I don't even know where to begin on this one. My friend Jim died last Monday. I guess that's a good start. A friend of mine died.
Cancer. He was 20 years, two months and a week older than me, but I never noticed. He had dreams, but he wasn't the typical dreamer type, so I liked him almost immediately. He had that sad, realistic edge like me, that "yeah, right" type of thing that not many people understand how deep it all goes actually. Lately, my edge has sliced me in half. But if used properly, it can keep you strong enough. So people like us, we're okay with it.
He gave me a clock radio. Pink, and I guess 1940ish. It had been broken in one place and glued back together. That piece rattled around inside for a while and eventually fell out. Despite the hole, it's a damn fine clock. He found it in 1997 when he was cleaning out his mom's house after she died. When he brought it to me, he handed it over and said "I wrote a little somethin' on the back..."
It was to remind me that I had a dream. And it was a good one that we all talked about and added things to every time we talked about it, over and over, beer after beer, sitting on piers at the reservoir late at night, or laughing and talking too loud with our mouths full of sushi. I looked back at him and smiled. He said "You can look at it when I'm dead and think, 'Yeahhhh that Jim Bass was a nice guy.... he gave me this crappy pink radio with a hole innit' ..."
"Oh shut up. You're never dying," I said.
I knew I was wrong on that one. But hey, I can dream, can't I?
He also said "Hey listen, you might wanna unplug that thing, too, when you're not around, so your apartment won't catch on fire."
Great, Jim. Let's hit on the top three things I'm terrified of: fire, water (implied: to put out the fire with, of course) and death. Throw in a bag of flying roaches, and I'll black out.
So everyone began emailing back and forth on when the funeral was, when the visitation was, fun stuff like that the living do to carry on. I'm not going to any more funerals. Those are right out. I focused all my energy on just getting through the day without coming unglued. I had a deadline stomping my head into the ground so badly that I convinced myself it was the only thing in the world that existed. I was okay until everyone left and went home for the day. Then I came apart in stages. I tried not to as hard as I could, but I felt just like speeding, burning space garbage re-entering the atmosphere, tumbling and disintegrating and finally exploding into a million tiny pieces. I don't even remember how I got home. It's like time just stopped at 9:45am on a Monday, and it just goes light and dark over and over again for no reason.
I miss Jim Bass. I missed him since the last time I hung up the phone. I hoped I'd see him again somewhere, but I knew from the tone of his "yeah right" that I probably wouldn't. I miss my dreaming friends. I miss sleeping through the night without waking up and wishing I was asleep. It's funny how real a dream is when you're just dreaming it and adding to it. If it never becomes a physical reality, it doesn't matter. Nothing is as real as a dream. The thing about dreams is that you have to keep them alive, even if they never come true. Especially if they never come true.
So visitation was last Tuesday, and the funeral was at 9am Wednesday. I couldn't go to either one. I sat in Memphis the morning of the funeral and questioned everything around me more than usual, and missed other people I'll never see again. I was ready to walk out to my car and go by 8:22, but I just couldn't get in my car.
For some reason, I needed to find that damn pink radio. I knew exactly where it was. It was there on the same shelf, deep in the closet with all the half-unorganized, mostly useless junk in it. It was up high with the cord folded neatly and tied up with a red twist-tie from a loaf of bread a long time ago. I have to admit, I almost threw it away once when I was cleaning and straightening. What was the point. Dreams are too much damn trouble, and the dreams I have now look nothing like the ones I had seven years ago. What a shame, I thought in the end, so I kept the pink radio. It didn't take up much space anyhow. And I respected it because Jim gave it to me, and he tried to make me never forget that I had a dream.
So I got it down, and knocked a few things over in the process that I wish would've broken so I could get rid of them, but no. I just walked around to all the outlets and held the radio out to them each, and wondered where in the hell I could plug this damn thing in. It just doesn't fit in anywhere anymore, does it. Who the hell am I, and what a damn shame, I thought. So I put it in this uncharacteristically clear space in the kitchen, on the counter. Why it was clear, who knows. For some reason I just needed one clear countertop with a bunch of nothing on top of it. And there it was. So when I plugged it in, I thought about what he said, about the fire and all. And I half smiled. Question was, did it even work anymore. I haven't turned it on in seven years.
My God, who cares, I thought, stop thinking. It's 8:27, let's get this going. So I did, and I turned it on and glowed brighter in the dial, but only slowly. I remembered it had to warm up before it worked. I sat down at the squeaky kitchen table and just stared up at the stained glass heart I hung in the kitchen window. It was still and red and cold. Coincidentally or not, the radio was tuned exactly to a station. The call letters were WMPS, I think, "the music of your life" the announcer said.
So it goes silent, then I hear the opening chords of a familiar song. I'm not sure what it is, but it's one of those songs that I'm fairly sure I hate, I know that much. So life and God, like only those two can do together, produced this tragic comedy of love and hate, joy and sorrow, while I have a "well, dammit, it's good enough for me" moment:
"Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone
Susanne the plans they made put an end to you
I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song
I just can’t remember who to send it to...
"I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again..."
I hate James Taylor. I really, truly do.
"Been walking my mind to an easy time, my back turned towards the sun
Lord knows when the cold wind blows it’ll turn your head around
Well, there’s hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come,
Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground..."
One thing I hate most about James Taylor is that you can't come out to anyone that you hate him without catching three, distinct shades of red hell over it. But, that's life, and there you have it. Anyway, it was beyond a choking laugh and touching moment to me. It felt like life just died and turned into a dream.
The funeral began at 9am. I would get past this, but I'm not getting in the car. I sat back down at the kitchen table again, one minute til. Go ahead, I thought, do it again. "It's 9am at WMPS, the music of your life." This time, it's Nat King Cole. And this time, something died in me and flew away. But at least I didn't feel alone anymore, not for awhile.
"Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you...
"Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile...
"That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile."
I will miss my friend every day from now on. He was one of the best people I have ever known, and I damn fine dreamer.
If you're still reading this, don't forget, you need to dream. It's the music of your life. And besides, if you don't, it's just another day going light and dark over and over for no reason.
(And if you are ever googling up Sam-e as a natural mood enhancer, you'll find this little guy in the mix. I gotta say, he is a natural little mood enhancer. I think I am addicted already.)