Cover Me


Every once in a while I experience a fresh burst of heartache when I listen to a song that Jim can’t hear.

Before there was Pandora (in her modern incarnation), I had someone who took my tastes in music and life and sheparded me into a wider world that stays with me as surely and indelibly as images do.   Another ever-expanding gift, as when he handed off the camera to me.

For my 30th birthday, which my husband attended in the customary corporeal way, he burned me a CD–a precursor to the gold one he left for me to find when I was very nearly ready to hear it.

Jim had an incredible, encyclopedic knowledge of music.  In college he occasionally jockeyed discs–when they also existed in the traditional way (though I understand vinyl has made a comeback, and I still have his boxes of records among the very few things he carried).

(He would have been equally as unnerved as I had he survived to the day one of our teenage children informed me that Nirvana now occupies the radio genre of “Oldies” music.  Sigh.)

Until the very end he followed and appreciated music of all kinds–even, to a degree, country music.  It was a remarkable feat when one of our daughters took it upon herself to produce a collection of his favorites to play at his Closing Ceremonies.  From Bob Dylan (father of The Wallflower’s Jakob)  to the Biff Jackson Group (whose motto is “Quality Through Volume”), decades-long friends with whom Jim played one last time on the same snowy winter day he must have known would be his last time at the wheel.

The CD he made for my birthday included some musical amalgams outside my imagination: not, strictly, covers, but companions, unexpected unions which honored the heart of the original but extracted rich new facets of both chords and lyrics. More marriage than replication.

Bruce Springsteen accompanied The Wallflowers on “One Headlight.”

So long ago, I don’t remember when
That’s when they say I lost my only friend
Well they said she died easy of a broken heart disease
As I listened through the cemetery trees

Luciano Pavorotti joined Bono in soaring interludes of  U2’s “Miss Sarajevo”.

Is there a time for keeping your distance
A time to turn your eyes away
Is there a time for keeping your head down
For getting on with your day

My husband was able to compile such esoteric musical wonders considerably before the internet placed them at our fingertips.  (How fitting that the physical monument to him is a bench dedicated “in musical memory” of the Portsmouth Clipper Band’s supreme chaperone.)

I, on the other hand, only just figured out how to put together a playlist of my own favorites to listen to during my prize-winning longest-in-the-country commute to work.

My new 78-song playlist contains a cast of bittersweet familiar characters, quite a few of them singing songs which were not yet a glimmer in their artists’ eyes when Jim’s playlists ended.

I have subconsciously coupled some of Jim’s enduring favorites, which along the way have become mine.  My personal soundtrack includes two Richard Thompson covers: REM does a surprisingly upbeat “Wall of Death,” and Greg Brown does a haunting acoustic “Vincent Black Lightning.”

Alphabetically, I discovered I have four “One” songs, including  the eponymous U2 version included on my 30th birthday CD, the original “One Headlight,” “One Last Time,” and Springsteen’s “One Step Up.”  Our youngest child introduced me to “Sunburn,” which appears in her own breathtakingly clear cover of a lesser-known Ed Sheeran song.

I’ve moved far away from you
And I want to see you here beside me, dear
When things aren’t clear …

Memory was painful
Whenever I was away, I’d miss you
And I miss you

Among its more peculiar trivia, my commuting playlist contains three different songs which prominently feature train tracks, and two with references to bearded ladies (one of whom does a double back-flip).

My compendium includes the heart-filling and mind-blowing duet by performers Jim never had a chance to hear, but attuned me to savor: Lin-Manuel Miranda, covering Ben Platt on “You Will be Found,” harmonizes with Platt as he covers Miranda’s part in “The Story of Tonight.”

Only very recently have I come to appreciate Jim’s genius in sending gentle signals for both me and our children to get out of our comfort zones, at our own paces, to adopt and  adapt to shining examples of how to live life lyrically, whether the song is “just” a song or the  music is a metaphor.

If Johnny Cash can cover Nine Inch Nails, I can certainly get past my routine and set out into the world, to places I would have rather seen with him but can still take in for both of us.

I still hear Jim speaking words he never spoke and lyrics which were as yet unwritten and unsung when he died.

