Saturday, July 24, 2010

My Heroes

Up the stairs, into the fire
I need you kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire
~ Into the Fire Bruce Springsteen

I write this as news just comes in that two Bridgeport, Connecticut firefighters have lost their lives. They work in a job they love, some paid, others not, to selflessly save the lives of others. Too often, their own lives are lost in the battle.

What hurts most is that tonight I have to go to sleep knowing my husband is putting himself in this same position. Tonight, in New York City, Connecticut, DC and you name it everywhere else, husbands are going to the firehouse, while their wives do their best to diligently not think of the danger. It's nights like these when the slightest sound wakes you up in the middle of the night, or you think you heard your phone ring. My circle of wives has already checked in with each other to make sure we are all ok - without actually asking the question.

These wives are my heroes.

Somehow we go about our days and nights knowing the selfless position our husbands put themselves in. Many of these wives are also EMTs and burn nurses. We know what can happen.

Three years ago, a fireman I knew from Engine 24 / Ladder 5 was killed along with another member from his house. I was about to be married. I could not fathom what their girlfriend and wife were experiencing. I stood at the steps of St. Patrick's and witnessed a scene I had viewed too many times: the passing of the helmet to the widow. I know how much I can love someone - the physical pain of actually loving them till you want to burst. I could not imagine the pain of not having that person their anymore to hug you, make you laugh, laugh at you when you do something stupid, or wake up next to in the morning. I could not bear to think of the emptiness they felt.

Not a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, I reluctantly purchased The Rising after it was released. I listened to it and could not believe the raw emotion that Bruce Springsteen captured. The line that grabbed me was the following: I want a kiss from your lips, I want an eye for an eye.The sadness and the anger were immediately felt - he was singing about the grieving partner following the attacks on the Trade Center. The album felt like it was a dedication of sorts to the firemen - The Rising, Into the Fire, You're Missing, all captured the selfless walk up the stairs that morning.

The wives also had a job after 9/11. Healing their husbands. It was not a short process and for many it still lingers or appears with no warning. A leaf on the street, a blue sky, a song...they can all make it come flooding back. So we also recognize our healing role. We know when they need to be alone, when they shouldn't be left alone, to not talk when they get that distant stare...we've been there for the memorials, the dedications, the 5K's and the street re-namings. It's hurts us to see them hurt so much after almost ten years. It hurts me to know that my husband lost so many friends that day.

If you watch Ladder 49, the wives really do know each other that well. It is a special bond. We know how much we need each other, and would, God forbid the horror, if it were one of us receiving the helmet. We know the quarks and the kitchen humor of our men, that they will talk to each other on the phone 10 minutes after getting home about the softball game next week.

I don't want you to think I forgot the husbands or partners of the female firefighters. I know that the women I know on the job have strong partners and husbands, and that they are always welcomed into the circle as well. Man or woman, the love of a firefighter does not stop with gender.

Tonight, I pray for the wives and their children who lost their everything. I pray for the other wives who will, for the next week, do everything humanly possible to comfort these families. God Speed Lt. Steven Velazquez and FF. Michel Baik.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

How I discovered the man who lived under my bed

My music is like a lowdown dreamy bit of the psyche.It's part quagmire and part structure. The quagmire is important for things to grow in. Do you ever have one of those memories where you think you remember a taste or a feel of something, maybe an object, but the feeling is so bizarre and imperceptible that you just can't quite get a hold of it. It drives you crazy. That's my musical aesthetic, just this imperceptible fleeting memory. Jeff Buckley

The adventure continues.

You are wondering what the title of this post I am saving it for the very end...
When we left off, I was still reeling from seeing INXS on their home turf. I always find it so fascinating that a song or an artist can take you back to a specific moment. You can hear the song over and over but when it connects you to an event or special time - it becomes a time travel machine of sorts. You stop and remember, or try to, the smells, feelings, thoughts, touches...Australia had a few of these songs. I have a good soudntrack for Australia.

So Jules and I got used to hearing the "monkeys" in our ravine every morning. They were kookaburras, birds that think in their insane sarcastic minds that sounding like a monkey at 5 am is funny. It's not. Had I seen one, I would have yelled at it. But I never did. I saw lots of geckos - sunning themselves on the brick steps. Cute little fellas.
The Aussies love their time off. Why wouldn't they? Twenty-five beaches near Sydney alone! Jules, Curly and I began to plan for our Easter Holiday Adventure. We began our trek on a crowded bus North on Highway 1. We passed Coopernook,Urunga, Coffs Harbor and Woolgoolga until we finally stopped in Byron Bay and welcomed out tripped out hostel: the Belongil Beach House. Although I was a little hippie timid back them - this place screamed Woodstock and tie dye dresses. It was covered in mosaic tile art, had a huge common kitchen, a common cat (that I called Buddy), it had a coffee bar, and did I mention we were literally across from the most beautiful beach in the world. Byron Bay is majestic in its simplicity.

