30. Garden of a thousand sighs

 

Well, I will provide for you
And I’ll stand by your side
You’ll need a good companion now
For this part of the ride
Leave behind your sorrows
Let this day be the last
Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine
And all this darkness past

Springsteen, Land of Hope and Dreams

 

Another New Jersey summer.

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Left to my own devices I would probably have come in the spring, but she asked me to be there for the kids’ summer break. She was working full time by then and wanted me to be around for them. She’d taken two weeks off for my visit, (I have to say the US is incredibly stingy with vacation leave – In Australia we get four weeks a year, paid) and I was sitter guy the rest of the time.

It’s a ridiculous system that has almost all the school breaks for the year lumped into one months-long stretch. It probably worked OK when mothers mostly stayed home, but now it causes nothing but headaches and expense; just another example of a system that refuses to recognize the changing times.

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Fortunately, I get on well with all of Jersey girl’s kids and there has never been a problem of any sort. I know, right? What are the odds? We bonded pretty quickly and they all treated me as one of the family pretty much from the get-go.

Jersey girl, fortunately, works a rotating roster in her job, so she had a few days free during those working weeks too. All in all, it worked out pretty well.

You may be wondering where the kids’ actual dad is at this point and well you might. I’ll keep things civilized and leave it to your own suppositions; you read blogs, you’re obviously a smart bunch. All I’ll say is that he’s come to be known as Mr minimum legal effort required.

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A little surprise the kids cooked up for my arrival.

It was so damned good to be back. NJ already felt more embracing to me than the city I’ve lived in for the past twenty-seven years. As usual, I just slotted back into place as if I’d never been away.

The kids were making fun of pretty much everything about me (accent, locution, appearance, general ignorance of the ways of the Jerz) within an hour or two of saying hello (I’m tearing up a little just thinking about it).

This was – I was –  home. Every time I returned, that was becoming more and more obvious.

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All images used in this post are my own.

©2016

29. We take care of our own

 

Everything in your shadow turns to vapor
You pierce my heart like it was paper
Radio’s crackling with the headlines
Something on your shoulder, winds in the phone line
American beauty will you be mine
Out on this highway counting white lines

Springsteen, American beauty

 

The untimely passing of my son’s mother changed many things, our immediate plans among them. At that time, he was just 18 and already his life had changed forever. There was simply no way I was going to make things worse by flitting off permanently to another country.

Until he was able to stand on his own two feet, we were going to have to continue to make do with visits rather than starting our new life together. This was a hard pill to swallow, but what sort of parent puts their own happiness before the welfare of their child (actually, Jersey girl knows only too well the answer to that particular question, but I can’t really write about that at present).

All of this really hit home for me upon my return from that third visit. The depth of the depression that I suffered in the weeks following was profound. I don’t mean suicidal depression, more a sort of helpless hopelessness that filled my soul with ennui and despair. And Jersey girl was finding it no less difficult.

And so, in order to stave off a total meltdown, I began planning the next visit immediately. As soon as I could, I booked for the following summer and the long countdown began. Knowing the tickets were taken care of calmed me down quite a bit. It was still hard being so far from her, but not so uncertain.

The months of waiting were interminable, but finally, the day arrived and I was off. I have to say those flights were all amazingly incident free, not one hiccup or delay. And this time, I went through Dallas instead of LA, which was a huge improvement from my perspective.

I left on Friday morning and arrived Friday evening (don’t you love international time zones?) And when I stepped through those exact same doors at Philadelphia international, there was my gorgeous girl.

What a sight for tired old eyes.

A combination of too long contained desire and tinted windows delayed our departure from the airport parking lot somewhat, but we were soon cruising home to Jersey, windows down (except for that one nasty spot just out of Philly) and the balmy night breeze in our grinning, blissful faces.

Photo series: Lights of Philadelphia

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All images featured in this post are my own

©2015

28. Book of dreams

I started walking,
I started walking through the birds and the drugs,
Now I’m singing in the park.
I found you watching all the lovers walk around like they’re glowing in the dark.
Over the city,
Was the guys and the guns,
The money and the drugs.
Only looking for somewhere else to be where the future never comes.

