No Room in My Heart For the Blues

by Angeliska on August 8, 2012

Twenty-six years ago today, my mother died. She died of cancer, in her parent’s home in Lone Grove, Texas.
A year ago today, I was writing about her, and her deep love of Hank Williams, in the kitchen of the house where my fiancé and I had planned to have our wedding reception. He and I and my future mother and father-in-law had toasted with glasses of champagne in front of the huge old fireplace in a grand room hung with dozens of mounted deer heads and horns. I thought that in that moment, I had my life laid out before me, unfurling in one gilded shining path – so certain, so gleaming: I had found the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, the man I wanted to have a family with, grow old with, be buried next to. I had found family within his family, as had he with mine. I was so sure that all of this was destined, somehow – was written in the book of life, our names side by side. What a terrible shock to find myself today, so far from home, far from him – our future together torn apart, our roads diverged. Everything has changed now. The champagne glasses shattered, the venues cancelled, the wedding called off. That dream has died. I am still alive. My orbit’s changed, and I’m reeling, spinning through air, untethered. Free, and yet so very lost.

Today we made a pilgrimage to Hank Williams' gravesite in Montgomery, Alabama

Today, instead, I am traveling. Driving for the first time out on country highways, between wide swathes of tall pines creaking with the weight of their heavy cloaks of vine. Long, lonesome roads that are so familiar to me. I gazed out at these same landscapes as a child. My hands clench the wheel at ten and two, white knuckled as I sidle around the big trucks, honking at crows picking apart something dead in the road. I sing loud along to the saddest country songs, songs of lost love, of broken hearts, of old loves. I feel those songs in my bones. Hank’s voice, ponderous and slow, a lead weight in a dark river, splitting me in half with all that heavy truth. Loved and lost. Alone and forsaken. His lyrics draw us out like a silver cord, leading us through the trees to the place where he rests, waiting. I made this trip before, a long time ago. I was too small then, to know what it would mean to me later. Our first, last and only family vacation. I am a woman grown now, and I look in the mirror today and wonder what my mother would think if she saw me now. I think she’d approve. I know I’ve worked hard to get to where I am – a place where I can be present with my emotions, my heart open, brave and awake and always reaching… To me, that’s
real strength, real progress. Even through the heartbreak, the long train of losses that has sliced such essential chunks out of my life, I’ve found a way to make something bloom in the empty spaces. I sowed seeds in those gaps, and I’ve dug deep and gleaned whatever I could from the ashes. Even so, on days like this, my mouth is still filled with those bitter cinders: the double 8 death date looms heavy on me. Double eights are said to be lucky, to bring double happiness, joy in marriage. If only.

Luke the Drifter

I think about Hank’s broken heart, about why he and Audrey split up. Did their love really endure despite all that? I hate to say it, but I’ve come to understand that love isn’t really enough. I wish I could still cling to Amor Vincit Omnia, but in truth, “Love Conquers All” is a vast oversimplification of what it really takes to make a relationship work. I think about this piece my friend Elaine wrote recently: The Silent Pain of Boys and Men – and how hard it is for most men in our society to find ways to express their sadness, their fear, their anger. Men with broken hearts, indeed. Even though Hank had the gift of song, the ability to write his pain out in lyrics – it didn’t prevent him from dying of a whiskey and morphine induced heart attack alone in the back of a Cadillac on a dark backroad. He and Audrey can rest side by side, together into eternity – but the truth is, he was married to another woman when he died. Audrey paid her off with $30,000 dollars to claim the right to this plot, the right to be known as “Hank’s Widow”. That isn’t to say that I don’t believe that they loved each other more than they had ever loved anyone – but it wasn’t enough to make her stay, or make him get sober, or make them find away to work it out. I’m sorry, but being reunited in death just doesn’t feel like a happy ending to me. It feels like a fucking tragedy, because it is.

Someday beyond the blue...
Someday beyond the blue…

Graveyard posies.

