Monday, February 16, 2015

The Times Before

This one's for Kat. 

Hi Boys~

I don't often use this blog to write to you directly, but this week has been a tough one for your mom and I thought I'd send your future selves this letter so that when the time comes...if the time comes that you need to read it, it's here.

Last week, in the wee small hours of Saturday February 7, I wrote a blog entry about the death of my friend Adam.  And then I published it on Facebook and in three days, almost 6,500 people had read it.  It was a mixture of grief for the loss of Adam and grief for what Adam's passing meant for me that kept me awake tapping out words onto this computer while your dad snored slept next to me.  And there's a comfort in knowing that my thoughts and feelings about him are shared by so many people.

Boys, the reason I'm writing you this letter is that I realized something this week and it's a lesson that I want to pass along to you...

Sometimes opening up old wounds helps new ones to heal.

Jack, when you were born, it had been 8 months since I set foot onstage.  I was more than ready to give it up, I was happy to give it up and I packed up every sad feeling about missing theatre and missing my theatre friends and tucked them away deep down inside so I never had to have the slightest twinge of guilt for missing them.  For 5 years now those feelings lay hidden away through your obstinate toddler years, through the birth of Will, through your curious preschool years and now Will's obstinate toddler years.  All tucked away, all unexamined.  Every time I missed theatre or friends, I let that wound scar up.

And then Adam Carter died. 

And the floodgates opened.

And that tiny box of feelings exploded in one gray and dreary Friday afternoon when I read that he was gone.  I sat in our room just crying and crying while your dad put his arm around me.  So that night, I stayed up typing a love letter to Adam in an attempt to help me understand all that he had meant to me.

There's a question that parents get asked from time to time by other parents and it's some variation of this:

"I can't even remember what I did before I had children!  Do you even remember what life was like before them?"

I want to smile, nod and reply, "Yes, actually.  Yes I do remember.  I had one hell of a fun, full and rewarding life.  I had adventures, I performed in plays
, I went to parties, I made bad choices.  I had one hell of a ride.  I can recall every wandering around downtown, late night movie, sleeping in til noon, actually reading books minute.  I remember"

If you're reading this and you're 16, you're probably going to yell at me, "Jesus mom, did you even WANT us?!"  And I'll say, "Yes dumbass and watch your mouth!!" 

Because I did then, I do now, and I forever will want you.  Feeling grateful for the life you have now doesn't mean that you should forget the life you had.  I think it was a mistake for me to do just that.  I forgot about it for too long until the death of a friend snapped me back to consciousness.  It doesn't make me a terrible mother because I had a wonderful life before you came.

So on Saturday morning when I posted my blog, it was after opening up a very old wound.  I had to come to terms with the fact that for 5 years, I have gotten in my own way when it comes to maintaining connections to the people in my past.  Theatre? I was happy to give it up. The commitment to a rehearsal schedule is grueling and it would only allow me to see you boys for an hour or so every night and I love that time we have together.  But friendships?  Oh boys...friendships aren't grueling.  Friendships don't take up hours upon hours every week.  When the theatre went, so did the friendships.  And for that, I am truly sorry.  I think I can be a better mom to you if I keep some bits and pieces of my life before you.  Your lives would certainly be enhanced by the colorful cast of characters that would start filtering through our house again.  I mean look at this picture:

And I'm sending you this letter because someday, I hope, you'll be dads.  If you work outside of the home, your life is going to be divided into several categories- Spouse, Dad, Employee, Self, and Friend.  Your kids will devour so much of your time and if you did it right, you'll be ready to have your time devoured.  Work?  Well my darlings, work will take everything you give it.  Work will never tell you to back off or slow down, so you'll have to know when to raise your hand and say "Enough.  I can't do more."  Your spouses will hopefully feature somewhere prominently in your lives, more before kids, less after.  Find time to do special things just the two of you.  I'll come babysit, I promise.  Whatever little scraps are left will be for time spent with friends and time spent alone.  When your babies are little, you'll want that time alone.  Alone with your thoughts, alone for a nap, alone for video games (if you are anything at all like your dad).  You'll want some time in the day when people aren't begging for your attention.  And that will be important time.  If you've done the math (and you will if you're anything at all like your dad), you'll see that not much time has been reserved for your important role of Friend.

