Leave This World Alone

First of all, I’d like to announce that this will be my last post for a good long while. It has been a great honor to write for this blog. I discovered it around a year and a half after my Roxy died, and it really gave voice to so much that I had been feeling, because it wasn’t all “angels up in heaven” talk. It helped me find my own voice, and really pulled me out of the writer’s block I had found myself in following Roxy’s death. I believe it saved my writing, which saved me. I can’t thank Glow and all the readers and writers, past and present, enough. Thank you so much for having me here.

I saved this song for my last post because it was written during a “where do we go from here moment.” A couple of years after Roxy died, we took a vacation to the gulf side of Florida. One evening I watched the shadowed sun go from the beach. The ocean was so forgiving and just looking at it made me feel some new kind of peace. All that nothingness. No sound but the surf rolling in and out. It was the first time I tried to say goodbye to Roxy. It was the first time I tried to let her go. I didn’t tell anyone, but I stared at the ocean and I whispered her name and I said goodbye and thanked her for coming. I sat there and watched and remembered the sound that the words made, barely leaving my mouth. I thought of some of the things she had given me as she left:

An understanding of loss. I could help others in their grief because I wasn’t afraid of them.

Gardening. I became a gardener when she died.

How little of the world mattered to me compared to my children.

Note: In the first verse of this song, I am speaking to myself. I am talking myself down. The second verse is my goodbye to Roxy, I suppose knowing she’d never leave me.

I heard the bats over the beach
I saw the ship sailing out of our reach
Come on, leave this world alone
And learn to hear the thunder all on your own
Once it hits you, it will ruin your clothes
It will kiss you with a death inside your bones
Honey, leave this world alone
And learn to hear the thunder all on your own
There’s a lonely cotton dress on the line
Hope I catch you off your medicine tonight
Is there anything left besides?
This is all so fucking frightening
Your silhouette against the lightning
And I remember when you came
And how you really, really tried to save me
So I could leave this world alone
And learn to hear the thunder all on your own
Every year your shadow grows
And the wind is howling like a distant trombone
With my fingers in the dirt, exploring
There is nothing left but work and mourning
Take this for what it’s worth, my darling
Every year your shadow grows
And the wind is howling like a distant trombone
Leave this world alone

I really appreciate all of you for reading and listening to what I've written, and I hope for some moments of peace for each of you. It's all we can ask for, I suppose.

always hearing voices

If I’ve ever felt sadder in my 41 years on this unforgiving planet earth than I did when I wrote “Always Hearing Voices”, I do not know when it would have been. As many of you know, unfortunately, and as Elizabeth McCracken wrote, “grief lasts longer than sympathy” and this song was written in the sober realization of that singular, undeniable fact.  

One of the casualties of hitting the bottom of the well (which I tend to believe is a special place reserved for someone who loses a child), is that it hammers a spike right into the center of your life, and fault lines splinter out in every direction. They create divides between you and everyone, even (and sometimes especially) those that are the closest to you. The spike creates a hole through which every reserve you have is emptied. Every bit of patience, understanding, forgiveness and even, sometimes, love is sucked down the hole, leaving you a twitchy, angry shell, unrecognizable even to yourself.

This song is about feeling wounded by the people in your life who love you the most, and how lonely that feeling is. It’s about feeling lost in the dark, months after your loss. I did not seriously consider suicide because I had a living 4-year old in my house. It’s a pretty raw thing to admit, but if it weren’t for him I have no doubt in my mind that there is an excellent chance I would have eaten a bullet that night. I felt crazy, wounded, lost and completely alone. The concept of suicide was less scary to me that night than was living. It was as simple as that. Sometimes, continuing to draw breath is the bravest thing in the world. I fantasized about suicide, not as a real option, but in the same way someone might fantasize about a night alone with Johnny Depp or Scarlett Johanssen. It ain’t gonna happen, but man, it can be fun to think about.

At the time, I felt like those closest to me were limping away from the accident, not realizing that I was still trapped under the car. I couldn’t even scream, so I just wrote this song.  Grief can have a terribly selfish, self-absorbed face, and it can be as lonesome as lonesome gets.

