Thursday, December 15, 2016

Day Three Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy Six . . . One For Lynda J

She was what they call a "complicated" person.

She was the child they had in order to "fix" the failing marriage.

(Eugenia, Alex Sr., Judy, Alex Jr.)

My grandfather, Alex, having been living up to his "Alley Cat" nickname from what I was told. But it was post war 1940s--1947 to be exact--and on December 15 of that year, Lynda Jean Johnson was born.

They started things out rough by spelling Lynda with a "y". That would lead to a lifetime of correcting people.

She had piercing blue eyes and red hair--surely this would make her stand out in a crowd.

She was raised in a devout Catholic as was my mother and uncle.

I'm sure that she was good in her parochial school--she was always an extremely bright person. But something happened in 1980 when my grandmother died. I believe the priest--the highly regarded Fr Diaferio refused to perform a full mass for her due to some sticky financial details. I never did fully understand what happened but it was enough to turn this feverishly agnostic woman into a devout atheist. 

She studied hard and received excellent grades all throughout school. She was a follower of fashion and surely made her mother and father proud.

She loved her brother, Alex, but he joined the Navy in the 50s and set off on his own adventure. He would eventually move to Newport, RI in the 1970s for some years with my Aunt Norma and cousins, Heather and Dirk. But Lynda said she wished she could have had him closer to home when she was younger, as the father figure in the house wasn't exactly around as much as he could have. 

She was a child of the Sixties--a sprightly nineteen in the summer of 1967.

And she set out for California shortly after college with her best friend, Anne, who I always knew as "Auntie Annie."

I have some diaries from those days. They include some pretty amazing stories of working as a dancer in some of the clubs in the Los Angeles area. Now these aren't the types of dancers you might associate with strip bars today. These were the "dance card" dance clubs where you pay just for company. Though I'm sure there were some unconventional practices if I know my aunt she was pretty much by the book. 

She was living in Montebello, California in 1969 when my mother showed up with my soon-to-be father (it's a long story) and were taken aback by the strips of tin foil hanging from the ceiling creating an environment like walking through a psychedelic diamond. The story goes that my mom and dad were not exactly "with it" enough to appreciate the decor. 

She was still there when my mother drove across country nine months pregnant to stay in the "safe house" with her and her then boyfriend, Manuel--whose name is one fourth of my baptismal name--and have me, out of wedlock, and stay for a few months until I was ready to transport back to Fall River.

Like I said, a very long story.

She traveled in Central America and in Europe in the early 1970s. I believe she had some connection to the Peace Corps. I hope I find some diaries from those days. I'm sure knowing how she was the rebel of the family there would be some stories to preserve.  

She had many sides to her personality. That's putting it nicely, I guess. From what I'm told she had been proposed to on several occasions and said "yes" to many of them only to have things fall apart before too long. That said, she apparently amassed quite a collection of engagement rings.

Life is complicated enough these days. But we have so many ways through many of life's problems such as therapy and inspirational life coaching. I'm sure it must have been a total mess in the 1970s.

She loved her mother and father. But it was her mother, Eugenia, who was the beacon of light in the Johnson family. When she died in November of 1980 from cancer our world was torn to pieces. 

By 1980 Lynda Jean Johnson had been an English teacher for seven years or so. But when my grandmother died something sparked in her and she decided to . . . become a lawyer. 

That's right. She went to Suffolk Law at night after working all day teaching "hellions" (as she called them) at B.M.C. Durfee High School. 

She took the bar in 1983 and passed. 

Here's a congratulatory letter from state representative Tom Norton.

And here is the license plate she proudly drove around with on the back of her beloved Datsun 280Z. Oh, how I loved to get dropped off at middle school in that car. Though she always insisted I kiss her on the cheek before I got out. Kinda ruined my early teen swagger rep. 

So here's the thing . . . it's 1983, she's been a teacher for probably ten years. She just the first few years of the 1980s studying law. She could have quit her job teaching the "hellions" and make some bank and get a fancy mahogany and maroon leather chair.

But she didn't.

She didn't practice law at all.

She just wanted to do it--to prove to herself that she could.

And then she went back to teaching and trying to inspire her kids in the classroom. 

She kept that license plate for many, many years. As you can see the registration is from 1993.

Like I said, a complicated person.

In the mid 1980s I was in a band--a few of them, of course--but the main one, Undercover, was a cover band (get it?) and Lynda J Johnson was our manager. I have business cards somewhere with her name on it. 

