September 30, 2014
i was shopping in one of those card and paper stores a few days ago, the kind of place i usually love (though i loved them a lot more when i had my own store and shopped in them as ‘research’). there was a table full of blank journals, most of them that trendy kind with a meaningful or inspiring quote on the front cover. my cynical side would say these were trendy 15 years ago, and even then i wondered when people would get tired of them, or the good quotes would run out, and that would be the end of it. apparently neither has happened, because i still see them everywhere. the one on the table that stood out had a henry david thoreau quote that read “live the life you imagine”.
for a moment, i thought “that’s what you need to be doing. visualize what you really want, and…” then a much louder voice in my head screamed “you lived the life you imagined…that’s what the problem is. duh”.
i must admit, i’d never quite looked at it exactly this way. i mean, the facts are there: i owned my own business, which swung between moderately and highly successful (until it stopped swinging entirely) and a lot of people thought it was fabulous (so did i, in my rare objective moments). i made a decent amount of money (nothing outrageous, but enough that i felt comfortable and got to do some fun stuff). i went to new york 5 or 6 times a year (whether i needed it or not). i got to buy and wear stylish clothes (at least, i hoped they were) and expensive shoes (which i don’t recommend doing if it turns out things are going to go to hell and you have to stop doing so). i owned 2 homes, each wonderful in a different way (this sounds WAY more glamorous than it was, but still, it was pretty great). it was exactly the sort of life i had envisioned for myself – pursuing and enjoying my passions. then, it all came apart and fell to pieces, and there was nothing i could do about it.
and i’ve been crushed by it and scrambling for something ever since – an embarrassingly long time, if you look at the calendar. but as that calendar marches on, it becomes more and more clear exactly how devastating, and frustrating, and life-altering, it was – and why it has taken so long to recover from the collapse. the rest of the facts are: the economy had gone south, i struggled and looked and searched and tried (and yes, imagined) the next place i could be that would make me happy. there were a lot of disappointing false starts, smashed hopes, bad fits, and i’m left wondering why the right thing still hasn’t appeared. maybe because the ghost of what was, and how good it was, is still floating around, and i never realized how badly it has been getting in the way. and how exhausting it is trying to keep up with my former self.
i walked out of the card store and down the block. the words on the cover of the journal were blazing in my brain like a bad neon sign. yes, i lived the life i imagined. yes, it was amazing and wonderful, but nope, none of it is going to come back. so does that mean it’s hopeless? the rest of my life is destined to be a complete dud? there’s no reason why something just as wonderful can’t come along to equal, or even top what i used to have. and whatever happens next will likely be something totally different than i can possibly imagine (regardless of what the journal tells me to do), so what’s the point in imagining? that’s when i realized the best thing to do right now is let the journal stay blank. don’t fill it with memories, don’t fill it with hope for the future. just let it sit empty, and open, and waiting, without all the baggage weighing it down. all those years of visualizing the future and lamenting the past ended up giving me headaches, anyway.
after pondering all this for a few days, i remembered a line from one of my favorite songwriters, neil finn.
“all i ask, is to live each moment…free from the last”
now that’s a quote that needs to be on a blank journal.
December 1, 2010
the world seems so much brighter now that i’ve found frank o’hara
how could i not know about him? especially after all those poetry classes in college
i am amazed at his simplicity and his complexity both at the same time
and find myself baffled or touched or overwhelmed by what he says
and the way he says it
and however i feel about it i’m usually weeping by the time i get to the end
then i get up to poke at the fire i built tonight
i think just to prove to myself that i could do it
i used the kindling you cut from the cedar bushes in front of the house
in the bottom of the woodbox was the thick white string you had wrapped and tied
around the branch that split, trying to graft it.
at the time you said
“we just need to remember in a year to pull this off”
but a year never came and the graft didn’t work anyway
and i resist the urge to use that as an analogy
i left the string in the box
and watched the kindling go up in smoke
and again i resist the urge to use that as an analogy.
