Just A Fan

“Someday they’re gonna forget about us

And we’ll wonder if we were ever good enough

It hit me last night in this song I heard

I remember the feeling, but forget all the words.”

- “California,” The Airborne Toxic Event.

 

Earlier in the year, when The Airborne Toxic Event announced their 2014 Fall Tour, I started making plans.

First, it was exhausting every possible and plausible situation that could get me to San Francisco for their 3-night residency in September with a 7-month-old.  A few kind people even offered to babysit while I went to enjoy the shows.  In the end, I decided to bow out this time, even though I would have loved to have seen almost their entire catalog performed live.  I stayed up late on the second night of their residency to watch the live stream of the show online.  I even wore a temporary tattoo of The Bird so I could fangirl from hundreds of miles away.  A few awesome friends who were there at the show that night also wore the tattoo on their faces, both a tribute to the band’s insignia and to show I was truly there in spirit.  It was an amazing performance, one I wish I could have experienced in person, but I was glad I got to see at least one night of their show as it happened live.

I was pumped.  I was counting down the days until I could travel a little closer to my hometown to see them in October.

Since the venue was still a two-hour drive away, we decided to stay the night.  My in-laws graciously offered to babysit at the hotel while my husband and I had our first night out since our son was born earlier this year.  It was the first time I would be away from him for any length of time, and I was extremely nervous.  I knew he was in good hands, of course, but what if he cried the whole time we were gone?  What if *I* cried?  What if I was unable to enjoy the show because I missed him so much?  Was going to a concert really worth leaving my baby behind?  Didn’t I publicly swear I would never be one of “those” parents?

Yet I told myself that going would be healthy for both myself and the little guy.  We needed a “night out,” and he needs to learn to be without mom sometimes.  What better occasion than an Airborne show?

Hubby got there early to secure our place in line, though the weather forecast was hardly cooperative with his valiant effort.  Rain all day.  Heavy downpours.  Thunderstorms.  Twenty to thirty-mile-per-hour winds.  A high of 55 degrees.  But Hubby didn’t even flinch.  Or if he did, he didn’t do it in front of me.  I arrived a couple hours later before the doors were scheduled to open and relieved his post so he could take a bathroom break.

Meanwhile, the raging self-doubt continued when I took my place in line.

The fans in front and behind stared at me with raised eyebrows.  And for the first time ever, I felt self-conscious with this wounded bird emblazoned on my face.  I didn’t feel like a fangirl at all.  Instead, I felt like a fake.  An imposter with the “Look-At-Me” confidence on her skin, but beneath a wide range of doubts the size as mountains.  I immediately regretted my decision to be The Girl With the Bird.

Who did I think I was, and who did I think I was fooling?

As I quietly gazed at the leather boots which had been gifted to me by another Airborne fan, I realized that perhaps I had made a mistake coming here.  After all, there was a time not long ago when I used to stand in line like this and wish to be transported back home with a baby – because that was all I ever wanted, anyway.  Not waiting in the cold rain and wind to see a band who didn’t care if I was there or not.

I had to refocus.  I had to shift my attention to something else.

So I struck up a conversation with the group standing in front of me.  There was the kid clutching White Noise, his ticket holding the place where I assumed the page read the band’s name in bold letters.  There was a middle-aged woman speaking affectionately with him – his mother, perhaps.  Three girls his age chirped to him and each other, but no one seemed to notice I was there.

I asked the innocent and friendly question, “So where are you guys from?”

The mother answered.  She said they had driven three hours and arrived an hour earlier than they planned.  Then they asked where we were from, and I told her.  I motioned to the boy.  “I see you’ve got your copy of White Noise.  Are you hoping to get it signed?”

“Yes!” he cried.  “Have you met them?  Do you think they’ll do it?”

I smiled.  “Yeah, I think so.  Have you seen them before?”

“No.  This is our first time.”

I immediately went into rapturous gushing over the band.  How much they’re going to love it.  How excited I was for them.  How it’s going to blow their minds.   How they’re going to remember this night for years to come.  I specifically instructed the boy - who identified himself as “the fan” of the group – where to stand and to have his phone out recording during “Does This Mean You’re Moving On” because Mikel had been fancying himself a cameraman these days, apparently the very 2014 thing to do.

They asked if the band usually came out after the show to sign autographs and take pictures, and I gave them instructions to go around the back of the building after the show and hang out for a while.

We talked about our favorite songs.  They asked how many times I’d seen them.  I felt like the veteran of the line, though I knew this could hardly be the case.

In spite of all this, the nagging feeling that I shouldn’t be there continued.  At one point, I even quietly asked my husband if he felt strange, too, and he agreed that he had.  “It feels like I just woke up from a dream,” he said.  “A really long and crazy dream.”

When the doors finally opened, we headed for our usual spot in front of the stage, though we didn’t get barrier.  We had come to find out the venue has a VIP package deal with perks like early entry for those who don’t care to impress their wives by standing around in the rain.  And if there never ended up being a show - if The Airborne Toxic Event were to have been spirited away somehow – that would have been enough.  Hubby standing in the rain so I could have first dibs on the front row.  It’s the thought that counts.

I saw a few familiar faces from the years prior, but the regulars were missing.  The crowd looked foreign to me, and most of the glances I caught were the kind that made me feel like I was two feet tall.  They all seemed to be asking me who I thought I was coming here with the Airborne bird on my face, and I was asking myself the same thing.  Why am I not at home singing lullabies to my baby?  Why am I here at all?

The anxiety I felt was stifling.  All the while I kept making small talk with Hubby, afraid to ask if he felt the same.  Was he wondering why we came, too?  And with such horrible company as I!

Then someone tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a piece of paper.  I looked up to see them pointing at a woman standing a few feet away.  It was a reader and contributor to This Is Nowhere, Airborne’s unofficial fan blog, and someone with whom I exchanged a few emails.  She had picked me out of the crowd.  Because of The Bird.

I hugged her immediately, and the group of benevolent concertgoers we were standing by actually made a space for her to now stand next to me for the duration of the show.  We shared a pleasant conversation while waiting for the opening band to take the stage, and in between sets.  But I couldn’t shake my anxiety.  I didn’t feel right in my own skin.

Before the show even started, I was sweating buckets.  Secretly I hoped that The Bird would drip off my skin and then maybe I wouldn’t feel like such a weirdo.

When it was time for Airborne to take the stage, the lights dimmed and the intro music began to play.  This time they choreographed lights and lasers to accompany the music and the experience.  I felt like I was about to witness something amazing – living, moving sounds of art happening in front of me.  And I wasn’t wrong.

All my anxiety melted away as soon as the band launched into the opening of “Welcome To Your Wedding Day.”  The toxic cloud of sound and light rained down a cleansing concoction of music and emotions that could only come from months and years of following a band that has somehow weaved its way one’s subconscious, accompanying every major event like a soundtrack, and transcending the gap from one life to another.

Oh, Airborne.  Your celebration of what is painful to speak, yet brought into the light and admired for the beauty in its ugliness, is what brought me here in the first place.

That, and a darn good show.  And do they ever put on a show.

This was my first time seeing Adrian Rodriguez replacing Noah Harmon on bass, and quite honestly I forgot that he hadn’t been there all along.  But there was something different about the show and the songs as he brought his own spin on the old favorites.  He didn’t try to fill Noah’s shoes, and neither did he need to.  This was Airborne reborn – the same, but different.

