The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Sister Pattie February 23, 2013

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Just finished reading Pattie Boyd’s autobiography. As I was browsing the shelves for something new to read and saw the title, I had a dim awareness of who she was. The cover photo intrigued me, and of course, reading that she had been married to both George Harrison and Eric Clapton (and now remembering exactly ‘who’ she was) – naturally, I had to read her story. Aside from being a fascinating window into the culture of those times, it was so very much more to me. Of course my story isn’t anywhere near as colorful, historically significant or fast-paced as hers, but there are a few similarities. (Not the least of which is that we’ve each broken both of our wrists – one in nearly the same sort of accident – and have had more than one reconstructive surgery to fix em.) The big list however is of course this: music widow, shadow partner to famous guitar player, wife whose husband bore children with other women during their marriage – and whose husband somehow thought that it was ok. There’s a tiny personal link too…

Years ago, shortly after Fareed and I met and had become so deeply smitten with each other, he was asked to play on Sting’s album, Nothing Like The Sun. I had been on the road with a Chicago-based R&B band and our tour ended in Montreal. Since Fareed had relatives from the Pakistani side of his family living in town, he met me there and we went to pay them a visit. Next we drove south a couple of hours to see my folks in Saratoga Springs, New York. It was a casual phone call into Pangaea to say hello made from my parents’ kitchen phone that opened the door to the session (this was a pre-cell phone world). The secretary told him to hold on, and the next voice he heard was Sting’s (Pangea was his record label to which young Fareed had just been signed). Sting asked Fareed if he might pop by the studio and add a couple tracks since he was in New York. Sting had no idea we were a good four hour drive away – but of course that didn’t matter much to us, and we immediately hopped in the car and headed down to the city.

The track was They Dance Alone; a mournful tribute to the Chilean women made widows by the Pinochet regime and the dance they make in honor of their deceased husbands. As Fareed himself is the son of a Chilean mother, it seemed all the more appropriate. While he played, I sat on the couch eating strawberries with Sting as he nursed a bad cold. Anecdotally, I remember that we were asked to join him and his producer for dinner afterward, but I missed Fareed so much plus I really didn’t have the energy to hang with people I didn’t know well and come up with the requisite small talk – no matter how glamorous they were – so I asked Fareed to pass. So how does this all substantiate that distant connection to Pattie I mentioned? It was that Eric Clapton had also played on the same track (we got to hear his tracks soloed up too). In the end his stuff didn’t end up making it on the final mix – but Fareed’s did. Kinda fun. So. Not a close call by any means, but definitely within the six degrees of separation thing.

What struck me most about Pattie was how incredibly insecure she was. At first I couldn’t believe the things she knew about – and put up with, yet she behaved as if nothing was going on. How could she? I thought. And then at once – a memory hit me. And I realized that I was no different. In roughly our third year together, Fareed was being pestered by a woman who’d once known him on the road. Nothing new there. But then he said the strangest thing – so out of the blue: “She says she’s pregnant with my baby.” I remember now a snapshot of that moment; the end of day light, standing near Sheridan and Broadway in Chicago, a large stone church just to the north of us… I can still see in my mind’s eye the look on his face. That first glimpse into the emotion-less facade he would wear so much of the time later on in our relationship. There was a lot going on behind those vacant eyes, and I was privy to very little of it. I was stunned more than anything, because he seemed to infer that this was not a vague, warrant-less threat from some crazy fan. Something had happened. Our relationship was still fairly new, and to even consider something like this was absolutely unthinkable to me. So I too behaved as if nothing had changed. And yet, somewhere deep down, I must have known things were going on…

I learned that Pattie knew about – but somehow still ignored – lovers of both George and Eric. But it was more than that. Eric, a substance abuser and most certainly deeply troubled guy, was just plain cruel to Pattie. But she stuck around. She took it. Unlike Pattie, I certainly never knew about anything – at least nothing was obvious. And certainly Fareed was never anything but a gentleman to me. But I did feel a tiny hint of doubt. I just didn’t want to acknowledge it, because if I did, I stood to lose my partner. I wasn’t brave enough to go there. And I guess Pattie had to face it because it was shoved in her face. (Hell, I suppose it was shoved in my face too, eventually.) Even after hours spent googling over the past four years in search someone having told a story similar to mine, I still hadn’t found anything close to what I myself experienced – until I read Pattie’s story. When I got to the part where Eric tells her his news, my whole body went cold. My God. Here it is. I know that moment. I remember that out-of-body feeling, that strange, shifting reality that invades your body like a drug all in an instant… Finally, here was someone putting a voice to this experience – besides me. Finally.

“He’d met a girl called Lori when he was in Italy. They had slept together a couple of times. He still loved me but he thought he was in love her too…One day I was in the kitchen putting flowers into a vase when he came in and told me that he had had a phone call from Lori. She was pregnant. I felt panic, fear, uncertainty, terror of what might happen next. What would I do? How would I cope? ‘Can’t she get rid of it?’ I asked. I felt sick. I couldn’t breathe properly and my heart was pounding so hard I couldn’t think…” Man, do I know that place. I know it so well. But, this is only the first phase of a long and bizarre process, which inevitably ends in the birth of this new person – an event which is the most exceptionally queer and dreamlike mix of things one could ever experience in a lifetime. It’s acutely painful, it’s surreal… and of course, there’s a low level guilt present, because, after all, this tiny child had nothing to do with all the surrounding drama. And you do, in some way, wish for your not-yet ex’s happiness, and the new mother, and the babe… It’s a grueling, strange process for the wife. But oh thank God, I’m not alone. I finally read the experience from another woman’s lips…

“One evening we were sitting on the garden wall when the phone rang. It was Eric, wanting me to know that he was the proud father of a son, Conor. He was so excited. He had watched the baby being born, and went on and on about how moving, how marvelous, how miraculous it had been. His enthusiasm was unbridled. I might have been his sister or a friend, not his jilted wife. He had no thought that this might be news I didn’t want to hear.”

If you’ll read my post “Birth and Baptism“, you’ll hear me describe a nearly identical scene. Reading her account has helped me feel so much less alone. And in some ways, her experience was harder still because at that very same time she and Eric were undergoing IVF to have a child of their own. ! Pattie however, unlike me, never had the privilege of having her own child. I thank God up, down, right, left and center every day for my beloved son. I am so glad that I was able to know what it is to carry and raise a child. My heart goes out to Pattie, as that was a dream she worked so hard to achieve, yet it never came to be.

But on goes life. And while it may seem I can’t let go of my ‘story’, and I probably continue to write about it these days more than my audience might think is necessary, it shows me that my process isn’t over yet. But I am so very much better these days. I’m doing better than I was this time last year. And I suppose I’ll get better still with more time. My story will evolve, my heart will heal. Pattie’s story marches forward too… She has had so many adventures and such a rich life beyond that tiny tragedy that it gives me hope. I know that more adventures lie ahead for me too. For now, they’re more about fourth grade plays and egg collecting than travel or new careers, but I’m so very grateful for what I have.

And I’m grateful for my new sister, too.