Saturday, February 19, 2011

Searching for a Heart

There is no do-over- life and everyone discovers regrets on their deathbeds they may not share. Mine will not be that I loved too little, but that I didn’t find you sooner. But right now, I can’t seem to find you through this confusing view.

Who is it that you are and what became of your dreams? Do you still carry them or have they only become another part of the eroding landscape of youth?

You have now become her and she can laugh at herself. She’s beautiful with her hair up cleaning windows or glowing in the black dress, bought for special occasions. If there’s humor in the room, she’ll find it. Humor in the world, she’ll eat it up with a laugh nobody can ignore.

She will stop to pet the neighbor’s dog and make the old woman down the street feel wanted. She’ll make fun of herself for being a dork but knows how to excite me in 5 seconds. If I act like a guy, she’ll forgive me and remind me that I’m too old for whatever it was I did. She knows I’ll still be here, especially after a week’s worth of “one of those days.”

She has curiosity in the world and is a fan of kisses for no reason. Love is my one requirement and is easy for her to fill. We’ll cling to each other in this often slippery world.

Love is the heart’s only law.

Love is the soul. Love the sweet breath of air just before dark, as I wait for you. Love is laughter and music and I want to release to feel the colorful and gentle melody in your heart. Just come out and show yourself whoever you are; I’m right here waiting.

A kitten , a vixen, maybe a mother, who can see the innocence in a child and find her own in the scrapbook of black and white photographs she hid because she was no longer a size 5. Now the vanity is gone and time has become her friend because she knows that she’s beautiful inside and out. I love her loudly and she loves when I brag about her. She has turned into the beautiful woman her mother tried to convince her she was when her heart was broken in the ninth grade. Now she can’t remember his name.

I’m not part of her unbroken circle of friends, but can dance with them just the same; proud that my first and last dance will always be hers and each one in-between belongs to us. She was born with eyes that shine and she will die with eyes that shine. I surprise everyone by telling them she’s my best friend and also my wife.

“Let’s sleep late on Saturday and I’ll bring you breakfast in bed.”
You tell me, “No. It’s early to rise with a big breakfast because we need it to have strength for shopping later. We must find all the good stuff at the garage sales before anyone else does. “

We’ll split up the minute we enter the flea market and meet at the same place after circling around and finding the perfect gift we bought for under five dollars and hide in our pocket, coat or behind our backs. Only 5 questions can be asked before guessing and we’ve never guessed right We’ll reveal them with the excitement of Christmas before an afternoon nap. Then in the quiet slumber, we’ll dream of water, trees, the fragrance of lilacs in early May, a rainy forest, the first snow on a Saturday night, the smell of baked bread, a thunderstorm moving over the fields, how the third step in the old house still creaks. . . and the sun, of the warmth of the sun!

I love the roots in your hair. You have become a woman of the world, with a little girls wonder and the cheerleader spirit who can get me going again. You measure time with our heartbeats and moments, not with the elegant watch on your wrist that drives your work load each day and that you’ll leave on the dresser when you get home.

Sometimes you want to be alone, but welcome me after a while, because I can detect the tears in your eyes from what mine don’t see and hear the quiet, sobbing you think is sentimental, but that I will always understand.

I will wipe away every tear yet my stupidity may still cause you to cry on occasion. I will always put life on hold to listen. Why are you crying now? Is it the memory of the dog you never got to kiss goodbye when you went away to college? Or is it because your parents didn’t tell you when he died because you were too busy to call them?

Or is it the flicker of life that’s awakened you, as you suddenly realized we are in the middle of the third act and can’t start over? I want to walk in the light with you.

I can hear you from the bedroom as I collect my thoughts in the kitchen.
“Ohh, are you roasting garlic or are those onions that I smell? Remember, don’t boil the pasta too long. You know I’m one part Italian.”

