He wears a horseshoe ring but doesn’t believe in luck. Commitment-phobe but covered in tattoos. Fights fires and can’t swim. Handful of earth who keeps his face to the heavens. Whispers loudly, laughs when angry, cries when happy and sad. Classic who doesn’t read the classics. Modern who prefers vintage. Old soul with new ideas. Hates cliches and stereotypes. Completely in control, except when he’s with her. …
Trigger warning! He shouted.
She crumpled onto the floor, laughing in the decent, finally landing in a heap as the last few giggles burst past her lips. She inhaled a long, deep breath, the smile on her face wide and genuine.
“That’s not what that means, Old Man.”
“Worth it, to get you laughing, Kiddo” was his reply.
I’ve been visited by dead people before. It’s pretty common for me. When someone I love dies, they will visit me in a dream. We may chat, or have a picnic, or cry together. It’s a sweet way to get closure, and I can always tell when a dream is not just a dream, but a visit. I’m grateful for whatever part of me is open enough to let them through. Sometimes other people’s loved ones come to me in dreams, too, and ask me to relay messages, which I do. I know there are plenty of people out there who don’t believe in this sort of thing, to which I’ll now respond with my favorite Nicolas Cage quote (from City of Angels) – “Some things are true whether you believe in them or not.”
Last night, I had a dream that was a visitation. It was about Tom Petty. Yes, the celebrity/singer/songwriter/cowboy/Traveling Wilbury. That one. I have always felt a special connection to Tom’s music, since I was a kid I’ve loved his songs and identified with his lyrics. I was sad, as a lot of people were, to hear of his passing and disappointed that I’d never been to see him in concert. It wasn’t something I dwelled on, though, and as life does, mine moved on.
So the last few nights I have had some strange and colorful dreams. I attribute it to the full moon + partial lunar eclipse in Capricorn (don’t get me started on Capricorn). Last night’s dream was colorful and lively, but different. If you’ve had visitations you know what I’m talking about. It’s almost like lucid dreaming, in that you’re aware something is different and this moment should be cherished, you try to look around and remember things because you know it will be over soon and you don’t want it to be. At the same time you’re trying to listen and pay attention to whatever wisdom the visitor is there to impart.
I won’t detail the whole dream, but I will say that the part that felt most important had to do with my boots (navy blue Doc Martens with a zipper on the heel) and his boots (unknown brand). We compared boots. Tom Petty gave me some tips on how to care for mine, and how to make the leather feel smooth and buttery like his. (Yes, I felt Tom Petty’s boots, and yes, they were as soft and luxurious as you might imagine.)
The other important part had to do with him having daughters. One a brunette, she had a little chubby-cheek face and a dress on and she was precocious and chatty. I mark this as important because it wasn’t something I knew about him. I didn’t know TP had children at all, and I had to look it up on the internet to confirm it. Two daughters, according to Google, and according to Dream Tom. That, for me, is a confirmation.
All of this has left me with a sincere curiosity, and a hope that maybe the great Tom Petty is one of my spirit guides. He’s not the first person to visit me after passing, but he is one of the most interesting and I hope we get to chat again.
A couple important notes about dream visitations: Our loved ones, guides, anyone on that plane can take on any form. My grandfather sometimes visits as the “him” I remember, and sometimes as his younger self. Tom Petty went back and forth between young and old, seeming equally comfortable with all of his different human “selves”. Also, visitations are not usually romantic in nature (unless the person was a romantic partner, and even then it’s not likely.) If you dream about making out with Steve McQueen in the back of a limo it is probably a wish-fulfillment dream courtesy of your own subconscious, and not an actual visit.
Shower revelations, that’s what they were. Every single time that man stepped out of his clothes and into that piping hot deluge – where there were no pens, or paper, or typewriter keys, the ideas began to flow to him like lava from an erupting volcano. Mount Vesuvius had nothing on his big noggin’ when it was time to wash. She chuckled, wondering to herself how many little odd facts she knew about him. She liked being the keeper of treasures such as these. Then she wondered how many of them she might never get the chance to discover, and the smile faded from her face.