That theme would persevere through the rest of the show, persistently tugging at my subconscious like a nagging child.  This is different.

I shushed it and went back to enjoying myself.  These were all my favorite songs, played live and at decibels that would bust my neighbors’ eardrums if I played them at home.  It was glorious.  I danced.  I jumped.  I screamed.  I did all the things I normally did at the shows I went to last year and the year before that, letting the music lift my feet off the ground as it drowned out the constant chatter in my brain that has plagued me ever since my child died.

I lost my voice screaming the words to the new song “Wrong,” which is decidedly un-Airborne in nature, but so much fun and face-melting live.

I lost my heart to a gloriously-delivered “Elizabeth” and a rocking good time of “What’s In A Name.”

And it never fails.  I always cry during “Graveyard,” only this time I leaned into Hubby’s chest, feeling less celebratory and more reflective.  This was all so strange.  Had we just woken up from a dream like we thought, or was this the dream after all?  And whose dream is this, anyway?

Clearly, it wasn’t mine.

During the encore, they played “Moving On,” and whose phone does Mikel decide to steal this time but the one belonging to the kid I met in line.  His reaction was priceless.  A euphoria only known to those who have that once-in-a-lifetime interaction with their favorite musician.  It’s so brief and fleeting and wonderful.  And his is documented forever, a moment he can replay whenever he wants.  I know what that’s like.

Yet I stood there in a strange and hazy fog, feeling like I was on the outside looking in, watching others have those interactions, remembering my own, and questioning every thing I thought I knew.  I was a ghost of a fangirl past, a different kind of fan than the one I started out as.  Then it occurred to me that albeit for Adrian, the band wasn’t really that different – I was.  The way I perceive them is different, and the way I experience their show is different, and maybe the way I appear is different, too.

This culminated after the show was over when Mikel was handing out setlists from the stage.  I had taken it upon myself to secure one somehow for This Is Nowhere’s collection, even though I don’t make a habit of collecting setlists or any trophies anymore.  Mikel stood on the stage above me with a setlist in hand . . . and handed it to the girl who was by the barrier in front of me.   Then he disappeared backstage.

It was such a small thing – trivial and stupid – that was exaggerated by my perceived ghostliness and lack of visibility.  After all, I am just a fan, just like everyone else in that room.

Hubby wasted no time grabbing my hand to find the kid whose phone Mikel had taken during the song, but they had disappeared as well.

I felt desperate and insignificant.  Lost.  Strange.  Sad.  I shouldn’t have come.

As the crowd filed out, we went to the back of the venue where my old Concert Buddy was standing with my sister-in-law and another couple. They had foregone waiting in line and stayed dry, opting instead for a hot dinner and arriving when the doors opened. I was so happy to see her – and all of them – and relieved when they gave me a hug and thus snuffed out the fangirl ghost. It was back to business as usual.

We talked about the show some, but mostly about ourselves. Concert Buddy had a conversation with Adrian before the show, who remembered her from San Francisco last month. The fan whom I had met that night came up to say goodbye, and I wished her well.

Concert Buddy asked if we were going to wait around outside to talk to the band.

“I don’t know,” I told her honestly. “I don’t want to, really. Are you?”

“Yeah. You should really go. I think Mikel will be happy to see you.”

“Oh, he doesn’t remember me.”

“You never know.”

I laughed. “I’ll go with you. You can introduce me to Adrian.”

The six of us headed outside and around to the alley behind the venue. Already a small crowd had formed, among whom included the kid I had met before the show and whose phone Mikel had taken. They excitedly thanked me for the “advice” and gushed over the experience. Now that I had finally let go of the ghost, I beamed with genuine happiness for them. After all, it wasn’t that long ago I was at my first show having my own amazing experience. I was glad I could share it in this way with someone else.

We didn’t have to wait long for the band members to meander outside. Adrian was already talking to a few fans on the other side of the street, and immediately recognized my Concert Buddy when she approached him to say hello and take a few pictures. A small swarm of people gathered around Mikel and Steven, everyone talking at once.

I stood off to the side against the wall of the building, waiting for everyone else to have their turn. I wasn’t feeling particularly fangirly at the moment, and once again I asked myself why I was there and if I should just leave.

Out of nowhere, Adrian came over to introduce himself and I told him how excited I was to meet him, and that his performance tonight was amazing. I was quickly won over by his charm. We had a nice chat for a few moments until I glanced at Mikel, and he glanced at me.

“Oh, hey,” he said casually. “How ya been?”

“I’ve been good. How’ve you been?” And then I think I may have laughed. I’m not sure because I started to get very embarrassed and awkward and I felt my brain explode inside my skull.

He said he was good, but to me he looked tired. At that moment, I didn’t know what else to do but clumsily ask him for a picture and then politely excuse myself. Hubby was standing there with the phone ready, and when I stood next to Mikel and turned to him, I slowly felt my brain put itself back together.

“This is my husband, by the way,” I said after Hubby snapped the photo.

Mikel extended his hand and said it was an honor to meet him.

“You know,” Hubby said, “I’ve seen you several times now and I’ve never gotten a picture with you. I’m always the photographer.”

“Oh, absolutely, let’s take a picture then.”

This time, I snapped the picture. Hubby thanked him and they shook hands. Another fan jumped in and got his attention, and we stepped away.

We regrouped with our friends at the top of the street where Daren was chatting and taking pictures with the kid I met in line. I wanted to say hi to Daren before we left because Daren is always so nice and down to earth, and just a cool guy in general. After we said hello, he asked how I drew The Bird, and instantly I became self-conscious and shy and told him that “I’m just a big nerd.”

“Well, so am I,” he confessed. “I think it’s really cool.”

“Oh. Thanks.” I probably blushed. “I just draw it in front of the mirror free hand. It’s no big deal. I’m just a fan, is all.”

And it’s true, I thought after I said goodbye. I am just a fan, as small and insignificant as it sounds. It doesn’t change the fact that I’m just an eyewitness, a spectator, an audience. I came there perhaps foolishly hoping to have an experience and feel special, only to realize I’m just a cog in the machine. In the end, the experience is about them. They’re the ones who have worked tirelessly to produce the art of which we are simply eyewitnesses.  They’re the ones who spend hours on the road, probably not getting enough rest, away from their loved ones, and tirelessly putting on a show night after night.  And only they know the price they have paid to stand there in front of us, the sacrifices they’ve made, the work that goes on behind the scenes to get the notes just right, the motions choreographed, the machine running smoothly so we all can play our parts and feel connected in the grand scheme of the art.

The dream is theirs, and I have just a very, very small part in it, but I’m happy to be part of it nonetheless. The experiences I’ve had because of it have been nothing short of amazing, memories I’ll remember for a lifetime, and some of them have very little to do with the band itself. The other fans I’ve met, some of whom only briefly, are some of the most extraordinary people. They are kind, supportive, even talented in their own right. They are people who matter. They are important in their own way, and I’m so grateful to know several of them personally.

But whereas the band moves on to the next city, the next show, and the next group of eager fans standing in line hoping for their piece, the rest of us get to go home and back to our regularly scheduled lives.