The first sip of Riesling on your lips covers the real flavor of you and I want to kiss it off when you enter the kitchen so I may taste your sweetness instead. I fell in love with you for many reasons and all of them are perfectly, imperfect.

“Come to bed; I want to be held. You can skip the floss on your perfect teeth tonight.” You pause and laugh at the cute absurdity of what you just said, knowing I love you but will disregard your request for at least another 60 seconds.

As I look into the bedroom I see your smile and your reading glasses give you the sexy librarian look you know I love.

“Maybe we’ll play library cop tomorrow,” I say.
As you remove your dime store readers you whisper: “In that case I’ll steal some more books “

You’ve turned the electric blanket up high on your side and I don’t care. Together, we thank God for letting us find each other. I shut off the light while Sam Cooke warms the AM radio waves, helping us to fall asleep. And we know each morning we wake, we will be given the chance to make things right again.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Faith In Faith Itself; Stew and Bruce

About 3 or 4 years ago during a conversation over breakfast, Stewart Francke told me about the new songs he was writing for his next album. As a close friend, I consider myself fortunate to have been a part of his music for the last 20 years. Usually men have their most intimate conversations while driving, because they don’t have to look each other in the face. But the most rewarding part of Stewart’s friendship has been watching it grow by leaps and bounds as his ideas are born or revealed; face to face, friend to friend and heart to heart. Watching his work transform from its creation to completion has been nothing short of amazing. I know I’m one of the few people he listens to when it comes to the direction of his music and it’s an honor that I covet. I also like to laugh and remind him that it’s a damn good thing he listens to me, because I also listen to him. He’s seen me at my best and more recently, at my worst.

One of the many things Stewart and have in common is our incredible admiration of Bruce Springsteen. During the past several weeks I’ve been living on the sustenance of Stewart & Bruce; music that means something and for better or worse has sustained me, as I’ve been forced to get to know my broken heart. Listening to them feels so right because of where I and so many others I know find themselves; living in a town with a bitter wind, broken dreams out on the street and a fractured faith. Thank God their music brings hope within the helplessness and color even forms in the grey matter.

As Springsteen fans we had to wait 30 years for the tenderness and unfinished story that “The Promise” delivered. But looking back to that era, Bruce gave us a different kind of promise showing us that faith isn’t always happy or clean and it isn’t always pretty, but the results of it can produce an extraordinary beauty when revealed.

Tonight I'll be on that hill 'cause I can't stop
I'll be on that hill with everything I got
Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost
I'll be there on time and I'll pay the cost
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness on the edge of town

Broad streaks of faith have always been on the face of Bruce and Stewart’s music and they'll generously reveal themselves to you if you want to listen. Lately, I’ve been looking for meaning in everything I do; hoping it brings a chance for me to reach a place where I can move forward instead of building bridges made of leaves over the emotional chasm I’m trying to cross.

The problem with writing about faith is that so many artists have cheapened it with songs that do nothing but make it memorable and easy to obtain, while using the same worn out rhymes. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the writers of those songs, but often question their depth. This is because faith isn’t something you talk about, have, find, get or buy into; it’s a verb.

It’s taking that uncertain step and occasionally looking behind you, not to be reminded of the past, but to see how far you’ve come. As I listen to The Promise, I hear two friends who understanding that in order to let go they needed to be moving toward something else at the same time.

All my life, I fought this fight. The fight no man can ever win
Every day it just gets harder to live, this dream I’m belivin’ in.
Thunder Road--- for the lost lovers and all the fixed games.
Thunder Road--- for the tires rushing by in the rain.
Thunder Road, remember what me and Billy we’d always say
Thunder Road, we were gonna take it all, then throw it all away.

2010 started with great hope and a lot of firsts for me. For the first time in my life I had a woman I loved and who loved me with a shared passion. She took me to my first Kentucky Derby, just after the stresses of my former employer sent me to the hospital to get injected with radioactive material and test my heart. My second book sold out and a second pressing was completed to fill the soft but steady “demand.” My third book was completed and pressed in June, I had my first play produced in July, and suddenly people were interested in other things I’d written.