My love, take your time; I’ll see you on the other side.

And the inestimable John Hiatt keeps rendering both our old lives and my new life in song.

And if I told it true, all these memories of you, well that’s why I play the game
Friend of mine said a long time coming, like it never came

I’ve sang these songs a thousand times, ever since I was young
It’s a long time coming and the drummer keeps drumming, your work is never done
I still see you there in that silver-blue air and I never have moved on
Friend of mine said a long time coming, I’m just a long time gone





Purple Chimes and Valentines

Sweet as” was in the glossary I picked up from fellow travelers during my recent adventure.

It’s a New Zealand term of assurance: all is well, “no worries” (a phrase that now hits my ear as  well-meaning  but oxymoronic, a double-negative coupling of “no” and  brow-furrowed “worries”; like being told not to envision a pink elephant, if I’m told not to worry, I’m going to worry).

Where “no worries” comes to a declarative full stop, the object-less “sweet as”  is gloriously open-ended, and calls to mind all my (slightly belated) Valentines.

The list is, as we say in the business, not limited by enumeration.

Sweet as….

My friend Barbara’s face when I first saw her, not knowing she’d made the long trip, downstairs at Phillips Church after hundreds of people had paid their respects and filed out.  (She does not know that the purple glass chimes she gave me years ago now hang on the window overlooking my Brady’s garden.  Their gentle clinking restores the missing sound of his bright blue tags as he made his way from flower to flower.)

The friend who told me he’d be there in ten minutes–from another state, on a traffic-filled holiday weekend–when I desperately texted that I had to make an unbearable decision about my beloved middle beagle, then dispensed (and even re-collected) a stream of tissues to me in the aftermath.

My newest friends, who made me laugh harder than I have in years, picked me up when I slipped on Morocco monkey ice (story to come), taught me Australian card games, and tried fruitlessly to contain me from overspending my dirham.

George, a wildly busy colleague whose wife had died when his children were very young.  He always took my calls, called me when I had been silent too long, and knew when it was time for me to go back to the job I loved.

Joe and Diane, who showed up to help me move a daughter into her freshman dormitory  when Jim could not, and who took all of us into their home when the same daughter graduated.

A network of people I’ve never met in person, who take the trouble to read my blog and leave me messages about posts and share their own thoughts.

Friends who sent me flowers on Mother’s Day and after my father died, who helped my children when I could not get to them because of competing crises in other states and countries, who shared their own heartaches with us and helped us see “the size of the cloth.

G., who secured for me the music for Jupiter and in whose office I knew I could always appear and get my bear hug without needing to speak.

Bethany, whom I met getting ready to go on a great big stage where we both told our stories, and arranged for me and my son to hear a long sold-out John Hiatt show after I told her the story of the golden CD my husband had burned for me years before I found it.

Jim’s lifelong friends, who visited him when he was sick and brought him a touchstone of their shared past, and who still invite me to their family events and allow me to be a part of theirs and their children’s and even their grandchildren’s lives.  Jim’s family, who became my family long ago.

David Subnaught (so-dubbed  to distinguish him among many distinguished college Davids), a classmate of Jim’s who flew from Colorado to the East Coast to be there for my eldest son’s graduation two months to the day after Jim died.

Tineke, my best woman, the first person I called.  She literally fed me, cooking from scratch  the only things she knew would tempt me, when I could not manage even that.  Best man Jon, who drove to us on the night we finally brought Jim home bearing pictures he’d taken the night before our wedding and had us all laughing so hard we may have unnerved our children.  Randy and Judy.  Dr. Bob.

You know who you are.



The Light You Do Not See

Solitary Sunrise (c) 2017

At 4:30 a.m. the waterfront view is fully saturated one day and colorless mist the next. The best hints I gather from my starting vantage point a few blocks away lie in the light: usually a patch of shimmering silvery-slate in the deep blue-black signals an unsubdued sunrise, and I quicken my pace.

It’s a little bit like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, or the first view of monochromatic tartan turf from inside Fenway Park: you might gather clues or intuit what your senses will tell you before you get to it, but until you do it’s never a sure thing.

