In the midst of all my mid-life reflection last week, I received an email from a guy I hadn’t heard from in twenty years. John* had tracked me down through the massive power of the Internet, so of course, I immediately directed him to the Basement Songs (we writers are kind of narcissistic that way). After a friendly exchange of e-mails that detailed an overview of our lives, John checked out a couple of my columns and wrote me a follow up e-mail. He told me to disregard the previous e-mail as bullshit. He then wrote one of the most confessional letters that has ever shown up in my Gmail inbox. I’m not going to go into details because his life isn’t an open book like mine (again, narcissism), but I will say that John had a rough time in the ’90s. Happily, through the love of a good woman who never gave up on him, he’s dug himself out and now leads a happier life.
I understood what he was talking about. I went through a period of months a couple years ago in which I suffered through a paralyzing depression. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and each day it got harder and harder to get up and face life. I, too, am lucky that I had a good woman and good friends to help me through the times and to right the course of my life. Have you ever experienced that? Have you ever tripped into the dark sides of your psyche and dragged your loved ones with you? If you haven’t been through that hell, then you, my friend, are fortunate.
Reading John’s letter and getting reacquainted with him got me thinking about the past 20 years of my life and how so much has happened to me, to him, and the world in that time. It was the week of my birthday, so I was already in reflective mood, leading me to take down some old photo albums and begin leafing through chapters of my life.
As I sifted through pictures from kindergarten, my fifth grade football team, that ill-advised moment as a goth, old marching snapshots and memories of the our home in North Olmsted, I came upon the scrapbook I put together for Julie after we got engaged. In it were old movie stubs, programs from the plays we saw in downtown Cleveland, Peter Gabriel concert tickets, and memorabilia from a trip to Baltimore. Tucked away in the very back was a letter Julie wrote me back in ’93, a seven-page confessional I’d forgotten existed. Standing in the middle of the kitchen while music played in the background, I read that letter again, absorbing the words and the naked honesty with which Julie wrote. Once again I thought about how much has happened since I met Jules and how far we’ve come. Rediscovering that letter was one of the best surprises I received last weekend.
There was a brief period when we were dating that some questioned whether we were doing the right thing. Some friends thought we were rushing things, and I didn’t think they believed we’d last. There was never any doubt in our hearts; fate had spoken and we would always be together, through good or bad. Today, 17 years after we got engaged, I can’t imagine my life without my best friend, my wife, Julie, there by my side.
The very first time I heard Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’s recording of the Everly Brothers song “Stick With Me Baby,” I was struck by the tenderness with which Plant sang and how well his voice harmonized with Krauss’. They transformed the old rockabilly song into a prayer of devotion between two people in love who have the world questioning their actions. It sounded familiar. The fact is that Plant, an artist whose solo work I was passionate about long before I ever listened to Led Zeppelin, teaming up with Krauss, someone I’ve always associated with my wife since the first time she played me “I Will” from Krauss’s Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection, made this collaboration seem more magical than it already was.
I know that I profess my love for my wife constantly in this column, but when you are as blessed as I am you want to shout it to the world, or at least share a quiet hymn sung by two of the greatest singers in popular music.
No life, no relationship glides along without bumps in the road; sometimes a pebble, sometimes a pothole. That’s life, right? It’s what you do after the hard times, after the tears and apologies, after the healing; what you do to continue moving forward is what defines your life. My wife has a heart big enough to love me for all of my idiosyncrasies, inconsistencies and idiocies. In that way I was able to relate to my old friend John, and smile, thankful that he’d made his way through the tunnel and found light again, thanks to a woman who stuck with him.