Torch Song for a Redheaded Ghost

Two years ago, I knew my future – I KNEW what I would be doing for the next thirty years, and with whom. Peggy Lou and I were going to keep on having loads of fun while growing old together, dancing together ‘til the day I died – because OF COURSE I would be the first to go; with my history of risks taken, injuries, smoking for 40 years, it was a given that I would be the first one on the Far Side Bank of Jordan, “waiting, drawing pictures in the sand.”

But ahmygawd, how she loved to dance with me – even through my years of foot/ankle surgeries, hospital beds and wheelchairs, physical therapy and rehab – she was always there, encouraging me to keep positive, keep getting up and dancing with her, at least for a few minutes, even failed surgery after failed surgery; she would put on Hartman & Coltrane’s “My One and Only Love,” drag my ass up out of the wheelchair, clumsy orthopedic boot and all, and encourage me to spin her ‘round the room.

Most of my friends and family are familiar with the story of Peg and me – how we met on a dance floor in Pioneer Square, September 15th, 1989 – and how much we loved to dance together. How it came to be just she and me is another story, and private. But every day of our last 10 years together was a celebration of and thanksgiving for all the joys, the family, the friends, and good times we had together. She taught me first and foremost, to count the joys, each and every day, and be thankful for them. The sorrows don’t need counting but rather accepting and enduring, and getting through to the other side. Which, if you do it right, is joy. And how every chance we got, we would dance, and relive that magical night in 1989. For an idea of how Peg was about dancing, give a listen to Amy Wadge’s “Seventeen;” it describes our Peggy Lou to a “T.” Amy wrote it for her grandparents’ 74th Anniversary, a lovely couple “growing old together disgracefully,” but the voice could just as easily be Peg’s.

Every day together was a reiteration of love – we would text one another at least a couple of times a day, and no matter how busy either of us might be, we would get back at the very least, “LUTMDE” (love you truly, madly, deeply, eternally). I am not saying that there weren’t hard times, of course there were. But every day, no matter how bad the day had been, at dinner we would toast to whatever we were thankful for that day. And no matter how bad, if nothing else, we would default to “Happy Thanksgiving.” Because at the core of our relationship, we were thankful for US. For each other. Thankful for how, no matter how much sorrow we had gone through, we had the joy of being together. Thankful for how what we had intended to be just a one-night stand – somehow, through all the crazy quirks and foibles, joys and sorrows, wins and losses – that one-night stand was still going strong.

So time marches on, and in November, 2015, Peg and I caught a cold from one of our darling grandchildren – me, with my asthma and COPD, the cold of course turned into acute bronchitis, and I had to have antibiotics and Prednisone to kick it, as I did – but Peg’s cold lingered, and lingered; it seemed to be a particularly virulent bronchitis. Thanksgiving weekend rolled around and, trouper that she was, she wasn’t going to let (what she thought was) an annoyingly intransigent case of bronchitis keep her from doing Thanksgiving (her favorite holiday) for her family; nor would she let it stop her, true athlete that she was, from participating in the annual Seattle Marathon (she had backed off to doing just two Half-Marathons a year in the past 10 years or so).  So even with her personal worst time, that redheaded great-grandma of 66 years completed the Half-Marathon with pride.

Christmas Eve of 2015 was tough. Peg was sick, and the smell of food cooking would make her nauseous. So no traditional Christmas Eve dinner, nor picture in front of the fireplace. But all the kids and grandkids, and great-grandkid crowded into our bedroom, so they could “ooh” and “aah” for the presents from Peg and me. And the kids climbed into the bed with Mama Peg for pictures.

December 28th, 2015, and I was convinced that Peg had pneumonia. I bundled her up, took her to Emergency, and they drained a litre of bloody fluid from the pleural sac around her right lung. They found carcinoma cells in that fluid; it was lung cancer. What with one thing and another, she remained in the hospital until the 8th of January, 2016, when they put a tap into her pleural sac so that it could be drained at home. We were determined to soldier on, doing everything necessary to keep her alive and happy and hopeful. They sent her home for a couple of days, and we were to come back to the clinic on the 11th, where the good doctors would show us how to drain the fluid at home. Which we did, and they did, and everything was looking as good as it could.