As life ramped up with my girlfriend we began sharing hopes and visions more often, and we were close to fulfilling a lifelong dream we both had of buying that “little place in the UP” and living happily ever after with 3 months of bad sledding from June-August. But life started unraveling. In August, I was unceremoniously fired under the new “management” of the agency where I had worked without any disruption for almost 10 years and I didn’t take it lying down. In September, the UP dream fell apart. In October I lost the woman I loved, leaving me with a lot of time on my hands to contemplate life, its meaning left me wondering why I’d hit rock bottom but kept on digging. Through a miracle, I became reunited with my her at Thanksgiving. Suddenly, each day was a gift again and because we knew that love was a choice. It actually felt better than falling in love the first time because the heart can be incurably deceptive. I was seeing the world in wide screen and our relationship was ramping up every day. I began writing again and many people thought I was finally finding my own voice or relevance. I lost 50 pounds and was the happiest most productive and busiest unemployed person in the Midwest. I was hittin’ on all cylinders.

At Christmas, I was blindsided again when she got scared and uninvited me (via an email) for the holidays. It came the night before I was to leave. My bag was packed and a diamond ring was inside it, but it was not to be. I guess it was better than getting a text at the altar telling me “sorry ,but I can’t,” and after weeks of trying to keep my end of the promise alive, I’ve learned that nobody can’t chase a scared, unsure and runaway heart anymore than they can fix a broken one.

I’ve been trying to convince myself that that the opposite of love is freedom and not hate. But each day it’s like an addict trying to forget the smoke, the bottle or fine white line. It still feels like I’ve been robbed of everything except my pain, but I can finally feel a momentum shift. But for the grace of God, go I, but I still don’t buy green bananas and the first thing I do every day is to scan the obits for my name. If I don’t find it, it tells me God still has a plan for me and maybe today will be the day it is finally revealed.

I’m trying to hold my head high tonight, but faith in faith itself feels like a feeble crutch, because even faith has its weaknesses---like when I woke up this morning and realized it's is Valentine’s Day and I’ve got a really beautiful diamond ring in my dresser that’s never been worn.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bruce Springsteen, 30 years gone and missin’ my baby

This past weekend I went to a Super Bowl party. It was the first time I’ve been out in weeks. There were some strangers there, but it was mostly friends I’ve known for 30 years. We were there for different reasons and most of us didn’t care who won the game . For some, showing up to a party was a good reason to catch up with friends and watch the game as part of everyday life, but I knew I was only there to take a break from my own.

I’ve been listening to Bruce Springsteen’s new record, The Promise, over and over. If you’ve read anything about it you’ll know its material he recorded but abandoned 30 years ago ---about the same time I first met the people at the party. It was written and recorded between Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town. As Bruce states in the liner notes, it’s “tough music for folks in tough circumstances” and it was custom made for that night. After a few heart to heart conversations with friends, we were right back in each other’s lives --- old friends who had never outgrown the circle.

The songs on Springsteen’s new collection, The Promise, are about love, tenderness, doubt, hope, passion, loneliness, discovery and trying not to give up on life even though sometimes it feels like every part of you wants to. After I left the party, I swear I could have selected any song and matched it to any one of my friend’s situation. The Brokenhearted, It’s a Shame, Breakaway, Because the Night, Talk to Me, Outside Looking In, Racin’ in the Street. The Promise. . . and on and on.

Being able to see people with whom I shared a special bond was a joy without measure. Yet slowly as the night went on, I felt the room filling with doubt and uncertainty. Many of us were wounded in some way or another; the end of a marriage, the loss of a parent, unemployment, illness, addiction, confliction and contradiction. After spilling guts like old friends can do, I’m pretty sure when we left, each of us retrieved our own burdens from the invisible pile that had grown in the middle of the room. Some acted as if they didn’t care while some washed away the pain with a beer and a shot, allowing their buried laughter to briefly surface. Some searched quietly for help and some knew they’d be ok in time; while others of us were still trying unsuccessfully to move on.