Something for Kate, The Futurist

 

I had a devious plan that I had been working towards since I’d returned from the first visit. I wanted to give Jersey girl a gift; something she would hopefully treasure forever and I felt I’d hit on the perfect thing.

There are now several web companies that offer small run book printing. The Service provided is to a high standard and you can print as little as one copy in hardback for a surprisingly reasonable price (considering the final product).

My intention was to visit during a variety of seasons, take as many photographs as possible and compile it all into a visual record of our days together. When it was done, I would give it to her as a birthday present.

Now I wasn’t actually sure how many visits I would be making before the permanent shift, so I’d been a little unclear about how the book would be themed. All I knew for certain was that the seasons would form the visual backdrop.

By the end of the fall trip, I felt I had enough material to work with and started doing the layouts. It was a shame that I hadn’t managed to include a spring visit, but at that time, we thought the next trip was going to be permanent.

I still had great material from summer, fall, and winter (though, out of sequence). Carefully I picked the final selection and organised my layout. I decided to intersperse the images with song lyrics from tracks that meant a lot to both of us. These were mostly from Something for Kate, a band that had played a pivotal role in our early bonding, though, a few other bands also made the cut.

The book was to be called Eleven Weeks (the amount of time we’d spent together to that point) and was split into three chapters summer, winter & fall; each covering one visit.

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When all was done to my satisfaction, I sent the files off to the publishers in the US and waited. I’d arranged for the book to be mailed straight to Jersey girl, so I was not even going to get to see it before she did (I don’t mind admitting, that made me very nervous).

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The suspense was torture, but after several weeks the package duly arrived and I got to watch her reaction as she opened it on Skype. When I saw her face, I knew the months of planning and work had all been worth it.

The gesture was small in the scheme of things, but as I watched her gaze wonderingly at her gift, I was struck by the realisation that no one had ever done anything like this for her before.

This made me both happy because it meant that I’d managed to do something special for her, and quite sad because she is the sort of soul that people should want to go out of their way to do nice things for.

As she leafed through our memories, she was crying real tears and didn’t know what to say. That was fine, her eyes and gorgeous smile conveyed everything I needed to know.

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All images used in this post are my own.

©2016

The publishing company I used was Blurb

27. Point blank

 

Tonight I can feel the cold wind at my back
I’m flyin’ high over gray fields my feathers long and black
Down along the river’s silent edge I soar
Searching for my beautiful reward

Springsteen, My Beautiful Reward

 

Saying goodbye, with no clear certainty as to when you will see each other again, is not a thing you ever get used to. It tears at the heart and numbs the mind. Each time I have walked away from her it has felt a little worse than the last and, by that fall’s farewell, it had become a crushing weight pressing down upon us both.

Only for this woman would I ever endure such emotional distress, but because it was her, I knew I would endure it, for as long as was necessary.

This third departure was made that little bit more miserable by the fact that I had managed to catch a pretty bad head cold. I’d walked around South Street the previous day feeling increasingly shitty (something I opted to leave out of my previous post) and now it felt like my head was being squeezed in a vice; not a good state for flying.

We said our broken goodbyes and that soul-deadening moment descended once again as I turned from her and the kids and we each walked into our separate worlds. Soon I was caught up in all the usual ‘security’ nonsense which, for just a little while, served as an annoying distraction from my sorrows.

The first takeoff really didn’t seem too bad, despite my stuffed up head. Being in the air wasn’t too bad either, except for my having a little trouble hearing properly. Then we started our descent into Atlanta. It felt disturbingly like someone was trying to shove chopsticks into my brain through my ears. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt pain like that; sheer agony.

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And I had another three landings ahead of me.

The one in LA was just as bad, Brisbane too, but the worst by far was Melbourne. That descent seemed to take forever. It was a long slow glide with several course corrections and every second felt like my ears were going to bleed.

