Thursday, November 3, 2011

What is wrong with you???

I can hear her say it now.
The first time I heard it was freshman year of college. My new roommate remarked,
“I’m going to Mass- you coming?”
I was confused.
“In a few minutes.”
“What? Like, tonight?”
“How are you going to get there?”
“I’m gonna walk…?”
“You’re gonna walk to New England??”
“Church?! Then what’s Mass??”
“It’s church!!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU???”
Col provided my first insights to Philly and Catholicism.  We attended a Catholic college with a large Philadelphian student body.  I myself had lived outside the city, in Dutch Country, up until that point, and I’d never even met a Catholic. Thus the ‘Mass-ive’ confusion (sorry- couldn’t resist:).
We were the roommates assigned to each other by the school.  And a Laverne & Shirley pairing it was. Col was a math major, and I was a theater major. I was a neat freak, she was more of a ‘stay-where-it-landed’ kind of girl.  Her style was conservative, mine…well, you know.
Yet somehow- it worked.
We stayed together all four years…And I wouldn’t trade a day of it.
I remember her pledging the one sorority on campus and making it through 2 days. Then she came storming through the door with a brick in a shopping cart, and said, “Fuck this. I’m not putting up with this shit just to go to some sorority formal. Besides, it’s all ridiculous anyway- there’s only one damn sorority on campus, what’s the fucking point?”
Col was not one to mince words. She was no-nonsense, and I respected the hell out of that. She kept me grounded; as a theater major you could get lost in your own creative bubble…but not when you lived with Col.
Sophomore year I had a bad time of it; I grew really depressed, and one day Col walks in while I’m standing on the windowsill in a black dress, all emo and whatnot, with ‘Bells for Her’ by Tori Amos on the stereo (yeah, I just went for it). She opens the door, glances at me, and without missing a beat says:
“This shit has to stop, Vik, you’re fucking friekin’ me out; what is wrong with you?” and continues walking right into the bathroom.
It’s hard to be too self-indulgent after that.
That was the year we lived in Lawless Hall (yes, every joke that could be lobbed at that one, was), which was adjoined to Brisson Chapel.  We dreaded those Saturday mornings when a wedding was being held in the sanctuary.  After a late night, you’d wake up to that dying-cat sound. We’d both groan, then from under her pillow, the muffled:
“Jesus Christ…with the fuckin’ bagpipes again.”
We put up with each other’s idiosyncrasies. She never complained when Brandy and I dyed our hair in huge buckets of Kool-Aid in the room. I never complained when she and Dottie sat on the floor and drank AfterShock while they sang Hootie and the Blowfish.  She put up with my boyfriend at that time, who was a thoroughly obnoxious human, and I did the same for her when Shamokin started coming around;) (Love ya, John).
She talked me into starting to watch General Hospital with her; she called it “roommate bonding hour” and we sat and munched Irish potatoes while Sonny Corrinthos smoldered on our cheap, dinky T.V.
(Irish potatoes were a whole other episode…”Potatoes? But they’re so small!” “That’s because they’re not REALLY potatoes; they’re candy…what is wrong with you???”)
After college, we stayed in touch; I went to her wedding, she came to mine, and we visited when we could. 
I wish now that it had been more often.
The night John called and told me that Col had stage 4 lung cancer, I was floored. She never smoked a day in her life. And…she was Col. No muss, no fuss, almost never sick…and so young. How could this be possible?
Sean and I had flown in for Christmas, so we went to see her and John and their son, Jack (who looks just like Col).  True to her nature, she whipped out her x-ray and showed us the tumor that had been taken out of her brain. “Look at that fuckin’ thing! It was like a third of my head.”  She seemed in good spirits, and I hoped that things would turn around for her.
I saw her a few times after that.  She was disappointed that her hair never grew back after the chemo. We chatted on the phone one day, and she said:
“You know, I’ve never liked a whole lot about my looks- but I did like my hair. And now the damn stuff won’t grow back.”
“I know Col, but think about the sassy wigs you can rock.”
We laughed, and said we would call each other more often.
Then this week happened.
My phone rang Tuesday night, and I saw it was John…it was late in PA. My stomach sank. For him to call late…it couldn’t be good news.
He said that Col had taken a sudden turn for the worse, and that she was home in hospice care. I was completely startled; he said that we only had a few days to a week.  I guess I had expected things to degenerate more slowly…or better yet, for the treatment to be successful at last and get her back on her feet. I just always thought somehow…she’d come back from it.
He told me that she wasn’t coherent, but that it would be good for her to hear my voice. He warned me that she wouldn’t be able to respond, but that I could say a few words to her. He offered to go wake her right then, but I told him that he shouldn’t disturb her rest so late, that I would call in the morning and see if she was up to it. He said that would be great, and promised to keep me updated.
I will always regret not letting him wake her.
Approximately 5 hours later, she was gone.
And as I sit here right now, fighting tears, I can hear her saying, “Jeez, Vik, I’m finally at peace now; stop making such a big thing out of this…what is wrong with you?”
A lot less than there might have been had I not known her.  May you have peace and no more pain, and may you know that in this life you were adored by many- and that you will be missed by all whose lives you touched.
I love you, Col.
                                            Colleen Loftus Brennan

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Brave Heart

I can't stop listening to 'Nothing' by The Script.

There's a few reasons. One: What woman could deny a man who could bleed like that for her? Two: It perhaps reminds me of my own dark Irishman, and the blood he's shed with a smile.

