I wrote this line about Argo years ago that’s been running through my mind all night… “that I sleep deeply in the belly of the ship, for I know my passage is safe.” The reason the tape is repeating is that I am in profound and deeply choppy water, and though I can’t say with a voice loud and clear that she is still my friend, the image of being rocked to sleep on a boat with an enormous bulwark helps in my grief, which is presenting physically. My stomach hurts. My head hurts. I want to stay in bed, and I can’t sleep unless I take something and deal with the consequences of an enormous hangover… the kind where every moment until maximum caffeine level is achieved feels like trying to nail Jell-o to a tree. I may be able to take said sleeping medication tonight, but there has just been too much to do to deal with being sluggish (and enormously cranky because of it). I would like to thank the little baby Jesus that I have been on Klonopin the entire time, because it has allowed my fight-or-flight to recede into the background as I just deal with what’s in front of me, one minute at a time.
But now, all the adrenaline-and-Starbucks-fueled crazy is over, and my plane leaves tomorrow at 2:00. I think Prianka is picking me up from the airport, and I want to keep here for the record that she told me under no uncertain terms that if I needed her, she would come. I had friends to fall on here, so I told her not to worry about it. But I will definitely need her once I get back. It’s easy to have a support system here- not quite as easy on the other end…. although I know my church will pour out their love on me in the wake of losing someone this close to me… and now that my mother is dead, not being a church musician is not an option for me. I need it. I will be at choir practice on Thursday, even if I have to sob through every piece.
I’m going to be putting together a playlist of all my mother’s favorite choir anthems, and I’ll post it here when it’s done. It’s going to take me a while to find them all, but luckily YouTube is a fantastic repository for those sorts of things. She always loved John Rutter’s For the Beauty of the Earth, even asking Lindsay and me to sing it as a duet at her church. Lindsay’s voice is so comforting to me, because she has a tone and quality that I do not. I have a bigger, more operatic voice. Her voice is smaller, more intimate, the kind that can rip your heart out and hand it to you in its purity. Most of the time, she sings absolutely straight-tone, stripped bare of vibrato so that the notes cut deeper and more intensely than mine ever could. We are both fantastic singers thanks to our mother (and our father, really- his voice is gorgeous and I have no doubt that he would have been just as successful as a baritone as he was with his horn had he chosen that route). But mostly it was Mom, because both Lindsay and I had a built-in accompanist whose favorite thing was to play for people she loved.
One of the things that really made me feel good about the service yesterday is that the pianist seemed to really get my mother’s style, and it was literally like she was there. I remember that in my talk, I brought it up when I said that my mother wasn’t just a pianist, she as an accompanist, and there’s a world of difference. A pianist plays beautifully, but doesn’t know how to catch a soloist when they miss an entrance or skip a measure or any number of things that can go wrong when you’re nervous. This was particularly important when I was a trumpet player, because I have far more stage fright about playing my horn than I do singing, because I’m just so much better a singer than I ever was a trumpet player. I should have gone the singer route and started vocal study earlier than I did…. but I wanted to be just like my dad… except that I never rose to the level he did. I just had fun playing next to him. I wish that he wasn’t in the middle of surgery on his face, because I would have loved to play on the brass line at Second today, both for distraction and to be a different kind of church musician, something that doesn’t remind me of just how painful losing my mother really is.
One of my friends said to me, “my mother is still alive, but her death will bring me to my knees. I don’t know how you’re holding up.” Not thinking about it, mostly. In order to function, I’ve had to put my emotions away and just wear the Leslie Lanagan™ mask I’ve worn as a preacher’s kid for a number of years, and I fell right into it without missing a beat.
The part that will be excruciating and bring me to my own knees will be when I am alone, because nothing makes me more embarrassed than losing my snot in public…. and I have to believe it’s what my mother would have wanted for me, because she always wanted us to be “perfect” in public. In our preacher’s family days, we saved our emoting for when we were alone, and not in front of company…. one of the many reasons I am a loud-mouthed asshat today, because I’d had enough of pretending everything was fine. Now, I’m just trying to be leslie, without a cover.
I just want to make this pain stop…. MAKE IT STAAAAAAAAAAHP. And yet, there is no way around, only through. There are ways in which I don’t even know what I will experience over the coming years, but what I know for sure is that I will always be extraordinarily angry at the way her life was cut short. Just because it was a freak accident and no one is to blame doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to be angry at the situation.
My mother was the one who sent Christmas presents with candy and things she’d picked out during the year that she thought I’d like. Most of it was too girly for me, but she was the one who got an A for effort. I’ll be making scans of all the Christmas and birthday cards I still have, possibly publishing them, but mostly so I can throw the paper away in my Mari Kondo simplicity and still have all the memories I need.
One of the things that has happened over the last three years is that through my writing, my mother began to understand the real me, so the cards got deeper and closer to what I really needed to hear from her… that she was proud of the real me, and not just the face I present to the world, which are often very different people.
The wake of my mother’s death is a renewed sense of purpose. I don’t know if my mother left me any money in her will, but if she did, I am quitting my job immmediately and going to school full-time so I can graduate as soon as humanly possible. I read fast, so I know I can handle 15-18 hours a semester easily. My first semester back, however, I will take no more than 12, because I cannot forget that I am moving in the world under an enormous amount of grief, and everything takes longer when you’re sad.
I am still grieving the loss of my marriage. I am still grieving the loss of a friendship I’d hoped would last my entire life. I am still grieving not staying in Houston until my mother died and my father was healed… not beating myself up over it, but just thinking about it in that “had I known then what I know now” sort of way. I would have found a way around my “creeped the fuck out” feelings, or tried much harder than I actually did.
My mother knew of my dreams to go to Howard and Howard Divinity School, so I have that going for me…. but the thought of her not getting to see those dreams realized is the wake that causes the most ripples. I regret without shame that I did not break up with Kathleen, stay at University of Houston, and go on to grad school when I was 22 or 23 so that by the time my mother died, she would have gotten to see me in my element.
Right now, I’m out of my element, Donnie.
In so many more ways than one.