October 18, 2010
i was a lucky kid. i had parents i really liked, and save for a few instances when i was a typical crappy teenager, we got along well and i enjoyed being around them. better yet, they had a hilarious and great group of friends they spent a lot of time with. when they all got together i loved hanging around listening to them telling stories and jokes and laughing and drinking. it was incredibly entertaining, and they were warm, wonderful people who didn’t seem to mind a gawky teenager looking on.
jean was one of my moms many ‘best friends’. she was a real steel magnolia, before that term was invented. she and her husband hailed from some remote part of texas – i’m not sure how they ended up part of the circle – maybe because they were sweet and thoughtful and bigger than life. jean had a variety of bouffant hairstyles, never out of place, hairsprayed into architectural wonders. she was always impeccably dressed and her makeup was heavy and precise and no one, not even her closest girlfriends, ever saw her without. i remember one summer when our families went on a group camping trip (which even then, imagining jean in a campground, was unthinkable). my mother speculated for weeks on the possibility we would finally see jean without makeup. the first morning she crawled out of their tent fully made up and dressed to the teeth. no one was sure how she accomplished it, but clearly nothing was going to stand in the way of her sartorial goals. that was the trip we stopped at a favorite public swimming pool and ‘the guys’ decided to grab jean and throw her in the water. it was the only time i saw her lose her cool – she fought like a wild animal, and of course they never intended to actually throw her in – she would have crawled out of that pool and killed them all, and they knew it.
as time passes, i realize more and more just how much i learned about friendship from this group of people. they knew how to have fun, to support each other without question, and they stuck together through thick and thin with incredible loyalty. when everyone got older and people started getting sick or dying, you could count on jean being one of the first at the door to help, or cook, or offer a shoulder. after my mother died, she and her husband were one of my fathers strongest support systems. when he got ill, they literally carried him into the hospital. they were among a very select group at the cemetary when we buried my dad, and at the dinner after i will always remember jean, standing with one hand on her cocked hip, talking to me about his girlfriend-after-my-mom in ways i can only politely describe as ‘ripping her to shreds’. she was dead on, of course, and through all the scathingly blunt commentary, i could see how much she loved my father and how scary strong her protective instinct had been. i also saw how long she had held her opinion inside so not to hurt him. a few years later i sang at jeans granddaughters wedding. this was the sort of thing i could ordinarily do in my sleep. what i hadn’t planned on was looking at the first few rows of the congregation and seeing what was left of my parents gang of friends, staring up at me. i felt supported and admired, but mostly i felt a huge emptiness for who was missing. afterwards, i walked up to jean. she grabbed me and kissed me and her first words were “your momma and daddy loved you so much”. it was beautiful and touching and i was blindsided by her unexpected tenderness. all of my mothers friends had made it their duty to mother me in their own ways, and her way was to be sure i knew my parents were there that day, too.
when i got the news last week that jean had died, i wasn’t that surprised. she was well into her 80’s and had been seriously ill for almost a year. yet as the day wore on, i began to realize how many of my most precious childhood memories have her floating around in them. the weekly ritual of the bowling league, the county fair where the gang ran the concession booth. for several years she worked with my mother in a small office, and i can see them there, the air heavy with their perfume and cigarette smoke. the barbeques in the backyard with jeans amazing southern food. how she had a formal family portrait taken every year so their faces were always smiling down from our bookshelf. how losing her is one more empty chair, one more touchstone to an era now past. how losing her is losing one more direct tie to my parents. the stories i have – i could go on and on and on. and i have to smile, and sometimes laugh out loud when i think back on those times. i was a lucky kid.
September 17, 2010
i guess transgender is a fairly new word. the dictionary indicates it was coined sometime in the early 90’s. when i was a kid you referred to a transgendered person as a ‘transvestite’ (which i think has a wierd, evil sound, sort of vampiric – not to mention it is an incorrect use of the word) or as someone ‘wanting a sex change’. i think it was my mother who mentioned christine jorgenson, the first really famous transgendered person. are you still considered transgendered if you have the full surgery and change sexes entirely? at that point, aren’t you just…a woman? i don’t really know, but i was fascinated by christine jorgenson and the whole situation. not fascinated because i felt like i was in the same boat, but because i couldn’t comprehend feeling that way at all – i still can’t. i’m sure i was also fascinated because it involved the word sex, though i now know it has less to do with having sex than with sexual identity. what can i say, i was in 7th grade.
