I called the tape "Songs for Heather," but before giving it to Heather I told her sister Lizzy, "I was going to call it 'Songs of my Obsession' but I don't want her to think it's part of the seduction. Which of course it is."
It worked. Heather loved that tape and played it constantly in the early months of our relationship. She came to know those songs better than I did, and they became the soundtrack for our romance. When I visited her parents for the first time, Heather and I sat on the front yard grass at her mother Connie's feet and spontaneously burst into song, looking deeply and playfully into each other's eyes as we sang,
This is hell, this is hell,
I am sorry to tell you
it never gets better or worse
but you get used to it after a spell,
for heaven is hell in reverse †
Connie smiled benevolently at us from her lawn chair and I felt accepted.
Less than three years later, after a long illness, Connie died. Heather chose to honor her mother in the way of many Native Americans, by cutting her lusciously long hair. This was the start of a tradition whereby Heather would cut her hair and then donate it to Locks of Love, which makes hairpieces for children who've lost their hair due to medical conditions, chemo or radiation therapy. Our friend and hairdresser Angela would later cut the requisite ten inches of tresses, but Heather cut her own hair after her mother's death, and as she did so I played Patti Smith's "Ghost Dance" whose lyric declares in a funereal chant, "We shall live again, we shall live...again...."
Heather believed in reincarnation and I did not. But I put "Ghost Dance" on a loop play to honor Heather's beliefs, and it was a somber, uplifting and fitting backdrop to the ritual she was performing. She stood in our living room in front of a full-length mirror and cut her hair with great and serious intention, while I watched and learned. Heather would further honor her mother later that year when, during a quest to Arizona, she went skydiving--something Connie had always wanted to do, but never got the chance to. I thought it sweet that Heather provided Connie with a posthumous vicarious experience.
|Click here, press play, scroll to song #20 for "Hold of Your Arms"|
Heather wanted me to see the truth of reincarnation and I wanted her to see that life was more complex than that. It was one of our few ongoing "arguments." On Heather's side of the debate was her sense-memory/feeling of having been here before, and on my side was the belief in the inextricability of "me" and "my body"--so when my body goes, therefore go I. Yes, I acknowledged to Heather that there is spirit, but spirit taking the form of matter, and it is our supreme gift to be able to inhabit the world in this way for a brief time. That our presence here is temporary is a good and natural thing...how could we otherwise truly appreciate it?
Ah, I was oh-so-rational in my views, but a part of me had niggling doubts. You see, when I was younger I believed that one day I would meet my one true love, with whom I'd been together in a prior existence. I spent a great deal of my youth thinking about meeting this soulmate; the feelings I had at that time are no better expressed than in this song I wrote called "Two Halves of One."
somewhere once a seashell was home for a clam
it died the shells split and drifted away
leaving you where you are
and me where I am
living lives separate in Rome and Cathay
from seashell to tree leaf
from tree leaf to sand
from reptile to mammal
from mammal to man
then when I saw you
you smiled at me
an eon of waiting upon circumstance
we both caught a glimpse of our destiny
rewarded so fully by getting the chance
sea shell baking under the sun
you and me making two halves of one
Ignore for a moment the goofy seashell/clam metaphor and imagine that all those oo-ooo's are eerily portentous, then focus on me--Mr. Logic--writing about multiple reincarnations, culminating in the grand reunion in human form. The song was no passing fancy, no mere poetic notion of romance...it was literal wish and belief. I also spent time drawing pictures of what this woman looked like--I suppose I always thought it would be a woman, though my sexuality was initially and exclusively tracked towards males--each and every one of those doodled drawings look like Heather...the long straight hair, the thin body, the ineffable aura. I was waiting/searching for her my whole life.
There is tremendous irony to this sequence: first I believed in the destined meeting of souls who belonged together...then it happened--I met Heather!...now I don't believe it. I obviously need to think more deeply on this subject. Or maybe less thinking and more feeling. Heather might like that.
When she was home for hospice, probably about a week from death, Heather and I were alone in the Zen Room. Sitting up in her hospital bed, a small, somewhat sly smile suddenly appeared on her face. "There's more on the other side," she said, quoting me from the mix tape, but also stating her belief in reincarnation. There was certitude in her voice, beyond any surety she'd ever conveyed.
I laughed softly and nodded my head, amazed at her strength of mind and sense of humor.
"Say it," she directed me. She wanted to hear me say those words that had graced her ears each time she got ready to flip that cassette tape, and she wanted me to come over to her side of the debate, to believe with her, and maybe, just maybe, we'd get to be together again.
"There's more on the other side," I said.
There is, of course, more on the other side, it just may not be in the form we're familiar with. Certainly if the first law of thermodynamics is true, and energy can neither be created nor destroyed, then SOMETHING must happen to the life force. Whether it has anything to do with the thing we call ourselves is an open question, whose answer, no matter how firmly steeped one is in science, must come from a position of belief, as there is no data available from the other side. Okay, Heather, I'll think about this some more. I plan to explore it in in some fashion (probably humorously, as is my wont) in a novel called The Chasing God Game, which I intend to write once I finish Saga of the Freaks--which is your novel, honey, the one you completely inspired that wouldn't exist without you. As I write Saga I think about you constantly, wonder what you would think, hope that you are pleased with the results. Perhaps the fact that I speak to the dead, write for the dead, seek your approval, means that without knowing it, I've already come over to the other side of our last disagreement.
We are the tears that fall from your eyes,
Word of your word, cry of your cry.
Word of your word, cry of your cry.
|Two Halves of One?|
|On our stoop, 2009, photo by Angela Taormino|
We shall live again, shake out the ghost dance.††
† from "This Is Hell" by Elvis Costello
†† from "Ghost Dance" by Patti Smith