I won’t discuss our last car-ride conversation on the way back home from the hospital, as fun and happy as it was, as this might be read by our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren – who are thoroughly deluded convinced that Mama Peg and Papa had gender, not sex.

We got home about a quarter to noon; most of the kids were gathered; I don’t honestly remember how many. I won’t go into details other than it was with a massive pulmonary embolism that my Peggy Lou died in my arms at 12:05 pm. And our one-night stand finally came to an end after 26 years, 3 months, 26 days, and about 12 and a half hours.

We interred her ashes with son Brandon at Lakeview Cemetery, Seattle, on September 15th, 2017, the 28th anniversary of our first meeting.

But this post isn’t about that; or at least, not directly.

THE “HOW” AND “WHY” OF IT

After Peg died, while looking for some kind of solace, I started playing my guitar again. I hadn’t played seriously in almost 30 years; I lost most of my hearing in my own personal war on poverty – working a 90 lb. jackhammer 8 hours a day for a couple of weeks with no hearing protection. My THRESHOLD for hearing unaided is 80 decibels, which is LOUD. I couldn’t even tune my guitar unaided, I needed an electronic tuner – which in 1978 was still a rather primitive thing; hearing aids didn’t recognize music as anything but noise – so the only way I could hear the guitar was to lay my unaided ear on the box, and play. A bit awkward, to say the least.

However, my newest hearing aids DO recognize music AS music, and a whole new/old world has opened up for me. I am playing, and singing, and even writing songs again, such as they are. And one of those songs is entitled “Once Upon a Time,” subtitled, “Torch song for a redheaded ghost,” which is a ballad, I suppose; really just the story of my grief since losing Peg, and my (ongoing) journey in search of wholeness as a singleton, and perhaps moving back into a place of love again. And a bit of the last verse is

“I think I’ll finally be just fine,

I’m finally in a place and time

I’m past that old crossroads

Between nothin’ and enough

I find I’m finally takin’ time

to find what’s really on my mind

The things that really matter

The only “how” or “why” is love”

That last was NOT a throwaway line, even if it did come to me in the flow of writing, with no stops, and no editing as I went. It WAS the beginning of an epiphany for me, one that I am still working through to this day.

The only truly important HOW or WHY is LOVE. Purely and simply, although not without static, and not easily.

LOVE is how we make it through the day, with all its counted and uncounted sorrows. LOVE is how a mother keeps on facing the world each day for her children, even when she has lost one of them to murder. LOVE is how a father keeps on being there for his children, even after the loss of the love of his life, when all he feels like doing is climbing into bed and pulling the covers over his head, making the world just fucking GO AWAY.

LOVE is why a single mom keeps working at a dead-end job to support her son, and putting her passion for music on a back burner. LOVE is why a dad will keep working in construction, at keeping a steady paycheck coming in while driving himself ragged taking night classes to pursue his REAL passion, because the welfare of the kids comes before ones desires.

I submit that LOVE is our primary motivation as human beings, why we do what we do. Because anything we do, be it work, or play, vocation, obsession, or even pastime, we are either doing it to support someone, or we want to share it with someone. Otherwise what good is it, what fun is it? Even when that sharing is of an author, or musician, or artist, sharing with her fans, it is still a manifestation of LOVE.

LOVE is why I keep getting up in the morning, and taking the bull by the tail and facing the situation. And it is the HOPE that I may someday find love again, that I am considering the prospect of risking my heart again, wearing my old heart on my sleeve, and maybe finding another love with whom to share joy, and laughter, and hope, and fun, and travel, and learning.

If I have to do it alone, I know now that I can, and I will. But I am beginning to think of the hope of finding a new partner in crimes against mundanity, with whom I can grow old disgracefully.

Maybe more later


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