For me this was walking hand in hand with the man who waited in the rain for me to a restaurant for a late-night snack after the show. Then it was going back to our sweet baby boy, who cried as soon as I walked in the door and then smiled and laughed with joy when I picked him up. This is my life now, and it may not be glamorous or terribly exciting, but it is truly all I ever wanted, and significant in its own way.

I’m just a fan, and maybe you are too. Maybe you’re not even an Airborne fan, but a fan of something or someone else. Maybe you’re like me, and you shamelessly love the crap out of things because they make you happy. You’re in good company, and whether they have happened yet or not, you are letting yourself be open to have some amazing experiences. It could be your favorite musician stealing your phone and taking a video during a show, or taking a selfie with your favorite artist. It could even be sharing a knowing glance full of meaning and a thousand unspoken words with a loved one during a show. No matter what it is, being a fan is an experience in itself.

And even though one day they may forget about us, we will always have these memories burning brightly in our lives. Even if one day far in the future, we forget the words to the songs. We will never forget the way they made us feel.

airbornelight

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month

pregnancy-loss-ribbon

“Awareness” is everywhere.  Raising awareness for diseases like cancer brings necessary and potentially lifesaving attention, monetarily or otherwise, to various research groups.  It also paves the way to show empathy for those who suffer.  It is not a state of mind as much as it is a call to action.  A call for support.  In short, awareness is a good thing.

This month, and October 15th, awareness is being directed toward parents who have experienced Pregnancy and/or Infant Loss.  But what does awareness mean for them?

It means compassion and empathy.  It means a reminder to show and receive support.

All too often, bereaved parents suffer in silence.  The death of a child is an unspeakable tragedy and a taboo subject among many.  But statistics show that one in four women will have such an experience.  In the United States alone, there are an average of 600,000 miscarriages, 64,000 ectopic pregnancies, and 26,000 stillbirths each year.  SIDS kills 4,500 babies annually.  Half a million babies are born prematurely, and some do not survive.  Still other parents experience pregnancy loss via molar pregnancies, birth defects, and other causes.

These statistics, while disheartening to read, are still just cold hard facts.  They do not reveal the anguish of the parents who experience them, and the lifelong journey of grief they leave in their wake.

Awareness is for these parents.  Awareness is for me.

It’s not because I have forgotten what has happened to me.  I live with it every day of my life.  It is a haunting black cloud.  It is a chasm of the heart.  It is the undeniable ache for children I love, and the innocent person I used to be.

No, I’m aware all the time.  I never forget.  This month is so you can remember, too.

“Awareness” is for your loved ones, your family, your friends, and the thousands of parents who cry for their dead babies every year.  It gives you an opportunity to let them know you haven’t forgotten either.  And it answers the painful, crippling doubt every bereaved parent feels, that their dead child is forgotten, with a resounding “no.”  No, they are not forgotten.  And neither is the pain of them being gone.

Awareness is about breaking the silence, and shattering the taboo nature of this subject.  If you know someone who has experienced the death of their baby, please do not hesitate to speak their name, and to let them know you have not forgotten the life of this precious child.  It may be awkward, and you may feel clumsy, but you are giving the parents of this beloved child a precious gift – that they are not alone in their grief, and that their baby mattered.

Any loving parent wants their child’s life to matter.  This does not change when the child has died, and it does not depend on how long the child was alive.  It only becomes more important, more profound, more meaningful.

“Awareness” is everywhere.  But for bereaved parents, it can be difficult to find.

Be aware this month of those who miss their children.  And show awareness all the time by being supportive.  You can do this by speaking their child’s name, by being kind, by showing empathy, and by listening with your heart.  Let the bereaved parent guide the conversation.  If they are reluctant to talk about it, respect their feelings.  Instead, show them sincere kindness.  Let them know you are thinking about them and that they are loved.

Pregnancy loss and infant loss is tragic.  But awareness is always a good thing, especially for the parents who have survived it.  Thank you for your support.

 “The world around you moves on, as if your life was never shattered

and all you want the world to do is say that your baby mattered.” – AJ Clark-Coates

 

The Graveyard Near My House

I don’t enjoy singing in public.  Generally, I don’t enjoy anything that precipitates an anxiety attack.  Singing is like reading one’s words aloud as one writes them, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in front of an audience of one or one thousand – it makes me physically ill.  My throat closes, my chest tightens, and I gasp for air as if I am being suffocated.  I guess you would call it “stage fright,” though what frightens me the most is the way singing exposes a person’s soul to interpretation and criticism.

However, there was a time when I wasn’t so concerned with exposure.  As a child, I loved being onstage.  The spotlight felt warm, familiar, and blinding, like the sun at the beach.  In school I auditioned for the starring role in every production.  I joined chorus and involved myself in extracurricular activities related to theater and music.  One teacher told my mother that I was either going to be an actress or a writer, and both careers had her scared to death because probably neither would allow me to support myself financially.  But I had a passion for the stage and the pen that has transcended to adulthood.

After high school, I pursued a more reasonable career path, but turned singing into a hobby.  I paid for singing lessons and enjoyed learning how to train and strengthen my voice.  My instructor encouraged me to get involved with community theater, confident that I had both talent and skill, and I honestly felt her disappointment when my other goals and pursuits did not line up with the stage.  Eventually, I quit the lessons and life took over – marriage, moving, and the mundane day-to-day activities that left very little time for hobbies like singing or writing.

Since he was a 16-year-old bass player in a garage band, Hubby has been trying to get me to record something with him.  He doesn’t sing much, but he loves music, and playing the guitar is more than just a hobby for him – it’s a talent in his family that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Over the years we have acquired some equipment and practiced here and there, but the majority of time has been spent talking about it and never actually doing anything.  Other than a couple inebriated karaoke sessions at our local taco joint, my singing career – I mean hobby – had become stagnant.

Then when Wesley died, it was over.

Like so many things I used to enjoy, singing was something I thought I could no longer do.  Unlike mindless humming or the repetition of words in a song on the radio, real singing - the soul-exposing, heart-revealing expression of melodies that come from deep within – was an impossibility for a long time.

Likewise, and most disturbingly of all, Hubby stopped playing the guitar altogether.  He refused to even pick it up.  At one time, he even considered selling it, because even though it was my graduation gift to him, it became a sore sight in the living room.  Grief will do that to a person, and it is non-discriminatory.  Grief doesn’t care that you are a 4th+ generation musician.  It will blow the skill right out of your brain, and then beat you with it.

On the flip side, grief can also be harnessed and used to create art.  But this doesn’t always happen automatically or immediately.

It was during that terrible dark year following Wesley’s death and my miscarriage that I “discovered” The Airborne Toxic Event, and the song “The Graveyard Near The House” hit very, very close to home.  It felt like one of the many conversations we were having during those horrible months of accepting our reality and reeling from the nightmarish truth that our lives could end at any time, and what would happen then?

It is a love song for the realists, a fact which makes it quite possibly the most romantic song of them all.

It is also known to make me weep shamelessly at concerts.  Or in the privacy of my own home, when no one is around.  I have heard it literally thousands of times, and there are moments still when a certain line or note will hit me right between the ribs where I think I’ve so cleverly hidden and buried my fears, only to discover they are collecting at the surface, seeping and festering on an open wound.

