In the Halls Where We Have Been
We had all gathered in the dining room at Springfield Castle, candlelight flickering on the deep scarlet walls. A 60-ish couple from the nearby village of Broadford had joined the wedding festivities and agreed to provide some entertainment. The woman, Angeline, sat next to the banquet table in a high-backed chair carved from sturdy oak. Her husband stood nearby, shifting his weight on the oiled amber floors. We were spaced around the room, some seated, others standing in small groups still talking and drinking and laughing. Someone asked for quiet and as the room hushed, she began. In a sweet, tremulous voice, Angeline sang, "As I Leave Behind Neidin..."
From the first note, the room was enthralled. The song demanded a light touch, almost timid, yet each word echoed like a cathedral organ. My eyes pooled almost immediately, so beautiful was this voice, which rose and trilled effortlessly. I stared at her, frozen in place, eyes half-closed and full of joyful concentration. She reached the chorus for the first time, and her husband silently prompted us to join in. Hesitantly, we sang,
Won't you remember
Won't you remember
Won't you re-mem-ber me
As she continued, my heart clutched. This was one of those rare moments, a magical and spontaneous occurrence that stays with us until our dying breath. Pure and defining, a valuable addition to life. I broke out in chills, stem to stern, and struggled to both keep my emotions under wraps and focus on Angeline, her performance very much that of an Angel. When the chorus came back around, I joined in, my quiet voice wavering and cracking.
On the climactic verse, Angeline seemed to falter a little. I thought the song was having the same effect on her. She struggled to the end, still topping the high notes, but straining more than before. She got there though, and the final chorus thundered and echoed in the room, everyone raising their voices in tribute, picking her up, strength behind the volume, appreciation in the pitch. I was unable to lend my sound, however. My words were caught in my throat.
We erupted in extended applause when the song ended. I know I wasn't the only one who was moved. But as some shouted for more, I broke. Head down, turning quickly, I brushed past a few people and walked briskly outside. What I felt right then was anger. Anger at my thoughts. Anger at my inability to control the onrushing flood inside me. I stomped around the graveled front of the Castle, admonishing myself, willing myself to not lose my shit. I lost the battle. And that is why I found myself sitting beneath a tree and weeping uncontrollably.
The seeds of that jag were planted a few hours earlier as Schotty and D stood hand in hand before Father Tony. I suppose I should have anticipated it. But I didn't. As Father Tony began the ceremony, my whole body spasmed and tears ran into my eyes. As he said the words, words so familiar that they sometimes lose the force of their meaning, I begged myself to maintain. "Honor and cherish," he said. "Richer and poorer." These words had weight, heavy, penetrating weight, and in my mind I returned to my own wedding day, heard those words repeated by X, now knowing she never meant them.
I managed to keep the tears at bay, even as I roiled on the inside. God bless dark, wraparound sunglasses. I didn't want to ruin their day with my moment of misery. I didn't want the focus on me, on my troubles. And I talked myself down. Willed myself to push those thoughts away and concentrate on Schotty, on D.
They stood a couple feet apart, hands clasped. But there was no distance between them, that space filled by the glows off each of them, the way they looked at each other, easy and confident, lost and happy. It was apparent my friend had found his other. And maybe, maybe a couple of those pooling tears were the good kind.
When the ceremony ended, I stood off a bit by myself. I didn't trust my emotions to remain in check for long and didn't want to make a scene. Kool Breeze walked up after a time and asked,
"That was a little rough," I said.
He noticed? I guess I didn't keep it as cool as I thought. That's one of the things about my friends, they'll always have my back, will always watch out for me.
The bench looked like a mini-Stonehenge, two rectangular rocks holding up a third. It made me think of Spinal Tap as I walked up and I forced out a bitter laugh. I sat down, pulling out a cigarette, hoping the acrid smoke would quell the tears I felt rushing, but I never even got it to my mouth.
The bench was right up against the trunk of the tree, a great, huge tree with heavy branches bowed earthward, partially blocking my view of the Castle, providing me with cover. Night had fallen and pressed white shirt or no, I was pretty well hidden. I hung my head, mimicking the leaves surrounding me and let the flood come.
