So there I am listening to the first love song she ever wrote, the one that always made her cry when she tried to sing it and insisted I not make eye contact the first time she sang it for me. When she first told me about it we were hiding in the most remote corner of the Uptown Tap's (her regular Columbus venue for both Soul Miner's Daughter and Jennifer Nettles Band shows) back courtyard outside enjoying our pre-show ritual of showing up early to have face time and play catch-up. It was her first solo Jennifer Nettles Band show after the demise of SMD. She nervously told me about it and how the only way she could write a love song after so many years was to write about Todd, just before they were married in 2000; and about her parents - all three of them, starting with Carla & Marcus, her mother and stepfather. We talked more about her biological father, the wreck that is Beamon, and how he fit the first half of the song. It was a very intimate, revealing conversation and I did my level best to just hold her hands across a patio table and listen to my friend explain some new present in song that she was about to share with me. We had already talked about the break-up of Soul Miner's Daughter after she sent me an email telling me she could explain it over the phone, and I finally confessed to her that I never liked Cory much at all. The first time she had to play without him, due to an illness (but still billed as SMD) she was more nervous before the show than I'd ever seen her. We had a talk and I explained to her that no one came to these shows to see or hear Cory, they came to see and hear her. I asked her what reason she had to think that she couldn't do this effortlessly and she threw me a look and then hugged me, telling me she loved me and thanking me for my faith. I smiled and told her it's a good thing I believe in her when she didn't believe in herself and she humorously, in her exaggerated manner exclaimed "Well ain't THAT the damned truth!" If memory serves, that show was the beginnings of her departure from the band, effectively ending it as she was not only instrumental but irreplaceable as well, and the beginning of her solo endeavor as the Jennifer Nettles Band. During a game of pool before the first JNB show in Columbus before the CD was released, she surprised me with a tackle hug/kiss combo evidenced in the photo (upper left, taken lovingly by Tay with my own camera upon my return from the bar with more beer) which is my favorite picture of us together. She held onto me for a lingering minute, all smiles, and remembered a pending conversation we were to have and then looked at me with that "HOLY FUCK, I HAVE TO TELL YOU SOMETHING!" face. She took me by the hand and led me outside where it was quiet and empty, told me about this new song she would be unveiling later and the rest is history. Story Of Your Bones was released in 2000, the year Shane died. Jennifer was on her way for a tour break at Lake Lanier the Friday it happened, and I emailed her then manager Tom the following day to have him break the news to her. She called me an hour later in tears asking what happened, and wanting to know how Maggie and the kids were doing. We cried together before and after I passed the phone around, and from that time on she always made a point of asking about Mags when she wasn't around. I won't ever forget the cracking in her voice when she tried to speak to me that day and how it brought us all even closer together, and all of the love and good energy she sent us for such a crushing time.
I remember reading the news by happenstance that she and Todd had divorced two to three months before I knew anything about it. Unable to reach her in the normal ways I was now facing that she was somewhat untouchable because now she has publicists and handlers and stylists just to name a few, all industry people I've never met. Damien and I were driving somewhere not long after and I cried in frustration as he held my hand, and I explained that she went through a divorce and I wasn't able to be there through any part of it for the sake of offering her love, comfort, and support. I remember introducing her to Damien after phone calls and emails alluding to the new man in my life. She was in the stables courtyard of Rankin Square sitting and talking to Anna when we walked in from the breezeway and she leaped to her feet to greet me with a hug, excitedly whispering into my ear "Is that Damien? Is that HIM? Lord have mercy honey, he's cute!" She greeted him after my proud introduction with a hug and then held my face in her hands while looking me directly in the eye and telling me how happy she was in that moment. It was before a Jennifer Nettles Band show and the band accompanied us down the street to a Jamaican restaurant for dinner. She got her first face time with the love of my life, and on the walk back to the Tap the three of us walked ahead of everyone else. I asked her about her most recent trip to Guatemala for Pasac Segundo, where she went to help with the construction of a new school and insisted that we go together the following summer. She walked beside me, cradling my arm in hers and told me it was nice to see me happy and having something for myself for a change. Then Sugarland and life happened paving the way for brand new stuff. The last time she was at the Tap, it was the first Sugarland show in Columbus. Damien's youngest sister got to meet her and Jenn surprised Mom by remembering her by name. Kristian surprised me in the courtyard by bounding up to me smiling with a guest list and pen in his hand, giving me the bro-hug and telling me to write how many people I wanted on the guest list by name as he offered his back as a desk to write on. He kept giggling and squirming while I wrote names, insisting I add anyone I wished. It was a great night.
One afternoon a few years ago in downtown I spotted a guy that looked exactly like Todd while Christi and I were in the truck and I asked her to go back around the block. I got out of the truck and walked toward him calling his name and he took a look at me and called back to me by name and gave me a big bear hug. We spoke for a minute and he asked me if I knew, and I told him that I did. He asked if I'd talked to her, and I said no. We exchanged numbers before I left and I called him later that evening to talk more and explain that I wasn't the kind to take sides if no one was clearly in the wrong, and that the details were not only none of my business, they were of no consequence. We talked for about an hour or so and I felt a bit better about things for a while. It was wonderful to have been in that place at that time because who knows if I'd have ever seen him again, let alone to have the opportunity to show him I was as objective as always and lend him my support before he went back to Afghanistan as a contractor. Before we ended that call he thanked me for at least the 5th time and told me that while everything was on an upswing in his life, it was nice to speak so openly with someone who had been there through thick and thin with her longer than even he had.
