Tunes ‘Til Two

IF I had full faith that people we love who die give us signs from heaven after they are gone, this story would bring me glorious comfort. I would think it was so perfect, so Daddy…so Daddy and me. I would roll around in it, cover myself with it, drape it over my shoulders and wear it every single day.

But I don’t know anything anymore, so I can’t do that. I stop short of letting it bring the warmth that, somewhere deep down, I want it to bring. But I refuse to let these “signs” be meaningful, if they are just something we have made up in our heads to make us feel better. I can’t let myself be tricked by my grief, soothed by make believe, just so I can hold on to something.

When I asked Bill Hurt about signs from heaven, he said he didn’t think people who died could give them to us. He said he and his father, both pastors, disagreed with each other on this issue. He does, however, think God does.

I’ve heard so many people talk about their “signs.” I used to put sincere meaning in butterfly sightings after my friend, Brooke, died. I held on to them. But now, I feel like I was just wanting them to be something they really weren’t.

Maybe I was. Maybe I wasn’t. Sarah, Reese, and Andrew had a big ole butterfly literally ride on a kayak with them for over an hour on Father’s Day, and butterflies are their sign for Big. It stayed so long, riding with Reese, never getting tossed by rough waters. Over an hour is a pretty long time for a butterfly to ride a kayak. I can see that. And it made them smile. It made them feel like Big showed himself when they really needed him to. I felt that. I got it. I can’t and won’t discount their butterfly. I believe in it, for them.

But as for me, I’m on the fence over here.

So I’m going to stop with the trouble I’m having in believing in signs from heaven, as that is going to have to be an entirely separate post, and just write this as if I believe in it, because one day, I may change my mind.

And if I do, I want to remember it.

It has only been four weeks and 2 days since Daddy left us as I write this, so I can’t write it with any perspective. All of the emotions continue, and every day is just as raw as the day it happened. There is no lesson. I may write how I “felt,” but it is how I feel still. It just is. So verb tense may change from past to present, because I don’t know how to combine the two.

I felt and I feel. I kept and I keep.

It was what it was. It is what it is.

After the funeral was over and all of our out of town friends and family went home, not even four weeks ago, I found myself with few distractions and blank space and time on my hands. It was all so empty, yet full of swirling thoughts and treacherous emotions, propelling me into a cyclone of horror moment after moment, hour after hour, day after day.

The anger is overwhelming. The questions compound the anger. The abyss of sadness make the questions futile and necessary.

I kept looking for my daddy. If he is really gone, which I can’t fully process that he is, then will he show himself to me? He left us with no good-bye. No apology. No explanation. No affirmation of love. But I kept looking for one. Because even though all I want is him, I suppose something after the fact is a tiny bit better than nothing at all.

I guess. Not really.

I looked anyway.

As I began this post, I started with the whole idea of signs from heaven, and that was the only way I knew to look for him…after tearing the house apart, the office apart, his truck apart, for his good-bye. For his letter. For his explanation. For his gift.

There wasn’t one.

All that was left to look for was the sign. So I did, because I couldn’t help it.

It was the only thing left.

I knew it wouldn’t be butterflies. I knew it wouldn’t be pennies. I especially knew it wouldn’t be birds, because I hate birds. And none of those are Daddy. So I just didn’t know what to look for. But I looked anyway. Because I couldn’t not look.

And nothing came.

In the first days after he left, I kept the radio off in my car. Silence was better than chatter. Silence was all I could handle. But eventually, the silence around me was more than I could bear, as my thoughts became way too loud. So I plugged in my phone, hit the USB button on my dash using the button on the little mouse in the center console that controls my radio system. AM. FM. SAT. CD. BT. AUX. USB. All controlled by the little mouse. I played a podcast. That’s what I did. That’s what I do.

I hardly ever listen to the radio. I have pre-set stations on AM, FM, and Satellite. If it is on AM, I listen to WMGO, and I have no idea what the other pre-set stations are. On FM, I listen to Supertalk, but sometimes Mac turns it on Miss 103. Those are probably the only ones used, but all 6 were programmed into FM1 by me, most likely when I bought the car over 3 years ago.

There is also an FM2. I have no idea what’s on it. I didn’t program anything there, and yet, if I tap the FM button with the mouse two times, it gives me more FM options, already set. I haven’t turned my radio to FM2 probably since I first got the car and learned how to use the radio. Satellite, I use for FoxNews and all of country stations that Sirius offers. I haven’t listened to a cd in probably two years. I think my radio system holds a few, but maybe it doesn’t. I have no idea. Bluetooth and Auxiliary may as well not be there. But USB I use every time I get in my car, because 95% of the time that I am riding by myself, I’m listening to a podcast on my phone.