One time, he had leapt out from behind the shower curtain, jabbering to himself about some line from A Streetcar Named Desire. He had a thing about Marlon Brando. A theory. He believed that through nearly imperceptible nuances in his acting and his speech – even and especially when he appeared to be chewing his face – Marlon Brando was trying to communicate secret messages to the audience. If Clint was right, Brando was either the greatest actor who ever lived or perhaps one of the most fucked up and tragic. Either way, it would make a great story line for a book he was working on and he needed to write it down right that instant, even if it meant dripping soap and water all over her new faux sheepskin rug.
Another revelation came in the middle of the night, after showering to wash off a disappointing day of staring at his computer screen and all the plot gaps he couldn’t seem to fill. Angie was fast asleep. He woke her, of course. Major revelations needed to be shared with some urgency, otherwise they lost their potency. Bleary-eyed but amused, she sat up to listen to his impassioned speech which was about, of all things, timing.
So many of their conversations centered around the whens of their relationship. The past, the present, the future, that time at the bar when they kissed for the first time, that almost-time in that parallel universe when they got married and invited the goat minister Chagall was so fond of painting. All their failures and successes as a couple had always been chalked up to timing. But now, tonight, since the shower, that meant something totally different than it had in the 32 previous conversations.
This time it was different. This time it made sense.
If it all came down to timing, that was terrific news, Clint whispered. He laid down on the bed and put his mouth next to Angie’s right ear, speaking into it like it was a microphone.
She scrunched up her face and laughed.
He continued. It was never going to be the right time, he said. In a roundabout way, that meant that any time – every time – they were together – was the right time. If it was never the right time, then it was always the right time! It was physics, he was pretty sure, but he’d have to Google it in the morning. So this meant that every conversation, every text, every email, every chance encounter in a bar was an opportunity. And yeah, they missed a few hundred opportunities so far but the opportunities kept coming.
Angie had searched for meaning her whole life. She sought it out in the patterns ants made on the sidewalk when they were in formation. She looked for it between stanzas of her favorite poems. She even tried to make up meaning when none could be found. What she had learned, in her four decades of life on this planet, is that sometimes there is no meaning. Nothing obvious or tangible anyway. The mystic inside her wouldn’t allow her to completely dismiss the notion of a grand universal symphony, that everything worked together for some glorious outcome, even if a lot of times she felt like a kid sitting in the orchestra pit whose only view was of the inside of the tuba. Clint’s attempt to ascribe meaning to his and her screw-ups in such a romantic way was probably her favorite thing about him. She recognized it. She kissed him softly and laid back down to sleep.
“I’m not really asking your permission.” Angie’s face flushed red. She was angry and embarrassed. Somehow this entire exchange had placed her squarely back in 11th grade, a young girl hell-bent on gaining her independence, arguing with her father over boundaries.
Crew shifted his weight from left foot to right foot and crossed his arms on his chest.
“Then what are you asking?”
“I want you to tell me you’ll still be here when I get back. ”
“Where else would I be? I live here, Ang.”
“That’s not what I mean and you know it. I have to go, and you know that I do, and I want to know if doing this means I’ll be a newly divorced woman when I return to this house.”
Crew took a deep breath. He wanted to choose his words carefully. He knew this was important to her, but if he was honest with himself he was feeling like a fool and he didn’t like that feeling.
“Listen… I can’t answer that. Do you know what this feels like for me? Here stands my wife, suitcase in hand, rushing off to a hospital in another state to see a man she loves – excuse me, has always loved – and I am supposed to stay here and take care of the house and the kids and pretend my heart isn’t being ripped open at the seams like a cheap bean bag? I’m supposed to wait for her to come back to me, not knowing what all is going on in the aforementioned other state?”
“He’s dying, Crew. I can’t not go. I don’t know if you can understand how big this is, but honestly if your heart is being ripped open like a cheap bean bag, then you are getting the best end of this deal. That’s nothing compared to the storm that’s brewing inside me, threatening to drown me, to capsize everything I am, everything I have ever known. He’s a part of me. As much a part of me as my arm or my leg or my lungs and I feel like I won’t be able to breathe without him. And he’s dying. Right now, while we stand here and bicker back and forth about the logistics of our relationship, he’s dying. I have to go. I love you, and I hope I’ll see you when I get back.”