i was thinking of this after my trip to new york a few weeks ago. a friend and i spent a rainy sunday morning inside the 26th street flea market. we were in a booth looking at some very cool vintage clothes when i peered over the top of the rack and saw her. actually, not quite her, but…a person. maybe 6 feet tall, skinny as a rail, age somewhat indeterminate but probably early 60’s. bald on top of the head but the sides had been grown into a long, greying ponytail that trailed down the back – an attempt at femininity, but as ineffective as a combover. a skin-tight pink tank top, extremely tight nylon shorts with a zany, neon-bright print, and white high-top leather adidas tennis shoes. very large and loud floral clip earrings and those bright red heart-shaped sunglasses that were so popular in the 80’s – though the dark lenses had been replaced with clear glass. the overall effect was like some kind of refugee from a jane fonda workout class, circa 1983.
i was shocked – not because of the outfit, but because of the bizarre fact i had seen this person not once, but twice when i was in the city last april. i looked across the platform in the 57th street train station to see someone in hot pink spandex tights, electric yellow windbreaker and a neon tank top sporting a print i can only call psychedelic lightning. a couple of days later i spied him walking past union square in an equally vivid outfit. at that time i figured he was an eccentric older man, maybe a theatre person, definitely a real character. its not unusual to see these types in manhattan. however, during our up close encounter at the flea market, i could see the intent was definitely “female”. what i loved most – aside from the fact not one single person in the crowd seemed to notice – was that all the outfits had been clearly thought out and planned. completely over-the-top in a neon-drenched 80’s aerobics class way – clinging to the body of a very, very skinny but clearly fit man with a bald head and long ponytail.
what confuses me is this: if you feel like a woman trapped desperately in the body of a man, don’t you try harder to look like a woman? i mean, these outfits were clearly planned and nowhere near anything you’d call subtle. so does that mean it’s all about deciding what clothes satisfy your need to feel womanly and it doesn’t matter how it appears to the rest of the world? is going the full glamour route just too much work? is there no way you’re going to succeed at looking feminine, so don’t bother trying? i was dying to strike up a conversation to try to get more information right from the source, but lets face it, you don’t walk up to a total stranger and start asking those kind of questions. well, you can, it’s just a really, really bad idea. i do know that when i am going somewhere, i almost always plan every detail of what i’m going to wear – at some point i realized i’ve done this pretty much my whole life – and when i do, i always feel more together, a little more upbeat, and hopefully a tiny bit stylish. but who knows? maybe to the rest of the world i look like a plain ole regular guy who got dressed in the dark. the point is, i pick out clothes that i feel good in, and if other people notice me, i hope they’ll appreciate it on some level. i guess mr/ms neon is no different – choosing an outfit that makes him/her feel the way he/she wants to feel, and if everyone else gets it, well…great. if not…so what.
when i left the flea market, i kept thinking how i sometimes stand at the mirror and debate over the tiniest details: should i unbutton my shirt an extra button or is that too much? do my shoes make my feet look ridiculously big? should i roll my sleeves up an extra couple inches or will that make my arms look out of proportion? meanwhile, halfway across the country, ms. neon has pulled on the hot pink spandex, the electric yellow windbreaker, tied back her pony tail and bounced down 14th street without a care in the world. maybe i should have been brave and asked her all those questions. i might have learned something.
August 30, 2010
i grew up surrounded by my relatives on a big family ranch south of denver. we were situated between 2 towns, small and smaller. one was the home of my elementary school, the general store where we loved to buy candy, and a very cool art deco truckstop where we occasionally had dinner. the larger town was more cosmopolitan (never has the meaning of that word been stretched further), with 2 drugstores, a couple of grocery stores, gas stations, a liquor store owned and operated – apparently without irony – by my drivers ed teacher. there were several restaurants, the high school, and the county courthouse, populated largely with officials i was related to. my parents had grown up friends with most of the business owners. i’m not sure what year it appeared, but by the time i was in junior high there was a single stoplight, and it may have been 15 years before there was a 2nd. in many ways it was the quintessential small town, and the usual things happened there: the county fair, school plays and pageants, bowling tournaments, church events. there was the time our neighbor brutally murdered his wife, the time my grade school friend derailed a train, the time a teenage girl threw a firebomb into the courthouse and burned it to the ground. you know, typical small town stuff. kind of.