I gathered up the graveyard posies, just like I did when I was 6. Wandering between the graves, reading the names and dates and whistling along with the mockingbirds, the mourning doves cooing in the glossy magnolias. The air was gentle around me, a haze hung in the air, cradling me in a humid hug – a slow breeze rustling my sunset dress as I sang songs to my mama, to Hank and Audrey and all the rest of the dear departed. Cicadas thrummed the air in a copper-winged chorus. I remembered being here, sitting on this bench with my dad. Being so happy and so sad, just like I am today. The eternal return, looping back in on itself, trying to fit the pieces back together, trying to find what was lost. Every year I write another link in the chain, compose a response to another riddle, but this year, my path leads to who knows where, and who knows who will walk beside me, hold my hand. I know we all die alone, but dammit – I want to sit on that old porch in rocking chairs at the tail end of my golden years and still be telling stories with someone I love.

Boneyard bouquet.

I want to say there’s no room in my heart for the blues, but in truth – there’s plenty of room left there, in the huge hole where my partner used to live. When I eventually make my way home, he will have removed all his belongings and moved out of the house we bought together. I can’t imagine what coming home to that will be like. I don’t want to. I’m a wolf that mates for life, and right now, I can’t imagine falling in love again, finding another wolf as true as the one that’s left me howling high on this hill. It’s like the horror at having one of your adult teeth knocked out – knowing another won’t grow back in its place, your tongue going back and back to the place where it used to be. That sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, realizing that what you’ve lost can never be replaced except by artificial means.

Cemetery blooms.

I wish I could believe these lyrics could apply to my sweetheart and I,
but it’s just not where I’m at, nor can I imagine getting to this place of
peace with it all anytime soon. Also, I don’t believe for a goddamn instant
that Hank ever truly felt this blithe and nonchalant about losing Audrey:

“There’s no room in my heart for the blues
Love is satisfied to either win or lose
Darling if our pathway parts let there be no broken hearts
There’s no room in my heart for the blues

There’s no room in my life for a sigh
We’ll be strong enough to face our last goodbye
Darling if our romance ends let us part as best of friends
There’s no room in my heart for the blues

There’s no room in my memory for tears
We’ll let bygones be forgotten souvenirs
If your hungry heart forgets, let there be no sad regrets
There’s no room in my heart for the blues

There’s no room in my life for a sigh
We’ll be strong enough to face our last goodbye
Darling if our romance ends let us be as best of friends
There’s no room in my heart for the blues”

Music notes in stone.

What is there to do now, but keep walking? I try and keep my head up, keep my eyes trained on the horizon. I write it all out here. I sing my heart out, and pound the steering wheel with my fist. I cry in the middle of the night, alone in a bed too big for just one. I cry into my dog’s fur. I cry on our front porch. I know I’ll cry on rollercoasters, and on airplanes and in bathroom stalls. I try not to cry when I open wedding invitations addressed to both of us, but I do anyway. I’m crying now, as I write this.

Hank Williams Memorial

Here is where we sat, my dad and I. I had a good long talk with him, the other night – about this trip, about my mom, about spirituality. I’m so lucky to have him – so lucky to be born to the parents I was born to, despite having to lose one. I know that if my mother had lived, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I’d be someone else. I bought myself a copy of Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things – (the compiled letters from her Dear Sugar column) recently, and cried over nearly every single chapter. When I first started reading Dear Sugar, I didn’t know that her mother had died – somehow I missed those letters, but reading about her experience makes me feel such a kinship to her. I have found that the motherless tend to gravitate to one another. What she wrote here resonated with me so much:

“The kindest and most meaningful thing anyone ever says to me is: your mother would be proud of you. Finding a way in my grief to become the woman who my mother raised me to be is the most important way I have honored my mother. It has been the greatest salve to my sorrow. The strange and painful truth is that I’m a better person because I lost my mom young. When you say you experience my writing as sacred what you are touching is the divine place within me that is my mother. Sugar is the temple I built in my obliterated place. I’d give it all back in a snap, but the fact is, my grief taught me things. It showed me shades and hues I couldn’t have otherwise seen. It required me to suffer. It compelled me to reach.”

This is the truth.