I cried for untold minutes, tears falling on the grass like morning dew. I knew I had just experienced something rare, a song I will hear in my head until I can hear no more. It filled me with emotion, its simple beauty making me appreciate the moment. But I let it get taken away from me there for a second. See, because one of my first thoughts was, "I wish X was here to share this with me." It made me sad.
I wondered if X remembers the moments we shared, moments like this one, unplanned surprises that resonate forever. Like the time we stood in the harbor-side cobblestone courtyard in La Rochelle on the west coast of France. A heavy mist encased us as we held each other for timeless minutes, the full moon a beacon through the damp air. We never spoke a word, melting into each other, touch, smell, sight, filing it away. Does she remember those countless mornings we watched the sun rise together in our bed, running our nails on each other's backs, holding our bodies close, laughing off-handedly at nothing in particular, at nothing but us, pure, carefree, always. What about that lazy Sunday afternoon when AJ was but a month old, us staring at each other across his sleeping body, finding solace in our togetherness in the aftermath of 9/11, sorrowful for the world and its evil that he will have to face, hopeful he would be a light against such forces.
About that time, I saw Kool Breeze come out the front of the Castle and have a smoke. I stayed quiet, sniffling, gritting my teeth. He puffed, walked around, and then went back inside. I had finally calmed down enough to light my own fag (valid use of the word in Ireland, I assure you) and did so, straightening up from my hunched sorrow and taking a long, relaxing inhale.
It was a long time before I went back inside, long after the tears had ended. I was a little angry with myself, not only for disappearing from the party, but for even thinking of Her. The singing had ended and most of the party was in the courtyard, a welcome--darker--venue for me, my eyes still red and puffy. It was a few minutes later that Kool Breeze pulled me aside and asked, "Where'd you go?"
I murmured an evasive nothing, shocked for the second time that day at his observation. He nodded at my "answer" and joined the conversations around us. I remained rooted to my spot, something tingling at the back of my head, feeling some of that recently spent emotion returning. Only this time, it was different.
I remembered the four of us sitting in a tree at Max Baer Park, listening to Trouble, drinking Budweiser and watching Sparks go ballistic over the lackadaisical play of his softball teammates. I remembered the four of us at Kool Breeze's parent's cabin, that first time we went, smoking dope on the dock and catching a fish in the midnight dark. San Felipe, moonlight flashing on the rippled sea, tribal beats from an aging radio, wandering friends and the contented silence you can only embrace when sharing it with those closest. New Year's Eve and Robson snoring (Hi Mike!) and stupid drinking games and souvenir Coors Light. And on and on for years on end.
I remembered other things, too. Scoring a goal in the State Cup Final and sprinting off the field into my father's arms. The look on my mother's face, pure amusement, when I brought home a vacuum cleaner I bought for her at a garage sale, a measly buck. The girl in my dorm room on a perfect spring day, afternoon turning to naked dusk, together. AJ, walking his first few yards, collapsing in my arms.
I looked around me, saw Kool Breeze, Donny, Schotty, his wife, their families, contentment on their faces, hearts filled. I saw my past, my fulfilling past, one without X, without the slightest hint of her cruelty. I've known many happinesses and the majority of them had nothing to do with her. The song, Neidin, didn't either.
These last few months I've obsessively looked for signs, for meaning, for the truth behind X's betrayal. I've come away empty on almost every occasion. Maybe there is no meaning there, except to point out what is really important. She was unhappy. I get that. And her solution was to run away from the people who loved her the most, into the arms of a random stranger, in order to find her version of relief.
Sometimes it takes a dramatic event--even a bad one--to illustrate all that is good in a life. When this happened, my sorrow was complete and irrevocable. In MY moment of pain, of unhappiness, I turned to my friends and family, who, in turn, rallied around me more forcefully than I could have ever thought possible, prodding me, loving me, carrying me. I should not have been surprised. I have always believed in them as much as I once believed in X. And they've never let me down.
I stood back still, looking at them all, my smile as wide as the Irish countryside. Schotty's hand on D's thigh, Donny doubled over in laughter, Kool Breeze strident and gesticulating. My friends. My blood. My brothers. I will always remember Angeline and her song of Neidin. And who I shared it with. I will never forget, nor minimize, everything I've shared with these guys, who willingly accept me for all my failings, who love me unconditionally, who have given me so many special, unrepeatable memories and who propped me up when my life turned wrong. They've turned it right again, just by being there, listening to the words.