When we finally reached the point of desperation readiness to start trying for another baby, we began filling the great abysmal unknown with negative pregnancy tests and the last pieces of what were once hopes and dreams.  We started having conversations about adoption, or selling everything and buying a couple motorcycles and never walking through the baby aisle of a department store ever again.

Infertility is a grief of its own, a vacuum of despair and humiliation that steals a person’s humanity.

We were already humbled within an inch of our lives when our son died.  Then came the miscarriage, and now I was having trouble getting pregnant a third time.  Meanwhile, our friends were having babies left and right, as we were slowly going insane.

So one day in the spring of 2013, I snapped.

“I want you to play me a song,” I told Hubby, and I handed him the guitar I got him when we were 18.

“No,” he said, pushing it away.  “I’m probably going to sell it, anyway.”

I bit my lip, ignoring the hurt I felt that he would sell his graduation present.  But this wasn’t personal – this was grief.  And like all issues I feel strongly about, I continued to push it until he finally relented.  I mean agreed.

“Just think of it as an art project,” I told him.  “Let’s use all that equipment we paid good money for.”

And then I pulled out the big guns.  “You always said you wanted to make music with me.”

Hubby can’t resist a challenge.

First, Hubby had to learn the song by watching live performances of “Graveyard” on YouTube.  This took him less than an hour.  Then we had practice sessions in our living room for a couple of weeks.  Lastly, he cleaned the dust off his effects pedal and microphone and we set a date to record it live.

We talked about various locations around town where we could film it, but nothing seemed feasible without an electrical outlet.  We had to think smaller.

Our filming date coincided with his parents’ camping trip, so out of convenience our location was chosen for us – the back deck of his parents’ house that overlooks the woods.  It’s a picturesque little backyard in the springtime, and it also afforded us the use of electricity and unlimited trips to the refrigerator, which ended up being a necessity.  We were unprepared for the amount of time this was going to take.

Hubby began setting up for the shoot, and then it hit me, what we were about to do.

I had baited him with talk of putting it on Facebook and YouTube without really considering my proposal: that other people would see it.  I was throwing myself under the bus to get my husband to play the guitar again, because one of us losing ourselves in this fight to survive was enough, but both of us was unacceptable.  And also I had gone a little bit insane.

But in a moment of clarity before the camera started rolling, I panicked as if I was stepping onstage.  It didn’t matter that the audience was an as yet undetermined amount of people – someone was guaranteed to see it, even if it was just my mother-in-law.  And in the months and years since Wesley, my social anxiety has grown into an out-of-control wildfire that threatens to consume me into staying inside and being a hermit for the rest of my days.

Nevertheless, I was fed up with life.  I had all but given up.  What difference would it make, really, if I put a stupid video of me making a fool out of myself on the Internet?  Even if it was truly awful, no one could have made me feel worse about myself than I already felt.

Besides, if nothing else, Hubby can play the guitar, and he looks good playing the guitar.  So it couldn’t be all bad.  Could it?

We spent hours doing take after take.  A dog would start barking, and we would have to stop.  A plane would fly overhead, and ruin our audio.  And I kept having waves of anxiety that threatened to steal my breath and voice and made my skin tingle.  The left side of my face eventually went numb.  But we kept going until we finally hit our stride and got a decent take.

The sun was setting on our way home.  A full day of playing the guitar and singing, to make up for the years of silence in our marriage where there should have been music.

Hubby spent a week editing the video. I suggested we add a black-and-white filter, as a tribute to the band’s video. I watched it one time, all the while resisting the urge to criticize myself out of existence.  Again, what did it matter?  I was already becoming a ghost in my own life, wasting away from grief and desperation.  Who really gives a crap, anyway?  Not me.

I declared it “not terrible” and we put it online.  And then I tried to forget about it, like I do everything that requires some kind of soul-exposure.  Even blogging.  Even this blog post. 

Over time, I’ve tried not to think about it. I never watched it again, and I refuse to listen to the audio recording. I can’t take it, and I can’t even really explain why. I think it has something to do with the fear of my own severe, harsh, and sometimes unfounded criticism that I only use on myself being realized, and then I will truly never sing or write or do anything creative ever again. And it doesn’t matter that a few people saw it and actually liked it, or were inspired by it to do something creative themselves, or were just glad we had done something that didn’t involve sobbing over our pain. If I were to watch it again, it’s like singing in public, except it was a year and a half ago, but the anxiety is still hanging around.

The only reason I started thinking about it again was because Hubby was tagged by some of his old band mates in some viral social medial survey in which they requested to know his Top Favorite 20 Songs Of All Time. Amongst other respectable choices, there was “The Graveyard Near The House.”

“Really?” I said. “‘Graveyard’ made the cut?” Because I’m surprised when Hubby mentions in any capacity the band that has taken over his wife, and is sometimes met with affection, other times with annoyance. I always forget that he was the one who introduced me to them, not the other way around.

“Yes, of course ‘Graveyard,’” he replied like I should have known better. “Those are just some of the best lyrics ever written.”

And then out of the blue, I suddenly remembered I sung that song in the public forum that is YouTube.

“Hey, remember when we did our ‘Graveyard’ video?”

“Yes.”

I paused to remember the person I was in that video – that desperate, grieving shell of a person.

“Why did we do that?”

Now it was Hubby’s turn to pause. He thought for a moment and then simply said, “Because we had to.”

He is right. We had to. We had to do something. Even if it was just a makeshift, homespun little music video covering an obscure song that isn’t even on the radio. Even if no one will watch it, or think it is anything great, or even if they think it’s awful. We had to do it. Whether it’s because we were at the very end of our rope emotionally, mentally, and physically and we just had to put something out there into the void . . . or we risked losing the last of the charred remains of an empire that was our past selves if we didn’t cultivate and nurture our creative roots. We had to do it.

And it had to be this song, because there isn’t another love song for realists out there – the people who openly discuss the devastation and downright absurdity of death in the same breath they acknowledge that love is worth it, no matter the outcome. Win, lose, or die . . . in the end, it’s better to love, whether the person is your spouse, the unborn children you’re hoping for, or the dead child you miss so much it hurts. This is our soul-exposing, heart-revealing truth. In the end, love wins.

Since then, Hubby has picked up the guitar more, and has even written his own songs. We even learned a few more Airborne songs, and other songs that were fun to play.

It’s a slow process of rebuilding the people like the ones we used to be. And although I will probably never sing onstage in public again, it’s nice to know that the soul-exposing, heart-revealing person I used to be is not completely gone forever, and might be salvageable after all.

Here is our video. It’s not anything special. It’s probably not even really that great. But we had to do it.

Brothers

I hear it all the time. Even now, as an adult. Even as recently as last week.

“You’re their little sister? I never knew they even had a little sister!”

It doesn’t surprise me anymore. I roll with it now. Sometimes with invention: “I was locked away in a tower” or “I grew up in France.” Sometimes with humor: “I’m the best thing about my family, and they just didn’t want anyone to know.”

The truth is, I was a latecomer. The last of the progeny. The baby. They were learning to drive when I was learning cursive. When I started middle school, they were starting their adult lives – moving out (and back in), working, dating, and leaving a legacy with friends in the Tri-State Area. Friends that I met in my adult life, and continue to meet as time goes on.

It’s like being the little sister of a couple of celebrities. People instantly recognize my maiden name. And it’s not “Oh, are you the daughter of So-and-So?” No. It’s “Are you related to So-and-So? Oh, they’re your brothers? I didn’t know they had a sister!” And so on, and so forth.