Audrey's grave with plastic roses.

I’m getting real tired of hearing that “Time heals all wounds”. That’s another goddamn lie. I wish it were true, I really do – but the real truth is, I waited years and years thinking the pain of losing my mother would go away on its own. I lied to my therapists, telling them I was fine – I must’ve either been a good little liar, or else they were just content to let me go on being fucked up and collect their payment, because no child who loses a parent is “fine”. Losing a parent, or a spouse, or a child, or a sibling, or really anyone that you love immensely is not a wound that heals in time. It’s like having your hand chopped off.

Hank & Audrey

Sure, eventually, after the stump has been cauterized and some scar tissue grows over, you may learn how to dress yourself and comb your hair again. You may even get fitted for a prosthetic. But you’ll never have that hand again. You have to learn how to survive without it, and you can – but in the middle of the night, even years later, it will ache. It will ache and ache and ache, and nothing will ever bring it back. That’s what death is. That’s what losing someone you love is like. People who try and say anything different either haven’t ever lost a hand, or they’re trying to make themselves feel better. I’m not saying you can’t find joy and peace and acceptance in time – but just that some things are not replaceable. People are not replaceable – at least not for me.

Cold, Cold Heart & Jambalaya

Another thing – if you break your nose, or your leg, and don’t treat it immediately, sure – it’ll heal up, but you’ll be left with a crooked nose, or a bad limp that will have to be re-broken and set properly one day. A wound left to fester will burst later. You can’t just leave these things to time – you have to air them out, wash ‘em good and stitch them proper – or else you’ll be dealing with that shit for years to come. I should know – I hobbled around on busted legs for so, so long. Resetting them has been a bitch – but I can walk now. And we have to keep walking this road, keep walking even when all we want to do is just lay down in the dirt and pray for it to end soon. So it helps to have strong legs.

Stone songs.

We have lots of reasons for not dealing with grief in the moment – work, or school, or being “too busy”, shame, fear, consuming anger, or just good old compartmentalization – but it’s never too late to do the work, to find ways to say goodbye, to honor your dead, your lost ones. From that work comes not only healing, but other things. Bright things. Magical and true and shining things that come in the dark and cradle your broken legs and the stump where your hand used to be and sing you songs. I promise.

Gravestone boots & gee-tar.

This is how I’ve been doing my work over the past few years:

FAMILY VACATION – HANK WILLIAMS’ GRAVE

STAR-CROSSED TROUBADOURS

Foxes in the Rain

Triumvirate Lemniscate

Gustav + Mama – August 8th

18 comments

i love you so fucking much.

by lau on August 9, 2012 at 12:46 am. #

I love YOU so fucking much!

by Angeliska on August 9, 2012 at 12:51 am. #

I am so so sorry. You write these shattering words, but you seem also so strong and so heartened. A girl I know took her life yesterday (I don’t mean to be dark but why can’t we talk about these things? They happen) and it is nice that someone (you) can still look ahead with an open heart. That you will hurt but keep on moving. So thanks for that.

by Kai on August 9, 2012 at 1:50 am. #

This wolf ain’t going nowhere!

by Whiskey Deer Wolf on August 9, 2012 at 6:27 am. #

. . . endure . . .

by Judy on August 9, 2012 at 7:08 am. #

hugs and strength. you are really amazing.

by Nica on August 9, 2012 at 7:12 am. #

Truest. All of it. I still cry on roller coasters sometimes, but at least the tears are full of love and at least I have pretty memories to miss. May you cry pretty memories all along your path, and in time make new ones to fill the holes that can be filled. Love sweet Angel.

by Kirsten on August 9, 2012 at 8:56 am. #

once again your words have pierced my heart, awakened my spirit, and I find myself weeping with you. I will never understand what all this life stuff is all about…but just knowing that there is a soul like you in the world sharing your pain, blood and tears so graciously continues to give me hope and inspire me to want to be a better, higher person. I love you so much and am so very proud of you.