See, one of her colleagues was a guy named Marc Dennis. He's a very famous Portuguese singer. And his band, Atlantis, was the top of the pops back in the 80s. She struck up a deal with him: her band of teenagers would come and play between sets at his band's shows. They'd use all the other band's gear and play as long as they wanted to take breaks. 

This was good for everyone involved. We got some experience playing in front of people and his band had extra time for whatever activities middle age musicians fancied in 1987.

I remember the first time I got drunk. After one of our sets I had been given two large plastic cups of Bud Light from one of the Portuguese Feast's beer tent bartender. I drank them both and then it all hit me at once. I remember rolling on top of a parked car's hood and my aunt saying, "Alex, you're drunk! What happened??"

This would not be the last time I heard this said to me. 

In 1988 she began a complicated and lengthy relationship with a former student--twenty years her junior--but only after he had graduated high school, so I was told. They were mentors for each other it seemed. He was able to have the mother he always wanted who encouraged him to further himself and foster his artistic talents. She was able to have a young strapping companion who would accompany her on many trips and be that complex combination of surrogate son and lover. They were happy for a time. But as these things go and as time passed on the relationship soured and became unhealthy. It ended badly and I'm happy not to know many of the gory details. 

But before this would happen, in 1992 her father--my grandfather--died after complications from dementia. It was a long and arduous journey. Even with all his faults she loved her dad and would dote on him, my mother too. And it was heartbreaking to watch him slip away, even though at the time I was beginning my long and storied relationship with drugs and alcohol. 

I was living here in Western Massachusetts and beginning my own new chapter. After two summers of my mother spending time in Poland and me raising holy hell with my friends in Fall River I was given an ultimatum: quit drinking and drugs or move out of the house.

I chose to move out of the house and into off campus housing with my then girlfriend, Amy and we would eventually move two hours west. I would continue my long and slow descent into madness that would take a little over fifteen years to run its course. 

In the meantime my aunt and her best friend, my mom, bought a home in Mattapoisett, Mass and sold 1073 Bedford St in Fall River where I was raised. They sold my grandfather's print shop/home on Beattie St. 

They started their own new chapter in their lives beginning in 1996. 

In a surprise twist my aunt became a contributor to the New Bedford Standard Times as an editorial cartoonist. 

The devout atheist had found a new calling. 

But she was an animal lover as well and had a penchant for persian cats. At one point I think she had five of them, all rescue cats. Though Lynda never had a child she had many babies. Her cats and her sister were her life at home. And the animals in the vast backyard were recipients of this love as well. One of my favorite memories of my aunt is her traipsing out into the snowy yard in her mu mu with a full bucket of dog food for the deer, bears and raccoons (there were two of them and she had named them both). 

They would spend a decade together in that tranquil house in Mattapoisett. I'd come home for holidays and to do some work in the summer. I was a mess for most of those days and years but I loved both of them, even if my aunt and I had a hard time coming to terms on my lifestyle habits. 

When my mother got her terminal diagnosis in late 2005 my aunt was all but destroyed. She was about to lose the last person in her life that wasn't me. Her mother and father were gone. Her brother had died in 1998. Her good friend Anne lived in Virginia and mainly visited during the holidays. I was living two hours away and a complete mess. And now her sister--her best friend--was about to begin her long goodbye. 

The sixteen months that it took for my mom to complete her journey was one of the hardest things I have ever had or ever hope to do. But she was my mother and I have a different understanding of the person she was. But my aunt had known her for close to sixty years. When my aunt was in elementary school my mom would walk her there and then continue on to her school. She was my aunt's guardian. She had always been there for her, supporting her and encouraging her with love and admiration. When my mom passed in January of 2007 her world changed forever.

But in less than a year it would change again.

On December 27, 2008 I would get arrested for DUI and have taken my last drink. 

Those first five months of life in sobriety was some of the most remarkable days ever. And I got to share it with my aunt both in our many phone calls as well as through this blog. Though she retired early in 2006 to take care of my mother, her vocation never ceased. Each blog post I would put up online would be lovingly corrected on her end and then sent back to me for reposting. 

She was so unbelievably proud of her nephew. 

In April of 2008 she began experiencing pain in her abdomen. On May 8th I encouraged and accompanied her to see her doctor in Boston. 

At 3am on May 9th--my 38th birthday--a doctor who we didn't know and I'm sure I'll never see again would come into the hospital room we were both asleep in and deliver her final diagnosis: her cancer had returned and spread and there was nothing they could do to save her.

