“Grief reunites you with what you’ve lost.

It’s a merging;

you go with the loved thing

or person that’s going away.

You follow it a far as you can go.

But finally,the grief goes away

and you phase back into the world.

Without him.

And you can accept that.

What the hell choice is there?”

Philip K Dick

Another week, another basement.  Another loss.

This basement was at The Ranch.  This is the basement of my childhood.  The basement of homegrown plays and fashion shows.  The old-timey barber chair, the recording equipment, the door to the backyard.  Cool in the summer- we would sleep down there and sneak out early in the morning to steal down to the pond and swim before the sun rose.  The basement where we would escape the adults and the haze of cigarette smoke and BORING conversation.

I had two homes, growing up.  One, my actual house, and the other, “The Ranch.”

The Ranch housed the family who were our best friends, and the best friends who were our family.

In the divorce, my mom got custody of their family- I think it was one of the better parts of her settlement.  I’m only kind of kidding.  My mom was best friends with the adults, we girls were all like sisters.

When I first met the dad, I thought he was Jesus.  I mean, I really did.  I was about six years old, living in Plymouth, MA.  He had long hair and a long beard- and in my parochial, New England world, I’d never encountered that in a man.

He was not Jesus.

He was SO different from my dad.  I was never scared of him, but I was a little awestruck.

He was a tall, lanky, Greek hippie, who happened to be the dad of a little girl I met over the remains of a dead earthworm.  He had a booming deep voice and perhaps the best laugh I’ve ever heard.  His wife was a gorgeous, freckled hippie with a glorious head of chestnut hair that went down nearly to her waist.  They looked so different from anyone I’d ever met in my little, sheltered world.  They were one of the few adult couples I knew growing up where I was very much aware they were in love.  It was palpable.  Their daughters were right around our age, and my sisters and I quickly became best friends with them.

When my parents got divorced and my mom went to work full time during the days, we spent a lot of time at their house in the summers.  Some of my favorite childhood memories to this day are of cavorting through the woods behind their house, climbing trees and building forts and exploring the nearby cranberry bogs.  We put on endless plays (complete with commercials- I remember, in particular, how Chris laughed at “Pope-A-Pola, one sip and it’ll make you fall to your knees and pray!”) and fashion shows, which our parents attended.

We spent hours unrestrained in the back of their van, (because, of course they had a van) singing our hearts out- Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree and other camp songs, and then The Rose and You Light Up My Life as we got older.  I’m sure it wasn’t annoying at ALL.  I tell you what, if it was they never let on.

He was so good at loving people.  He was surrounded by female energy all the time and he reveled in it.  He loved his girls.  He loved his amazing wife.  He adored his daughters.  He loved all of us.  Well.  He loved us well.

I was really fortunate to have a couple of exceptional men fill the gaping void left by my dad.  Chris was the one who was most inextricably in our lives- he knew us well enough to truly understand what pains we were, and to love us anyway.  He loved us.  We were not idealized in his mind because we lived close up. He loved us.  The verb.

I never doubted, not one single moment in the forty years I knew him, that he loved me.

I am well aware of what a gift that is.

He listened to me when I talked to him.  I remember that.  I remember his deep voice and his ability to cry.  He introduced me to classic rock and science fiction.  I watched my first James Bond movie in that house.  I remember sitting on an old sofa in their garage listening to him play with his band.  I remember watching him with his mom, and how they brought spanakopita and baklava into my life.  I remember.

Chris was a musician.  He sang and played, and I remember there almost ALWAYS being music on in their house.  My mom introduced me to Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, Elton John and Diana Ross- but Chris introduced me to Little Feat, Deep Purple…  My music library is incredibly eclectic- but every single classic rock album you find in it has its roots in my childhood with Chris.

Another week, another basement.  Another really, deeply, profoundly good man.

He was such a good man- and we needed to know those existed when we were little. I was just telling my sister about recalling how I didn’t plan on dancing with my dad at my wedding. I did, because he asked me. It was awkward and painful- and I do not remember the song. I did, however, pick a song to dance to with Chris, even though he didn’t know it. I asked him to dance, and while we were dancing he threw his head back and laughed- because that’s what he did- and said in his rich bass voice, “This is a gooood song.”

It really was.

“Every morning, I wake up and forget just for a second that it happened. But once my eyes open, it buries me like a landslide of sharp, sad rocks. Once my eyes open, I’m heavy, like there’s too much gravity on my heart.”

Sarah Ockler

“An only child, alone and wild, a cabinet maker’s son,
His hands were meant for different work

and his heart was known to none.
He left his home and went his lone and solitary way
And he gave to me a gift I know I never can repay.

A quiet man of music, denied a simpler fate,
He tried to be a soldier once but his music wouldn’t wait.
He earned his love through discipline, a thund’ring, velvet hand.
His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand

The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument

and his song is in my soul.
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man.
I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band.

My brothers’ lives were different, for they heard another call.
One went to Chicago and the other to Saint Paul
And I’m in Colorado, when I’m not in some hotel
Living out this life I’ve chosen, come to know so well.

I thank you for the music and your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go
I thank you for the kindness and the times when you got tough
And, Papa, I don’t think I said “I love you” near enough.

The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument

and his song is in my soul.
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man.
I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band.
I am the living legacy to the leader of the band.”

Dan Fogelberg

3 Comments on “Landslide

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