by karimomma on August 9, 2012 at 8:58 am. #

The light in the darkness is you. You have so many people standing behind you right now, crying with you, because you are so exemplary – a source of illumination even to people who have never met you. <3

by S. on August 9, 2012 at 9:30 am. #

These words. I Know This well from mine own mate Lost,my Heart aches for You as a Sister Wolf. Love to You,always…always.
“I’m a wolf that mates for life, and right now, I can’t imagine falling in love again, finding another wolf as true as the one that’s left me howling high on this hill. It’s like the horror at having one of your adult teeth knocked out – knowing another won’t grow back in its place, your tongue going back and back to the place where it used to be. That sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, realizing that what you’ve lost can never be replaced except by artificial means.”

by .Saelokit. on August 9, 2012 at 10:38 am. #

My father passed when I was ten. Self-inflicted. I was also shuttled to therapists, who questioned where I had learned the word ‘alcoholic’. My parents had long been divorced, but my mother fell apart and I despised her for it. She had no right to feel what I was feeling, he was my daddy, it was my pain. Not hers.
Kids, man. If I could travel back in time, I would have the empathy and compassion for her that she desperately needed, that I only feel now, looking way back in time. My mother, who is so deeply connected to me that she called the school nurse when I broke my ankle on the playground because she knew. She knew when I was doing something bad or dangerous too, and I always got in trouble! Even now, we smell roses at the same time, three states away. I’m glad now that I’m older, less self-absorbed, to finally understand and maybe to help.
I’m praying for you, Angel, on your bittersweet summer journey. May your travels be full of sweetness, smooth roads and no flat tires.

by lanternamagica on August 9, 2012 at 11:03 am. #

Thank you for this, Angel. My own life has been such a strange and shifting place lately. Phoenix and I split up in March, which has had me rethinking everything about my life and my future. My mother is right on the cusp of stepping away from this world. It’s been such a hard year for so many folks I know… so full of grief, and full of change.

I’m sorry things are hard on you right now.

Thank you for reminding me that I’m not the only wolf howling on a hill.

xo

by Logan on August 9, 2012 at 11:35 am. #

what strength to proclaim such powerful honesty. you are a true healer with true courage. you make my heart swell xo

by meredith on August 9, 2012 at 3:53 pm. #

I love you Angel. I know you may not feel it just now, and it’s okay if you don’t, but I solemnly swear that sun will come out again and shine its dazzling light upon your incredibly genuine heart. This is not the end my love, just the beginning of a new and unknown chapter and the road ahead is infinite… Knowing you and your strength and wisdom, that road will be full of magical thinking. Write it out, and make something beautiful and meaningful of this pain. That’s what you told me to do almost 5 years ago when I could not see my way into tomorrow and that is what got me from there, all the way over to here. Thinking of you sweetest pea and sending love across these seas.
Misha

by Misha on August 10, 2012 at 6:02 am. #

I repeat–this is the best story I’ve ever read about Hank and Audrey, especially combined with your marvelous photographs, Angel!

by Bunny Matthews on August 11, 2012 at 9:30 am. #

Relationships are a life time of compromises, and forgiveness. Hope you and your man might find your way through this with time.

by SimpleSue on August 11, 2012 at 7:21 pm. #

songs that serendipitously played when I was reading this blog…
Shoeing the Bones by….?
I’m Getting Ready – by Michael Kiwanuka
Walking in the Sand – by Hollie Cook
Complex Heaven by Brian Eno
xxoo

by christine on August 21, 2012 at 8:26 am. #

you may not want to hear this, but the pain you talk about, there’s something so extraordinarily beautiful about it, so extraordinarily real, like a reminder that, yes, life is powerful and raw and profound in its depth, its unwelcomed miseries and heartaches, of mornings that come too soon and mournings that come too soon. in the pain i am reminded of myself, and of all other humans too, that we suffer if only we are lucky enough to suffer and that, through our suffering, we touch upon meaning and the capacity of our soul’s to experience life in this unique way. you are an inspiration. in gratitude, i offer you tears. they’re your present to me as well, i realize, so thank you for that.

by jason on September 10, 2012 at 8:21 am. #

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