i moved away for college and then settled back in denver. in the mid-90’s i watched my hometown start growing at an alarming rate. the new town fathers loved the increased tax revenue, and it seemed to become a sprawling, unplanned suburb before anyone realized what was happening. the small-town vibe wavered and was quickly disappearing until the 2000’s, when downtown and main street were made over as ‘charming, quaint and historic’. ironic that people destroyed the original and then attempted to recreate it as a marketing tool.
after my parents died and i inherited the house where i grew up, i began spending more time around my old town. i was annoyed by the growth, the traffic, the ugly mish-mash of cheap townhomes and developments, but have to admit it was nice to have some of the modern conveniences close to home. i was no longer stuck if i forgot something in denver – everything i needed was 10 minutes away. still, i missed the simplicity, the quiet streets, knowing almost everyone you saw. i even missed the days when we would have given anything to have a mcdonalds – there are two now. modern conveniences, yes. bland, cookie-cutter big box stores that make it seem like anywhere, u.s.a., not so much. sadly it seems one does not exist without the other.
then, a series of circumstances and i found myself moving back, permanently. i’m in denver almost daily, but unexpectedly find myself taking more and more advantage of things close by. yet i sometimes feel melancholy for the way it once was. then a surprising event – or rather, a series of events – happened shortly after i moved. i went to the courthouse to change my drivers license and car registration – the entire process took less than 20 minutes. in denver it would have taken longer to find a parking spot. i went to the bank and realized i was in line next to my junior high biology teacher (who also happens to be my cousin). one evening, driving through the supermarket parking lot, i came around a row of cars to see the lane blocked by 2 guys in their late teens, in full cowboy regalia, spinning their lasso’s in the air trying to rope a small sawhorse dolled up to look like a calf. i’d seen this sort of thing many times as a kid, on the ranches of friends. most of the ranches are gone now, so here they were, obliviously blocking an entire traffic line to practice their skills. oddly enough, no one seemed to mind. we just slowed down, carefully drove around the scene, and waved at the cowpokes as they waited for a break in traffic so they could spin their lassos again. in that moment i could feel the spirit that was there when i grew up, the comforting innocence and slow simplicity that i remember, and i realized: the little town hasn’t really come so far after all.
July 4, 2010
a friend invited me to lunch today – she’s a great hostess and cook, so the food was wonderful and the table settings perfect. another friend joined us, and we had lively conversation that bounced randomly from subject to subject, like it always does with the three of us. as things were winding down and it was time to leave, i thought about the errands i had to run. and then i thought “oh, on my way out of the neighborhood, i can stop on 29th street and get an iced tea!”. this realization filled me with an unnatural joy. after i left nans, walking proudly out of the cafe with my iced-tea-to-go, it occurred to me: i pretty much base every journey in my entire life, no matter how small, around when and where i will get an iced tea to accompany me.
a few years ago, my father was seriously ill. he was in and out of the hospital many times over a period of months, and i frequently picked him up and drove him home when he was discharged. the 4th or 5th time i did this, i pulled up at the hospital, flung open the door, and as the nurses helped him into the car, i reached over to get my to-go cup off the passenger seat. as we pulled away, my father said to me “can you even drive a car without an iced tea between your legs?” i laughed, and wasn’t sure how to respond. this is one of my favorite memories of my dad: sarcastic, funny, slyly observant. and as time has passed, i realize the answer: no.
i’m far too stubborn to admit this happens simply because i have a caffeine addiction. i prefer to think of it as a comforting ritual that i have practiced most of my life. as a teenager, in the summer, when my cousins and i got together, the first thing that happened: we poured glasses of iced tea. so, i have a distinct and early link between iced tea and some of the most sublimely happy times in my life. the minute i got back to my apartment after college classes? iced tea. when i moved into my first apartment? finding the right iced tea container for the refrigerator. maybe the presence of iced tea is all about reassurance. all i know is, when i’m going somewhere, before i leave the house i am plotting when and where i will stop for iced tea. i have tried keeping to-go cups at home and filling them with tea before i head out. i sheepishly admit i often fill the glass half-full, so that i can stop to get more during my journey. true, i am a model consumer, and often the act of stopping to buy something, even as minor as an iced tea, is satisfying. not that buying an iced tea is ever ‘minor’.
so, yes. addiction, ritual, habit – all of those things. when friends complain to me about trying to break their caffeine addiction and how tough it is, i think “why bother?”. i mean, unless there is some dire medical reason, is it that big a deal? its not like drinking coffee (okay…or iced tea) is going to send me down a path of rampant self-destruction and disaster. in fact, the more i think of it, it’s just the opposite. yes, there is the whole “my head is going to cave in and i will kill someone if i don’t get some iced tea NOW” thing, but there is also the fun, challenging, lovely and economy-stimulating act of seeking out and purchasing a delicious, fresh iced tea. i simply refuse to argue with habit, nostalgia and ritual. i just refuse.
