At the start of 2012 in this desolate place, the landscape was beginning to change. There was a rhythm to the cleanup process, and the pace increased as progress became clear. And though we knew we could never restore this empire to its former glory on our own, we began to accept that this desolate, broken place was our home, our “new normal.” The question “How do we cope?” had an answer: We take one day at a time. We focus on each other. And we distract ourselves from the pain as much as possible.
My distraction was writing.
Now that my book was finished, I flirted with other ideas for other books. But in the back of my mind, I was still obsessed with the one already written. I missed the characters. I missed the places they took me, the people we met together, their internal struggles, and their drama. But more than anything, I missed the music.
The Airborne Toxic Event served a dual purpose for me. Its inspired lyrics, melody, and emotional songs brought to mind this story I created. I could revisit these fictional characters and fictional places anytime I listened to the music. For this reason, All At Once was the only CD in my car for months. I listened to other music at home, but there was always an Airborne song close by stealing my attention from other bands.
In addition, my heart was becoming attached to these songs. They became mine, starting with “The Graveyard Near the House” and quickly bleeding into the rest. I began to hear them in a different light with relationship to myself, not just some imaginary work of fiction. These songs made me feel something, a tall order for any song, let alone an entire album or a band.
Out of self-preservation, I had closed myself off. Nothing that inspired emotion directly related to myself was allowed here. I built thick walls around these ruins as a defense, unable to deal with anything in addition to or outside of my own pain. I couldn’t talk about the loss. I was afraid of being around people, afraid they would ask me to talk about it. I had a list of fears that were much longer than they are now, and even included being around a group of women, as women are wont to talk about families, feelings, and Who Is Having a Baby. I had isolated myself from people, from friends, from feelings, and from my own grief, just to survive.
“Midnight” and “Graveyard” found a crack in my perimeter.
But where did they come from?
Who wrote them?
As curious as I was, I was afraid to know the answer. Because what if they didn’t live up to my expectations? What if they destroyed this idea I had in my head of this perfect band, this band of my dreams? What about being disappointed? Then what?
There was too much at stake. I didn’t want to lose what little spark of so-called “happiness” I had found, for fear it would destroy everything, from the writing to whatever else was taking place inside me, this internal change, this way of dealing.
Apart from reading a few articles online, I didn’t know much about the people in this band. I didn’t even know their names. All I knew was that I read somewhere (Wikipedia?) that the lead singer was the songwriter and had his own personal tragedies. That was enough for me. That made sense. That was all I needed to know.
Then one rainy night in March 2012, we met up with some friends at Applebee’s again for half-price appetizers and Karaoke Nite, the latter of which didn’t interest us. It must not have interested anyone else either, because there was very little karaoke-ing actually taking place. Instead, they played music videos on the TVs around the restaurant, the volume turned up so loud we had to shout to the person sitting next to us.
I wasn’t particularly keen on being there, but I went to support Hubby, and brought my best friend to support me.
“They’re taking requests for music,” Hubby shouted across the table to me. “Want me to ask if they’ll play Your Band?”
In the last several months, The Airborne Toxic Event had been reduced to “My Band” or “Your Band.” They weren’t Hubby’s band any longer, though he still enjoyed the music. He had just moved on to other bands, like most normal people. But they attached themselves to me, and thus they became “mine.”
“Sure,” I told him, and he disappeared to find the guy in charge of the music.
He returned with an irritated look on his face. “You won’t believe this,” he shouted. “He didn’t know who they were. He asked me if they were ‘underground.'”
“Yeah. He was a jerk about it, too. I’m sorry, honey. I tried.”
I scratched my head in wonder. Underground? How could he not know about The Airborne Toxic Event? Am I not The Last Person On Earth To Find Out About Everything? Surely they’ve been around long enough that they’ve been on the radio. Right? But how could I know? I don’t even listen to the radio.
Oh well. Maybe they weren’t as popular as I thought. As they should have been.
Then suddenly, I heard the opening of a familiar song. An organ, a guitar. A sudden descent into “Numb.”
Hubby and I looked at each other in shock, then we looked at the nearest TV.
And there they were, The Airborne Toxic Event.
And there he was. This voice I heard for months and the better part of a year. It belonged to a face, and it was nothing like I ever imagined.
It was better.
They all were. They were beautiful. They were perfect.
There they were. My Band.
My best friend, who was sitting next to me, said my name.
I didn’t answer.
I still didn’t answer.
She waved her hand in front of my face. “Hey!” she cried. “Are you in there?”
I finally picked my jaw off the floor and looked at her. “Oh my god,” I blurted out. “Look.”
She turned to the TV.
And I didn’t even know their names. Because I refused to find out. Because I didn’t want to know.
But I did now. Did I ever.
When I got home, I had a very intense Google Search. I typed in “The Airborne Toxic Event” and searched for a list of their names. But I wasn’t as interested in the rest of them as much as I was his. And there it was.
I searched music videos. “Sometime Around Midnight” was first. I searched live videos, and watched them perform it on David Letterman. And I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that my days of 1.6 concerts were over. This was the band I wanted to see live. There was no other band but them. They were it. And they were mine.
