Liberty’s Roommate

His hospital room had a view of the Statue of Liberty.

It seemed like a twisted sort of joke, since he was bound and wired to gadgets that kept track of his vital signs, and the symbol of freedom stood there in the harbor, a deaf and blind sentinel with a false promise in her mute mouth, holding a long extinguished torch.

His nurse, Jeanette, was pretty, though, so that was something. Young, efficient, professional, eyes bright with hope.

He hoped once. Hell, he even saw the Bright Path to Promise back then, but somehow took a detour and ended up on the Dirt Road of Busted Dreams, telling himself that it wasn’t his fault, the lie dying like a gunshot victim before he spoke it.
It didn’t matter now, did it?

He was still where he was, and had to start over again, again.

It was getting to him, all this starting over.

As much as he still thought of himself as young, his eyes, knees, and nether region told him he was way beyond that now. He was slowly accepting it, but felt no obligation to do it gracefully.

People called him ‘sir’ and ‘mister’ now when he was perfectly fine being called by his name, and gave him senior discounts he didn’t ask for.

He took another look out the window to see the sun going down.
Ha! In more ways than one.
“Don’t be maudlin…” he muttered.
“Did you say something, Mister Locke?” Jeanette had come in, and he never heard her open the door.
“No. No, Jeanette, I didn’t.”
She puttered around and checked his vitals. “You okay?”
“I’m in a hospital. Does that make me okay?”
“I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean–”
He waved her off. “That’s fine. I know, I’m sorry. I’m just tired…”
“I understand.”
No, my young bright, sweet, hopeful girl,  you don’t. You can’t. Not really, and not for a long time. Hopefully, if you play your cards right, you never will.

She finished, flashed him a bright smile. “See ya later.”

“All right.”

The light from the setting sun caught the metalwork of Liberty’s torch flame, reflecting flares that looked like pennants, as if to let him know her presence in the harbor was no joke, and not to be taken lightly.

He shrugged, turned away from the window, and shuffled back to the bed, clicking the remote for the tv, a hollow laugh track filling the silence, chasing the dark thoughts with empty ones.

Freedom, huh?  

He’d enjoy it, he guessed, however limited, in the time that remained.
For now.

No Victory

The soft shuffling of slippers on tile meant she was already up.

The faintest hue of a pink blush began to brush the sky.

Why so early?

I watch her, but don’t speak.

She runs her hand over her face as she walks toward the door, but she doesn’t turn around to see if I’m awake. I wonder if I would’ve closed my eyes again if she did.

The distances and silences were becoming longer, and more frequent, and attempts to begin conversations through small talk fell flat. Attempts to discuss what was going wrong and how to fix it, and whether or not it was something we really wanted to do, lapsed into a different kind of silence.

Love had settled into familiarity and comfort, but the kind of comfort that came from a raggedy, threadbare blanket full of holes. It was long past fulfilling its purpose, but kept around more out of a sense of nostalgia than anything else.

And we’d settled too, like dust on an antique table depreciating in value. Neither of us thought the effort of restoration was worth the price.

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

The drive to the airport was silent, as if confirming what she was doing was the right thing to do. It didn’t even feel awkward that I was driving her there.

We were in our memories, just not sharing them, because that might lead to thinking we could salvage what remained. There was, if we were to be honest, a mutual sense of relief and excitement at the prospect of a new start.

It was early enough to find parking. I paid and we each carried pieces of her luggage.

“Traveling light, huh?”

“I threw a lot away.”

“Yes, you did.”

She stopped, gave an exasperated sigh. “Don’t start, love. You said you were fine with me going. You helped me pack. Please don’t make this any more difficult.”

“Any more difficult. It didn’t seem difficult at all.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Maybe not, but that doesn’t make it untrue.”

“We can’t stay together. You know this. Why be petulant now?

“If I had been petulant earlier, would it have changed your mind. Be honest with me, with yourself, for once.”

She started walking again, beside me now, her voice quieter. “I honestly don’t know.”