I can remember a handful of times they let me, their tomboyish kid sister, tag along – but this was the exception rather than the rule. A day at the amusement park there, letting me hang out while they played computer games here. But I was just a kid, you see. And nobody wants to be responsible for their kid sister when they’re trying to have fun . . . unless there are girls involved. Then I became a commodity. Look at how awesome and sensitive I am, taking care of my little sister. Right.

Sometimes my oldest brother T would let me hang out in his room while he played video games, with the ubiquitous array of electronic innards scattered about the floor.  He was the child of the Commodore 64, growing up in the utopian age of computers, and familiarized himself so much with the technology he made a career out of it.  He used to try to explain to me what everything did, and how it all fit together so I could play Lemmings, but I never quite understood what the heck he was talking about. It wasn’t until I was about 13 and he was 23 that he had vital information for me: how to download music using the program Napster. Those were the days, my friend.

My other brother (and he is definitely the “other” brother and poster child for Middle Child Syndrome) never let me go near his room. I was mostly okay with that, though, because it smelled pretty bad in there. On the rare occasion J would come out of his room, we would usually start fighting, and more than once it got physical, to the point where I do believe I took off a few layers of arm skin with my fingernails. But to his credit, he probably could have literally killed me, and he didn’t. He just disappeared into his room with a bowl of cereal and a Band-Aid.

Nevertheless, as I was growing up, I always knew that both of my brothers were extremely talented.

T is the artist. His artwork is meticulously crafted and breathtaking. From cartoons to comic books to detailed portraits, his talent is second nature, but never superficial – his subjects have heart and soul. His portfolio is an extensive marvel of precise skill.

Not just a talented artist, he is well read and intelligent, taking his skill with computers to “wizard” status and running the gamut of the English language. He was the first one to teach me about Word Of The Day and introduce me to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as well as the prolific sci-fi genre in general. His quick, sarcastic wit often goes over the head of his audience, a fact which often amuses only him, but has pushed the parameters of my own understanding to get his jokes.

T wearing an example of his favorite kind of humor.

T wearing an example of his favorite kind of humor.

However, with his massive brain comes a deep and attractive quality of humility and compassion that permeates everything he does. His intimidating size throws people off, but his friends know him to be a great listener, diplomat, and mediator. He is something of an oxymoron, with his deep brow and terrifying glare, but absolute disdain for controversy. It could be said one might be able to walk all over him. Except no one would ever, ever try.

At an Airborne show, T is my bodyguard.

At an Airborne show, T is my bodyguard.

J’s talent has always been poetry, though this might come to a surprise to those who don’t know him well. For as long as I can remember, he has kept a folded piece of paper and a pen in his pocket at all times, and will produce it randomly in any given setting to scribble down a verse or two. His poems can be shockingly painful, about life and death and heartache. But he, too, is an oxymoron. The same person who can take your breath away and break your heart with words can also make you laugh until you can’t breathe. He is the paragon of middle children everywhere, demanding your attention whether it’s positive or negative. It doesn’t matter. You got mad. You laughed. You reacted. He is pleased with all forms of attention, even going so far as growing a handlebar mustache for controversy’s sake. He uses Instagram like target practice, taking aim at every picture you post with sarcastic wit at your expense. Sometimes I will go on there just to read the comments he leaves. He walks the very thin line between a good-natured dig and an offensive remark, and he is beloved for it . . . for the most part.  But even the ones whom he offends amuse him.

J - the non-conformist "Middle Child."

J – the non-conformist “Middle Child.”

Though close in age, they’re both very different, but equally beloved by those who know them. They have an extensive group of friends of different ages, one so large it often overlaps with mine. And every once in a while, I will meet someone who knew them when they were young adults, and only later will they realize I am their little sister.

Maybe we’re not as close as we could be, or should be. Time and age has influenced that up until recent years, but as I became an adult and started a family of my own, things began to change. I wanted them around more. Sometimes this came back to bite me. Such was the case during my first time seeing The Airborne Toxic Event. I rounded up a couple girl friends and my brother J. Mostly, I wanted protection an older brother affords – just in case. I had never been to a concert without my husband since I got married, and for all intents and purposes, I had never been to one like this at all, as a fangirl in the front row. But J – well, he can only be himself. The Middle Child. The big brother who never grew up.

In the middle of the show, during a prolonged and quiet pause, my brother took aim at my expense in a singularly public way, much like he does on social media. Very loudly, and with great pleasure, he yelled out “MY SISTER IS IN LOVE WITH YOU. AND SHE IS MARRIED.”

In horror, I whipped around and whisper-yelled back at him. “Shut up, you moron! What is wrong with you?!”

And of course, he just smiled. Because all he wanted was a reaction. And maybe that was his way of putting me in my place. Maybe he thought it was his job, as a big brother. Or maybe he is just a turd. Whatever the reason, in the end he smoothed things over with the purchase of my first band T-shirt. And thankfully, no band member past or present seems to remember my total humiliation.

I didn’t have those classic sibling moments growing up that you see on sitcoms or read in memoirs. I just have what I’ve got now, as we are all grown up and trying to make sense of our lives and the challenges along the way.

Those challenges define who really is your family. It doesn’t have to be the person your mother gave birth to before or after you. Sometimes a friend can be like a brother, and I am blessed to have many “brothers” in that sense.

But these men with whom I share my maiden name are both my friends and brothers, and they have proven to be such in my own times of distress.

The brother who can meticulously craft a portrait of the anguish in the eyes of a human was there at my son’s funeral, with tears streaming down his cheeks, as he held my head against his broad shoulders. And he was there in the days after, quietly listening with compassion – his intimidating form never an intimidating presence, but that of a welcome and warm companion.

The brother who delights at making others laugh or pissing me off was there at the funeral with a poem he had written for me, about the nephew he never knew. A poem about life, death, and a kind of heartache he couldn’t possibly understand, but somehow seemed to capture in verse.

These are my brothers, the men who have preceded me and left a legacy. And I’m the little sister no one knows about.

For a long time, I wondered where I fit into the trifecta as the only girl, the little sister, and the baby. We are each so different, yet there are overlaps in our respective interests and abilities. I draw a little bit, but I’m not even close to being an artist like my brother T.  I’ve tried writing poetry, but it pales in comparison to J’s raw exposure of emotion through verse.

I guess I’m just trying to write it all down.

And maybe this is my legacy, a string of words on a nonexistent page.

But I would hardly be the person I am today without my brothers, and I am proud that, for some people, their first impression of me is built around their last impression of my brothers.

*For T and J with love, from your li’l sis

Not For Wimps

**The following post is not an attack on those who have chosen, for whatever reason, whether by necessity or choice, not to breastfeed.  Certainly we moms are hard enough on ourselves without having someone criticize what we feed our children.**

Like most women, I had grandiose ideas of motherhood. I watched my friends have babies and admired the ethereal transformation that took place when they tended to their infant children and toddlers. Most notably, this happened when they attached a hungry child to their breast seemingly without difficulty, while one hand supported the baby and the other reached for a glass of wine. It was an incredible thing to witness, this moment of ultimate multitasking. When I found out I was pregnant, and the idea that I might actually have a baby one day became a real possibility, I was already on board. If this was breastfeeding, sign me up.