The final few months of her life were spent going back and forth to Dana Farber in Boston. I drove her most days, especially towards the end. I had a ignition interlock device in my car which was a stipulation of my DUI case. My amazing attorney, David Mintz, managed to get me a deal where I didn't lose my license for two full years as is normal for a 2nd offense. At the time we were just happy this was the outcome and I had already begun my journey into sobriety. But now that Lynda was sick again, and eventually unable to drive herself, made this all the more poignant of an outcome. 

As a diehard liberal and progressive it is a shame she never got to see Obama elected.

She never got to see me buy my first home.

She never got to meet my Jodi and to share the magical feeling of our engagement announcement. 

But all that said she certainly experienced a lot in her sixty years on earth.

In her final months she would often say to me, "It's okay. I've had my turn."

I hope when the time comes for me to leave this earth--if I'm given a chance to ruminate on it at all--that I will be able to summon the strength and humility to let go like this. I pray from time to time that I let regrets fall by the wayside and just take life for what it is: an amazing journey that encompasses a full spectrum of emotion, from the highest peaks of joy to the lowest depths of sadness and everything in the middle. 

I'll always remember hugging her for the last time as I left for a short tour with the Young at Heart Chorus. She had encouraged me to go and do what I love. She said she would be all right. And I knew that her friend Anne would be there to spend a few days together while I was gone.

She took me in her arms and hugged me.

She looked me square in the eyes and said.

"You. Go and just be good. That's all I ask. You do that for me and I'll be happy forever."

Well, I've had quite a run, Auntie. I think you'll be happy to know that on December 27--if all goes as planned--I'll have been good for nine years. 

There is so much more I could about Lynda Jean "Ms" Johnson. But I think that's probably good for now.

So how about I just say Sto lat and Happy Birthday.

I love you so very much.

~Squaka (another very long story)

Lynda J Johnson

As I do every year on her birthday today I will donate to one of her favorite charities, A Helping Paw. They are a no-kill shelter and do many great things with the animals of the South Coast. And she loved her animals almost as much as she loved me. 


c. 2002

Friday, August 26, 2016

Day three thousand one hundred and sixty five . . . Odds, ends and beginnings.

There is so much love in my life.

I guess it's the era I grew up in--the 1970s--that colors my appreciation for it. Or perhaps I should say it accents my appreciation for it. Because I tend to see things in a maudlin or overly dramatic way and oftentimes I misconstrue the daily atmospheric shifts in life's moment-to-moment climate for something deeper and darker--a foreboding that's a flitting hummingbird on the feeder.

I had to grab this moment to sit down and concentrate on sharing my feelings today because . . . well, because if I didn't then I would have probably walked in the bedroom and started cleaning. Or I would have walked outside and started half-heartedly weeding. Or gone downstairs and began to start unpacking the PA gear from last week's show. Or anything but sharing my thoughts on the world I am in right now. A laptop on my lap is a familiar feeling but it's been over three months since I stared at the blank page and tried to fill it with something someone other than myself might care to read.

But this is a period of transition and I must make a mark of it. It helps me categorize the life I'm living and that helps me see where I've come and where I would like to go, regardless of if that's where I'm probably going to go. One can only prepare so much.

Birthdays are a funny thing.

We get given gifts, songs, hugs, kisses and cards for something we were only an accessory to. Really, our mom's should get the attention on these days because they really did the heavy lifting . . . or pushing. Dad's too, but you know. It's different. But, of course, that idea doesn't really work too well in a practical sense because if life goes as probability suggests then we will outlive our parents and there would be a point where birthday commerce would stop and our economy just couldn't handle that. Not now anyway.

But my birthday is the beginning of May and Jodi's birthday is at the end of August (tomorrow, actually) and so this seasonal shift in my world is nicely denoted by those auspicious events.

They are two very distinctly different times of the year.

In May the air is a bit crisper and the flowers are fewer. We have asparagus at every farm stand and still a lingering threat of frost for farmers big and small. The rivers are high from the snow melt but the humidity is still low. Shorts are still worn as bait for June's sun and heat and flip flops are really more or less taken out to see if one needs to buy a new pair this year. Our modern day version of a fossil may someday be shown in museums as foot imprints on seven year old Teva sandals.