Sean is the strongest man I know. And not for the reasons one might think.

Oh, certainly, he'll trap a mouse, do the taxes, check out the noises in the night- all the 'scary' things that husbands often do...In fact, I remember one weekend, before we were actually together.... A group of us had gone to NYC during the run of Rent; it was when you could camp outside the Nederlander overnight, and in the morning get the seats in the first 2 rows for $20. (We were teenagers, and we thought it was the best thing ever:).  It was late, and NYC can get a bit 'live' in the wee hours; also, we were all freezing and tired, and some shady-looking guys started hovering near our little group. Sean stood up, walked over and just began chatting with them pleasantly.  They eventually walked on, without a fuss. One of the girls came over and pulled me into her blanket, shivering. "I'm so glad Sean's here", she said. "I just always feel better when he's around, you know? Safer." The other girls nodded soberly.  I remember laughing a bit, but then looking over at him....He was casually checking on those asleep, watching both ends of the street for trouble, and letting the girls take turns huddling in his parka. Our strong sentinel.

But I was to find- his bravery ran much deeper than that.

In a man, the ultimate bravery is to be vulnerable- and to be confident enough to be so openly. To allow his insecurities, his most secret dreams, his fears, to be known put himself in a position to be scorned, mocked... disdained.  It's not a stance our society often celebrates. But for me, it's one of the sexiest things he can do.

Longer ago than I will ever admit in this blog, Sean pronounced the line that won my heart then, and charms it now: "Just so I'm clear...I'm basically throwing myself at you, RIGHT. NOW."  That's the kind of chutzpah that I could not dismiss.

That same year, with the same unabashed enthusiasm, this is the man who memorized and recited to me the first poem of mine that had ever been published, as a surprise for me on my birthday.  The same man who later that summer, after an evening out, steadied a tipsy VK and took her hands to say, "Wait, don't go to sleep yet...what would you say, if I said, 'I love you'?" And of course, the same man who re-wrote the lyrics to one of my songs, made it into a proposal, and knelt down to sing it to me (Sean does not sing:) one chilly October night.

These things would be enough. But the fact that he bared his soul so emphatically to a girl who was nicknamed "The Ice Queen" before he came along....well, he took it up a 'whole. nother. level.'

He tamed the tundra- and created a tropical beach.

It sounds cliche, but he made me laugh- because he didn't mind being laughed at. He made me smile- because he smiled all the time.  He made me believe in myself, because when it came to me- there wasn't a doubt in his mind.

These last years, he's been secure enough to take a backseat during the times when his 'rockstar wife', as he calls her, has gotten the spotlight. Brave enough to send her, and all their money, to Scandinavia alone to record a CD. Strong enough to turn down the pretty casting director who asked him out during his audition, and tell her about his happy marriage. (He got the role anyway.)

William Wallace has nothing on him.

Happy Anniversary, my love. Thank you for braving the 'calendar chaos'.
Next year in Erin.
L.B. ;)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fly Your (Black) Flag.

We all have those things that we just dig in an idiosyncratic way, that delight us and cause us to bounce and clap like a toddler at Christmas.

I unapologetically feel this way about late M*A*S*H episodes (the ones that Alan Alda directed when Hawkeye got so evocatively existential you wanted the Korean War to last forever), early Marillion (no disrespect to Mr. Hogarth, but FISH- come on!), Russian novels (Nabokov makes my synapses tingle in an I-may-go-insane-from-this-book-but-what-a-way-to-go kind of way), pumpkin bread (NUTMEG DRIZZLE- that's all I'm saying), pinatas (filled with the good and Henry Rollins.

What I love about Henry is what I loved about my ex-fiance (wow, that lands like a bomb, doesn't it?). He has a FUCKING OPINION. Sometimes he's dead wrong, but at least he has the balls to put it out there, without diplomacy, and HAVE it.

(Unfortunately for my former boyfriend, one of his opinions was that his girlfriend shouldn't have a BRAIN in her head, but merely be an ornament. He was vexed to find otherwise.


So I changed his name to Ex.

This displeased him as well.


Regardless of his new moniker, I always did respect the hell out of Ex's nearly Ted Nugent-like capacity to maintain an unpopular stance in the face of MASSIVE disagreement.

Henry not only does that...but he backs it up with a healthy dose of intellect- and not a small dollop of passion.

It's something we are losing in this world of social-networking-gang-mentality where unsanctioned ideas that conflict with the group view are quickly squashed...along with the renegade thinker.

Agree with us?  We will smother you in a suffusion of cyber-love, 'Likes', 'RT's' and coveted '#FF's'.

Disagree with us? You will be maligned, bullied, stalked, blocked, blighted from the Face of the Book unable able to make another Tweet.

(I couldn't resist...Relax- it's all in good pun.)

Many have lost sight of the 'social' in 'social networking'. By definition, it indicates that more than one person will be voicing his or her ideas, and ostensibly, you signed on because you'd like to hear them. If you don't want to hear a particular voice- well, much like the television, change the channel. But if you only want to hear your OWN voice...then there's a bigger issue.

Suddenly, a survival of the fittest, strongest, loudest or meanest climate turns what began as a forum for healthy debate into a junior high school bathroom.

Replace Henry Rollins with @NamelessDude34, and ascribe to him some of the things the Black Flag prophet has said...? He wouldn't last a day online.

We may feel victorious when we silence a voice, an opinion, a person who we felt was "wrong". But what if WE were wrong? And when we realize that, what if we have nothing left but...