On the phone, it don’t seem like she remembers me
Or the shape that I’ve been in
On the phone, making noises
I am always hearing voices
On the phone, in the hall and on the run
There’s a rattle in my brain
I am always hearing voices
And they’re flowering your grave
And they decorate your portrait
On the phone, beating hard and back to listening
Where’d you go?
In the dark, we make our choices
I am always hearing voices
In the dark and talking to the gun
And it’s funny how you laugh
How you laugh when nothing’s funny
And I’m picking up my map
And I’m hitting the high ground running
There’s a rattle in my brain
I am always hearing voices
And they’re flowering your grave
And they decorate your portrait

Ever been here? You're absolutely not alone. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

I Won't Give You Up

I must start this post by confessing something: I am not a particularly spiritual person. I’m cynical by nature, which makes it hard for me to have a particularly spiritual approach to anything that happens in my life. It’s something I’ve tried to shake for years, but not very effectively.

But then, you see, there are the dragonflies.

Before Roxy died, before everything collapsed that August, we had prepared her room. Terra had wanted a dragonfly theme. There was dragonfly décor everywhere. Dragonfly blankets, dragonfly baby clothes, dragonfly pictures, dragonfly room. Everything, dragonflies.

Then she died and two years ran over us like a combine. We sold our house and moved.

Our new house had an expansive yard that tickled woods on all sides, but there was enough open space for a large garden. I’d taken up gardening the summer before, and found it to be a peaceful exercise in a time when I’d never more desperately needed some peace. I marked out a plot for the garden that was about 900 square feet. I built a fence, planted cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, etc., and I made it Roxy’s garden. I built what I would refer to as a “rustic” arbor entrance with a sign that said “We Love You Roxy Jean.”

That summer, unlike any other, the dragonflies came to the garden in swarms. Every time I walked into the garden, they were everywhere, all around me. I felt Roxy there, that summer, in that garden, in a way I could never explain in words. The pain that I felt from losing her was something I appreciated in that garden and I wanted to keep it. That’s what this song is about: keeping my pain instead of trying to escape it. Since that summer, dragonflies have continued to make timely appearances in our lives.

The bees swarm the edge of the tree line where you’re kept
Where the peonies rise up
The dragonflies dance that put me in a trance
And I go sweetly to the dust
Where I always get stung
I always get lost inside you honey
But I won’t give you up
No I, I won’t give you up
I guess you’re written in my script
I go shitty ‘til I split
Into some guillotine tonight
Some place to kill the fight that rises with the sun each morning
And dies out with the light
I should have memorized
I cannot recall the color of your eyes
But I won’t give you up
No I, I won’t give you up
No I, I won’t give you up
No I, I won’t give you up

Has losing a child increased or decreased your spirituality? Are there places or things that cause you to feel your child's presence since they passed away?

suit and tie

We did not commemorate Roxy’s death at the time with a ceremony. We did not have a funeral. We did not have a memorial. The theory at the time was that there was nothing for anyone to remember. Roxy had died before she made memories for anyone we might have invited. Most of the folks wouldn’t have even seen her. We surmised the ceremony would have been to support us, and we felt nothing like planning anything. We felt like lying on our backs. We felt like lying down until we didn’t exist. Until nothing at all existed. In short, at the time, it was easier not to.

I continue to address the devastating mental and emotional fallout from losing Roxy, and will until I die I’m sure. During a recent session addressing my ongoing severe anxiety issues, my psychiatrist said “it’s interesting that you felt such a deep connection to Roxy, considering you never got to really know her.” My blood quickened and heated at this. My eyes narrowed. I informed him that love had poured into and out of me the moment my first child, Mason, was born, right at his first cry. It was like a river, and that river didn't wait until we "got to know each other." That same river washed all over me when Roxy didn’t cry, I told him. I do know her. I know her terribly, terribly well.

As the calendars have changed numbers but continued to provide little actual space between our now and our then, the fact that we didn’t have some sort of real ceremony for Roxy bothers me. It is a regret. This song is about her death, and about our ascent to the maternity ward where Terra would deliver her. It is also about this regret that we never acknowledged to the world in a ceremonial way that we lost a daughter. We lost someone we knew and know deep in our marrow. My blood knows her. My skin. I was wearing a tshirt when I met her. I should have worn a suit and tie.

