Sunday, September 30, 2012

You CAN Go Home Again


Friday, September 21, 2012. The bar was the same as always: a big, dark rectangle with slightly sticky floors and a small dance floor that we alumni had taken over. It was our sorority's 140th reunion and our song was playing. Girls- sorry, women- formed a big circle, arms around one another, swaying and singing the words to "Piano Man."

To be honest, I never understood why this was our song. It has nothing to do with sisterhood or college life. In fact, there were times back at the old sorority house when I wouldn't participate because it didn't make sense to me. Nothing spells fun like a fiercely literal sorority girl!

But this night I gave into it. The lyrics didn't matter. What did matter was that thirty years before we had stood on that exact spot with that exact group (give or take), arms draped around random sisters' shoulders, singing those exact lyrics at the top of our lungs.

Photo by Samantha Schmidt Rogers

I looked around the circle, taking in the faces that were such a big part of my college experience and was suddenly overcome by our unusual bond. Biting my lip, I looked at the floor, hoping no one could see my tears. My God- the last time I saw some of these women we were undergraduates. Since then we've raised children. Had careers. Lost people dear to us.

And yet all of the years melted away with a few simple notes on a piano: the familiar intro to Billy Joels' "Piano Man." We ran from all corners of the Inn Between to meet on the dance floor. When we were back in college and again last weekend during our reunion- we ran.

"It's nine o'clock on a Saturday..." I'm a senior at Geneseo wondering what the heck I''m going to do with an English degree and no teaching certificate. "The regular crowd shuffles in..." I'm a retired columnist/librarian with two grown sons who are wondering what the heck they're gonna do with their lives.. "There's an old man sitting next to me..." 1980 or 2012, I'm a Clio. "Makin love to his tonic and gin..."  I know that when the song is over my sisters will be there for me to share whatever comes our way, whether it be a wedding, a birth or a funeral. I know this because we already have.

I can't explain it and quite frankly, I don't care why it is that no matter how much time has passed, when we get together the smiles are wide and genuine. The laughs are long and loud. The love is deep.

"Piano Man" ended and our indulgent DJ fired up another favorite of the sorority (and yes, I never understood why. And no- I don't care anymore). But this song-"Buttercup"- has never provoked philosophical thinking. When I hear its opening notes, it reminds me how good it feels to throw life's worries into the pile of coats in the corner of the bar, surround yourself with people you love and just dance.

Photo by Sue Breese

Photo by Karen Dinga Kudarauskas
Photo by Lisa Flanagan

Photo by Colleen Kirvin Gallagher 

Photo by Lisa Flanagan

Photo by Sue Breese

Monday, September 3, 2012

It's Not Easy Being Green

I haven't worn green on St. Patrick's Day in nine years. My Dad didn't like the day, though I never knew why. Still, it was ironic that his loud and labored breathing stopped forever one morning on March 17th.

All of his girls were there- my Mom, me and my three sisters- easing him into the next life with happy stories and his favorite music. He had been moved into a hospice facility the day before and loaded up with morphine to ease the pain. He seemed to be asleep.

From the moment Dad was settled in his hospice bed someone was at his side. In fact, Mom stayed through the night, sitting by his bed and holding his hand, while the rest of us left to get some sleep. "Use my bed, Caryl," Mom told me before I left. (My husband and kids were back in Texas and the couch had been made up for me at my parent's house.)

When I was little and woke up scared, my parent's bed comforted me. They welcomed me into that safe space where I would fall asleep immediately. That night I found no solace there, rolling in my troubled sleep from Mom's spot to Dad's.

The next morning, our old family friend and honorary sister, Karen, joined us around Dad as we said a prayer. She was the first to cry that day, even though Dad was still with us, taking in these tremendous breaths of air- IN and out, IN and out....The sound of her quiet sobbing was sweet permission to quit the happy stories for a minute and CRY. I needed that.

A nurse asked us to leave so she could bathe my Dad, and though we were reluctant to go, a cup of coffee in the cafeteria didn't sound like a bad idea. We were just about seated in the metal chairs when my mother was paged.

Without a word we all knew why. Rushing back, Mom, Cathy, Nancy and Jacky paired off, linking arms. I walked alone behind our group, choosing to watch the scene from a distance. I'm not sure why. Maybe I thought if I didn't see him laying still and quiet it wouldn't be true.

But, of course, it was. Karen opened a window slightly, explaining that his spirit needed to be set free. The rest of the day is hazy, though I do remember taking the stairs down into the basement of the funeral home to help Mom pick out a casket. When I talked to my 14 year old son later about how odd it was that Dad died after we all left the room, he said, "There was nothing left to listen to."

St Patrick's Day has since been a day of private mourning for me. No elaborate rituals, just a day to remember Dad's fine life and marvel at how quickly times goes by. I forgo whatever it is you're supposed to do on St Patty's and certainly don't wear green, thank you very much.

But this year was different. My husband and I were invited to a fund raiser, requiring me to wear a cocktail dress. Looking in my closet for an appropriate black ensemble, I spotted the green dress I had bought second-hand about a year ago but never had occasion to wear. Its sequins twinkled at me and I could swear the sleeve of its matching jacket quivered in anticipation. "Wear me!" it called.

I smiled. Why not? I know Dad would want me to lighten up and have a good time. So I wore the green dress with the matching jacket and lifted a glass of green champagne to his memory. Dad always liked me in pretty colors, anyway.