And on the day Adam Carter died, I had to examine what kind of friend I had become.  An old wound opened.  I went back through years of messages exchanged.  So very many talks about coffees never drunk together, books never talked about together, movies never seen together.  We all exchange these pleasantries with friends so many times over the course of a life.  They're the glue that holds us together in between the times we actually see each other.  But you have to actually see each other.  And not "Facebook" see each other (will that even be a thing by the time you read this?? Probably not, so insert "artificial intelligence robotic friendship machine" instead).  I loved seeing Adam, why didn't I see him more?  I think I got in my own way too many times.  I think I need to change some things.

An exchange of messages from the spring of 2013 caught my eye.  I was 7 months pregnant with Will and I had fallen asleep and missed Adam's goodbye party downtown.

Please forgive a tired, pregnant lady for falling asleep at 8 on Friday and missing your farewell party. I would have loved to see you and find a fantastic YouTube video on my phone to share with you for old times' sake. I wish you nothing but every single bit of happiness and success in GR- another sleepy West MI town to take by storm! It's good to know that 131 runs both ways and that I'll see your perfectly coiffed head visiting all the old theatre haunts in town. Until then, keep those cheekbones magnificent, those shoes polished and pointy and lots of confidence in yourself and all that you are capable of! xo
Lots of love! Nancy

Nanc, no need to apologize. I will do all of those things, and you enjoy being the great mom you are! I will be back for the Improv Fest...and you never know when I might just pop up.
Looooooove to you and yours. ~O.F.

Boys, I think I'm finally taking Adam's advice to be the great mom I know I am. I think I can open up that box of memories I buried so long ago and examine them a bit. I can find ways to embrace who I am while remembering who I was, free of regret or sadness. And guess what little loves? Opening up that old wound has helped heal this new one. I have reconnected with friends from my past and we have laughed and shared memories of those sweet, sweet days.
So listen to your old mom boys. Carve out a little bit of time for your friends. Talk about old times and share inside jokes. Adam told me that I'd never know when he might pop up and that was true. I'd find him like a lucky penny around town and it would be the highlight of my day. And if you think there will always be time to get that coffee or go see that movie, I can tell you that I have learned the hard way this week that sometimes time runs out.

If you're wondering what O.F. means, it means "October Friend". Adam and I became friends in October and vowed that no matter what, come October we'd find each other. Adam, I promise that when October blusters into town, I will find you again. I'll find a dappled sunlit piece of pumpkin patch and I know you'll be there.
And boys, you'll be right there with me. Because I love my life now, but it's time to open up the drapes and let a little bit of me back into the room.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Farewell Peter

February 6, 2015,   

Adam F. Carter, every time I was around you I felt like Wendy must have felt seeing Peter Pan fly into her window. You are youth and life and adventure and when I think of my life in Kalamazoo theatre, you are everywhere. From leaning against the gold spray painted poles of T's Bar to giggling as quietly as possible in the basement of 246 while a donut-binging crowd enjoyed a Late Night, you were everywhere. I feel like someone just told me that Peter Pan died. Because it's not possible. He's second star to the right and straight on til morning. And so are you. To me at least. You'll never grow old, you will never die. I love you Great Pumpkin. I will miss you.

I met Adam Carter 10 years ago after seeing him perform in the show Psycho Beach Party. He was beautiful, legs for miles and cheekbones that Michaelangelo himself couldn't have carved better.  Adam was my Peter Pan.  He was all of Kalamazoo's Peter Pan.  Everyone felt younger, happier, more energetic and more alive when in his presence.  But he was better than Peter Pan because he was real.  We became instant friends when we performed for two magical years in Trevor's adaptation of It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.  The Great Pumpkin Massacre saw me as Lucy and Adam as the Great Pumpkin, a pumpkin-man serial killer intent on plucking off all of the Peanuts, one by bloody one.  It is no stretch to say that this show became an instant cult classic of the Kalamazoo theatre scene.  It wouldn't have been without Adam.