March 18, 2010
everything happens for a reason. when one door closes, another opens. someday this will all make sense. everything must change. this is meant to be or it wouldn’t have happened this way. acceptance is the key. everything happens for a reason. i know its hard to let go, but this is the start of something wonderful and new. everything must change.
i am a creature of habit, of ritual, of holding on to things. rationally i know this behavior is silly and mostly leads to frustration because, yes, everything must change. yet i’m starting to realize i can’t be the only person in the world who behaves this way – there are far too many catchphrases and philosophies and self-help books designed to help one cope with change for me to think i’m alone in the wilderness, holding tightly to a tree while the rest of humanity goes happily flying by on the shifting winds of fate. and every time i think i’m better at it, the world throws me a big fat reminder that i haven’t even begun to learn how to accept the unexpected. a friend of mine said “i believe in going through all changes in life kicking and screaming, at least on the inside”. ah, so i’m not alone.
last night, the night before i sold my apartment, there was a car crash on the corner outside my building. i was in my garage when i heard a series of strange and hollow thuds. i came out of the alley and saw a minivan facing the wrong direction in the one-way street. both the side and the front of the van were crumpled. there was a smaller car nose-to-nose with the van, its front end completely destroyed. people had stopped haphazardly in the middle of the street and were running towards the two cars. the horn of one was stuck, blaring loudly, like some dramatic scene in a movie. it seemed there were plenty of people to help, so i drove through quickly and got out of the way. for several minutes i couldn’t erase the sound of the horn from my mind. and i heard sirens in the distance, rushing to the scene.
when i came home much later, there were shards of shattered glass in the street. i climbed the stairs to my apartment and got ready for bed. then i found myself thinking: this is the last night i will sleep in my own apartment. tomorrow it won’t be mine anymore. i walked to the window to look at the street scene i’ve stared at every night for nearly eight years, and there was only pitch black. i blinked, wondering what was wrong. then i realized that when the cars ran into each other, the impact threw them onto the sidewalk, knocking over the streetlight that illuminates the edge of my yard and the tall trees and gazebo on the opposite corner.
one car was moving too slow, holding on. the other was going too fast and unable to stop. i looked out the window at the darkness, and felt my stubborn need to hang on, to resist – and i felt the part of me that understands change and forward motion – and it all came together, like the cars colliding. the impact knocked over the light on my familiar street scene, and something said: lights out, the show is over, it’s time to leave.
January 1, 2010
my friend pamela loves japan, and was there again last spring. she bought him for me at the tokyo airport – he cost the equivalent of a dollar. she brought him when she came to denver to visit in october. apparently, in the japanese culture, bringing him to someone is a little treat – sort of a trifle. but pam explained it to me: this odd little papier-mache object, which is painted in a beautiful and very traditional japanese manner, is lacking a pair of eyes. its a fun gift to give because, in spite of the elaborate design, the recipient has to add the essential element – vision. and the receiver adds the vision based on how they want to see life. pamela thought it was important for me to consider this right now – life with eyes wide open? closed? one of each?
for two months i have been trying to decide. the obvious choice is to draw both eyes open wide. yet that seems too obvious, and frankly, a little scary. one eye open, the other closed? too aesthetically lopsided, asymmetrical, unbalanced. so how do i really want to see the world? can i bear to look at it wide-eyed and unflinching? must i? what if i squint just a little, so things are blurred and not entirely clear? or maybe thats what i’ve been doing, and thats what has me in this mess.
all i know is, i need to decide. i need to see, and see clearly – brush aside the fear and pry my eyes open like that nasty scene in clockwork orange. no, maybe not that, but i definitely can’t keep them closed any longer. it’s the eve of a new year, and time for a new outlook. pamela is waiting, like me, like that strange little orb on my bookshelf, to find out just the kind of vision i want for the new decade. it is time.