So I went back to my old usual.

On July 6th, 3 days before my Daddy’s birthday, 14 days after Daddy left, I was driving by myself in the car to go pick up Leelee from Mimi’s house, and I was listening to a podcast. I barely got into Deerfield when my podcast just shut off. It just quit. No more podcast.

My hands were on the steering wheel at the bottom, nowhere near the little mouse that controls everything on the radio, or any radio buttons on my steering wheel, which I never use. As soon as the podcast shut off and before I could wonder what happened, the tabs on my screen that look like a set of file folders–AM. FM. SAT. CD. BT. AUX. USB.–starting popping to the forefront, the way it happens when you switch from one to the next, one becoming more prominent than the others when you are using that particular radio application. USB became something else and then something else and then something else, stations of different kinds blaring random songs. I don’t remember that I looked to see if the mouse was moving on its own or if the dial was turning by itself. I just kept my eyes on the screen as it happened–and it was happening quickly–wondering what kind of short I had in my car’s electrical system.

Then, the cd player spit the cd–the cd that I didn’t know was there–out at me. It was a Luke Bryan disc.

Finally, after the spit, the radio tabs switched two or three more times, and it finally landed somewhere to stay. A song I couldn’t identify was playing. I listened for a second, but I didn’t recognize the tune nor the lyrics, and I was trying to equate it to the few stations on the side of the screen closest to me. For whatever reason, I was fixated on the top ones, but I looked at all of them, and I saw not one that was recognizable. 87.9. 89.9. 98.1. 105.1. 106.1. 107.9. None were highlighted, as they are when the mouse identifies one over the others, and it is chosen by hitting the mouse button. At a glance, I didn’t see anything I recognized.

So I cut the whole radio off.

Because I was furious.

I wanted to say, “Ok, Daddy, is this it? Is this you? Is this my sign? Well, it didn’t work, because if you were going to make my radio system go absolutely haywire to get my attention, I know you would have made some song play that means something to me, to us–and you know there are plenty.”

Because there were. That was our thing. It was OUR thing.

When I was little, I have a very vivid memory of daddy putting the Pink Floyd album Echoes on the record player. I used to tell him that he needed to thank his lucky stars that I wasn’t the biggest pothead in town. He was appreciative. So that was a failed attempt, because when I was seven or eight or nine years old, water dripping just didn’t hold my attention for very long. However, he chose more wisely later and did bring out other Pinks as I got older, and though Echoes didn’t take, The Wall did.

But nothing stuck quicker or faster, even at seven or eight or nine, than Stevie Nicks’ The Edge of Seventeen album. We both declared her voice the best ever, and I was fascinated with that long, flowing hair and that dove perched on her hand. I was pretty sure daddy crushed on her. Understandable. I pretty much did, too.

Stevie Nicks led him to introduce me to all of Fleetwood Mac. He took me to see them in concert in Memphis when I was in my early 20’s. I watched Mick Fleetwood hop around on the stage, barefoot, beside my daddy. Later, not terribly long ago, he took me to see Stevie on tour when she came to the coast promoting her new album. We didn’t like her new songs, but we were fine with patiently waiting for her to sing the ones that we did. She ended with a patriotic version of “Has Anyone Ever Written Anything For You?” It was haunting and emotional and beautiful, and just thinking about it right now pretty much makes me want to throw up. We loved it. Together.

Vinyl became tapes. Tapes became cd’s. He gave to me Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He told me that when John Lennon said that The Beatles were bigger than Jesus, he either broke or burned all of his Beatles albums in his front yard. He must have gotten over, it, though, because I found a bunch of them in our attic and framed them for him. I added a couple to his collection from my time in London. They are hanging on his wall in his office. Then, he sent me on to the piano men of the seventies and eighties, Billy Joel and Elton John. He splashed some Live from Woodstock in there somewhere.

Daddy kept Z106 on in his office and in his truck. It was the only station he listened to, because it played all of the above, plus Journey and The Allman Brothers and Janis Joplin and Aerosmith and Jimi Hendrix and Zeplin and The Doors. All of his favorites, all in one place. Plus, he thought John Boy and Billy were hilarious.