I swear at one point, when we were only a couple of hundred feet in the air, the plane seemed to have slowed so much that we were just hanging stationary above the ground. I guess it was an optical illusion, but it seemed bizarrely real as I looked down through my window at a farmhouse that seemed disinclined to move out of view in the expected manner.

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By the time I was back on the ground, my nerves (and brain) were shot. I collapsed into a taxi and actually to this day, can’t remember anything about the drive home.

Despite all this, the first thing I did was power up my computer and Skype with Jersey girl. She knew I was OK as I’d texted her upon touchdown in Melbourne as usual, but we always need to connect as soon as I’m back.

That first call is always tough. It’s so good to see the face of the one you love, but the knowledge that you cannot just reach out and touch that face is heartbreaking.

Neither of us knew when the next trip was to be and so there were a few tears and sobs punctuating the conversation. I knew that it would be like this until we got a little more space between us and those four weeks.

I also knew that I was due for a good month of deep depression. As usual, I was not to be  disappointed on that score.

Images used in this post are my own.

©2016

26. Just like fire would

 

We’re goin’ out where the sand’s turnin’ to gold so put on your stockings baby ’cause the night’s getting cold
And everything dies baby that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back

Springsteen, Atlantic City

 

Colour was the theme of that visit. My previous stay had taken place in a very white world; beautiful, but starkly monochrome. Prior to that, all had been green, green, green. This fall, by contrast, was a symphony of colour that almost overwhelmed the eyes.

I’d never truly known the transformative power of the seasons until then. We had beautiful autumns in Canberra where I grew up but compared to Jersey in the fall, they were frankly a little anemic. Here, the autumn was a wildfire set in the tree tops; the falling leaves like drifting embers.

My attempts to capture the intensity in photographs largely failed. A poor camera hampered my efforts, but even with the best camera available, I doubt my meager skills would have been up to the task. Still, for what it’s worth, here is a selection of images that at least hint at the glory that presented itself to my lens.

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If some of these pictures appear a little fixated on the graveyard, it is not my latent goth tendencies coming to the surface, I simply found the local church grounds to be a useful and photogenic backdrop to the shots I was trying to capture.

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25. Soul love (spooky action at a distance)

 

You know she thrills me with all her charms
When I’m wrapped up in my baby’s arms
My little girl gives me everything
I know that some day she’ll wear my ring
So don’t bother me man I ain’t got no time
I’m on my way to see that girl of mine
`Cause nothing matters in this whole wide world
When you’re in love with a Jersey girl

Tom Waits, Jersey girl

 

The intensity was still there. We were deep into my third visit and several years into this thing we’d created together and we were still feeling like a couple of love-sick teens pretty much all the time. In part that could be attributed to the frequent separation; I won’t pretend that played no part. It has of course been a factor, both intensifying longing and providing a clean slate each time we came back together.

That said, there has always been another, more powerful force in play. In the seventies, they called it animal magnetism, but I’m no fan of that hoary (if not downright archaic) phrase. I’d say it was perfect chemistry, but that implies it’s mostly physical when in truth, it predates any kind of contact beyond the written word. Almost from the first moment, it was as if we were socket and plug. The second our minds connected, power began to flow.

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And what a ball of energy that power created. It fired up every aspect of our beings; creative,* intellectual, emotional, and physical. It was as if we had both been asleep for our entire lives and we’re suddenly violently awake.

I really like the way this energy manifests through us, though. Some people when they experience such intensity cannot keep their hands off each other. Whether in private or public they tend to be all over one another constantly. It’s frankly, not very pleasant to be around. Those relationships tend not to last, burning brightly, but mercifully short.

Despite the often explosive passion we frequently feel, we do always manage to retain a civilized decorum. We remain decent dinner companions to our friends. For both of us, a little mature dignity is still pretty important. This all strengthens my faith in the longevity of the relationship.