30 years ago when he recorded the material, Bruce was talking about some of life’s simple truths that I’d not yet learned. In the span of 30 years I grew to love him because of the undeniable connection his music forged with me as I grew up. Now, 30 years down the road, the subject matter has become the soundtrack to my life.

“Save My Love” was the first song I heard from “The Promise.” For my money, it’s the greatest 2:38 of music to be released in the last three decades. The first verse feels doubtful and fearful: “There’s something coming through the air, that softly reminds me—tonight I’ll park out on the hill and wait until they find me. Slipping through the ether, a voice is coming through. So keep me in your heart tonight and I’ll save my love for you.” The redemption arrives in the next blistering stanza “So turn up your radio, darlin’ dial me in close. We’re ridin’ through the airwaves and we’re traveling’ coast to coast. Over river and highway, your voice comes clear and true. Though we’re far apart tonight I’ll save my love for you.”

Having just gone through (and still going through) a sad and terrible break up with the woman I thought I was going to marry, it surprised me how the song gave me hope during the dying days of our relationship. I was still hanging on to the promise I made to her and her abrupt departure made me feel like a fool, until I realized promises sunk like stones when they’re only held with one hand.

The song resonated with me because it was once a reflection of the love we both knew. “Hold me in your arms and our doubts won’t break us. If we open up our hearts, love won’t forsake us.” It provided the sliver of hope that I needed, but now I know I’ll never talk to, or see her again. In a fantasy, I wanted her to dial me in close and hear the same bittersweet message the song held because we lived in different cities. I thought if she tried, she’d be able to feel it through the radio waves, in the wires, in the air, somewhere . . .anywhere.

People have told me there’s beauty in pain, but I have yet to find it. I love her and I hate her and some days I’m not proud of either one. The same people told me there’s a lesson to be learned somewhere in all of this, but the only thing I’ve learned is that losing someone you’re in love with robs you of everything except your pain.

“The Little Things My Baby Does” is a song that no woman in love could deny. It’s a Phil Spector-ish mid tempo rocker, reminiscent of The Ronnette’s “Be My Baby,” but a little slower. It is the perfect, cheek- to-cheek-sway-with-your- own- baby song. You feel the tenderness found in the sentiment like you feel your lovers heart beating next to yours as you dance.

“The way she kisses so tenderly, the way she gives her love to me
The way she sighs when I hold her tight. Good times or bad will be all right.
Faces on the street they push hard and they shove Then disappear with the little things my baby does.

The party has been over for a while and presumably everyone who was there is now home with someone they either love, missed or maybe hated; didn’t want to live with, never should have married yet can’t live without--- someone they’d give their life for or someone they don’t realize they are ignoring. Or maybe they just don’t know each other and haven’t given it enough time, or effort; or perhaps they don’t understand the significance of a promise.

It’s now going on 2:30 AM. This is the first night I’ll slept in my own bed since she said goodbye. Hers was always the last voice I’d hear telling me she loved me before we went to sleep. My baby’s voice is gone and she’s muted mine in the process. She’s probably at home, sleeping peacefully with her new dog taking up my side of the bed and getting on with her life.

I’m still restless and I can’t sleep. I look at the clock in front of me but it’s too blurry to read. The sliver of light coming through the window will no longer shine on her face as she turns for that one last kiss goodnight. Every kiss from her was the greatest one my life would know until her next one.

Bruce is still playing in the other room.

“When the promise is broken you go on living
But it steals something from down in your soul
Like when the truth is spoken and it don't make no difference
Something in your heart turns cold.”

And like Bruce, when the promise was broken, I cashed in a few of my own dreams.