January 6, 2013

Someone I love dearly with every fiber of my being is leaving; going somewhere mysterious yet fulsome with a promise of abiding peace and comfort seldom attainable in this ivy-threaded coil. The finality and magnitude of that journey come in the fullest rush of clarity as I’m walking in the luminescence of a sunny winter morning.

It hits me just as the song begins, a plaintive acoustic guitar strumming out chords as an electric guitar thrums out a languid counterpoint. The melody lulls me and I glance up at the sky and its blue vastness, when the final guitar note of the introduction bends. It’s a strange sound, mournful and alien, coloring the air and reflecting the heady unpredictability of the journey in ways a pile of empty words never could.

But words fill my head as the strings soar and notes from a piano strike purposefully. Those strings keep surging, and sentiment brushes aside stupid propriety, granting me permission to feel and love and cry and care. And this human being who taught me to feel and love and cry and care is inexorably winding around every note as the song continues.

I think back to the first time I heard the song, when I was a spotty 15-year-old kid just starting to perceive how hearing a piece of music could preserve a moment in time–an entire life, even–with total fidelity. The notes continue their strangely-soothing pathway along my present-day ears and in my present-day head, and I remember how rich it sounded to me the first time I heard it. The lyrics speak of the passing seasons with undisguised romance and melancholy, with fragments of melodic beauty so vivid they ache. In a little over seven present-day minutes the song stirs reflection and contemplation like nothing’s stirred me before.

A stately wash of strings builds. I start feeling moisture insinuating itself behind my eyes. I’m thinking of her and the lushness of the music draws a flood of reminiscence and it’s like her life (or at least my perception of it) flashes before me, as I’m convinced it’s flashed before her. All the pain and struggle she’s been through, choices both wise and reckless, battles large and small, and the defiant spirit that survived them all pour from the notes and chords like sand tumbling through a freshly-turned hourglass. Then the note bends again and tears burst fully to the fore. The unknown, and the weight of the loss, have surfaced.

I’m breathing in the sadness and yet some sense of hope and release is rising. The music telegraphs the change of seasons and the approaching hour of departure with total fidelity. She’s surrounded by loved ones, and her fiery shock of red hair has faded to a hue that’s faintly golden in the half-light. The trek has begun: I can see her walking into the unknown and looking into it with flashing violet eyes, even as her pale form lies on the bed breathing shallowly.

We all take turns leaning into her ear and whispering words of consolation and devotion. The rattle of her breaths is an unsettling, ugly thing at first. But after awhile it sounds like what it is–the idling of a fleshly vehicle that’s finally broken down, nothing more or less. And she’s done what any courageous traveller would do under the circumstances: She’s left it and bravely undertaken the rest of the journey alone and on foot.

And I know that as she rounds the corner she hears the voices of those she’s forced to leave behind. She’s smiling that smile informed by mischief and passion as she’s looking behind her. She’ll see us all again soon enough. And she doesn’t have to fight anymore.

I listen to the song again days later, walking a rain-smeared route from her house to the home of my childhood–a route I walked scores of times growing up. This world used to feel cramped and dull, like a too-tight garment that confined and held me. Now this slick street off the beaten path in the suburbs feels unfathomably massive–infinite, even.

The trees, bare and moss-encrusted and grown to cloud-scraping breadth, catch the rain and the streetlights, and the brightness and wetness stir and flicker. I hear her feet, small but sturdy, pattering in the pools of precipitation.  She’s part of all of it now, one of the forces of nature moving the branches alongside the wintry gusts of wind and the sheets of rain. She’s just ahead of us now.

She’ll see us all again soon enough, smiling that mischievous smile even as she tells us everything is happening for a reason and that everything will be OK. And as tears put the suburban wilderness into soft focus, the last three words she whispered into my ear a few weeks previous, before that vehicle could no longer fulfill its end of the journey, are tumbling from my lips: I love you.


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