Occurring at the end of August, Jodi's birthday is full of all the colors of the garden--reds, yellows, blues, greens, purples and every shade in between. Furious dashes to the edges of the continent for one last trip with the family before school starts. Droughts and mandatory water bans are a norm but you can still find patches of green grass to lay down a blanket and have a leisurely picnic as the late day sun shines bright. Pumpkins are waiting to shock us out of our summer reverie and fall fair organizers are submitting their full page ads in all the local papers. Summer concert series are winding down but there is still music in the air if you know where to listen. It's the end of the season but the heat and sun will still be on our side for weeks to come if we're lucky.

They are both beautiful times of the year for very different reasons and for very different people. I don't go into the whole astrological thing as much as some but I see where it makes sense. I'm a spring asparagus baby and she's a summertime flower child. For true.

We didn't have much of a summer last year due to our search for a new home. 75% of our possessions were holed up in storage so we could show the house when needed. Each day was a furious fumble on any one of the homebuyer apps on our phones.

"Did you see this one? It's walking distance to town!"

"Oh, yeah, it's next to a school . . . ugh!" or "too much house for us" are just two examples of the many texts regarding things we found not right with the slim selection of homes last summer.

But we found the place that fits us and that fits in with our world. It makes us happy every day and I have a hard time realizing that we've only been here less than a year. The people who bought our home seem happy and I'm sure they are making some wonderful memories.

This summer we have enjoyed ourselves as much as possible. Jodi's work is demanding on her both physically and mentally but they treat her well and for now she doesn't really complain much. But with her time off we've gone on a few trips and even begun taking bike rides again. We've enjoyed dining on the porch and growing a small garden (made even smaller by the voracious appetites of the local wildlife).

Wedding planning has begun in earnest and we have a JP, a date, venue and caterer. Still plenty of stuff to do but at least there is a framework. Love conquers all, even if the non-refundable deposit may seem to point elsewhere.

I still very much enjoy making music both with my band and with the Young at Heart Chorus. I spend more money than I make, but such is the way of most artists. Thankfully my open mic night that I host every week has helped a bit since I began it in March.

But it's the transitions that always trip me up.

When Jodi and I travelled a bit more on trains than planes she told me once, "You do great once we get onboard. But the whole 'on and off' thing is kind of tough for you. You don't do so well in transitions."

And she was and is right. I know I'm not special in this regard, but the little things like taking in the stuff I've brought home in my car and keeping the mail under my arm while my guitar is slung over my back and jiggling the keys just right so the house key lands in my palm. Or taking change back from a cashier while getting my bag card stamped and making sure the next person in line has room to put their stuff on the conveyor belt. Getting it all to flow in an elegant manner has always been a struggle for me. My mindfulness meditation has helped but it only works when I remember to use it.

I think the movies of the 1980s with their endless montages of daily life moving perfectly (to a danceable soundtrack) in a forward direction has tainted my non-movie life irreparably. Damn you, John Hughes.

I'm sure this is one of the big reasons I used to drink, smoke and all the rest. It made me less aware of transitions. It took the nervousness away and allowed me to just flow for a while like a river with no dam. Just moving in one direction until I reached an obstacle I couldn't get over or around. And at that point I was always too far gone to notice there was a problem. They were keys I never had to fumble with. They were bags that never fell off of my back seat emptying their contents on the floor of my car. They were handfuls of change that always somehow ended up in the right quantities in my pockets.

And they were just around the corner anywhere I went.

And none of that has changed. They're still there, and at any point I have the ability to turn to them again and put them to work.

But I can't and I won't.

Because the great thing about transitions is that by definition they are fluid and ever-changing. You see there is one side, there is the middle, and there is the other side. If one constantly focuses on the one side and the middle (where it may seem awkward) then one forgets that the natural progression of time and life is to end up on the other side. And I'm not saying that the other side of every transition is going to be positive or comforting. But it stands to reason that if one makes it through unscathed once that in time there will be another one. And another one. And an endless waterfall of transitions through life--many which happen without our even noticing--and the mere accomplishment of opening one's eyes every day signals that a new opportunity has arisen.

All that said I've been having a tough time of it lately, I have to admit. And I only say this because I've always been honest in these pages . . . about everything. No, it's not about sobriety. I'm still 3,165 days since my last drink and almost as many since complete abstinence. It's more about getting older and watching the world come up behind you in your rear view mirror. It can be daunting if one can't acquire some perspective on it all. And without children in our lives it's easy to just kind of float somewhere in the middle of it all--not 25 anymore but not almost 50 either, right? Well, not really.