Angie tried to keep her face from moving at all. For the first time ever, she wished she was made entirely of stone. Cold, smooth, hard. She felt too much, and right now everything in her was hurting and beyond that, she knew her face always betrayed her. She couldn’t lie. She had no poker face. Her face was like of those fancy new billboards, flashing their messages in high definition, showing way too much detail.
The Popliteal Fossa
Some guys say knee pit
What the back of the knee’s called.
[Also, I hate you.]
Which is to say, I don’t hate you at all.
What did Angie believe? She had been staring at her feet a long while now and she was keenly aware of his eyes on her face, though he remained quiet. Hours had passed within these three minutes, and finally she cleared her throat and answered him.
“What do I believe?”
“That’s what I asked you, yeah.”
She fidgeted with her rings and began to answer his question as best she could. ” Well, I believe in destiny. Fate. A union being written in the stars. Absolutely, I do. That doesn’t mean I believe everything always works out in real life like it does in those Hallmark movies.”
“And I believe you can meet someone and they light you up – instantly and bright as lightning – like something Tesla put together piddling with some spare parts on a rainy afternoon. But I don’t think it happens often or for everyone, and…” her voice trailed off and she looked down at her shoes again.
He sat silently, listening. She couldn’t tell if he understood what she meant but she hoped he had.
“And I didn’t marry mine. I feel guilty saying that. If I found that, I’d marry it. That lightning strike, you know? I would marry again if that happened. Otherwise I’m pretty sure no feet of mine are every jumping that particular broom again.” Angie grinned a little at herself and folded her arms across her chest, still looking down.
He sat quietly at the small dinner table, keenly aware that the humidity coupled with his nervous sweat had caused his elbows to begin to stick to her blue plastic tablecloth, curiously adorned with bright red roosters. He thought it might be the ugliest tablecloth he ever saw. It was uncomfortable too, but not as uncomfortable as the conversation, and not as pressing, either. He could tell she was uncomfortable, too, and he didn’t want to upset her. He wanted to understand everything Angie was saying – not so he could convince her she was wrong – but so he could convince her he was right, and to him, those were two different things.
“I’m not trying to get more information out of you than you’re willing to give me, Kiddo. One more question and I’ll drop it, alright?”
“What happened with the last guy that soured you on the rest of us? I’m not poking fun, I’m curious. I want to know how anyone could dim a light as bright as the one I saw in your eyes all those years ago. If I weren’t looking at you right now, I never would have believed it was possible.”
Angie squirmed in her chair. His words made her feel ashamed, like the slow, methodical draining of light had been her fault. She didn’t remember ever giving any man permission to crush her spirit, they just did it, and afterward she was left to do the best she could with what she had left inside of her. He made it sound like she had a choice. Like she volunteered for the abuse. Hell, maybe she had, in some way, but she still didn’t like to think about it that way.
She cleared her throat again and looked him in the eye, fighting back tears as she started to answer him again.
“I worked really, really hard to be what he liked. I thought that’s what marriage was supposed to be. I contorted myself into the shape of the woman I thought he wanted. I learned to cook his favorite foods, to clean the house like his mother cleaned it, to dress in clothes he liked to see me in. I even…”
She paused. The words were sticky in her throat, threatening to choke her, and she gulped. She was afraid he would leave when she told him, but she figured it was best to keep talking anyway. A half story is not the whole story and the truth was important to her. She hoped it would be important to him, too.
“I even watched the kind of porn he liked. Did things he wanted me to, you know, sexually. It was degrading, and sometimes I cried after, but I never knew that that wasn’t… normal. You gotta understand, there are so many parts of me – of my heart, my personality – that contributed to my need for his approval. I am a people-pleaser, a child of divorce, a Pisces. I want to be wanted and I love to feel loved. So every day I woke up and put on a show, thinking if my performance was good enough, he would want me. Love me. I didn’t realize all the damage I was doing to myself. I didn’t really know my soul was shriveling up until it had just about died.”
