Friday, February 22, 2008

One Year Ago Today

A year ago today I met Taylor Hicks for the first time. And though I was just another fan to him, it meant a lot to me. I don't know why. I've tried for the past year to understand what it is about him that makes him sort of a sexy messiah, but I come up empty. All I know is that watching him perform took me from a sad, dark place and made me happy again.

2006 had been a rough year. In March, my mother-in-law wound up in the emergency room, complaining of excruciating pain in her right leg. Turns out she had blocked arteries and would have to undergo bypass surgery.

She lived about 3 hrs from us, but I made the trip down after the surgery was over to spend a few days with her. (She had other family who lived near her). She seemed to be doing fine, but about a week after I returned home we got a call that she was back in the hospital.

The bypass failed and the only recourse was to amputate the leg below the knee. Her toes were already turning purple. The foot was dying.

This was a woman who had been working full time, driving and living on her own. She accepted the news well. She was looking forward to getting a prosthetic leg and getting on with her life.

My husband and I took turns driving down to see her because our kids had obligations back home. I was the first to see her without the bottom half of her leg. She was sitting in a wheelchair in her hospital room with an enormous bandage wrapped around her knee. It looked like a big cotton-y ball where the knee would be. And below it...empty space.

An orderly came in just then to help her into bed. After she was settled, laying down and covered up, she asked me to please get the blanket off of the leg that had been operated on because the weight of it was causing her pain. I did just that. She winced and asked me to please get it off the foot, too. She pointed to the empty space. I told her, "I don't understand. You want me to move the blanket off of the foot that isn't there?" She nodded yes and after I flipped it back away from the invisible foot, her face relaxed. Freaky.

Her physical rehab kept being interrupted by infections. And then another amputation. The rest of the leg had to come off. She had been living in hospitals and nursing homes for months now. My husband and I continued our twice monthly visits, during which we took care of whatever maintenance had to be done at her house. It was a difficult schedule and we fell behind on a few things around our own house.

Every Sunday before I left her house to return home, I walked through her rooms, cleaning as I went along. I put fresh sheets on her bed and made sure her left slipper was within reach on the floor. She still planned to return to her own house. The man next door lived alone in a wheelchair, she reasoned. "Why can't I?"

But then in November we got a call that she had had a stroke and was on her way to the hospital. Before my husband made it to his car to leave his office, he got another call that she had died. We were told that as she was being wheeled out of the nursing home, she seemed happy. She called goodbye to all the nurses and said, "Be sure to tell my kids I'm going home!"

I hate that the last time she saw her house was the night she left to go to the emergency room. I hate that I couldn't make it happen when she said to me, "Just take me home and let nature take it's course." And I hate that she died alone in some hospital.

So it was with these events still fresh in my mind that I happened to catch that guy from American Idol on TV. He was singing, "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas..." Lovely. Slow and clear. But then he got a kind of sparkle in his eye, a sly smile and the tempo changed. It was jazzy, bouncy and hot. I realized I was smiling. I think this song should be mandatory listening for anyone going through a tough time.

I got online, googled "Taylor Hicks" and was directed to graycharles.com. I wanted to know if he had a CD out yet. I learned the release date for the CD and that he would be touring the CD in 2007.

During those sad months I escaped from my life by learning more about this Taylor guy. I listened to tracks of his original songs, read newspaper articles and watched his interviews- all supplied by this surprisingly cool group of fans I met through graycharles.com. We shared information and we waited for the tour dates to be announced.

In the meantime, I started planning a trip to Florida to see my family. My Uncle was celebrating his 70th birthday and I had agreed to fly over from Houston. Everyone thought it would be good for me to get away. Mom wrote in an e-mail that she was flying down from NY for the party. We decided to meet at the airport and rent a car together.

The party was planned for February 23rd, in a town not too far from Tampa. When the first dates of Taylor's tour were announced, I had to read them twice. He was doing a show in Tampa the DAY before my Uncle's party! Do you think God takes the time to make things like that happen? Maybe my mother-in-law had a hand in it.

My Mom told me I absolutely had to fly to Tampa a day early to go to that show. When I checked for concert tickets, I found it was already sold out. But luckily, someone from graycharles had an extra ticket in the fourth row! I mailed her a check and she sent me the ticket.