But this year marks ten years since the last fall and winter with my mother. Strange, because when I think about those times when I was 36 instead of 46 I feel like I was older then. And for all intents and purposes I was. 50 pounds overweight and with a head full of pills, vodka, weed and cocaine I could have been 75 years old and on my last days. And I can almost feel like that again if I try hard. But it makes me so sad to think that's how I chose to handle things at the time. Jodi tries to console me by reminding me that I was sick and it was out of my control. I don't buy it 100%. I had my days and weeks of sobriety when things were okay in the other aspects of my life. But when the shit hit the fan it was all out the window. I think part of me was trying to leave on the same plane as my mom, as it were.

Knowing what I know now--that my aunt would be gone less than two years after my mom, leaving the house, its belongings and everything that went with it to me and me alone--it's safe to say that there was no other way.

Knowing that the same month that my aunt passed--September of 2008--I would make first contact with the woman who will soon be my wife is enough to make me almost pass out from joy of life and living.

Knowing that the time between then and now has been filled with creating a body of work (both in words and music) that is dedicated in part to the memory of the people who raised and nurtured me is a comfort I never could visualize.

Knowing that the years came and went before I was born and will continue long after I am gone is an understanding that ebbs and flows in my soul. For I often lose track of where I am in life. Really, the best course of action from where I stand is to just try and forget about the past and the future. It's what I try to achieve with my mindfulness and sometimes glimpse. Hopefully as I get older this state of mind will become easier and last longer. But I am a sucker for nostalgia and so I don't hold out the most hope in that regard.

So today I will prepare for Jodi's birthday.

I can't tell you too much about it because that would spoil the surprise. We're keeping things simple this year and she's made me promise not to go crazy with gifts. So I've found a few things I think she will like. We've found something to do that will be fun but not extravagant. I've got a bit too much of my mom in me and it's hard to not try and make a fuss. But I'm learning every day how to be a more true person.

I'm learning every day how to challenge myself to not expect too much.

I'm learning every day that true love does not need to always be on the table--that it's often in the legs of the chairs we sit on, or in the way we hand over a read section of the morning paper.

I'm learning every day that success can be squeezed out of every day like the last dab from a toothpaste tube as we get ready for bed knowing that we can pull the covers up to our necks and welcome dreams onboard.

I'm learning every day that transitions can be stubborn foes or they can be moments of acceptance that perhaps we have tried to take on too much. Perhaps it's us inside knowing that we have too much in our pockets to begin with.

I'm learning and I'm living and I'm trying to make a difference in my world.

But even if that difference is only something I could ever witness and it dies with me tomorrow I need to be okay with that.

But tomorrow will be a joyous day as we welcome another year into our world--a year that begins with August 27th.

A transition.

A window of life.

Happy Birthday and Sto lat to my sweet, sweet Jodi.

I love you with all I have or ever hope to hold in my soul.

Happiness always,


Friday, May 13, 2016

Day three thousand and sixty . . . Sto lat.

What's in a number?

Seventy five.

Seems pretty innocuous.

Well, it's so hard for me to think of how my mother would be turning seventy five tomorrow if she were still here.

I think of my family--my mom, aunt, grandmother--the people who raised me. None of them made it out of their sixties. My grandfather made it out but I tend to think of him as being a whole different set of genetics and predispositions. He was 86 when he passed. That's pretty impressive. But on my Grandmother's side it was 60, 65 and 68. My uncle was also in his 60s when he died--all of them from cancer except my grandfather. Though ultimately dementia got the better of him and it was a heartbreaking experience to witness.

But my mom. She never seemed old even when she was in her 60s (and I know that's not technically "old" but still). So it's so hard to picture her as three quarters of a century old. But her birthday is every May 14th and this one is the 75th since 1941 so I guess that's where we are.

I have been pretty lax in keeping up with this blog. And while I kind of made a promise to myself not to apologize for it it still feels weird. There has just been so much else going on in my world that's it's not easy to take the time in the day and sit down and focus on this portion of my life--my sobriety and my life's story. And I don't want it to be a thing where I only post on important days in my life. But something called me to this page today. And when I checked back to see how many days it's been since I had a drink I guess I seem to have missed a pretty momentous milestone.


It has been three thousand and sixty days since I had a drink of alcohol (and almost as many since total drug abstinence).

That's another number that's hard for me to fathom.

