Saying goodbye 15 years late

Yesterday, while dancing away in the kitchen to Prince’s “1999,” I was suddenly cleaning my childhood home with my mom. Dancing, spinning and singing at the top of our lungs as we dusted and mopped. Prince, his tight pants and high voice, will forever be synonymous with my mother.

Driving to the coast last week, “In Your Room” by Depeche Mode came on the radio and I had an instant picture of my 16-year-old self. I’m alone, crying in my bedroom, playing that song on repeat and thinking I’d never find true love.

Whenever I hear David Bowie’s voice anywhere, even shopping at the grocery store, I picture him as the Goblin King in “Labyrinth” and I’m suddenly a young girl again. I can feel a surge of hope, as strong as ever, that somewhere out there is a mythical lover waiting for me, busy creating a world for the two of us alone. Bowie brings out the melodramatic romantic in me.

There is a soundtrack to life. A musical memory to accompany all the events, people and emotions that have combined to create the person we are right this minute. It feels like magic to me.

Music, like water and air for my soul, is something I can’t live without. Whenever strong emotions threaten to break me, I need to find music to match my mood and reflect back what I am feeling.

Johnny Cash is for the blues, obviously. There is nothing like the Man in Black when you want to wallow. Nahko and Medicine for the People are for when I’m feeling hopeless, picking me up when I think I can’t take it anymore. I love Emily Kinney for when I want to feel youthful and optimistic. Beastie Boys, Tori Amos, Imagine Dragons, Pixies, Queen. They all have a role to play in my emotional rolodex of music.

For over a decade, there is one CD I have to hear at least once a week. It fits a variety of my moods, but is particularly good for when I just want to sing and be happy.

eye

I found this CD in a free bin at work about 18 years ago. It never had a case and I have always just called it the “eye CD.” As in “where did I put the eye CD?” and “I need to hear me some eye.”

This week I pulled it out again and was singing along when it occurred to me, I have no idea who the singer is.

Seriously.

This voice I have grown to love and cherish is a complete mystery. As a former journalist, I’m shocked at myself. I suddenly had to know what he looked like. I had a million questions. Is he still touring? What other music of his am I missing out on? How old is he? Where does this album fit with his other music? Where did he grow up? What are his musical influences?

In tiny writing under the eye, I find a name.

Josh Clayton-Felt.

Excited, I type his name into Google and within a matter of minutes I have all the answers.

I also have a broken heart.

This beautiful singer, whose voice I adore, whose lyrics I have sung a thousand times, died of testicular cancer is 2000.

He has been gone for 15 years.

I spend the next few hours looking at pictures of his young face, listening to other music he created before he died, reading online interviews, watching videos and tributes.

I discover his mother, a playwright named Marilyn Felt, created an entire musical fable based on his life and his music called “Lightsong.” You can download it for free. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.

While my heart is heavy at this loss, fresh and new to me, I’m also filled with gratitude for having stumbled upon “the eye” so many years ago.

His words are a part of my soundtrack and part of who I am. Now I have a little more of him to carry me through.

Thank you Josh Clayton-Felt.

If your road has reached the ocean
But your legs still want to go
And if they taught you how to doubt it
But you know it isn’t so

And if the moments seem to miss you
And if your partner isn’t there
And if you know you could reach the treasure
But you keep coming up for air

If you want to get through
To the other side
Let the dragonfly
Come and give you a ride
Every day you’re born
And every night you die
Let the dragonfly
Come and give you a ride

–lyrics from “Dragon Fly” by Josh Clayton-Felt

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Ever have that feeling?

We are seated in the dark theater listening to someone introduce the play. My boy is on my right. His nice button-up shirt and tie are hidden under the slightly stained sweatshirt he refuses to take off right now. I pull his hood off his head and he gives me a little smile. My daughter sits to my left with a rather sparkly dress on and a stuffed puppy on her lap. As the stage goes dark they both grab my hands and I feel it.

The actors take their marks and the lights come on. The harmony of voices, the costumes, the decorations and my two children’s faces proves too much for me again. The feeling starts low and creeps up into my chest. My heart beats faster and before I know it I’m slightly gasping. Then the tears start forming. I quickly let go of their hands.

“Get it together,” I tell myself. I focus on breath and push the feeling down. I am successful for the moment and watch the story unfold in front of me.

Ever since I was a little girl the theater has done this to me. I can remember seeing my first play. It was outdoors and was Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I remember having that feeling and not understanding it. I thought maybe I was scared. My heart beat quickly and the tears came. I hid my face in embarrassment. At the end of the play I silently cried happy tears and knew I was hooked.

Since then I see theater as much as I can. I have taken my kids to see productions since they could walk. The magic of the theater is so real and powerful to me. I have seen a few productions that were, to put it kindly, unfortunate. But the majority of time I am so transfixed and emotionally invested that I leave the theater changed.

