22 September 2015

Bridges, Boxers, and the Blues

Dateline: Sunday morning, home alone

“Two steps ahead of the county line...

...Everywhere I go, I get slandered, libeled,

I hear words I never heard in the Bi-ble.”

I straightened up and sang along, instinctively, belting it out the full lyrics, dancing in my seat.

“I barely learned the tune, so soon, so soon.

I remember Frank Lloyd Wright

All of the nights we’d harmonize til dawn...”

The mood shifted to languid, easy, and rolled across the fluid tones of the bossa nova flute melody.

I knew the words to every line of this one, too. Every single word.

I don’t think I’ve listened to Paul & Art for years. Maybe I’ve had a song or two pop up in a Pandora or Google Play station, as I do love my pseudo-retro-folk, but I can’t remember the last time I put on my “Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits” CD. (Yes, I’m still mostly on CDs, people. Working on that digital thing.)

I see my teenaged knees, bare and pulled up to my chest. I held the album cover, its dulled corners showing love, front down. The back had lyrics written in a teeny tiny font. I’m aware of the simple “indoor-outdoor” carpet my parents put in my new room over the now finished garage. The pull and force of “The Boxer’s” quiet power must have spoken to me in my youthful angst.

“...til he cried out in his ang-er and his PAIN...”

There may have been a contrast to the sunny yellow paint I’d picked out for my trim. It wasn’t pink, decidedly. I was too old for even the sophisticated ballet pink of the childhood room I’d shared with my 7-years-younger sister. The stenciled tulips, poppy red and kelly green, though, belied the dark, tortuous self I wanted to be. Yeah. Not me - despite the occasional - ahem - deep poem I’ve since unearthed.

I poured over those lyrics. I listened to the album over and over, until I knew them all. The LP spun on my parent’s castoff stereo, complete with wood paneled receiver and massive speakers. When they had upgraded, I claimed the system faster than my pubescent tears could even flow.

The air. I can feel the air. I can sense the fluttering eyelet valances. The early fall afternoon light - not unlike the tinged filter we’ve been getting here the last few glorious days - settles over me.

The orchestra rises beneath the acoustic guitar, and “heeeeeeeeere Iiiiiiiiiii aaaaaaaaaaammmm...” Every. Single. Word.

I must’ve been 12, maybe 13. That makes it 30 years, give or take a muddled memory. Mind and memory are a wondrous thing. Every word. A sense of belonging I still carry with me from singing The Boxer in harmony with a middle and high school friend. I haven’t seen her since maybe graduation. Word has it that she’s now a Buddhist nun. The music brings me back to her and the closeness that we all crave, especially in those tender years.

Truth is, that closeness can still be elusive. We connect, and we reconnect. Sometimes, there are missed connections. Today, when I pressed play on the “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album, I reconnected with myself. I felt tied to family, and I touched old friends and sweet memories. I started to write today because I fell back in love with the idea of lyrics written on an album cover. I realized that my children might not get that, but as I typed, fully aware that what I really needed to do was pick up a pen and write longhand (but that’s another piece), the memories flowed, and the webs somehow wove themselves back together and into a lovely, sweetly tender image.

The balance has been particularly difficult to find lately. I’m teetering more than usual. That gentle pain that bubbled up through the vision and the music is somehow helping to rebalance me. We need those touches. I need those touches. The little pricks open up things dear to me and tie me down to what I know and believe. The feeling of The Boxer and my friend remind me of those I’ve chosen. Bridge Over Troubled Water, on the other hand, brings my parents’ relationship and our family of five back up. Played at their wedding, and now, decades after they understood they couldn’t be married any longer, it holds in it the hope and support that even separation can bring.

Support and strength come from places we often don’t expect, and sometimes don’t want to accept. Today, a worn LP and its cover, long-lost, brought the emotions I needed to recognize to the surface. They’re here, and I acknowledge them. I’m letting them flow out over that water, as corny as that metaphor might sound. I’m trusting my senses and my self, built and molded over nearly 42 years.

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