Because this guy right here? This guy talking to you? This is a guy who once told his mom and aunt that he was never ever going to quit drinking because it was "who I was" and nobody was going to change that.

Well, I guess there was a back door to that clause and that was there was nobody going to change it except for the guy who said nobody was going to change it. Because that totally happened.

It happened over three thousand days ago and my life has never been the same.

I remember waiting outside the liquor store at 8:50am with a bag full of change that I would turn into a plastic quart of vodka.

I remember coming to from the smoke wafting off of my futon mattress that was burnt from the still lit cigarette dangling from my unconscious hand.

I remember (vaguely) telling the Northampton police officers that I couldn't continue with the field sobriety test and that they better just take me in.

And from that day on I remember every day just a little bit clearer. I remember how my body felt as the poisons from the years of abuse slowly left me. I remember how my gait became a bit freer and easier and how sentences and communication developed a quickness and clarity that was new to me.

And I also remember how memories came flooding back from the years before things got bad. And from time to time I'll catch a glimpse of a conversation I had with my dying mother--important things as well as the offhanded joke or goofball comment. But so much of what we shared I will never recall because I thought the only way to deal with her leaving me was to be gone myself.

But over three thousand days have come and gone since that last gulp of Smirnoff. Over three thousand suns have set since I decided I'd "go out with a bang" as I told my best friend, Paul on December 27, 2007.

And over three thousand mornings I have woken up and known what I did the night before, which is great on the days when the days before it were good ones. But on the hard days--the ones we all want to forget--there is no easy escape. And one must just let time heal the wounds.

I barely remember this day. It was the last birthday my mom would celebrate, at age 65--ten years ago tomorrow. But I remember giving her the amber necklace that I bought at the local Tibetan shop. It hangs in the bay window of our house here in Florence, above the plants that Jodi (mostly) cares for. Plants were one of my mother's favorite things in the world (being a horticulturist) and so it makes sense that something that reminds me of her so would find its place there.

But what's in a number, right?

Ten years ago I gave her a necklace that I happen to be staring at as I write this. Seventy five years ago tomorrow she was born.

And three thousand and sixty days ago I took my last drink.

So today, my sweet mother, I will write this for you. I will remember how you made every day special, let alone birthdays. How you cherished every moment you were awake and, I'm sure, all the time in your dreams, for you always did look so contented when you were snoozing (or "resting your eyes" as you would always insist). I will remember the way that your hair felt and the way that you hugged me so tight when you saw me it was as if I had just been rescued from a burning building. I'll remember how you would fill my refrigerator with food when you would come to visit and how you would slip me the odd $20 and say "This is for milk!" I will remember how we would goof around when I would get off of the Bonanza bus back home and pretend I didn't see you sitting in your car and walk past it and then pretend to be shocked when I turned around and saw you waving for me. I'll remember how you would put me to work oiling the kitchen table and chairs before every holiday (which I loathed) and how you would give me a nickel for each dog poop I scooped in the front yard of our house on Bedford St in Fall River. I will remember how you tried to console me when that first girl I had a crush on turned her head when I tried to kiss her. I'll remember how you and I toasted on my 21st birthday when we pretended it was my first drink. I'll remember how you cried every time when you left me after a visit because you never knew if you'd see me again. And I'll remember how it felt to see you in the hospital so many times and saw the way you would smile to see me--in as much physical and mental pain as you were in--because your boy was within hugging distance. I'll remember the way I could always find you in the crowd of wherever I was performing. And I'll remember how you would always look for six of the same outfit to give me and "the guys." And I'll always remember how embarrassed I felt upon handing them out. I'll remember shopping at Savers or the Salvation Army with you and seeing you from across the store and hiding behind a rack and then surprising you and how you would delight in showing me what you found "on a super sale" and how you would try to convince me that I didn't need that $15 shirt but would buy it for me anyway. I'll remember how it felt to have to tell you that I totaled the car you gave me three weeks before. And I'll remember when I had to make the choice of giving up drugs and alcohol or moving out of the house.

But I'll always remember most your voice. Low and slow and soft with an old New England accent as warm and reassuring as melted butter. I don't know why I don't have mine. I think it just fell off like a snake sheds its skin. But I know it when I hear it and it always reminds me of you. The way you said "bahth" and "Hahd" but not "nevah" or "fahtha". It was refined and detailed and it always made me feel safe and sure and home.

I remember so many things, good, bad and otherwise, as they say.