The new silence was awkward. She stopped again, and took my hands in hers.

“How about a break then, instead of a break-up?”

I considered it. “We can try that.”

“Good.” She kissed my cheek. “I don’t know how long I’ll be gone.”

“Or if you’ll be back.” It wasn’t a question, but she said yes.

“All right, then. Don’t ask if I’ll wait.”

A look of surprised hurt flashed on her face. “I wasn’t going to sleep with anyone.”

“You can’t say that with any certainty, since you don’t know how long you’ll be gone, or if you’ll be back. I’m telling you up front, depending on the circumstances, I’m not waiting.”

The silence grew tense again, but neither of us moved.

“Then neither will I.” Her eyes grew wet.

“Wait a minute…”

“I’m going to miss my flight. You’re lashing out, and you’re making me lash out too, at the worst possible time.

“What do you want to do? A break or a breakup?”

“I…I don’t know.”

She sighed, then told me. “That’s not an answer, but it is. Why now?”

“Why do you need to leave?”

“To stop…this. We keep doing this. I have to go…”  She pulled up the handle to her luggage.

I didn’t move.

“Are you going to help me?”

“Help you walk out of my life? No.”

I flagged down a handler and sent him to her, then I started walking back toward the car, wrestling with my thoughts.

Why couldn’t I decide? Why did I even bring her here at all? 

Why is everything so blurry?

I looked back, hoping against hope she’d be running toward me, and all would be forgiven.

But she was gone.

There would be no rom-com ending.

There never is, except in rom-coms.

Love just dies, like the king of Sparta in that other movie: defiant, loud, and brave, but ultimately overwhelmed, ultimately slain, and fondly remembered in glorious defeat.

No victory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listen…(for Kofi B.)

I last saw cousin Kofi six years ago in Allentown, PA. at the Miller Symphony Center.  I’d heard that TTB was in town.

They’re an exciting, dynamic band that can play anything, and Kofi, being a co-founder and extraordinary composer and musician on keys and flute, helped to increase their library of quality music in their already impressive repertoire.

I went to see the performance, and it was stellar, as always.

After it was over, Kofi did his thing with the fans, and when that passed we went into the tour bus. He offered me half of his Cuban sandwich, and we talked about the show, the music, his performance in particular, and life in general.

When the bus had to get parked, we went to his hotel room, and he saw my brief three seconds of internet presence on a performance I was part of in Easton, PA for a Christmas special.

After he saw it, he beamed and said to me, “You’ve come a long way.”

Coming from him, it was more than validation.

Through the years, we saw each other sporadically, but whenever I was in DC we’d share some time in my uncle’s ‘music room,’ a space that ran wall to wall with vinyl from every genre, too extensive to ever go through in one sitting, and even more massive than my Dad’s.

During the summer of ’78, I spent long hours in that room, and spent some time with Kofi in there as well as we listened to music he’d written, music he was working on, and music he liked. It was my introduction to jazz fusion in particular, and he revealed to me his love of electronic music and its potential to break new ground.

I explored some jazz history on my own, never dreaming one day I’d get to see him play alongside some names that I was listening to at the time. What an even bigger kick it must have been for him.

Kofi once told me back then that a true musician ‘listens to everything.’ At first, I thought he meant different types of  music, but he really did mean everything. A car horn, birds, the pitch of voices, pipes hissing. His gift was so open, he was always literally surrounded by music: the music of life itself.

There were times, my aunt told me, that when he was off the road, silence was all he craved, once to the point where she had to take down her wind chimes. I understood that. The anointed need to have their own space of silence sometimes.

I would’ve liked to have seen him once again, and more than that, to play on the family  project that was a dream of his, but unfortunately it never gelled together.

It would have been glorious, but I understand that too; his workload was as massive as his gift.

The music that he left behind is extensive, and has touched the lives of many.

The music that he hears now is just for him alone.

I know he’s enjoying it.

I can see him now, eyes closed, little tics of expression and appreciation flitting across his features, and I know exactly what he’d say if I were sitting beside him:

Listen…