As of this moment, she's 14 albums into her career including the live show and DVD. I was there for the first 10 of them, and that makes me very happy. Recently I found out that she is remarried. It was more news I'd read online, again by happenstance. She has had an entire relationship with and is now married to a man I've never met and only seen one picture of, online. I'm happy for her, but I miss that friendship. All of the emotions associated with this are so raw and unnerving that it's one more thing I simply go to pieces about because of the sadness the distance brings me now.
I'm going through one of the most difficult times of my life right now that has rendered me isolated, lonely, hurt, angry, confused, mournful, bereft, and disappointed for a metric fuck-ton of reasons - past and present - and this song and all of its associated memories was another catalyst for a monumental breakdown for most of the day until several hours after Best Beloved came home to make me all better. Couldn't make myself get out of bed in the morning, and cried. Felt empty and didn't want to see or speak with anyone but Damien (still don't) and cried more. Couldn't get motivated to do any of the things that needed to get done, felt like '50 lbs. of shit shoved into a 10 lb. bag', was flooded with loss and feelings of panic and abandonment, and got the dreaded 'cry headache'. Couldn't get it together and had all manner of stupid, ridiculous, and partially scary thoughts (in hindsight) until I put all of my focus on putting myself together for my man so he can come home to a more peaceful and settled me, then broke down within minutes of him getting home because I had not accomplished all I wanted to get done before his arrival. The manic, broken-brained, shitty pendulum in my head that I'm a slave to had swung in the other direction but I lost time and then he came home early. We sat and talked and he held me while I cried, and I shared with him all that had happened since he left for work. His best magic is the way he can infuse me with love, safety, contentment, protection, support, and understanding - as only he can.
It's not the fact that I'm significantly depressed, stressed WAY out, overwhelmed, overtired, overstimulated, and sleep deprived; or the fact that I'm having some kind of mid-life crisis/menopausal breakdown and am currently driving a flashy, fast sports car. It's the grief, the disappointment, and the anger. My grief has been the most constant and consistent theme in my life (my father came up with that observation) and when multiple things break at the same time so do I - easily broken down into pieces and feeling equally shattered, with no scratch on the surface. I'm not bitching because I happen to be bipolar, have PTSD and three other psychological/emotional disorders - that's just my lot in life and I take responsibility for as much of that as I can by taking my medications as I'm supposed to and accepting my own learning curve about my own mental illnesses. I have no choice but to filter everything through those elements and there's no basis for comparison because it's all I know. It's backed-up grief over the loss of dearly loved family and friends that I have lost to death, and grief I always carry for the ones who let me down and leave me disappointed. It's a combination of my childhood sexual abuse and a lifetime of injustice about it. It's things I'm starting to remember that happened to me when I was much younger than originally thought, horrifying things that started a chain reaction of unraveling in my teens culminating in a clinical nervous breakdown, suicide attempt, and institutionalization after previous months of therapy brought out too much too soon for me to handle at 16. Less than a year later a team of doctors concluded I was manic depressive (now classified as bipolar), anorexic, and that I'd been in a serious clinical depression for at least the past 6 years - and they didn't even know about the cutting and the multiple drug abuses that would go on for years, leading up to my discovery of heroin. It was while I was on a weekend visit home from the psych ward that my mother informed me she had filed for divorce from my father after years and years of bitter fighting and acrimony, and that she was moving out of the house. It's the wellsprings of rage I carry that threaten to make me psychotic should it ever get away from me to the point that there is no kill switch. I could go on but this is already turning into a self indulgent blues jam and I'm exhausted from it and from feeling like I'm made entirely of very thin, fragile glass when I haven't even scratched the surface of how truly fucked up and broken I really am.
Damien and I have decided that it is time to take my doctor's recommendation of going back into therapy with a list he provided on my last visit of psychology referrals for consideration and find the right therapist for me to talk to and finally finish what I tried to decades ago. I didn't come this far and work this hard for nothing and we deserve the life we both want to have. I'm closer now than I have ever been to bringing all of the broken parts into a sustainable harmony I can live with so that I may find the peace I need to accept what has always been unacceptable - so that I can be the best man I can be for both Damien and myself and insure a life of purpose and deeper meaning. I know there is a lot I must learn and relearn and habits I've developed through four decades now that hold secrets and clues to help bring light into so much darkness. In ways I'm terrified of it all, and in other ways I am resolved to the notion that it's finally just time to get it all out and fix myself as much as is possible, once and for all. I'm resolved that no matter what comes from it, I cannot keep trying unsuccessfully to make a life out of this patched and moth eaten memory that bullies and torments me out of nowhere anytime I feel even slightly vulnerable. All it does is diminish what I know to be good about me and replace it with agony, and I have 41 years worth of experience to now say fuck that bullshit and start declaring jihad on the irreconcilable.
For now, I hope for some peace of mind today and the energy to keep soldiering on - brave face or not. I think I've earned at least that.