But tomorrow, as I head out on the road to play a show in northern Vermont I will remember you, my sweet, sweet mother. Your gift of life was cut shorter than you or I or all those around you would have liked. But you made your impression and you made me and you will always be loved and remembered as long as I can keep this flame alive.

Sto lat, Judy. Blow out your candles. Eat your cake. Hug your boy. Let the tears flow. Let the love bloom. Let the numbers stand as they are . . .  for they mean nothing.

All there is is all there is.

Thanks so much for reading,


Monday, February 29, 2016

Day Two Thousand Nine Hundred and Eighty Seven . . . Leaps and bounds.

"I wish there were more hours in the day."

"I wish there were more days in the week."

"I wish there were more months in the year."

"I wish there were more days in the month."

Yep. Got that last one today. February twenty-ninth, baby. Only happens on a year whose last two digit's are divisible by four. That's what I remember my mom telling me.

This feeling inside me, though, keeps nagging and nagging. It's telling me to get this stuff out there. It's knocking on the door like a Bernie Sanders canvasser. It knows I'm already on board, it's just so easy to keep under the covers or stay at the gym a little longer, or down in the basement rehearsing, and stay away from opening that door.

But I have to keep writing and telling my story. And if there was ever a better reason to not put it off anymore it would have to be today. Because today is a freebie. Garbage time.

Leap Day.

I'm a bit of a mess these days. It's not anything to worry too much about. I haven't raided the liquor cabinet. I've put too much work into this here sobriety thing to let it slip away like that. And I haven't gone to get a weed card, as much as I want to. Though I always maintained a relatively healthy relationship with marijuana I don't think I'm ready to try and "be responsible" with it. That could only end messily.

But my head has been in a fog for the last month since Jodi and I returned from our trip to Costa Rica.

This would be the trip where we spent ten amazing day on the beach.

This would be the trip where we ate ceviche and plantains and hung in hammocks and read for hours.

This would be the trip where I asked her to marry me and she said "yes."

Well, actually the first word out of her mouth was "what?" and then she said yes.

Yep. My mom would be so unbelievably happy for me, as would my aunt. Everybody, in fact, would be or is thrilled for me because I really did find the right person for me. And believe me I realize I'm a bit of a handful. Let's not get into that. It's been pretty much documented over the past few hundred posts or so. I've tried to be as honest as I could. I think I've succeeded so far.

But yes, Jodi and I are engaged and plan to marry next fall. It seemed like the right thing to do and a natural progression in our relationship. She is simply the love of my life and I can't imagine a world without her in it.

But I have to say that when left the jeweler with my grandfather's gold and diamond ring that would be transformed into Jodi's I felt markedly different. Not sure exactly why, but something tangibly changed and I felt like I had made an even bigger decision than I originally thought. It was as if some new medication I had been prescribed just started to work. It was a great feeling, for sure. I just wasn't expecting it. But I took this ring (which I wrote about eight years ago) to our local jeweler and he turned it into something simply gorgeous and unique. And now it's residing snugly on the ring finger of the left hand of somebody equally gorgeous and unique.

But Jodi is on a work-related trip right now and I've been home by myself for a few days. It's a strange feeling because we are almost never apart for this long. And as she is out of the country and away from wifi I haven't heard from her in a good day or so.

I'm not worried, per se. I just feel so strangely disconnected. I can find out an unlimited amount of information on my computer and be in touch with almost anyone I can think of. But the one person who means the most to me is just out of reach. And I'm willing to be she's feeling it too.

But I keep my head about me and make sure that I remember that all that I see around me--my house, my clothes, the food in my kitchen, my car, my guitars--that these things are all here and safe because I have remained sober for eight years and counting. That this life I lead is all contingent on the idea that I cannot and will not pick up again. There is no "just a little taste" or a "cheat day." No, this is almost literally etched in stone.

We had an incident the other night at our house where the sump pump that keeps the ground water at bay was overwhelmed. It was the same night we had to get up at 4am to get Jodi to the airport to put her on a plane for this trip. And thank goodness the thunder woke us up and we heard the emergency siren going off or there would have been even more than three inches of water covering every inch of our 1,400 square foot cellar floor.

I have to admit I did something stupid in walking straight into the water, but not 100% stupid. To my credit I did make sure the shoes I was wearing had rubber soles. Then I plunged straight into the mess. First thing that caught my eye was the glowing orange light of the power strip on the floor. I carefully but quickly unplugged it from the wall.

Yep, I'm kinda stupid sometimes.