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And longevity is important when you’ve met the woman who has ruined you for all others. Because the truth is, if this were to fail, neither of us can foresee a time when we could even consider being with someone else. It took me near fifty years to find it once, I’m under no illusion that I will ever know this again with anyone else.

Why the Fates chose to give us this at such an extreme distance, I can only imagine. Perhaps, knowing that we are both doubters at heart, they needed to show us that real love knows no distance. Certainly, I have a new appreciation for irony after all this.

All I know for sure is that the red string of Chinese folk law is firmly entwined around two hearts that, though they may reside in different hemispheres – coming together only rarely thus far, cannot be separated. Western science calls this phenomenon Quantum entanglement. Western poets call it soul love.

*in a matter of months I finally finished writing the book I’d been struggling over for years while she also produced some exquisite writings over this period

All images used in this post are my own.

©2016

24. Back to you

 

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Something for Kate experiencing some kind of heaven. (Photographer unknown)

For pretty much the whole of our relationship there has really been just one band providing the soundtrack.

Before we’d even begun to admit our feelings for each other, I introduced Jersey girl to Melbourne band Something for Kate. This band and their charismatic singer/songwriter Paul Dempsey have somehow managed to ‘narrate’ some of the most intimate moments of our story without ever having met us.

Or to put it more accurately, the thoughts and emotions that run powerfully through Dempsey’s songs have somehow always perfectly captured the way we were experiencing our relationship. I can only assume that he and we are all travelling along the same empathetic wavelength.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Something for Kate several times, the first being when they supported David Bowie on his last ever tour. I know Bowie was impressed by the young band and sang their praises often to the audiences at the shows.

They were great in that large arena, but it is in the smaller, more intimate, shows where they truly shine. Dempsey is funny, personable and laconic. When he engages with the audience there is always good-natured banter back and forth. He has the ability to make you feel like the band up there on the stage are your friends just having a go at being rock stars for a laugh.

 

When the music thunders into life, however, there’s no question that this is a killer band. Dempsey has a vocal power few can match and his guitar chops are a seamless blend of every guitarist you ever loved. This is also a band who refuse to be tied down to a single genre (something they have in common with their avowed idol Bowie).

They also have the courage to make music that doesn’t try to be edgy all the time. Dempsey is much more interested in telling his stories and listening carefully to how the music wants to be expressed. The band make being radio friendly work which has earned them a large and fiercely loyal following at home and abroad. It has also earned them some scorn from the musical condescendi who believe that the definition of a lesser band is one that gets played widely.

Putting all that aside, I’d like to share some of the music and lyrics that have so endeared this amazing group to the two of us over these past several years (you can click on the titles to hear the songs).

You only hide

So I keep watch
And you keep breaking
Breaking formation to become
Someone else
And your eyes become corridors
Where I wander with a candle
Calling out to you

And you only hide because you know I’ll find you

This beautiful composition seduced us both immediately. Dempsey here seems to intuit something deeply primal in relationships between women and men – the need for rescue, the need to feel important enough to another to warrant the effort – and also the fragility of the human heart. It recounts that rare kind of love where it feels safe to fall apart in the certainty that the other will stay; will search for you in your chaos and pull you back out.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Sometimes, anything just breaks your heart and
You hold out your arms to keep day and night apart so
This is never ending, nothing is ending
You turn back the clock ’til the clock is no more now
Time means nothing, time can’t touch you
It’s nowhere to the start and, nowhere to the end
But tomorrow somehow finds its way to us again and

When all the sunlight in your eyes, feels forgotten
Is there light at the end of this tunnel?

Another gorgeous composition from a songwriter who is not afraid to lay himself bare. I know this is a particular favourite of Jersey girls, who has quite frankly been pulled through the ringer in an acrimonious and protracted marriage break up and who has many times searched in vain for that light. Again Dempsey shows his mastery of the human condition and navigates the emotional landscape seemingly effortlessly (but that’s the trick, isn’t it? Making the difficult seem easy).