Sure, I was a little concerned about cracked and bleeding nipples, and the likely reality that my already monstrous-sized boobs would go up a size or two. But by the time I was eight months pregnant with Little Rock Star, these concerns paled when I considered how fortunate I was that I could have a baby, much less breastfeed one. After all, everyone else survived it. And not only were they successful, they encouraged me to try it as well.

So we signed up for breastfeeding classes and patted ourselves on the back for being proactive parents and giving our son the very best food possible. I pictured myself like my ethereal mom-friends, having that special bond with my baby at the same time I enjoyed a glass of wine.

However, there was a question that everyone wanted to know, even down to the paperwork on breastfeeding I completed for the hospital when I gave birth. Why was everyone asking me if I had a support group for breastfeeding? I didn’t see any entourage following my mom-friends around while they breastfed their babies. Why the heck would I need one?

I shrugged my shoulders and concluded that I did have a support group, if that’s what my breastfeeding friends were. They were supporting me to breastfeed, too. So there you go. I guess?

Then I had a baby to feed. Only then did I understand to the fullest extent what that actually meant.

Because breastfeeding is not for wimps.

Now, I have been through hardships, both emotional and physical, in my relatively modest lifetime. I have had two C-sections, a miscarriage, and have experienced the death of one of my children. I also ran 5ks and endured grueling exercise programs to get in shape.

So let me assure you, breastfeeding is hard.

It is one of the hardest things I have ever done.

And I just wish someone would have prepared me. Yes, I took the classes. Yes, I talked to friends and relatives who successfully breastfed their children. But no one sat me down and said, “Look, what you’re about to do? It’s like, the hardest thing you will ever do. You will cry. You will feel like you’re running a marathon every day for weeks, on the littlest amount of sleep you’ve ever had in your life. And your nipples will crack and bleed. And you’re going to feel like giving up. In the middle of the night, one of the many bottles of formula they throw at you at the hospital is going to look mighty tempting. But you’ll get through it.”

Yes, I got through it, even in spite of having to give my son formula at the hospital to help him gain weight because my milk hadn’t come in yet. I got through having to trick him back to breastfeeding with my husband’s help, with him hovering over us holding a syringe of expressed breast milk that he would squirt into my son’s mouth when he tried to latch. I got through having to wake up every hour and a half to feed him – which meant spending 20 minutes waking a sleepy infant who wanted to stay asleep as much as I did, then another 15 minutes trying to get him to latch while he screamed in frustration, then at least another 15 minutes trying to get us both to stay awake while he ate, only to repeat the process again several times before the dawn.

I got through leaky boobs, a painful letdown (which, for those of you who don’t know, feels like some invisibly strong and painful gravity is pulling at your boobs), and a mild bout with mastitis (read=aching pain). I got through an overactive supply, which made my boobs go up not one, not two, but three whole sizes to the point I felt like Jessica Rabbit nursing a baby. And I got through the guilt of watching my poor baby cough and choke on his food because once my milk came in, my boobs were set to “garden hose.”

I also got through bleeding and cracked nipples, which, as it turned out, had the easiest remedy of all. I just slapped some coconut oil on those bad boys (well, not exactly slapped, but you know what I mean), and the next day I was ready to face whatever challenge this breastfeeding job would bring. And it is definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, a job.

And that support group everyone was asking about? That was actually every single woman I knew who breastfed their children. They became my go-to people for advice on how to handle these formidable challenges, in addition to the breastfeeding consultants whom I asked for help. Together with about 20 other people, me and Little Rock Star were a champion breastfeeding team.

But I still felt like I was missing something. Breastfeeding was not enjoyable for me like it was for other more ethereal-looking moms. I didn’t feel that special bond that I thought I was supposed to feel. It was more like a sense of satisfaction one receives for completing a task, not hearts and flowers and warm fuzzies.

And there was still the issue of breastfeeding in public, which I was having trouble doing. Little Rock Star wants to eat like the true performer he is – not from behind a curtain. He literally threw off every cover I tried to use, and I tried them all – from Babies ‘R Us to Etsy homemade models to nursing scarves. He would cry and wiggle and flail his arms around until I finally realized I had to go au naturel.

But the challenge of breastfeeding became, not the act of breastfeeding itself, but how I felt about breastfeeding – and my failure at becoming the perfect ethereal mom I had always hoped to be.

The idea of nursing a baby in public gave me such great anxiety, I packed bottles of breastmilk when I wasn’t sure I could find a private place for me to feed my little guy. After all, he refused to eat under a tent or a cover, and who could blame him? I wouldn’t want to eat like that either.

But what if someone saw me? What if I became some sort of public spectacle, with my Jessica Rabbit boobs and my little acrobatic breastfeeder?  How could I reconcile all this with my crippling social anxiety?

Despite my legal right to breastfeed practically anywhere I want to, the thought of being that ultimate multitasking mom with a baby at her breast and a wineglass in her hand seemed like a dream.

Then last week, when we were at the park, Little Rock Star was hungry.

And I didn’t have a bottle.

I quickly surveyed my surroundings. Several feet away, in a small theater pavilion, a few teenage boys were skateboarding on the concrete stage. Across the clearing, a birthday party was taking place at a shelter. Next to the shelter came the cheerful cries of children at the playground.

And there we were, right in the middle of the park, taking shade at a picnic table under a tree.

I could have retreated to the car, where I could try to (uncomfortably) feed my child. Or we could have taken a walk to find some private wooded area where I could sit on the ground like our ancestors and feed him there. But the more he cried out of hunger, the more desperate I became.

And so instead, I sat down at the picnic table and lovingly calmed him before I discreetly fed him –  in public, surrounded by several other people. No cover, no scarf, no acrobatics. Just a mom feeding her baby in the most natural way.

And wouldn’t you know it, no one gawked at me, or tried to take a picture, or told me I couldn’t breastfeed in public. No one even cared. Maybe they didn’t even notice.

No one knew they were witnessing the most beautiful thing – that at that moment, a transformation was taking place. I became the perfect ethereal mom I always wanted to be – confident and calm, knowing I was giving my child the very best food there is. And maybe that’s all it takes to become “that” mom – giving your child what they need, when they need it – whether it’s taking a moment to calm them down, kissing a scraped knee, breastfeeding in a park, or waking up in the middle of the night to give them a bottle of formula. All of it is part of the selfless, unconditional love that comes from being a mom.

The only thing missing was that glass of wine.  But when I looked into my son’s beautiful blue eyes, I knew I wasn’t missing anything at all.

Check

For a moment, she considered it.

The cashier was a woman, not a 17-year-old guy.  Check.

No one ahead of her.  Check.

Then she made a sweep with her eyes of the contents in her cart.

Less than 20.  Or was it 15?  Wait . . . 12.  No.  That’s crazy.  It’s 20.  It’s 20 items or less, and I have less than 20 items.  Check.

But then she saw the Self-Checkout Lanes.

Shining like the proverbial pearly gates of heaven with an angelic choir, the allure of buying groceries privately with no social interaction whatsoever was too strong.  She passed the cashier that wasn’t a 17-year-old guy.  She passed the No-Wait, 20 (or maybe 15) Items or Less Lane.

A conversation in which she didn’t have to answer was too great a promise.

“Welcome valued customer.”

“Are you using your own bags?”

