Like most musical people, I hold a couple of songs in my head at any given time that are sort of the soundtrack for my daily life. (I am now going to need you to stop picturing that show in your head, I am not now nor have I ever been singing and dancing to Barry White in a unisex bathroom.) I have always found my joy, my solace, the words to express my pain, the unexplainable spark of my life, in the lyrics of songs. The prolific writes like Don Henley, Glen Frey, the late Dan Fogelberg, James Taylor, these are the people who have captured my feelings. The first album I ever owned was "Hotel California" from the Eagles and my brother bought it for me. It remains my favorite head and shoulders above the rest. I can tell you that I have never since been without a copy in my possession since he gave it to me. I've probably been through 20 copies and I will buy 20 more if I need them. It was Dan Fogelberg who bound up my broken heart and calmed my disbelief when my best friend Eric was killed in a car accident when I was 18. "In the nexus" gently told me that we all live and we all die. It's a natural part of life. James Taylor became the poet laureate of my life while I was in college. My brother would sing "In my mind I'm gone to Carolina..." when he called me to tell me he was on the way from Tennessee to visit me for the last 10 years of his life. These are the words that are tattooed on my souls skin to serve as guideposts to where I have been in my life.
A few nights ago I was listening to Whitney Houston's new CD. There are two songs on that album that spoke to me in a way I haven't heard in a long time. The first one is called "I look to you." There is a lyric that says "and when melodies are gone, in you I hear a song." It was like I had been hit with a hammer. I have not, to my knowledge, sang, even in the shower, since Richard's death. It broke my heart because I realized I have lost my song, my melody. When I looked inside myself, to listen to that part of me that always had given rise to my mornings and lulled me to sleep, it is silent. Not a whisper. Without a melody I am lost as surely as if I had wandered out into the desert in the pitch black of night. I turned off the music and began to cry. Not those beautiful tears in the movies, those mind wracking sobs that have your heart in your ears. I curled up in a fetal position where I thought that God would be merciful and let me find some peace in sleep. I was completely devastated to say the least. Even more so when I discovered there would be no rest for the weary or peace for me that night. As I lay in the dark, confused and alone, I decided to get up and try again. I put the CD back on and found a second song and a revelation. The title of the song is "I didn't know my own strength" but the line is "I was not built break" that spoke to me. It carried me back in time 7 years.
In the fall of 2002, I was having the worst 4 months of my life, at least up until that time. Rich had been very sick with the two failed pancreatic transplants. In the last week of October, I was taking him back to the wound specialist for the 20 inch incision open on his abdomen due to infection that I was charged with packing, wet to dry twice a day everyday. Then we had an appointment with the infectious disease guy who was handling the baseball bat antibiotics that I was having to administer three times per day through the pic line in his left arm due to him being immunosuppressed and surviving intestinal leakage into his abdominal cavity. I had spent my first night in an actual bed since July 23 when at 4am this particular morning, October 25, I heard a strange noise which was to be my alarm clock for this day in the minefield, the hot water heater in the kitchen burst sending 6 inches of water through the kitchen for me to clean up. At 9:25 that morning, while taking Rich to his doctors appointments. my cellphone rang. It was my brother telling me that my father had fallen victim to four strokes that morning. I suppose I should tell you that until this particular day in 2002, my father had never spent the night in the hospital, he wasn't even born in a hospital. To say that my nerves were frayed before the phone call is a gross understatement. I was in pieces after the call and Rich couldn't drive. My menfolk were worried about my emotional state. John had not allowed Richard to tell me that my father did not know anyone. Even when I walked into the hospital after a three hour drive that should have taken four, I had no idea of the severity of his condition. They flanked me like body guards when I rushed into the room to see my father and sat down on his bed. I didn't have a clue that he wasn't supposed to know me when I lay my hand on his forehead and said "Daddy." It was a true act of God that he opened his eyes and said "Well Sis, what are you doing here and where is the baby?" I was the first person he had recognized since the attack. There was a collective sigh in the room and Daddy said "What's wrong with yawl? If you thought this would break my babygirl, you don't know her at all. She's made out of stronger stuff than that." My family went home to rest, my husband went to his brother's home to rest and my in-laws left, but I stayed. I never left his side until he was out of danger and on his way to rehab. I handled Rich's wound and antibiotics in the hospital with the help of an excellent nursing staff providing me a sterile room twice a day. I had enough faith for all of us. They all depended on me and I handled it all. Little did I know that less than eight months I would bury my beloved brother from a suicide in my backyard. I certainly never thought I would be standing at my husbands headstone in a little less than seven years at 41 years of age. But I was truly not built to break.
So when daylight came. I turned off the television and retreated into my music. I cried while I went about my business, an absolute force of will to make myself move and get things done. Somewhere between the laundry and cleaning the bathtub, quietly at first, a lyric here and a chorus there, a whisper at most, I began to sing. I found familiar range and unflinching sureness of words on "Wasted Time" from Hotel California with Don Henley at the wheel. I found a song. I found a melody.
I grieve for Richard without a doubt, I grieve my security, I grieve what my life was supposed to have been and who I used to be. But I will not grieve my soul. I will not die here in this blackness. I am a real survivor. I make no excuses for who I am nor am I ashamed of what I have suffered in this life to forge the steel that is my back bone. I may be crawling with bleeding hands and bruised knees, but inch by inch, I'm moving forward. I may not be singing at this moment, I may not even be humming. But, it's in there. I can still hear it. I will not let this beat me. I will know the measure of my own strength.