 

Impossible

Don’t listen too hard to the beating of your wings
Or you might fall
You only do what you do ’cause a part of you believes
That you’re here at all

But something reminds you
And sometimes I can hear it too

And I don’t wanna be the rain
Falling on this impossible parade
As sure as I can be of anything
I will be so sure about this impossible thing

This song resonates with me, with the part of me that knows the sometimes overwhelming difficulties that a relationship at a distance can face. However, rather than serving to discourage, I find the song’s energy and defiance a real balm for any occasional doubts. Not that I doubt the relationship itself nor our commitment to it, I never have for a moment, but there are times when it can feel like life is conspiring against us and in those moments, this is the song I turn to.

Down the garden path

Together in space, together in time
We’re all dressed up, serene and wild eyed
And here of possible worlds is where we might find
A promise kept on day’s departing light
Our spider webs across the skyline

Another moment of genius from Mr. Dempsey, my favorite line is she’s all magnetic storm, out of her mind. This captures the elemental nature of love, the tempestuousness, and the fire. Love is a storm and its own safe harbor. I love the way he never sugarcoats human relationships. There is always Yin and Yang.

 

Washed out to sea

She’s out and back
She’s looking for the matches
We built our own logic
And now we scatter its ashes
We dropped a feather from the eighty-first floor
And watched it swing down to the world below
Such a long, slow fall

Washed out to sea
Yeah, you’re so far from me

Arrival and departures
Yeah, we know them so well
Ah, from sleeping and dreaming
On the baggage carousel

We know every step and every crack

Every scene leading to the final act
Every comic trick, circling back, back, back

This is my absolute favourite. The lines arrivals and departures yeah we know them so well, ah from sleeping and dreaming on the baggage carousel give me chills. Could there ever be a more perfect description of the past three years of my life? That was a rhetorical question.

 

Back to you

I find myself talking to ghosts
There’s no such thing as a stupid question
But I watch her making so much noise
That she thinks that she can win them over
Win them over
I watch her making so much noise
That she thinks that she can win them over
Win them over
But I have a compass
I watch the sundial
And I defy gravity just to get myself
Back to you

There are a couple of versions of this song and they are both beautiful. It all comes down to those last few lines for us. Those lines perfectly describe the way we both feel. There’s nothing we wouldn’t do to get back together, though the world be crumbling around us. I would defy gravity for this woman, and she for me.

Reverse soundtrack

So you, dance and you shuffle, into the eye of the storm
Eyes all on fire as if, you’ve never been here before
And you say it’s all nothing, but tell yourself quietly
But I hear you from my house, breathing differently
And when it all falls down

You won’t just stand there
Looking at the ground.
And holding your breath
Holding out

So you, drive ’til the water, changes from blue to green
And you, wait there until the wind, knocks you out of your body
You can, stay there forever, counting the stars, trying to
Separate yourself from how things are
But you, know you won’t get very far
Until it all falls down

So don’t just stand there
Looking at the ground
And holding your breath
Holding out

This one is just achingly beautiful. Situationally, I suppose it isn’t particularly relevant to our relationship, but it speaks to both of us emotionally and has always been special to us.

The fireball at the end of everything

But the sound of your voice is enough to rescue me from the

Fireball at the end of everything
As long as you sit next to me
We can burn
I’ll follow you to the ends of the earth
As long as you sit next to me
I’ll follow you to the ends of the earth

This song, like no other, speaks to the intensity of true love. For that reason alone, Jersey girl and I will always love it. This may actually be our song.

Obviously, I’ve concentrated here on the songs that resonate with our story. I may write another piece soon giving some of Dempsey’s other excellent music the attention it so richly deserves. In the meantime, here are a few great videos of some of my personal favourites. I hope you enjoy them too.

I’d like to mention here that Steph, the band’s barefoot bass player and Dempsey’s partner, had the good sense to turn down an offer to join Courtney Love’s band, Hole (I respect the hell out of her for that).

Finally, Paul released his new solo single today. As expected, it’s brilliant.