Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Burning bright: the column

Ok people, I apologize.

In the last post, I referenced a column I had written in my journalist days immediately after the death of a much younger lover, a column that became my first book, Moonshadow. I know, I know, a more knowledge person would have simply inserted a link for those of you who wanted to actually read it. But I couldn't figure out how, and frankly, didn't want to bother my daughter again. So here it is:

He drove a battered white Plymouth Duster, complete with the tiny red devil painted on its rear. I was 28, separated from my husband, juggling two kids, college and a weekend job as hostess at the Ocean Bay Diner, Point Pleasant, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. That’s where I first saw him one hectic Saturday night among the bar crowd. He sauntered by as only a 19-year-old male can.

There was no doubt about it, the kid was obnoxious. Seriously good-looking, but obnoxious. He flirted with me, I think, to impress his friends. I gave as good as I got. Sometime in the weeks that followed, we left banter behind. He came to dinner. Then he came to stay. What an uproar. My folks were appalled. As for his parents, I can’t be sure, but since I was only 11 years younger than his mother, it wasn’t hard to imagine.

Nobody, though, was more surprised by our relationship than the two of us. I was mesmerized by his manner, his mop of shiny black hair, brown eyes you could bathe in and the most exquisite hands I have ever encountered. He was as affectionate as a puppy.

As intense as the physical relationship was, it paled alongside our growing love and admiration. We talked and laughed for hours over coffee, didn’t leave the house for days on end, even shut off the phone.

I allowed Tom to step out with relative safety into the world away from his close-knit family. I offered him a sort of physical and emotional halfway house between childhood and adulthood. Tom allowed me to live out my young adulthood, cut short by marriage at age 20. He introduced me to Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull and the bump. He had an acid wit, a sensitive, brooding intelligence and insight that often belied his years. He loved my poetry and hated my singing.

He adored my children. The oldest of four siblings, Tom had an easy way with kids. He taught my son to use the bathroom in, shall we say, a manly way. He hung shelves in my daughter’s room to make it comfortable.

He was my lover and my best friend, more of a husband than I would ever have; more of a father to my children than they would ever have. If not the love of my life, he came close enough to make such a love possible.

As with many passionate relationships, though, ours was turbulent. The gap in our ages only compounded normal conflict. It was fire and ice. When it was good, it was beyond extraordinary. When it was bad, it was beneath hell. I was unaware the, however, that his acts verging on cruelty were fueled by alcohol.

Still, when it ended, it was years before I could hear his name without my heart missing a beat. He drifted away, marrying and divorcing twice. I heard he was living on the West Coast, estranged from his family and still battling the bottle. We didn’t exchange a word in 14 years. But I never doubted we would see each other again some day, although
I was certain he could generate no more tears.

I was wrong on both counts.

On April 23 his brother called. Tom had died the day before of a heart attack, two months before his 40th birthday. He was alone in a California motel room, a bottle of vodka at his side.

The pain was overwhelming. It was as if he had been ripped that very instant from my arms. I had never really said goodbye. And now I know I never will. You see, it was Tom, himself an aspiring writer, who recognized in me an ability I never knew I possessed. He awakened me to the joys of writing, encouraging me to keep a journal.

So each time I pick up a pen or face a computer screen, he is there, watching my struggle, murmuring in my ear: “Come on, woman, there is nothing you can’t do—except sing,

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