But I didn't kill myself, thank God. And I didn't short out the whole basement worth of lights. Because I can only imagine if there's anything worse than trudging through three inches of water in your basement it's doing it in the dark.

Jodi had the peace of mind to call the fire department. God bless those guys to come over at 2am and lend me their extra sump pump. They successfully drained the basement and even helped me move the drum kit out of harms way. They stuck around to make sure everything was okay with us and said to just return the stuff the next day. I asked them if we got charged for this and the captain said, "You already paid us for this trip . . . with your taxes."

So, to my new neighbors I apologize for the idling fire truck outside your house in the wee hours of Thursday but everything seems to be under control for now.

For the last three days and evenings instead of writing new songs in my basement studio, instead of having band rehearsal, instead of writing my blog I've been trying to make sense of a mid-level disaster. We lost some stuff for sure, but thankfully my insurance looks like it will pay for that. A whole box of Jodi's ticket stubs and Polaroids and personal mementos had to be carefully dried and laid out. I talked to her while I was going through it all and broke down and started to cry it was just so overwhelming. It was such a strange feeling to be going through her personal stuff but it was either that or it was going to be lost forever.

But I did what I had to to repair the damage that was done by our overwhelmed sump pump. In fact, I had the basement company come and install an even more powerful pump so this will hopefully never happen again, fingers crossed.

In the end, nobody got hurt, the city came to my rescue, and I was even able to get Jodi safely and securely to the airport on time for her flight.

And now, due to the heavy rains, our newly upgraded sump pump is working around the clock. It runs every forty seconds or so. The sound gets to me a bit when I'm in the bedroom but I can't really hear it through the rest of the house. We need to invest in a generator next to make sure we never lose power for an extended period of time during a storm or this thing will just happen all over again.

It's a bit unnerving to have the safety and security of my studio and storage area left up to a couple of water pumps and one wall outlet, but this is just the way it is here in our new abode at the bottom of the hill.

It reminds me a lot of my sobriety.

My abstinence is quite similar to this small bucket of cast iron machinery, plastic cords and vinyl pipes.

It keeps a low profile most of the time. In fact, when the weather is good you barely know it's there.

As life just hums along it's easy to forget how essential this often overlooked facet is to keep order and sanity.

But when the rains come, as they always do, you better well and be prepared for it.

When life's climate shifts and changes on a dime you need to have everything up and running and connected to a steady source of power.

Because if this one piece of the puzzle fails for any of the myriad reasons life presents us with there's a possiblity it's going to wreak havoc on everything in its way. It's not going to wait for you to figure out how to staunch the flood. It's not going to cut you any slack. It's going to just keep filling up and up until it reaches the electricity and then the lights go out and you may lose it all.

Then comes the time spent cleaning up the mess you've made, peeling apart photos and wringing out rugs, working against the clock and trying to fend of the impending mold that will set in if everything isn't aired out.

So I tell you this so I can tell it to myself. I feel out of sorts due to a lot of reasons right now. I've been on and off of caffeine for the past three weeks. I can't seem to figure out if I need to give it up or not. I'd really hate that to be the case because I do love it so. But I know that it's a drug and a ritual and just like all the others that I've danced with there is opportunity for abuse.

I miss my fiancé dearly. And how nice is that to write down in public? For she is my one true love and she and I have practically become one person with all of our seven years of shared experiences be they bad, good or even unbelievable. And we have forged a new family together with all of her clan in New York State coupled with mine in Virginia, Washington State as well as southeastern Mass and beyond.

No part of what we have feels out of place or errant.

No part of who we are feels fake or forced.

No part of where we are going scares me or gives me pause.

No part of why I love her so makes me wary.

She will return tomorrow night and my world will make a little more sense. I'll have somebody to bounce ideas off of and someone to laugh at my good jokes and shudder at my bad ones. I'll have a woman who brings me more happiness than I ever thought I was capable of experiencing in this world--someone who never judges and who never holds back how she feels.

She is light and love and she wants to be with me as long as life keeps us both buoyed aloft on earth's endless and unpredictable waves.

And I know that all I need to do is to keep my personal sump pump running in order to enjoy all of this. I just need to keep the maintenance up-to-date and think ahead for what potential trouble may be just out of view.

And that's why I wrote today of all days--this Leap Day, 2016.

Because every day is a gift, this is true. But today is extra special.

Thank you for sharing these few minutes with me, reading how life goes sometimes.

And on we go . . .