October 31, 2009
i grew up with a witch. not a regular, every day witch, but the kind that only appears on halloween. on that dark night, my friend shirley transformed from a kind, beautiful and generous woman into an ugly, screaming banshee who scared little children and terrorized her friends. hardly a day goes by that i don’t think of her – and i never let halloween pass without remembering her alter ego.
shirley and her husband were my parents best friends. i don’t remember a time when they weren’t in my life, or when stories of the antics they shared with my mom and dad (usually involving alcohol, gambling and dancing) weren’t tossed about at the dinner table. shirley had grown up a dirt poor nebraska farm girl, born of german immigrant parents who knew nothing but struggle and incredibly hard work. after high school, shirley made a break for it and headed to denver. before long she met and married her husband, an aspiring filmmaker who opened one of the most successful film developing labs in the midwest. they lived a much more sophisticated and moneyed lifestyle than my family, and i was never more thrilled than when we got to spend holidays – or any day – with them and their kids. they were all worldly and brilliant, hysterically funny and interesting.
in the early 70’s, when halloween rolled around, my mother would talk about shirley “going witching”. it took me a while to figure out how serious this was: on halloween, shirley donned a black a-line smock and pulled on a pair of black tights (and stuffed walnuts down her legs to give them an appropriate – and revolting – bumpy surface). she had a fright wig and pointy black hat as well as overdone, sloppy mascara. the piece de resistance: she sprayed herself with clorox so she smelled really, really foul. she set a big black iron pot filled with water and dry ice on the front steps. for the final touch, she raided her daughters closet for a couple of long-forgotten dolls (the large, 3 year old size) and pulled them apart. she dropped the arms and legs into the smoking cauldron, and after 2 or 3 stiff bourbons, sat down on the steps to wait for trick or treaters. needless to say, she terrified every child who approached. she would laugh and scream obscenities and pull child-parts out of the boiling water, waving them in the face of the little princesses and hobos who only wanted a piece of candy. i heard many stories about children who ran screaming and crying from that front porch. shirley had a heart of gold, but she loved scaring the shit out of those kids.
the evening didn’t end there. after a few years of witching, her reputation grew, and the numbers coming to the door dwindled in fear. so when the few brave trick or treaters had come and gone, shirley had a couple more drinks and hopped in her ’65 mustang to cruise her very tony neighborhood. if a friend was having a halloween party, she would burst through the front door, screaming and cursing while throwing her trademark mixture of beans and candy corn (how she decided on this combination i’ll never know). she would roll on the floor, push people around and then run out of the house, cackling. she was “witching”, and i can promise you no one who was there will ever forget it.
its one of my big regrets that i could never convince my mother to take us to their house on halloween so i could see shirley in action. her witching went on for several years, until the time she snuck into a neighbors back yard and headed to the kitchen window, where the husband was standing at the sink. her plan was to leap up and scare the crap out of him. unfortunately, she neglected to notice the window-well directly in front of her, and took a rather serious tumble. i’m not sure her knees were ever the same. after that, her husband always managed to plan a trip to las vegas or new york that coincided with halloween. smart man – he knew the only way to stop the witching was to drag her out of town to one of her favorite places. so, shirleys witching faded into legend, and every halloween after, we heard stories about it.
a couple of years ago, one of my former employees was working in a pediatricians office in denver. a young father walked up to the desk with his paperwork. she looked at his information and noticed his address. “oh, you live in bow mar?” she asked. “yes, i grew up there and now that my parents are gone i’m raising my family in their house”. allison smiled and said “did you know the famous bow mar witch?”. the man looked momentarily stricken and stammered “uhh, do you mean shirley? that woman scared the HELL out of me when i was a kid!”. when i heard this story, i laughed out loud with joy – here was a grown man who had clearly been traumatized, with horrifying memories of his neighborhood at halloween. nothing would have made my favorite witch any happier.