“Let me finish, please.”
“It never occurred to me that who I was, was enough. Never crossed my mind to expect a man to worship me, to cry for me, to write songs about my freckles. No man ever delighted in me like that – except for Grandfather. When he died I lost the one person who ever really loved me. I didn’t expect that anyone would ever understand me like he did.”
The memories that flooded her mind made her wince. She looked up at him just for a moment, but when his eyes met hers she quickly looked back down. He was looking at her, still and silent. The tears that had been pooling in her eyes were now thick streams of hot truth, flowing down her cheeks and falling in quiet taps onto that plastic rooster tablecloth. She stared at the salt and pepper shakers sitting on the table between them.
They were shaped like Charlie Brown and Snoopy, and they were her favorite set from her Grandfather’s collection. The yellow of Charlie Brown’s shirt had begun to fade to a dirty brown but in this moment she didn’t care. She was just happy to have something to concentrate on, something to keep her steady as she spoke. That’s Grandfather, she thought to herself. Always keeping me steady.
“Anyway, I just always tried my hardest to be pleasing to other people, especially men who I wanted to stay with me. I did it as a little girl with my Daddy and there I was, all grown up and carrying that longing over into my marriage. I wanted to keep him or I hoped he’d keep me, I don’t know. The trouble is, I was always living my life as someone else. So the man I married loved someone else, not me.
I’ve never actually been with anyone who wanted the me that I actually am. You see?
Then you stroll in here and tell me that you think maybe I’ll never belong to anyone, that I am “ungettable”, and I feel both vindicated and sad. I have always thought that about myself – that men love the vision of me, but not the reality. The fantasy, the pictures, the flirty girl in the bar, the woman who inspires them to write their greatest novel. That’s the me they all want.
The other one, the Angie who cries out in her sleep sometimes, the klutzy one who spills dinner on the floor, who forgets important dates and doesn’t always brush her hair, let alone look put together all the time. That’s a big part of me, too. I’d like to be loved for all those things. It makes me sad to think that no one ever will.
I’ve done it to myself, I know I have. Maybe I don’t take enough responsibility. Maybe I take too much. I wasn’t honest, so the marriage wasn’t good. My fault, right?”
She shrugged her shoulders and raised her head to look at him, his eyes still studying her face. She wondered what he was thinking but lacked the courage to ask him so she waited for him to respond. It was the most raw and honest she’d been in a long time, and it was refreshing. Scary, too, but not for the reason she expected. She thought opening up to him would be scary because it meant telling her secrets, but the scariest part of it was that she felt like he already knew all her secrets. From the day they met Angie felt known by him, she felt seen, understood. Even now, she wondered if his eyes could see inside of her, if he could hear her thoughts – or her heart, which was pounding wildly just behind the flimsy wall of flesh concealing it.
She didn’t like it, being seen. It made her want to run from him.
Part of becoming someone else is that you can protect yourself when the hurt comes, and the hurt always did come. With him, she couldn’t protect herself. That’s the kind of heartbreak people don’t see coming, the kind they don’t recover from. Angie didn’t want that in her life right now, or ever. She had been hurt too deeply by men who didn’t even know her. Now she sat across the table from the one who could guess her favorite books, knew the lyrics to songs she thought she might be the only person in the world to listen to, laughed at her obscure pop culture references.
This man would break her heart into a million pieces if she let him get a hold of it.
So why did she so desperately want to give it to him?
There was this country singer who was popular when I was in middle and high school. His name was Bryan White and his slow, sad songs about lost love were everything my clueless over dramatic teenage heart wanted to listen to. Sure, I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I pretended to. I imagined.
Now, twenty years later with some heartbreak written in my ledger, I do understand. One of his songs is on my mind today. It’s called “I’m Not Supposed to Love You Anymore.” I hate that I know what he’s talking about now, but I’m happy my heart still responds to his voice.
Music expresses what I often can’t.