Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Some Enchanted Evening

So my mom calls me up last night: "Hey, Channel 9 is showing South Pacific in Concert..." Basically, it's a reading of the play with a full orchestra and all the musical numbers performed (but little to no choreography, costumes or props, and the actors had scripts). Alec Baldwin as Luther Billis, Reba McIntyre as Nellie Forbush.

Great, I thought. South Pacific is one of my all time favorite musicals. I'll just give this a look.

The grief attack came out of nowhere, just ramming me through the heart like the alien queen through Lance Henricksen. I could not separate the music from the memory of performing South Pacific at LACT with Samantha back in 1987. It was acute, physically painful - I really needed Sam to hold me, and be held by me. I turned off the show and sobbed for a solid hour. After a year, the sensations of loneliness, of that stark separation from the one person in the world who knew you best, who you could trust most, and who loved you unconditionally, are perhaps even more tangible - more aggravating and inflammatory. Because now there is no veil of shock and adrenalin. Now there is less help being orchestrated by family and friends. Now the reality of your circumstance is all around you - empty and terrifying and just waiting for any opportunity to get through. Like hearing a familiar song, from a show you once did... with her.

One dream in my heart
One love to be living for
One love to be living for
This nearly was mine

One girl for my dream
One partner in paradise
This promise of paradise
This nearly was mine

Close to my heart she came
Only to fly away
Only to fly as day flies from moonlight

Now, now I'm alone
Still dreaming of paradise
Still saying that paradise
Once nearly was mine

Ugh. Thanks a lot, Rodgers & Hammerstein.

I almost called two people. They know who they are and they also know why I didn't call them, and they both read me the riot act for not calling them. Sometimes you just feel so squashed inside that it's physically impossible to pick up the phone. Sometimes you just can't articulate the level of desolation you feel. Sometimes there are no words...

I went to group tonight and ended up getting a crystallized bit of wisdom from another widower in the bunch. I will not go into any sort of detail about him or his story, as that would be a breach of the group's confidentiality, but the essence of his comment really gave me another Scottish wound searing.

It serves no purpose to pine for my dead wife. It is ultimately wasted energy, because that life is over - the life we shared together. She's. Not. Coming. Back. And I cannot return to that old life. No matter how fondly I remember the good old days (and being together since high school, there were plenty of good old days), I have to focus my energy on creating good new days and learning how to enjoy life again. Twenty years of intense closeness with someone is hard to overcome, and I'm not trying to be hard on myself by denying the pain I feel. I definitely feel the pain - I let it happen, because it's far better to feel it, address it, and let it go than to lock it up for some future manifestation in the form of a heart attack or mental breakdown. But I'm now very aware of the origin of the pain: is it mourning the immediate absence of my wife, or is it mourning for the old life, feeling melancholy over memories of years past?

I think a lot of these feelings are close to the surface because I've been cleaning up my old film, which features Sam in several shots. Because she was the PA and script supervisor, she was almost always on set, and could be placed in the background whenever we needed a body. The film also shows our old home in Palo Alto as it was before any of the remodeling, as it looked when I was in high school. And Sam is not the only ghost to be seen... my father has a brief cameo, forever immortalized at age 41. And my favorite director and drama teacher, Natasha Jorgenson, who passed away in the mid '90s - another cancer conquest. On top of it all, the story itself revolves around the restless ghost of a woman who died young and is lonely without her husband. It is about love knowing no bounds - even time and space, even physical death. What also makes the film a pivotal part of my development as an artist is that my dad paid for the post production - a staggering $2,200.00 in 1986 money, for a student film that really had no viable market. It wasn't a loan. It was an investment in my future as an artist. That was a statement that said, "I believe in you, son. You can do it."

Maybe I miss these people because of how much they loved and supported me, and maybe I miss feeling loved and supported in that way. I know it will get better eventually, but right now...

...right now it sucks.


Ali said...

My grief line also stems from April 2005.

Today I felt just as you are describing. Two days ago I felt on top of everything. Yesterday I plummeted.

Yep. This sucks.

And yes, your Dad was awesome to invest in your future like that - that's very inspiring.


Rod said...

Hey Todd,

You said: "because that life is over - the life we shared together. She's. Not. Coming. Back."

and it reminded me of this line from Donald Hall's Distressed Haiku

"You think that their
dying is the worst
thing that could happen.

Then they stay dead."

I think it took me almost a year to finally stop subconsciously thinking that she was going to come back one of these days. Constantly thinking that I better take care of this or she will get so mad at me.

As I watch you go through the early days of this experience I look back on my first few years. It was a time of very strong emotions. I keep remembering that everything was bigger, stronger, brighter, louder. Emotions, both happy and sad. One thing I did without really realizing it was to try and let the volume stay turned way up and try to listen to the things that sounded happy or fun. Let the small daily successes blast through at high volume to try and drown out the sadness and loss.

The thing is, you eventually have to let that stuff come through. Like you said, "I let it happen, because it's far better to feel it, address it, and let it go than to lock it up for some future manifestation" And as I became a more experienced widower I was able to better control how and when I let those emotions come through at high volume.


tbone said...

Thank you both for your comments. Rod, it's interesting that you mentioned volume, because last night's group taught me that we do indeed have a volume control that allows us to function in everyday life. Not every wave need be at full volume.

Had another bad night last night, but this time I *did* call a friend and talk it through.

Bless you both.

JenniferJaneD said...

I ache for you Todd. I know you lost your soul mate, and I don't know how one overcomes that.
You're such a great guy...I hope this all lessens somehow for you.

Anonymous said...

A dislocated voice feels the grief in your words, and offers a hug.

*a hug*

Anonymous said...

Hi Todd,

I'm not sure if I remember you or if I ever new you.. My name is Peter Ruotolo I went to Palo Alto High School and I'm the same age as you.. Also Natasha Jorganson was a huge insperation to me as well.. I've been living in Ireland since 1990 and new Natasha was fighting cancer but never new what happend.. I google people these days with this internet thing and stumbled accross your blog.. You have a great sense of life and positive energy in accepting these hard realities.. Just thought I'd say hey.. be good.