September 27, 2009
i was a sophomore in college when i met ed. he spelled it edd then, with two d’s, a 70’s affectation that even today is the only pretentiously goofy thing i think he ever did. my college years weren’t happy – i’d enrolled at the music school in boulder to pursue my dream of being a singer/songwriter, only to discover they held that genre in complete disdain. i’d started my 2nd year with the hope things would be different – but my classmates still looked down their noses at me and i felt more out of place than ever.
it was a gorgeous fall morning and i was walking to campus when a smiling, handsome guy made a beeline across the street to me and said hello. he was so friendly, so comfortable and easy-going that i immediately opened up in a way i did not back then. he was a graphic designer who had taken a year off from his high-pressure job and moved to boulder to hang out, audit classes and experience colorado. he had a huge lust for life, he was brilliant and well-read, and seemed to have lived several lifetimes in his 27 years. i started spending as much time with him as possible, and over the next few months, i learned invaluable lessons from him about opening your mind to the arts, to the world, to living. he was exotic and wordly and never stopped searching. he was the first independent adult i ever met whose life looked like the one i imagined for myself.
one evening, ed and i drove to denver to see kenny rankin, a musician who was a big influence on me. opening the show was a local singer/writer named mindy sterling – we were captivated by her beautiful voice and heartfelt songs, and i wanted nothing more than to meet her and work on music together. ed wanted to meet her as badly as i did, and i have no doubt they would have become fast friends. he later told me that after the show he went home and tried to find her in the phone book. alas, he could not. i saw mindy perform several times after that, always with the same admiration and desire to get to know her.
a few months later, ed decided to return to the east coast. i was lonely and inconsolable. we stayed in sporadic touch – he was too busy living to write or call much – but i knew he was out there: ed starting his own design business, ed ending his long relationship and beginning a new one, ed buying an apartment and settling in. i was making my way into the boulder music scene, but by this time mindy sterling had moved as well, to california. news came back once in a while: mindy singing backup for donna summer, mindy working on a smashing demo tape, mindy about to be signed to a major recording contract.
by 1986, i had fallen in love. the two of us decided to save every dime and take a year off from our everyday lives to travel the country together. that january, i called ed to tell him. not only did i feel like i was following his template, i was excited to be coming east so that i could see him. he sounded oddly unenthused, and his response, “well, look me up when you get here…” seemed distant and uninterested. i was incredibly let down, and decided i would call him again when plans were more solid. 2 months later, during an ordinary evening at home, the phone rang. it was ed’s ex. in a halting voice, he told me ed had died the night before. i was dumbfounded and stunned and remember crouching on the floor as the room began to spin. i had feared that with his uninhibited lifestyle he was susceptible to this new disease called aids, but when i talked to him, he gave no indication he was ill. except to say, “look me up”. suddenly his lack of commitment made sense – when we talked, he knew his future was uncertain. ed taught me that every situation was an opportunity to learn, to experience, to open your mind and be – but the senselessness of his death left me angry and confused. months later, when i finally got to washington dc, i stood at the lily pond where his friends had scattered his ashes. i could see him crossing the street towards me the day we met, his smile wide and his heart open. i thought of the day he made the first martini i’d ever had, i thought of all the wise things he’d taught me. and i was numb.
fast forward to 1992. i was working with a denver music agency that booked me as a singer for weddings and parties. i got a call asking if i was available for a certain saturday, and the agent added “oh, and you’ll be working with mindy sterling – she’s back in town and doing gigs with us.” i nearly dropped the phone. finally, 15 years later, i was going to meet her. i don’t think i’ve ever been so excited to arrive at such a mundane affair. i told mindy about seeing her perform so many years before – she seemed genuinely touched. better yet, when i opened my mouth to sing, she loved my voice.
in the years since, mindy and i have worked together often, and have become close friends and confidantes. along with her brilliant musicality, she is eerily intuitive and perceptive and has given me wonderful advice many, many times. her life experiences amaze and inspire me, and i often think of ed and wish i could tell him what has happened.
a few weeks ago, mindy invited me to see her husbands band play an outdoor concert at a venue in downtown denver. it was a warm summer evening, with clouds moving in. there was a big crowd and we squeezed our chairs into a prime position in front of the stage. it occurred to me that we were sitting together, close friends laughing and talking, just a block from the club where i had first seen her perform so long ago. she was hungry and had gotten food from the outdoor grill. when she jumped up to run across the patio to greet another friend, she turned and thrust her sandwich towards me. “here! have a bite!!” and i did. in that moment, finishing what was left of her dinner, i could feel someone over my shoulder. i looked up at the swirling clouds. there were drops of rain. “oh my god”, i thought to both of us. “i’m sharing a chicken sandwich with mindy sterling!”. and i know ed was there, and smiling.