To the second floor we climb
Down a fluorescent hallway we glide
And I should have worn a suit and tie
Yeah I should have worn a suit and tie
Jenny said she’d walk us down
She fumbled with her silver bracelet
And I could not quite hear the sound
And I could not quite picture us making it
And there’s only so much time
Yeah there’s only so much left
Sometimes love is all you get
I asked a doctor where to stand
What should I do with my hands?
Well my baby never cries
And I should have worn a suit and tie
And there’s only so much time
Yeah there’s only so much left
Sometimes love is all you get
Sometimes love is all you get

Did you have a memorial service or some sort of ceremony for your child? If not, is that something you regret?

Mama's Little Bird

It’s been six years. Six years. When will the heat of the summer stop taking me under? When will it stop covering me in its blanket of swelter, causing my eyes to roll back and close, causing my chest to heave like a tiger’s as I walk through it all over again? Time is not distance. That much I’ve come to know. Sometimes it feels like there is little actual distance under my feet from the day Roxy died. I am like a drunken explorer with a broken compass. Every time I think I’ve navigated the swamp of summer, I find myself standing at its precipice again, wobbly and mystified.

We have a late ultrasound of Roxy recorded, and in it, she is moving. I’ve never been able to watch it since she died at nearly 38 weeks in utero, but I find myself thinking about it often. I find myself thinking about who I was then, when she was still wiggling and kicking.

When I wrote this song, I imagined it as a duet that Roxy and I would sing together through the belly of my wife, over the walls of time, through the narrowing tunnel of memory. She would take the first verse and I would take the second. Would she be a singer like Lila already is at age 4 (but too shy to perform without something over her face, being a lot like me)? I don’t know because I don’t get to know. 

The Loch Ness reference in this song speaks to how defensive inside I often feel, knowing that so few ever saw her, she may not seem completely real. But oh how real. How real. 

This song is for you Roxy, my knotted throat, my tired eyes, my first daughter, my second child.

(***I apologize for the terrible sound quality here. It’s a tired live version, but hopefully it gets the point across.***)

Darling, something’s broken
I can hear it through the walls
I can hear them making phone calls
Calling, who can they be calling?
I feel nervous and distressed
There are feathers on my arms and in my chest
I was mama’s little bird
Little bird
I guess that I’ve been walking
Through a world I just don’t get
Through a world that I can’t quit, oh
I am like the Loch Ness
I want it to exist
Wanting to believe there’s more than this
Something whistling through the leaves
Something down under the ocean
Something new and something clean
Somewhere no one else is going
I was mama’s little bird

Do you become defensive of your child's memory? How do you talk yourself down?

Singing Her Home

I wrote this song a week and a half ago, on a Thursday night. The heat had been terrible. I was irritable with everyone in my house, and they all wanted something from me, humans and beasts alike.

To play princesses.
To change bulbs.
To fetch snacks.
To change doll diapers.
To be let outside.
To be paid attention to.

Simple, reasonable, everyday requests, but a wave of snarl was building in me. I knew it was going to crash onto the people I loved. I knew I needed to be alone, but in my day-to-day, there are few, if any, opportunities to be alone. It is often during these spells that I pick up the old scratched and weathered Harmony acoustic guitar that always waits for me in the corner. That battered instrument is my force field. My invisibility cloak. See, I am a songwriter (or, as Bobby D once put it, a “song and dance man”) and in my house when I pick up my guitar and set myself to recording something, it is known that everyone should give me some space. I suppose it is my way of being alone.

On this night, I knew the heat was getting me again. The heat of remembrance or PTSD, whatever you’d like to call it. Roxy was coming on over. I was 3 weeks away, yet, from our Roxiversary, but the heat of the summer was bringing her early as it often does. Not that she has far to come. She lives right next door to every thought, waking and dreaming alike.

Roxy, nearly 6 years dead, wanted my attention too, so I sat down and wrote this song.

I It wasn’t Abilene or the cinders
It was the way she shut her eyes
And I couldn’t tell how she may have felt
It wouldn’t change a thing tonight
I guess we parted like a river
Some of us left and some of us right
I took a drink of her, she took a drink of me
And it was time to say goodbye
I’m singing her home
I’m singing so everybody knows
They better leave me alone
Sometimes the night can close the distance
And it can turn you like a knife
I had a dream of her and it was alright
But it wasn’t, wasn’t really alright
Shiver my bones
She is the ghost I can’t let go
I can’t let go
I’m singing her home
I’m singing so everybody knows
They better leave me alone
They better leave me alone
They better leave me alone

Does your grief cause you to want to isolate? How do you create space for yourself?