Monday, June 18, 2012

Life, Not like the Movies...Again

In the movies, I’m at my dying aunt’s bedside, a band of loving cousins surrounding me. I’m singing a song she used to sing with my mother and other aunts and uncles a long, long time ago. When they’d sit around the kitchen table, harmonizing, laughing and simply embracing life. And I, a little girl, would sit on rotating laps, listening or trying to sing along.

[Me at 5, singing with my family.]

In the movies, when I sing this old song to my dying aunt, there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house. When I finished, she’d lovingly touch my hand and whisper, “I’m so proud of you, Bethy."

In the movies, after she died, it would propel me to work harder, to take what I learned from my upbringing and blaze my own trail, kinda like Coal’s Miner Daughter. Wild success would follow and when I accepted my first Grammy, I’d thank my aunt. And I’d get choked up, which would only endear me to the public that much more.

But life is not like the movies…again.

I know, I know.
It rarely is. That reality check has been delivered to my table time and time again, thank you very much. But sometimes, I’d like to catch a fleeting glimpse of that dreamy Technicolor world before reality smashes through my screen yet again.

In reality, I’m at my dying aunt’s bedside, a band of loving cousins surrounding me. I’m singing a song she used to sing with my mother and other aunts and uncles a long, long time ago.

In reality, earlier that morning, I worked on one of those old tunes so I could make her happy during her dying hours. Hoping desperately I wouldn’t cry when I sang it, I gave it my best shot, while sitting on her bed. She sang with me a little and filled in the words when my mind went blank from grief and sadness.

In reality, when I was done, the room was silent, with one cousin sniffling in the background. (So far, so good. Kind of movie-like, right?)

Then my aunt, with her eyes closed and a weak smile on her face said:

“You never really did much with that voice of yours, did you?”

In reality, I laughed. I laughed at the inappropriateness of her response. The timing. The incidental cruelty of it.

“You know what your problem is, Bethy?”

“What, aunt?”

“You start things and then you just go phhhtttt.”

“Aunt, you don’t really know about anything I do. I’ve been performing and creating for a long time now. And I….”

And I went on to explain the myriad of ways I’ve “succeeded” that would fit her limited mental picture of success. The weird little TV show I produced with a band of amazingly creative friends, the years of fun and freaky experimental theater, my online writing success, my band, my extensive choir work. But somehow I knew she didn’t quite conceive it because she hadn’t seen me on American Idol or Dancing with the Stars. 

On a bad day, I wonder if I buy my own story. So hard it is, to be an artist. Nobody really understands your stupid little path, including yourself at times. And unless you’re part of the 1% that succeeds, you’re forced to cling to some fading bohemian dream, insistent that it must mean something, right? Right? That it matters to express yourself. On a bad day, it seems like an act of great futility and grand self-delusion.

On a good day? On a good day, you believe in yourself more than anyone could because you’re forced to; there's little to no external validation to bolster this search. You begin to express yourself not for recognition or notoriety (because you’ve given up on that ego trip a long time ago) but because, like a real artist, you feel you must.

You are your own rock god and super hero. You become star-struck, even if it's just for one fleeting moment, with yourself.

Even you can’t imagine you could reach such depths. It's well-earned self-respect that no one will ever be able to take with a careless comment. Ever.
In reality, my aunt died. And she’s not a bad person. She actually cared deeply about my "success" and my creative abilities. She did believe in me somewhere amidst her limited perception.

At least I’d like to believe that. That's how the movie ends in my mind.

The song I sang to my aunt:

Related Post:

Karaoke as Cheap Therapy

Sunday, June 03, 2012

The Story I Started in Bed

So you and I were groggy, lying in bed, waking, touching one another. My thoughts were sleepily wandering from one topic to the next. I started telling you a story from my past that I never finished.

It was about a necklace and my old boyfriend Robert.

Robert, a tricky and wild sort. Compulsive liar. Addictive personality. Suffered from PTSD from his time in war zones. Former Navy Seal. So he says. (Turns out that was a lie.) Good-natured but with a definite dark side.

He's the type who should be immediately removed from the life of anyone with a modicum of common sense but like that gum stuck to your shoe, he stuck on and we've strangely morphed into friends. Or family. Or something in-between.

Even amidst all of our "issues" (and my god, do we have them), I guess we care about each other on a very basic level that can't be that easily undone. Trust me, I've tried.

Anyway, I got that far into the story. And maybe you started touching me in just the right places. Or maybe the wine and the stars from the previous night still held me captive. But the story was lost, somewhere, lost in soft kisses and warm, inviting arms.

So now that you're not here to distract me so pleasantly, I'll finish my story:

I asked Robert to give me a gift several months ago. In the years that we were together, I don't recall him ever buying me so much as flowers. Not that I live for that stuff, but it's still welcome, of course. And while we're not together anymore, a romantic gesture from any guy in my life would be appreciated.
I told him I wanted a silver necklace with a pendant. Nothing fancy. Something I could wear and feel protected by. Connected to. Something I could touch to feel loved.

Last month, Robert sent me a text telling me he got me a gift. When I asked him what it was, he replied a bracelet. Hmmm...I don't really wear bracelets, but hell, I guess I should be appreciative anyway, right? 

When we finally saw each other in person, he handed me my "gift" wrapped in brown tissue paper. I opened it and there it was: a pair of men's aviator sunglasses...what?!
I mean, it was a good pair (and strangely reminiscent of the kind he normally sports)...but still.
" What happened to the bracelet? Or for that matter, the necklace?"
"I just thought you needed something more practical. You'll get more use out of these anyway. You probably don't have any real sunglasses."

Living at the Jersey shore, I wear real glasses all the time. I have to, being an outdoors sort. But I didn't bother telling him that. I said thank you and tried to be happy with the gesture, not the gift itself.

So happy that the next day, the following item was placed on Ebay. 
As the days went by, my mood darkened when I thought about it. I remembered Robert picking up a broken, cheap bracelet on the sidewalk prior to giving me the glasses and saying, "Here's your bracelet." He had been joking but I didn't laugh.

Over the phone, I told my dear friend Amanda in California about my necklace that turned into a bracelet that turned into a pair of men's aviator sunglasses on eBay. We laughed and sighed.

"Amanda, why would it be so hard for him to give me something, even now? I just wanted a simple gift. It's not like I get a ton of things from the men in my life. This turned into a...mockery."

"Aw, honey. I'm so sorry that happened."
Tears rose in my eyes, thinking of how I easily and readily I give myself to others. Why I can't be the recipient more often? Am I just a romantic workhorse that others perpetually ride?
Of course, I could be oversimplifying. Robert frequently takes me out to lavish dinners (even now, as friends) and more than that, he adores me, even amidst his profound limitations.
But like other men (and I suppose women as well), he has great difficulty in professing his feelings. And a gift, (perhaps jewelry in particular), is that kind of pronouncement.

So what comes in the mail a week later? A necklace. With a key on it. "A key to my heart" a hand-written note reads.

Surrounding the box were romantic little notes detailing my wonder, beauty and ravaging sexiness. And how worthy I am of the most magnificent gifts in the world. Hearts and kisses drawn all over it. It was a gift of love, wrapped in love.
And it was sent by?
(Scroll please.)

My friend Amanda.

That's the story I was going to tell you. It was a story about friendship and kind gestures. And women taking care of each other, even romantically sometimes. That was the story I was going to tell you before we made love in the dancing daylight.