On profound occasions, a person like me feels the pressure to come up with some profound words to mark the moment. I have none ready-made.
Today was the last meeting with my physical trainer, Kim Gomez, because we are moving. For the last year-and-a-half, with almost no breaks in our schedule, I lifted, stretched, lunged, and hinged two times per week. This has been one of my most important new relationships in the two years since Jimmy died, and we didn’t talk that much. I’m not a small talker, and neither is she. Of course, we talked. More significantly, she believed in me and she pushed me, and as my body got stronger my mind did too. It’s hard to come back after a trauma. If you ever have to do something like that yourself, reader, make your body do something. The mind doesn’t always lead the way. Often, the body does.
We both knew it was the last day, and I wondered how I would mark the occasion, though I didn’t plan it out as I usually plan things out. I actually hurt my back mid-lift, and instead of maxing out on lifts and lunges, Kim led me through stretches and extensions until I was okay again.
I couldn’t look at her in the last few minutes. I looked away, steadying my voice, and said, “It’s hard to put into spoken words what I want to say. I’m going to write it down and leave it for you.” She embraced me. Maybe she said my name – I love when my name is called. I hugged her back, and in the air next to her head I said, “Kim, you have been a great friend to me, in the work you do and the way you do it. I’m strong again. I’ll never forget you.” She responded, “I’m proud of you. Email me anytime if you have questions.” We parted. I stopped to look out a window.
Today is also the two-year anniversary or yahrzeit of Jimmy’s death from suicide. Here is his obituary: link. This event in our lives was truly “unexpected.” And yet, like so many stunning events, it also made sense to us as we reflected on it. The fragments fit together.
Just that something makes sense doesn’t mean that we feel any loving kindness toward this truth, any deep peace. Recently, talking about love, Eli said to me, “Mom, I have a feeling that for the rest of our lives all four of us will be experiencing everything through this layer of trauma.” I thought this: “… even if that layer thins over time.”
If you knew Jimmy, you knew that he felt the most heightened and clear emotion through music. It may have made up his inner landscape in the same way that a combination of people and words make up mine. He thought and felt in song and lyrics.
Years ago, when the iPod Video came out, we were sitting in our bed leaning companionably against pillows. I was reading, and he was looking at this small electronic device in his hand. “What’s so great about it?” I asked. He touched the casing and swirled the control with his finger. He leaned into my space. “Look,” he said, and he showed me exactly this performance by The Velvet Underground: link. I was fascinated, and filled with a rush of pleasure. Even tiny, it was powerful. I watch it now and feel it again. It’s a reunion performance for them, and I love it more than young versions. It’s faster and funkier. The sound pulls you up, not down.
Did you know that my favorite musicians in any band are the drummer and the back-up singers? The back-up singers because, IMHO, they are often the powerhouses, the ones with range; they support the lead, not begging for adoration as Lou or Mick or Springsteen or even David Byrne are. They do the daily work. And drummers? Drummers keep the whole band together – steady, intense, physically strong, and quietly in charge of the band — and this video introduced me to Moe Tucker. Wow. She, doing that work.
That same night, we watched Jonathan Demme’s video of New Order performing “Perfect Kiss”: link. Great bass line and percussion. No audience, no applause, yet nevertheless an arresting show.
If you knew Jimmy, you might mark this day by listening to these songs, and maybe Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love album (all of it) and Alanis Morrisette’s “Hand in My Pocket,” over and over and over and over. He immediately loved those works and recognized them for what they are. I was the witness, and a fan myself.
There is no single thing I could tell you about Jimmy that would do more for you than these songs. Play them LOUD. Play others that remind you of him.
I’m meandering as I write this, dear friends and readers. I started with the question: what can I even say on this profound occasion? I try to find that out by writing. I’m not there yet.
[break for lunch]
Also, this: after Jimmy died, there have been a few occasions when I’ve been like, “What the f**k, Jimmy?!”
The first time was a few weeks after, in Newport at a beautiful borrowed cottage, and me taking the trash out at night, crying, thinking of my three children inside, who all seemed so much more powerful than I for some reason, and I said out loud, “What the f**k, Jimmy, did you really think I could do this?”
I did it.
More often I have been sad than angry, and that’s me. Did you know that anger and sadness are fraternal twins? They come from the same source. A therapist told me that. Sadness turns inward, and anger is projected outward. Sadness protects others, yet it hurts the self. Anger is action, and often meant to hurt, wound, and upset others, at the same time protecting the self. Be careful of flipping your anger into sadness, or turning your own sorrow outward into something to stab others with. Know what they are and abide with them.
Over the weekend, I had dinner with some college friends of mine. One of them, Linda, at the end faced me and said, “Jane, I’m proud of you, and your kids, for everything you’ve done in the last two years.”
Yesterday, over coffee, from my friend Jessie: “I applaud every decision you’ve made over the last two years. They’re all good ones.”
Shortly after Jimmy died the kids and I were sitting at our kitchen table trying to eat. It was only the four of us and our dog. My face was turned down to my plate, and I wept salt water into my food. Eli asked, “What’s wrong, Mom?” I replied that I worried that we were doomed to have Jimmy’s death be our story for the rest of our lives. That we wouldn’t, in fact, be able to have lives that didn’t revolve around it. “Mom,” Eli said, “I believe we all have a good future in front of us. You too, Mom. This is not our only story.”
That’s where I am now. The story is my story. It’s ours. On most days, Jimmy fades. Other sub-plots in this narrative are rising in importance.
About 12 years ago, I was laid off from a job at Simmons College that I loved dearly. Not knowing what to say or how to comfort me in his own words, Jimmy made me a mix CD of all the songs ever recorded with “Jane” or “Janie” in the title or lyrics. There are a LOT of them, and I listened to this mix CD on the way to my job in its final weeks, and on the way home at night. My two favorites were “Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart” by Springsteen and the early version of “Sweet Jane.”
I sang myself to myself.
We’ve come a long way in two years. I’m sure I’ll be thinking about this for the rest of my life. I will have more to say.
I know this: it’s my story now.
6 thoughts on “To anyone who has a heart”
Dear Jane, this is a beautiful post and a lovely memorial and a poignant reflection on the past two years. Your friend who said every decision you’ve made was a good one: I am not at all surprised. You have always been one of the most clear-headed, thoughtful, grounded people I’ve ever known. – Kristina
Thank you, Kristina, for reading. Your compliment is a boost!
Beautifully constructed and so moving. Just listened to Velvet Underground, Alanis, and Bruce.
My love and light go out to you and your kids always Now that i know what has happened in your life please know i am always here for you if ever you need an ear to listen. You can always contact me by email or call if we exchsnge current phone numbers 🙏🙏
I met Jimmy in nursery school and was friends with him through high school. I am a crazy Bruce fan who has chased his tours all over the world and have probably seen him more than 200 times. I may have “found” Bruce later on but it was Jimmy (and Michael) who got me interested enough to see Bruce for the first time at the Garden on December 18, 1980 on The River tour…and my life was changed forever.
Jane, you have a warm and generous heart and, to quote Springsteen, you’re tougher than the rest.