I became a teacher, and I brought to my classroom the love for, not just the guitars and pianos and the bongos, but the words Daddy gave me in all of those songs he played for me over and over and over, watching me embrace his era of music, his past, his growing up…him. Instead of dissecting poetry in Comp 2 at Mississippi College, my students and I took apart “Eleanor Rigby” and “American Pie” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” After every lesson, I couldn’t wait to tell him about our discoveries.

He probably didn’t care about the disguises in the lyrics.

But I was his word girl.

And it was his music.

After cleaning out something, possibly his truck, Anna brought me a cd that I made for him. It was called Just Daddy and Me. I haven’t listened to it yet. I can’t bear it. I know it has all of our songs on it. I made it especially for him. Because when I wanted to tell him just how much I loved him, when I wanted him to hear his footprints on my memories, when I wanted him to feel that thing, that thing that was just ours, just Daddy and me, it came in the words of his songs. Our language was our songs. Our time together was a set of songs. It was “Leather and Lace.” It was “Allentown.” It was “Mona Lisa’s and Mad Hatters” and “Tiny Dancer.” It was “Lucy In the Sky.” It was “Golden Slumbers” and “Revolution.” It was “Summer of ’69.” It was “Small Town” and “Jack and Diane.” It was “Mr. Tambourine Man.”

But really, when there could be only one, it was always “Landslide.” Every time.

So if I could believe that if daddy was going to send me a sign from heaven, did the possibility exist that it would be through music? Yes. Did that make sense in light of his life, our relationship? Yes. But if he was going to go through all of the trouble of making my entire car audio system go completely berzerk, spitting a Luke Bryan cd out at me and everything, it wasn’t just to remind me of how much he hated country music. Surely he would have given me something more than just his new heavenly super-power of messing with electronics. Surely.  If I couldn’t take anything special away from it, what was the point? What story did that give me? What did that leave me to hold? My daddy sent me a sign by messing with my radio. Sure. Right. Great. Who cares. Thanks.

Were is my Stevie Nicks?

Where are the Beatles?

Where is Billy Joel or Elton John?

Where is “Like a Rolling Stone?”

Where is that Meatloaf song?

Where the hell is “Landslide?”

So the radio stayed off. Because there was nothing in me that would allow me to believe he did that, or that God did that, or whatever. There was most likely a rational explanation, and even if there wasn’t, it didn’t mean anything.

His birthday showed up three days later, and it was a horrible day that no one wanted to celebrate, but none of us could pretend it wasn’t his birthday because it was, even if we didn’t want it to be. It fell on a Sunday–even worse–because every single year for his birthday, Mama made him fried chicken, mashed potatoes, butter beans, corn on the cob and fried okra. He made the gravy. It was the only thing I ever, ever, ever saw him “cook.” She had just done it for him on Father’s Day, four days before he left us. It, too, was a Sunday. So here we were, another Sunday, his birthday, when Mama should have been preparing his birthday meal, his very favorite, the thing she did for him twice a year, every year, for as long as I can remember, even though Father’s Day and his birthday were so close together. It was such a labor of love, and she wanted nothing more in the whole wide world but to be battering up some chicken and okra for the fryer.

Lord, we wanted her to be, too.

It was a really, really terrible day in the line of really terrible days that never seem to end, today included.

So we all decided we would just go to lunch somewhere we had never been with Daddy, just so we could be together. We wouldn’t talk about him, because we can’t. Every tiny thing was hurting in all of us so much that we could barely stand it. We should have been eating fried chicken. That could not escape us.

So begrudgingly, Scott, Mac and I get in my car to meet Mama, Leigh, and Anna at the restaurant. Scott got in the driver’s seat and cranked the car, and I buckled in beside him. The radio screen was blank, set to USB. And for the first time since my radio took on a life of its own, the little mouse was used to switch the tabs from USB to FM. FM2, actually. It was right back to where it landed when I cut the whole thing off.

When I was furious because there was no meaning.

When I was crazy mad because his feeble attempt to send me a sign from heaven wasn’t really a sign.

And then the voice on the radio filled the car, announcing which station it was on.

The station I had no idea it was on.

The pre-programmed stations were still the same. Still, none were highlighted.

The only way this station could have been playing on my radio was by the little round dial that allows me to go from something pre-programmed to something not pre-programmed.

It had to have been spun from something already there to something not there.

And the station it was on was not there.

But it was.

And when I looked, not at the little boxes on the screen, but rather, up high in the right hand corner, it said it.

I had missed it.

But now I know.

My radio was playing Z106.

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