“Scan your item.  Then place your item in the bagging area.”

The first item she plucked from the cart was a red pepper with a bar code sticker on its skin.  She carefully held it above the scanner, waiting for the red laser lines visible through the glass plate of the metal surface to do their job.  Technology is wonderful, she thought.

She continued to hold it, but there was no familiar chime.

She turned it over in.  She smoothed the sticker in case a tiny fold or crease was the culprit of failure.  She even gently pressed the pepper against the surface of the scanner, to no avail.

“Did you pick self-checkout,” said a real and decidedly male voice behind her, “so you didn’t have to interact with anyone?”

“Maybe,” she replied, avoiding a husband’s judgmental glare.  Then she all but smashed the pepper into the scanner.  Work, you stupid piece of crap!

“Honey.”

His voice was kind but impatient.

“Let’s go.”

“It’ll work.”

“This is ridiculous.”

“It.  Will.  Work.”

Ding.

“Place your item in the bagging area.”

“See?”  She held up the pepper condescendingly, then did as she was told.

Her husband shook his head, and the baby in his arms smiled and cooed at the sight of his mother’s face.

“You have a problem.”

She continued scanning and bagging more groceries.

“You know,” her husband said as she individually scanned and individually bagged the sixth jar of baby food, “these people are paid to help you.”

“I like doing it myself.”

“This takes three, maybe even four times as long.  All so you don’t have to speak to another human being.”

“That is correct, yes.”

He sighed.

“I’m going to go get the car.”

“That’s a good idea,” she said cheerfully.  She didn’t even look up as he passed, making his way to the exit, and as she placed another item in the bagging area.  The price was high, she thought, but the rewards are great.  Perhaps one day they could afford to have their groceries delivered to their home, eliminating this problem altogether.  But who has the money for that?

Money.

She looked in the cart where the diaper bag was supposed to be, and in which her wallet was now living these days.

It was gone.

Of course it was.  He had taken the diaper bag with the human for whom the diaper bag was used: the baby.  Not the adult woman.  The adult woman was supposed to carry a purse, and if she had been, there would be no problem.

The pause in the transaction elicited a response from the machine.

“Attendant has been notified to assist you.”

No.  No!  Cancel.  Cancel!

Within five seconds, she had her cell phone pressed to her ear.

“Yeah?”

“I need the diaper bag.  My purse is in there.”

His voice faded as he hung up the phone.  “You have got to be kidding – “

After an excruciatingly 3-5 minutes, her husband reappeared carrying the baby in one arm and the diaper bag on the other.  With an exaggerated and comical pursed-lip expression, he extended the bag to her and she offered a polite “thanks.”  He turned to leave, and she returned to scanning her items and placing them in the bagging area, just like the machine said.

Machines don’t get impatient with you, she thought to herself as she scanned and bagged a pack of hamburger buns.

Her last item was a small four-pack case of ginger beer.  It was a last-minute addition to their grocery list, her husband having been wanting to make Moscow Mules ever since their friends had introduced them to the refreshing, summery cocktail last month.  He “just so happened” to be walking through the liquor aisle and discovered their local store was now carrying it, and had excitedly held it up to her face so she, too, could be excited about the prospect of Moscow Mules.

Now she just wanted to leave.  It was getting dangerously close to the start time of the bedtime routine.  Countdown would begin at the first unpleasant sound from her infant son, and for all she knew, that could have been minutes ago during her husband’s first trip to the car.

She went to pick up the ginger beer.

This special beer, however, was not packaged in the usual way of its Michelob cousins or its distant relative, Smirnoff.  The beers were wrapped on the top, bottom, front, and back with cardboard, leaving the sides exposed and open.  Instead of a handle, there was a hole at the top, presumably for an index finger.

Perhaps if she had just taken a moment to examine the item before she tried scanning it, the following would never have happened.  But the machine gave no such instructions.

She reached for the beer, paying no heed to the hole, and lifted the beers by their cardboard container no more than two inches from the infant basket at the rear of the cart.

The momentum was not enough to knock them all over, but one beer was shaken loose from the questionable cardboard and tumbled gloriously to the hard, unforgiving floor where it very satisfyingly smashed into an explosion of glass and ginger beer.

She blinked her eyes and felt a sense of dread come over her.

Not over her bare foot in the flip-flop she was wearing, that was now covered in beer.

Not over the tiny bits of glass on her big toe.

Someone would be coming to “help” her.

But it wasn’t just one person.  Oh no.  It had to be three people, all under the age of 23, descending upon her humiliation like vultures, ready to feast on her pride.

This time, the voices did not come from a machine.

“Hey, Sara, we need a mop.”

“I think it’s somewhere in produce.”

“No, the other mop.  We need to get this cleaned up before Darlene sees.”

“But it’s glass, too.  Do we mop up the glass?”

“Just mop it all up and get it out of here.”

“Ma’am, do you need another case?”

She glanced up to the stranger who called her ma’am – a young girl with sleepy eyes and a pretty bad set of jagged-cut bangs.  She was heavyset and looked annoyed, in the way that only those who work in the food industry can look both annoyed and pleasant at the same time.

“Y-yes.”

The girl turned to the direction of the liquor aisle.

“I’m so sorry,” she heard herself say to the remaining two, feeling both guilt and panic rushing in now that the shock was over.  Since meeting their gaze was impossible, she began picking glass bits out of the bottom of her foot, absently tossing them to the floor.  Whether real or imaginary, she perceived their displeasure with her, and the disgust of having to interact with such a clumsy fool.  Perhaps they were watching all along, she told herself, and saw that she had to wait for her husband to bring back the diaper bag.

Humiliated, she hid her face as the third girl returned with another case of beer.

Instead of placing the item on the scanner, she returned it to the same place it was in the cart.  Then she walked away, likely distancing herself from the scene entirely.

This time, there would be no mistakes.  She carefully wrapped her hands around the entire case, foregoing the questionable hole on top altogether, and warily placed the item on the scanner.

Ding.

“Please show your ID to the attendant.”

She shuttered.  Now it seemed even a lifeless machine was twisting the knife.

However, a message flashed on the screen.  Age verification bypassed.

She sighed in relief.  Still, she was forced to awkwardly scoop the four beers from the scanner’s surface, and deposit them into a plastic bag.  The action left her flushed and trembling.  She made a mental note to call and complain to the brewery and manufacture, a thought she found ironic later.  Call and speak to another person?  On the telephone?  To lodge a complaint?  She would rather drop a whole case of beer than have to go through that kind of torture.

She quickly retrieved her bags, carefully adding them one by one to each arm.

Then she turned to the two store clerks still cleaning up the mess.

“I’m really very sorry,” she said softly.

They glanced up at her with polite smiles, and one of them exclaimed that it was “all right.”

She left the store with her bottom lip between her teeth, her nerves shaken, and her pride sticking to the bottom of her flip-flop.

She needed a drink.

A Moscow Mule.

Check.

 

A Leaf On the Wind: A TATE Fan’s Perspective

It came without warning.

During the last few moments of an interview on Sunday, the news broke. The temporary bassist for The Airborne Toxic Event, Adrian Rodriguez – who had been covering Noah Harmon since his paternity leave – was announced as a permanent member of the band.

Hours later, Noah confirmed the news on Instagram. “I got fired,” he said. “7 years. 0 regrets.”