I took this shot before the morning light last week before travelling several hundred miles for my younger daughter’s college graduation.

My little girl.  I dropped her off at college and when it was time to say goodbye watched her twirl around and dance away in a swirling aubergine skirt, knowing she was “alright as she left” her home port.

Ten hours later, driving back to a truly unoccupied house that had seemed empty when it was inhabited by a family of only five, I was lost in an industrial park in Connecticut and found the CD my husband had somehow arranged for me to find two-and-a-half years after he died, popping it in to play and knowing only that he had selected for me John Hiatt songs from an enormous ouvre.

Before leaving home I asked my youngest if I should bring anything–did she want me to bring the necklace her father gave her for her birthday, just three weeks before he died? On a delicate silver chain is a ruby–her primary school color, and a shade not unlike her long, curly hair–surrounded by small diamonds, a treasure she let me keep in a safe place despite knowing of my tendency to forget where I have secreted such things.

She did, and I brought it for her to wear.

When we arrived, my now young adult youngest child met us at the airport, smoothly executing a parallel parking maneuver I still can’t pull off.  She whisked us to her apartment and commencement eve’s blizzard of friends and activity.

A university her father did not know she would attend.  A boyfriend of four years whom he never met.  A city he had never visited.  Friends whom he would have been so delighted to see supporting her.

This was to be the fifth college commencement my husband would not attend in a traditional way.

After deftly reparking the car I had left egregiously unmoored from the curb, my graduate-to-be walked ahead of me in a flowing, bright printed dress, part of a wardrobe I’d never seen.  I recognized the shoes, heels with an intricate cut-out design which we’d bought for her first birthday without her dad.  We’d traveled together to Vermont, where the six of us had often spent her winter birthday, and I’d trudged aimlessly in an uncharacteristically muddy early March, hearing a little girl happily calling out “daddy” from a bunny slope.

While we were together I saw my daughters exchange glances quite a few times, at more than one restaurant, before gently reminding me that I kept asking for tables for one more person than was to be dining with us.

Only one of us does not have a major transition going on–new homes and jobs and graduate schools, and all their attendant and considerable hopes and stresses.

We can’t know exactly how all of these changes will work out, and while it may not be wise to steer too hard a-starboard, keep walking ahead of me.  Someday I may catch up.

Broken Beauty (and a Blogiversary)

Our Backyard, January 2012

A little fuzzy, a bit off kilter.

I chose the picture for its timing, not its content: I took it almost exactly three years ago, in the backyard of the home my husband Jim loved–the place where he lived, was loved, and died. Our children and I would move to another home months later.

I began writing this blog in deep, raw grief.  I notice now that photographs I took at the time featured a disproportionate share of broken things–including the colonial-era picket fence that curved gracefully around the front of our home.  As I nursed a broken foot inside the house, a speeding driver screeched off the road in light snow and crashed right through it, with enough momentum to fell a granite post that had stood for well more than a century.

But there was beauty in the breakage. Jigsaw shards of silver ice glowed atop sapphire water. Unadorned tree branches withstood hurricane-force winds and laced the white winter sky when the sun came out again.

With my third blogiversary careening down the tracks, I’ve been ruminating about the purpose and process of blogging.

A fellow blogger, Derek Bell, has an evocative blog, Playing in the City with Trains, in which he draws quite a bit on family and memory. He posed some great questions about writing.  The new year–my fourth at the keyboard–seems a good opportunity to tackle them:

(1)  What are you working on?

My site stats tell me I have a whopping 182 blog post drafts.  They’re about everything from the color red to the soundtrack of grief.  I’m also revising what I wrote for my children in the months after my husband died, but it’s difficult to revisit and yet more difficult to revise. I had a different voice then, belonging to the person I was at that time; it’s daunting to try to figure out what voice to preserve for my children.  Procrastination has in this case generated some unique new challenges.

I also have ancient drafts of fiction in the legal thriller genre–much of it inspired by my day job.  I don’t know if I’ll ever finish revising them, but rather than looking upon them as abandoned, I’ve decided to think of them as safely “gestating.”

Continue reading “Broken Beauty (and a Blogiversary)”

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