Thursday, March 20, 2014

Crowded Hearts

March is the month of betrayal.  Not officially, but it has always seemed that way.  December--- the end of the year--- we begin to know there are things we do not want to take with us into the new year… but-- well, it's Christmas, and no one wants to rock the family boat… then January, we are all so exhausted, and cold;  February---well, one of my friends told me he'd wait until after Valentine's Day to tell his girlfriend he no longer loves her… but by March-- -really no excuse, and we're all getting geared up for spring and new beginnings. The baggage we have dragged from the icy winter--- well, it just looks tired and the weight is unbearable.

I have seen the husbands of friends with other women-- having an intimate coffee, brushing a stray hair from her forehead the way lovers do.  I have learned of other sad infidelities and indiscretions.  I am not a moralist; I am a rock musician.  I do not judge.  But somehow the word 'fuck' is not to me a random curse, or even a wishful verb; in the month of March it sounds something like religion.

Actually betrayal is all around us-- we are just too weary and pre-occupied to look it in the eye.  Your boyfriend could be texting virtually anyone at any time.  Phone calls used to be surreptitious and obvious--- the middle of the night ringing, the hang-ups, the strange envelopes under your door… there used to be a certain romance to betrayal.  Now it is just a cheap tweet.  

There are artistic betrayals, too: people who steal our ideas, our lyrics, our melodies.  And people who misquote and misinterpret us.  Friends and family who brand us punk-rockers when we are trying to be rootsy and real: haters who call us 'jazzers' or teenagers who call us old fucks.  I have learned never to feel betrayed by a teenager; I do not underestimate their penchant for truth.  

Today I walked in the rain through the Harlem Meer.  There were seagulls croaking and squawking the sounds of the sea.  This may be as close as I get to the beach, and they seemed to know that.  A small family was throwing bread to the ducks, and the children were as happy as children can be--- no toys, no babysitters--- just some old sandwiches and the little quackers.  A gull came right up to me, inquisitive and bold.  Its head was whiter than it should have been, with the dingy mud-slush and the smutty fog of the last day of this long grey New York winter.  It knew I had no food.  But it still gave me that tilted head stare, and we locked in.  

So I had one of those Proustian moments-- remembering my pre-school teacher, Mlle. Jeanne (we had to speak French there for some pretentious reason) had brought me this exquisite hand-cut wooden jigsaw of a Nantucket gull perched on a wooden buoy.  I was home with a broken leg which had happened chez l'ecole because I threw myself wildly on a forbidden piece of playground equipment and managed to snap 2 bones in several places.  

I must have developed some kind of relationship with this patchwork gull, whose every fragment I memorized-- struggling over and over with the puzzle, and with my sedentary confinement.  My parents put me in front of the old black and white set most of the time, or outside in the yard with blankets, like a 1950's polio victim on a chaise.  But Mlle. Jeanne-- a spinsterly nun-like woman with woolen dresses and no rings-- brought me a puzzle and a book called Teach Me to Read.  I spent afternoons with this book until I was ready for Dick and Jane and then Curious George and Madeleine and Eloise.  By the time my cast was re-sized, I was into Nancy Drew and the Hollisters and everything I could get my hands on that wasn't censored.  No one but Mlle. Jeanne paid much attention to my education--- just my ponytail and little dresses, because pants were impossible.  Sometimes she sang with me-- little French songs like 'Les Tiserands'… and music from Gigi and The Sound of Music.  Rounds and harmonies.  

I emerged from the cast a profoundly changed human, with thoughts and dreams and stories and a sense of independence rare in 4-year olds, because I had created my own inner world called Nantucket.  I could now walk to the library where I began with the A's and read every single book in our little local branch, systematically--- including the Scott's postage stamps catalogues.  I graduated from Nursery School and Miss Jean, after trying in vain to convince my parents that I belonged in Music Academy, told me their hearts were crowded in a way that hers was not.  This was a great lesson I was to take with me; whenever something doesn't work out, someone's heart is crowded.  My ex-husband's, my parents'-- mine, occasionally.   Miss Jean was told not to come back: maybe my first betrayal; but she had given me the tools with which to cope.  I never learned her last name.  

But what I suddenly realized this afternoon, looking at that whiter-than-white gull in the late afternoon haze… the biggest betrayal of all is the one we inflict on ourselves.  We let ourselves down; we forget who we were, who we are, and we turn into our own grouchy husband or wife.  We forget to love, we forget to look down at the cobblestones which are the sidewalk by the Harlem Meer and see a lost pink barrette as something meaningful.  We forget to pick up coins and smile at people and walk slowly through the aisles of a grocery store and wait patiently for the annoying lady with the walker to handle every single can of stewed tomatoes and not buy a single thing.  We forget to listen for the sea and we forget to love the unlovable which sometimes includes ourselves when we are broken or betrayed or about to be.

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