Fired? What?

I rubbed my eyes in disbelief and exhaustion. It was almost 3:00am, and I just happened to be in the middle of a bout with insomnia. In hind site, I should have turned my phone off and tried to sleep. Normally, I am a reasonable person with responsibilities and a family. But when it comes to That Band, I am known to forego basic needs like food, water, and sleep to get the coveted barrier spot at a show. I take my passions seriously. And I have yet to be disappointed.

But this. This was shocking. Unbelievable. Disturbing.

I immediately took to the social media capital of the world to make sense of what I couldn’t believe with my eyes. I wasn’t the first to have seen it. A collective wailing began – words so loud on a screen, you would have thought someone had just died.

Then the rioting started. A demand for a formal announcement and an explanation. A cry for justice. A search for someone to blame. Some took the objective approach. Some intellectualized it. Others chose a state of denial. It can’t be true. It just can’t.

To the casual observer, we seem like stark-raving lunatics. “It’s just a band,” you might say. “Get over it.” And do you know what? You would be absolutely right. At the end of the day, they are all just people. They are fans of their favorite bands, just like we are fans. They have families just like we have families. They make mistakes, they get mad, they make up, they move on, just like you and me. And what happened is none of our business, no matter how frustrated we are over the news.

The problem is some of us are not simply frustrated. We are heartbroken.

How is that even possible? How could someone be heartbroken – yes, truly in emotional pain – over a bassist’s departure from a band?

As I wrestled with those questions myself (contrary to popular belief, I really do question my sanity when it comes to this band quite often), I remembered I had made a similar connection some years ago, only this was with a character on television. His name was Wash.

Speak the word “Firefly” in a group of sci-fi loving nerds and you will immediately summon the fangirl in all of them. If they had it their way, the show would still be on TV, not cancelled after its first season on FOX more than a decade ago. Following its premature cancellation, a movie was released based on the TV show, called Serenity. If you’ve never watched this series, but you’d like to, I would advise you to stop reading this post altogether.

 

********************************************************************************************************

 

Still here? Great.

Part of what made the series Firefly and its subsequent film Serenity so memorable was, among other things, the characters – their individual personalities and unique perspectives they brought to a ship of misfits. So when Wash, our beloved pilot, was suddenly and violently killed in the middle of his wistful mantra, “I am a leaf on the wind, watch how I soar,” another kind of collective wailing was heard in the universe. As one Firefly fan put it, “It was the closest I’ve come to feeling real grief over a fictional death.”

It came without warning. It can’t be true. It just can’t.

The departure of Airborne’s beloved bassist has elicited a similar reaction from the fans. All anger and shock aside, the overwhelming response has been sadness.

Certainly, Noah Harmon’s contribution to the band was superlative, and his performance onstage is unforgettable. He was (and still is) a ridiculously talented musician, and just about every single fan of The Airborne Toxic Event hates to see him go. Undoubtedly, he will be sorely missed.

But we are grieving something more.

A few years ago, when I was still furiously writing a novel about a fictional musician’s journey, my “research” was interviews and articles about The Airborne Toxic Event, simply because they were the band I listened to the most at the time. Little by little, I uncovered the distinction this band had over any other, that of a refreshing and honest approach to the way they made music and the way they connected with one another. Even from an outsider’s perspective, witnessing the chemistry between band members who at the same time share a common goal and an inside joke is electrifying and highly attractive. It’s as if they share some creative magical bond, and the end result is music for which we’re willing to pay good money.

For The Airborne Toxic Event, this was a group of exceptionally talented individuals who brought their distinct personalities, unique perspective, and even sense of humor to a collaborative project that ultimately became three albums’ worth of material, and then some. But they didn’t leave it at that. Instead, we have hours upon hours of interviews with the band detailing their journey, a DVD that was essentially a making-of special of their concert at the Walt Disney Hall in 2009, and even homemade video blogs of their adventures during the early days of touring. They weren’t shy about bringing us along for the ride for the past seven years, and we packed our proverbial bags and joined them. Surely, it could be said that a few classically-trained musicians and a prolific writer with a flare for the melodramatic and propensity toward death-defying motorcycle trips across the country are a band of misfits (but not the band Misfits), a group of characters who are real people, and have graciously shared their lives with us onstage and downstage for a chat after a show. This wasn’t just once or twice or just long enough to make a video and create an “image” of how the band wanted to be perceived. This has been going on for years, long before I ever jumped on the bandwagon. But even if you were to discover them today, you could start with their pilot episode on YouTube and follow their journey as a fledgling band of an undetermined musical genre with a handful of fans, to playing Lollapalooza to a screaming crowd of thousands in the pouring rain.

Yet time and time again, in more interviews than there is time to cite, they attributed their creative success to their collaboration with each other, not just as musicians, but as friends. As recently as the spring of 2013, Mikel Jollett himself stated during the live session at KCRW: “It’s a collaborative process between artists, and there is an overlap of a lot of friendship, and also just a common sense of you’re a team . . . and every part is extremely important.”

These sentiments spilled over onto Twitter just days prior to that session, when he reminisced and waxed poetic publically just enough for us to feel proud we were supporting such an overlap of artistry and friendship:

“Falling asleep to the gentle, stoney sounds of the band and crew skateboard-jousting in the loading bay. Some nights when I can’t sleep here in the bunk of our bus, I worry the bus will crash..and all I can think is that it’s precious cargo..You know my friends are here sleeping. We’re in this vessel together and I just don’t want anything bad to happen to them. I feel responsible. I feel protective. Im reminded of the night the Drowning Men got hit by a drunk driver. We turned our bus around and there they were in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, on the side of the road. We slept 19 people on our bus that night..And all I could think was: I’m glad we’re here together.”

Whether this was the intention or not, the vast majority of fans felt this connection as soon as they took the stage. As outsiders, we were eyewitnesses to their dynamics and chemistry, both on and off the stage. Their humility and their humanity set them apart from other bands, and ultimately endeared themselves to us, to the point we believed we were sharing some kind of collective cathartic experience every time Anna Bulbrook pulled the bow of her viola across our heartstrings.

Now one member of this band and group of friends has left.

It came without warning, and we are scratching our heads in wonder and rubbing our eyes in disbelief. It can’t be true. It just can’t.

“It is a loss of innocence,” as one fan stated, “that the perfect band of friends who have a blast and just happen to make amazing music and whose live shows are transcendent are human after all.”

Photo by Ryan Macchione

Photo by Ryan Macchione

It is the humanity we are mourning. A reality, both refreshing and tactile, that perhaps this wasn’t just a job for them – that maybe they enjoyed it as much as we did. And being human, they make mistakes, they get mad, they make up, they move on, just like you and me.

But all of us will have seven years’ worth of music and memories, and none of us will have any regrets.

As for me, I’m excited to welcome Adrian to the group, and I’m anxious to witness The Airborne Toxic Event transition into a new season. I know things will never be the same. But I’m glad their story isn’t finished, and I’m glad they’re still making music, and the feeling I get when I see a show will always remain: that I’m glad we’re here together.

Photo by Ryan Macchione

Photo by Ryan Macchione

*Special thanks to Anneke, Wendy, Jennifer, Ryan, Kristina, Elizabeth, Jamie, Christina, Susan, Kevi, Andy, Christie, and Glen.