Mom and I met at the airport and drove to the hotel. We decided to walk around town a bit and see if we could find the theater. It was only a few blocks away, so I was all set for the concert that night.

As we stood at a light, waiting to cross the street back to our hotel, I noticed a large bus parked at the entrance. I said to my Mom, "That can't be Taylor's tour bus, could it?" Crossing the street and walking around to the other side of the bus, we saw about five people getting luggage out of the storage area. One of them was Taylor.

He was wearing a thick gray sweater, a scarf, a hat and sunglasses, but I knew it was him. He hopped back on the bus and the door closed. We decided to wait to take his picture as he walked into the hotel. As we loitered, a hotel employee told us to move to the side to "respect his privacy." Fine, you little hotel Nazi. We moved to the side.

Taylor finally came out, walked over to a man with a clipboard and signed something as we snapped photos. There were no other fans around. I was thinking, "Wow! Taylor Hicks is right there, like ten feet away from me! How cool is this?"

But then, through my camera lens, I saw him turn and walk towards me. (Holy crap! I thought, lowering my camera.) He said, "How y'all doing?" Without even saying hello, I blurted out, "Can I take a picture with you?" He said "sure", put down his backpack, turned towards my Mom's camera and slipped his arm around my waist.

I put mine around his, feeling awkward but aware that this was my chance to tell him how his voice had lifted me out of despair and that his determination was inspiring and that the way he can move people through music is a gift.

"How was the show last night?", was all I could manage. He replied, "good." Mom clicked the photo, we thanked him and he was gone.

I don't know what it means. I don't know if it even matters if you meet someone you admire. He forgot us the moment he walked away. But I'll never forget how nice he was to us.

He does indeed have a gift because here it is one year later and even though all I've got is a mildly interesting story, the memory of that day and the show that night still makes me giggle like a school girl.

11 comments:

caryl said...

This story is impossibly long. Sorry, but I'm gonna hafta let it ride because we're going out of town tomorrow.

I wanted to include my photos, too. grr! maybe I'll find time to add them tomorrow morning.

Soul Reporter said...

So we've known each other one year now, huh, newbie? LOL Didn't realize it has been that long.

caryl said...

Actually I've known y'all a little more than a year. Remember me going into chat and telling you about my Taylor encounter? I remember you said, "He was wearing a scarf in February in Tampa?". I produced a photo so you knew I wasn't making it up! You said you didn't doubt me, you just wondered why Taylor would do that. He was sick.

anyway, it's been a great year! (Plus)

CarleneG said...

I've decided NOT to spend anymore time trying to figure out my Taylor fixation...
He just makes us happy...why isn't really all that important to me anymore. It just is what it is.

babyrudy721 said...

I found this in my Google alerts today. Your story was not too long! I was there that night as well with my sister. She was in Tampa for the winter and I flew down from Philly.
We didn't meet Taylor that night but I am so glad you got to meet him.
Later in the tour I met Taylor a number of times and always found him to be gracious.
Are you going to put your picture with Taylor on your blog?
Great story and great show. I posted at the boogie board in the General section: Tampa, 2/22 2nd night of the tour has pictures and two videos from that night.

Thanks again.
Louise

caryl said...

carleneg: You're right. It is what it is. And what it is is wonderful.

babyrudy721: Wasn't that a great show? I couldn't take my eyes off him. It was over way too soon, though. I'll see if I can post more photos today. I'm on my friend's computer. I'll go check out yours.

tishlp said...

I love your story caryl! Taylor may not remember you exactly but I think he remembers and treasures all his encounters with his fans. I believe he gets as much out of those small connections as we do.

Julie said...

I just love the way you wrote the story about your mother-in-law. It was so sweet and sad, but lovely nevertheless.

Where is the photo of you and Taylor? I think I've seen it before, but you need to post it here, girlfriend!

Lubiana said...

Caryl that was a wonderful story! I was there that night too (I live in Tampa, FL). I wish I had met you.

caryl said...

lubiana: that's really sweet of you. Thanks.

lois meyer said...

Hi Caryl, I only got to see Pat once more before she died. She had a fun personality and I miss her, too. I remember one phone conversation when she told me she had lost 30 pounds and then matter-of-factly said "But, of course, at least 15 pounds wsas the leg." She did feel she would recover. You were the daughter she never had and she would be pleased to know how much you loved her.

Caryl's Mom