Tonight I am unable to sleep. I have a vague, sick tummy. Was it the acidic, vinegar-based Greek chicken that was supper? Or is it the stormy mess of to-do lists and impending life issues – a severe lack of money being foremost in my mind – that has me feeling so unwell? Another question floats to the surface as I take a moment’s fresh air this moonlit midnight to sort it all out… just what the hell is it that I am supposed to be doing here on this planet?
I am a mother, and I know that I am a good one, a creative one. I know that I’m helping to build the complex and inspiring world of a very unusual and special child who will one day be a remarkable adult. I know that for now that is mainly what I’m here to do. Yet that doesn’t satisfy the question for me. Tonight I am remembering music, and how it once occupied my life.
Melodies and harmonies, lines and parts, lyrics and tempos swirled about my consciousness and kept me aloft, satisfied and forward-looking for all of my baby-less adult life. I derived such pleasure creating and performing music. A kind of pleasure and satisfaction that is absent in my current life. While I’m able to lift my spirits with little windows of time spent at the piano here and there, coaxing my fingers and brain to revive favorite pieces, that just doesn’t scratch the itch. I miss the collaboration, the kind of creating that occurs only when that certain mix of talents and personalities is present. The unique dynamic of a particular group of musicians. Truthfully, I’m feeling alone. Tonight I miss the family of a band. I miss my old life.
I see many of my friends still on that path – some even have children. I wonder, with a slightly jealous heart, how on earth are they able to do that? I wonder if a partner makes it possible. Must be. How can one make dinner, do the laundry, check homework and then run off to rehearsal without some assistance? Much less find time to write, to arrange – to perform? And I grumble to myself that it’s not fair. Even if I physically lived among musicians, how as a single mom, would I find the time, the energy? Then I scold myself; all my post husband-leaving, inward-looking self-study has taught me to know better than to indulge in fruitless self pity. But there it is. I am without any musical peers or partners, and tonight I am mourning it.
A couple of years ago, having made it through my first year of isolation and the setup of a new household and basic routine, I set out to find someone with whom I could at least do a couple of singing gigs. After some calls and searching, I finally met a jazz guitarist in the area. Immediately, it felt we were old friends. He, like me, knew songs. And their verses. He, like me (although he did it years longer and much more hard-core than I) had hosted his own radio program. He had a great sense of humor (most musicians do – you kinda have to) and we just grooved. I learned later, that he had that sort of relationship with nearly everyone in his life. I would have expected that. He was easy to like, and this new friendship promised to be lifelong.
He called me one day asking if I could do a gig the following weekend. I drove to his house and we began to talk tunes. In my former life as a singer, I’d made a point of doing mostly lesser-known tunes; the standards were kinda done to death and there were hundreds of charming and beautiful songs that deserved an audience. Not all musicians know them. Sam did. And he knew all the lyrics. He knew nearly all of my book – several hundred tunes, most of which were a bit off the beaten path. My heart was light with the possibility of our future that bright December morning – I had found my new duo partner. I was back at home. Voice and guitar, Ella and Joe. I had one less reason to miss my husband.
We had one gig. A nice little job, complete with really good food and a few laughs. Our thing was effortless. That comes when working with a pro. I don’t think I realized til then how lucky I’d been to have cut my teeth in Chicago, with its world-class jazz professionals. Thankfully, that didn’t really matter once I’d met Sam. Fast-forward to a fine summer evening when Elihu and I walked the warm Saratoga streets, the night when we passed the club Sam and I had played – the club he himself was playing in that very night. The night I uncharacteristically opted not to check inside to see who was playing and so walked right by. The night Elihu and I went instead to the Adelphi Hotel, and I alone, as if receiving some heavenly warning of things to come, inexplicably smelled the scent of hyacinth in the empty upstairs library.
I scold myself soundly for indulging in my own private perspective on that night, for it was not so much my life that changed, but the lives of Sam’s own family. Sam had Leukemia, and had experienced a bad nosebleed on the gig that night after a recent blood transfusion. Feeling weak and ill, he’d been taken by ambulance from the club to Albany med. That night also happened to be his 16th wedding anniversary. His wife was with him at the hospital several hours later when he died.
The news was stunning. Many have lost dear friends and family and know the horror of learning news like that. It’s just such an impossible thing to comprehend. It’s so permanent and unforgiving. It knocked me off my feet for months. It’s been over a year now, and I still push his death to the back of my mind, thinking that somehow Sam will call some day and we’ll play together again. I cannot even fathom how life has been for his wife and two children since then. I pray for them and send them my love whenever Sam crosses my mind.
Tonight it all washes together in a queer mix of regret, gratitude and ‘what’s next?’ There’s little I can do about it for now, because tomorrow I must hit the ground running. I’m soon to settle for poverty-level support from my near-ex, bringing our three year divorce process to a close and so must check in with my attorney. I wrote a check on Friday with no money in the bank to cover it and that worries me; I have a check from my weekend student which I must deposit first thing in the morning, but they’ll hold it for three days – in the meantime will I get an overdraft fee? I’m out of milk again and I need to find enough change around the house to buy some. I need heating oil and a piano tuning too, but spare change won’t cover those. When, oh when, will life feel lighter, happier, more hopeful? When will the music return to my life? I miss it so.
I hope it’s still there, just waiting for me to come home one day.