting in the bath followed by battles over getting out of the bath. Nights were filled with cuddles and kisses and remembrances of the day, as if the day had been a fairytale set in a long ago time with vibrant characters and morals easily extracted. Having witnessed that innocence so intimately brings me to tears, even now, especially now.

Six years old. That was my younger son’s age when my ex and I split, when we attempted to penetrate his naive determination that things are like this or like that, with an alternate reality, that things are really about to be a whole other way. An inconceivable way.

It’s impossible for me to know if time would have sped up otherwise, but our world spun off its axis and sparked a sort of chaos and warped speed that never slowed. It’s felt like skipping and tripping and sprinting and juggling ever since. Even in my quietest moments I don’t feel I have caught up to the present. It’s better. I’m closer to being in my skin again, like the younger me but with more humility and willingness to cede control.

My kids now tower over me (both more than 6 feet tall) with deep voices and man gestures. I find myself daily saying out loud, “who are you and where did you come from?”

And I think maybe that’s just how parenting goes, no matter how present you are, no matter how conscious of the adage that “time flies so fast,” there is no way to avoid the inevitable moment where you wonder where the time went and how these adult looking people are lumbering through your house, with insatiable appetites and distinct, passionately espoused interests and world views.

I’ll never know how things would have evolved if my marriage hadn’t ended. Life knocks us all on our asses in multiple ways. Perhaps there’s just a limit for how long one can remain in what feels like an intact, manageable existence, to the extent that time doesn’t seem to be running ahead of us.

You tell me? Do you relate? Is this part and parcel to raising kids in general? Specific to divorcees? I can only assume any trauma or upheaval can have such an effect. I’m interested to know how other parents have experienced the passage of time…

Death, Divorce and “The War of Art” …

It’s been over five years now since my husband and I split up.

Looking back, what fascinates me most is how I could have possibly sunk so low, how my identity and sanity could have been so rattled by the unilateral move of another human being. It’s not that I don’t understand intellectually—my family is everything to me. But, how could I have forgotten the inevitability of loss and suffering in some form? How could I have deemed myself immune from having my reality shattered in one way or another? Continue reading

Braving Christmas Alone…

For the first time in my life, I am fine with being single. I’ve enjoyed the lack of drama and the ability to spend my free time as I wish, shave when I feel like it (and not when I don’t) and just run my own show.

But, tonight, I caved. I cried. And I realized that, while I don’t miss my ex anymore, I do miss having my family together for the holidays. Continue reading

All you need is love … Bum bum ba da dum

MediaFile_269By now, I’m not supposed to be a romantic. My heart has been broken to the point of what I thought unfixable.

But, I still believe in love.

Continue reading

The Ten Rules of Divorce Mediation

Depositphotos_55786679_sSo, after the first grueling hour of meeting with a mediator, I learned quite a lot. Now, the question is, will the ex and I follow these rules? Continue reading