In a moment, I had suddenly changed. I was no longer content to passively watch the days go by, not caring if I lived to see the next. Suddenly, I cared again. I cared about seeing this band. It was all I ever wanted. It was the only thing I wanted. Now I just had to find a way to get there.
I checked the tour list on their website.
Not one show. Nothing.
Well, fine. I would just have to wait. I was used to waiting.
In the meantime, we started planning our trip to Portland, Oregon that summer. We booked our flights and made arrangements to stay with friends out there. We specifically scheduled the trip shortly after the one-year anniversary of Wesley’s birth and death, so that we could appropriately commemorate the days, and then get the heck out of town.
A week after we made our plans, I checked Airborne’s website again.
They were coming to a nearby city for a 3-day summer music festival!
Then I checked which day they were scheduled to appear, and my heart sank.
It was the first day of the festival, the same day we had booked our flight to go to Portland.
I begged Hubby to reschedule our flight for the next day. I had to see them. It didn’t feel like an option anymore, because it the only thing I wanted. I didn’t want to live anymore, but I wanted to see this band. How did that happen?
When he told me how much it cost to change the flight, I think I may have cried.
Bu you are not a child, I told myself. You can handle disappointment. They are just a band. You can go see them next year. Stop acting like this is the worst thing in the world, because it’s not. You already know what that feels like, and this isn’t even close. Now grow up.
So I threw myself into getting excited about Portland. I had plenty to be excited about, too. Over a week in a beautiful, enchanting city with a close friend I hadn’t seen in almost two years. The beer capital of the world! What better place to escape after the days we were dreading in the coming future?
It seemed like the perfect vacation, a temporary respite from these ruins.
Then at the end of April, I found out I was pregnant.
We were overjoyed. Literally beside ourselves with excitement. Finally, we could stop being parents without children, and just start being parents. Nothing and no one could replace Wesley, of course. We would always miss him, and we would always feel a part of us was missing. But now we could put all our efforts into caring for this unborn baby, and by the end of the year or the beginning of next, we could finally feel a little like a family again.
Our hearts were overfilled with hope.
“You can be the designated driver,” Hubby told me about our upcoming Portland trip. And I was glad. I never cared about drinking beer, anyway. I didn’t care if we even went. I didn’t care about the music festival, and I didn’t care about the band. I didn’t care about anything. I was back to caring only about this baby. I would be extra careful now. The doctors would keep a close eye on me. Nothing would be missed. This was it.
Just two weeks after I found out, however, I started to bleed.
I told myself this was okay, though. Lots of people bleed a little. Still, I put in a call to my doctor. They brought me in for a blood test to check hormone levels, and I waited for a phone call with the results.
The hormone levels weren’t as high as they should have been, or needed to be. An ultrasound was ordered.
But I knew.
I could see it coming.
Like a tidal wave on the horizon, heading straight for this sad, dilapidated wasteland.
All my hard work. All the progress we had made. All the rebuilding, the regrowth, the healing. It was about to be destroyed again.
I was about to be destroyed.
In the distance, I could hear the roaring begin.
I started driving to the doctor’s office in a panicked but heady haze. It is a long drive, anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic, and I was on the verge of a mental, physical, and emotional breakdown.
I was powerless to stop this, and I knew I would be swept away.
There was just the one CD in my car. It was the one I played that day, and I could only listen to the first track.
All At Once.
“And all those evenings swearing at the sky, wishing for more time . . .”
“All the promises we broke when we tried, just wasting all our time . . .”
“We grow old all at once, and it comes like a punch, in the gut, in the back, in the face . . .”
I had officially lost my mind.
And when I finally arrived and had the ultrasound, and when they found nothing there, I saw with my own eyes that I had lost so much more than that.
Not only had I lost a second baby, I was about to lose myself.
The tidal wave came. It was coming for me.
And I thought, perhaps I should just let it. Perhaps I should just stop fighting. How futile this was, trying to rebuild myself, when all it took was another disappointment – another death – to sweep it all away. All at once.
But if these ruins are a wilderness, then perhaps a wilderness has trees. Survival instincts took over, and I raced to find something to climb, leaving behind my cavern of stories, leaving behind all my hard work, leaving behind the progress I had made. I couldn’t take it with me. These two hands had to be free for climbing.
Nevertheless, there was one thing that didn’t require use of my hands. All it required was my ears.
With the water reaching for my heels, I raced for the tallest tree – a bare, twisted, haunted-looking thing. But its spidery hands looked like they might touch the sky. And on the tallest branch, a bird was perched, leading a melancholy call. This was my only hope, the only way I knew to survive.
I started climbing, the music rushing in my ears as the water began rushing over me. Still, I pressed on, though I could feel my fingers slip. Just a little further. Just a little higher. Don’t look down. Don’t give up.
“And I feel the water rising around us, and maybe that’s okay . . .”
When I reached the top, the bird flew away, leaving me to wonder how, for we were both wounded.
I sat in the crook of this strange tree and surveyed the damage.
My ruins, underwater.
My life, once again a pitiable mess.
My heart, broken again, with pieces scattered I could never recover. They had been swept away.
But I was still here.
So I watched the sun set on my underwater ruins, my arms around a dead tree that seemed too far gone to bloom, and too steadfast to let go of life just yet.
No wonder it had found a place to grow here in these stunning ruins.
to be continued . . . .