Adam was in a galaxy all his own.  He was the sun and so many of us were happy to orbit around him for a little while.  The magic of my friendship with Adam was that he made me feel like the sun.  I'd go weeks or months without seeing him, especially once I stopped performing, but when he'd see me across a room, he would stop, grab his heart, and come clip-clopping across the floor in his fantastic shoes with arms outstretched to embrace me.  As I type those words, tears stream down my face.  Oh that we were always so free with our affection for one another like Adam was.  How beautiful this world would be if we made everyone feel like the sun when they came into a room.  He could have swooped me up and flown me to Neverland and I would have gone.

And after the warm embrace, he would greet you in telegram~

Nancy.  Stop it.  That scarf.  Love.  Amy Poehler's book?  OMG.  Had to put it down.  Loving. So. So. Much. Coffee?  Yes, please.  Kisses.  Love.

But his economy of words was a sharp contrast to the boldness and effervescence of his life.  And because this blog is for my boys to someday understand what their mom took away from her own experiences, there are a few things I want them to learn from my experience in losing him.


I'm so sorry boys, but I've got nothing.

Nothing about this makes sense or seems real.  You see, Adam Carter was my Peter Pan, but I always hoped he would grow up.  I hoped he'd be a fabulous old man draped in caftans and oversized sunglasses with a shock of silver hair swirled up in a pompadour.  But we won't know that Adam.  He is now permanently 31 in our hearts and minds.  Kalamazoo's Marilyn or James Dean, frozen in the bloom of youth.  And somehow the death of him means the death of my youth.   He was the one person who could take me back to those fearless, carefree days of Late Night theatre and 2am Taco Bell feasts eaten while laughing at YouTube videos.  Some huge door has slammed on the life that was before and I don't know who will be able to take me back there again.  I'm Wendy standing next to a dark window.  

He had moved on in so many ways and found so much success.  But there was a North Star quality about him that made him feel steady and constant.  So many of us got married, had babies and stopped performing, but there was Adam, seemingly unchanged (except for his ever-changing hair).  He'd pop up at the Alamo Drafthouse, the Union, Art Hop, the Civic, always looking radiant and always greeting you like the sun had just popped out of a cloud.  As long as Adam was around, so were the memories of those sweet days.

Adam's current Facebook cover photo is of this tree, frozen in the stillness of winter. And I marvel at how fitting it is now that he is permanently frozen in time for all of us.  He will never grow old, he will never die.  His light will outlive his life.  So that is the lesson for my sons.  If there is one thing I want people to say about my boys when they die it's that.  That their light lives on long after they're gone.  

On Thursday February 5th as I was driving the boys to daycare, I was startled to see the full moon looming large and bright at 7:45am.  Within seconds, the moon began a dance with a sea of lavender clouds dipping in and out of view.  The clouds swirled while the moon slowly hid its face.  It was like a can-can dancer whose billowing lilac skirts teased us until the show was over.  The image was magical and wonderful and now I know that Thursday was Adam's last day on earth as we knew him.  And maybe, just maybe, the heavens were readying themselves with a final dress rehearsal for his glorious return.  Adam who is made of stardust now returns to the stars.  And I would expect no less from the heavens than to welcome him in full Moulin Rouge can-can realness.

And it's up there in those lavender clouds drifting silently among the stars that Adam will be waiting for us.  Forever 31 (he would love the chance to ruminate about what kind of clothing a Forever 31 would sell).  And when my time comes, I sort of hope I'm greeted just like this...

Nancy.  LOVE.  Finally.  OMG.  Carousels.  Heaven has carousels.  Could you die?  Wait. You did! Ha! Hugs. Kiss-kiss. Who do you want to meet?  I know everyone.

Second star to the right and straight on 'til  morning.
So many Wendys standing near their windows tonight wishing you'd come back.