The first Broadway show I saw was the traveling cast of “Aida.” I was an adult and had taken my mother-in-law for her birthday. I didn’t know what I was in for. The power of that show blew me away. I literally could not talk afterward.

Since then I have been to New York twice and seen four shows. The first show I saw was “42nd Street.” It opens with the curtain pulled up to revel only the dancers feet. I can still feel the rush of excitement at the sight and sound of that line of dancers tapping away.

For years I have tried to figure out why theater creates this feeling of “losing it” within me. Even silly plays, like “Urinetown” (which is one of my favorites), creates a swelling of emotion that I find challenging to control.

For me, I think it’s a combination of lots of things. First, not having many opportunities to just let loose and feel things fully. A dark theater is a perfect place to think and feel. Secondly, a complete awe of the talent that God has given these actors, dancers, singers, writers, costume designers and musicians. All that goes into a production is not lost on me.

This leads me back to the theater last weekend. My father and stepmother had bought our family tickets to see “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Sacramento Theater Company. The movie is a classic that many are familiar with. I had not seen it in years and had forgotten most of the storyline. My children had never seen it. So we were able to experience it without comparison or expectations – the best way in my opinion.

The production is amazing. The two leads have incredible voices and the story is just perfect for this time of year. When George Bailey yells at his family, I was shaking and had to swallow lots to calm myself. When he lost all hope on the bridge, I swear he looked right at me as he belted out the most amazing song. The tears flowed freely down my face off and on the entire play. At the finale, I sneaked a glance at my kids and was not surprised to see tears in both their eyes as well.

When we left the theater my daughter pulled me down to her. Her eyes sparkled and she smiled wide.

“The moral of that story is that you should be happy with what you have,” she says very cheerfully. “I am.”

Holding both my children’s hands we walk outside together.

Don’t you dare take that mask off

maskEven from ten people behind in the line, I could see her pain. It was all over her. I could see the struggle in her body. She had that tired, forced smile. Her shoulders were slumped and her voice was meek.

When it was our turn to get onto the ride, she measured my girl for height, as she had the previous hundreds of kids that day. “Go ahead.”

I looked her in the eyes and put my hand on her shoulder. “It will be OK,” I said.

“Will it?” she said and looked at me with such intensity I almost cried. The pain was all over her face. Her mask was off.

“It will,” I said.

“Thanks,” she said. “It has to.”

She straightened up a bit and the mask returned. We boarded the swings and my sweet darling and I laughed and laughed as we went around. We kicked our feet in the air and allowed ourselves to be swept up into the joy and feeling of flying.

When we got off the ride, I locked eyes with her again and she smiled. I don’t know her or her story, but I can recognize pain.

Lately I have been acutely aware of the immense sorrow and pain in the world. It doesn’t even have to be something big, but sometimes it can feel like your world is closing in.

We all walk around carrying these things. We have to put forth our fake faces and walk about our day like nothing is wrong. We order coffee. Pump our gas. Buy our groceries. Make small talk. Play with our kids at the park. Fake a smile. Tuck our kids into bed and tell them everything is OK.

We might be dying to scream “I’m in freakin pain here!” But we don’t. It’s not the right time. Never.

I know this isn’t an original thought our idea, but I’ve just been struck hard lately by this reality of life. So much is going on all around us, yet we can’t just walk around with our stories hanging out. We can’t let our sadness or anger effect our daily lives. Shit has to get done.

So, we put on our masks. We bottle it up and push it down for the greater good. If we are lucky we have a friend or spouse we can share our real selves with, but often the time isn’t right. We can’t fall apart now. Not now. The time isn’t now. It’s NEVER now.

That same day at the amusement park, Lola kept riding a small boat ride over and over. We were the only ones in the line and I said to the teenage girl working the ride, “saying that safety speech over and over must get old.”

“I don’t mind,” she said, “it’s a good job for someone my age.”

We talked for about five minutes more as Lola rode the ride a few more times. I was floored by this girl’s story and the candor and poise with which she shared it. She had a baby at 15. She was 16 now. The job had no medical, but she had a plan. She smiled the entire time. Beaming as she told me about her beautiful girl and her plans to be a nurse someday and be a role model for her daughter. I have no doubts that will happen. It has to.

As I was about to walk away she said, “No one has ever asked about my life before. Thanks for talking to me. It felt good to talk to someone.”

Stories. Stories. Stories.

I wish I could take a day and just walk around and ask people their stories. Tell me something. No. Tell me something real. Take off the mask for a minute. I want to see you. The real you.

I realize that we are designed to push emotions aside and function. We cannot and should not walk around with all our stuff hanging out. Gross. But I love stories and I love people.

So I will step out into the world like I do everyday, with my mask on. I will smile at people and make small talk. I will chase my kids around and fill our day with errands and, if lucky, see a friend or two.

If I know you, please know that I’m happy to see you anyway you need to be – mask on or off. I promise to never try to pry off your mask. I know you need it. Just know that I like what’s underneath too and it’s OK to share it with me.