The beach was also our road into town. The town, turns out, holds a blues festival every April. (Hint to my husband) The town reminds me of a New England sea town, like Portland or Portsmouth with people spilling out of shops, bars brimming with music and food. We ventured around town before we journeyed back towards the hostel. There were no streetlights so the beach was only lit by the lighthouse to our backs and the moon above us. Somewhere on the beach, someone started playing a bongo. The waves accompanied the solo. Maybe there were only five people on that beach that night, the only five people in the world standing on the most eastern beach in Australia, listening to the music of the earth and the music of someone's soul.

Then it rained and we ran off to try and play Australian Trivial Pursuit. Let me re-phrase that. The American, German and Swede made a pathetic attempt to play Australian Trivial Pursuit.

We travelled further North to the tunes of Santana along the ocean, fought spiders in the "jungles" of Fraser Island while singing Land Down Under, saw full rainbows on the beach (Just like the one on the inside cover of the Cranberries No Need To Argue album), travelled south to Brisbane where we joined that party of the century that ended with us having a fire extinguisher fight on the roof. The following day, I was on a mission: I was going to see the Crocodile Hunter.

At the time, the Australia Zoo was not as popular as it was to become. I dragged Jules along to the train station. The agent informed us that a truck would meet us at the train station to take us to the zoo. Quite nice and quite odd at the same time. Then we were informed that there were only two trains, one into Beerwah and one out. Once we got there, we would be stuck there all day. It was in the middle of NOWHERE. The people picking us up from the train station worked for the zoo. They would also give us a ride back at the end of the day. In 2000, the zoo was still relatively small, lizards crawled about randomly, kangaroos lounged about the grounds, and Steve Irwin ran about feeding crocs.

Jules suggested some shopping - "let's go to HMV!" she said with such innocence. HMV is the equivalent of a Virgin Records store in Australia. I would abide and "look" at the cds -- longingly.

Screw it - $250 Australian dollars later I had amassed a collection of 15 new cds. I tried to think of what I didn't have at home (because it's just not worth it to buy duplicates). To this day I don't remember what I bought - it was like a binge for this music junkie; unfortunately, guess who didn't have a cd player.

After we got back to Sydney and I bought a proper CD discman, it was time to finish the semester - which meant papers and studying and procrastinating by working out twice a day at the gym. I never took my music to the gym (it was usually saved for study time at the house, walks along Sydney Harbor and walks home from class). Macquarie University had a great gym (even sans pool) with a great sound system.
It was a typical Thursday. I had just finished my Australian society class. My Thursday schedule went as such: Wake up to laughing birds, walk through Epping Boys School Field without being hit by an errant rugby ball, start the tunes on the discman, walk walk walk, until I reached the parking lot at Mac Uni, continue to the student union to buy a diet coke and a granola bar - some things do not ever change, if necessary, stop at library for last minute cramming, go to class, talk to Jimmy about his trip to NYC over the holiday that is still obsesses about, hit the gym, catch the 288 into the city and walk around like a tourist.

I handed in my paper on Australian World War 2 Veterans and walked over to the gym. I took my place on the treadmill in front of the TV that was always set on some music channel.
I was into about my 20th minute of running when I heard a voice that sent shivers through me. I stopped, almost forgetting to slow the treadmill down. It was a voice so gorgeous, so melodic and so haunting. It was Hallelujah sung by Jeff Buckley. His voice would transition from soft and tender to harsh, almost angry tones without any effort.
I needed to hear more. I rushed to finish my workout. I ran over to the mall that was adjacent to the campus, walked into the HMV and promptly looked for Jeff Buckley. I found three cds. Score! The names vaguely sounded familiar thoguh, maybe because it sounded like Jeff Beck. Upon putting the cd's on the counter, the check-out girl quickly commentated it was sad that Jeff was no longer alive. WHAT?
I didn't even wait around. Before going home to listen, I stopped at the university computer lab. I didn't know about google so I did an Ask Jeeves search for Jeff Buckley. I had heard of Jeff Buckley before and it all came flooding back when I read the following words: Jeff Buckley died of an accidental drowning. I remember watching Kurt Loder on MTV news while getting ready for a morning summer class at Pitt. I remember thinking that the missing body that had been found was Jeff Beck, not Buckley, whom I had never heard of. Wow, ok, so I would never hear this voice live. But I now had three CD's of new music to explore.
It turns out that Jeff was extremely popular in Australia, so that was good for me. I found the Grace album so cathartic. His voice hauntingly beautiful, sensual and sad, some times all at once. He mastered Nina Simone's Lilac Wine, rekindled Cohen's Hallelujah and made me feel as if I was the one he was talking to in Lover, You Should Have Come Over. He felt his songs, you could hear it in the way he sang. I later found out that Grace was the only album that he had released and that his mother had taken some recordings he had been working on and some live shows and began to release them. Unfortunately, the songs were not complete to Jeff, they were not for public consumption yet. I hope she released them for the fans who simply wanted more of his work - not for monetary reasons.
Jeff also seemed to be eerily telling his future: in Mojo Pin he sang: I couldn't awake from the nightmare that sucked me in an pulled me under...

So now the time has finally come for me to explain the title of this post. One night, I had a dream that Jeff Buckley was following me around my apartment, laughing. He apparently lived under my bed. I woke up and actually checked under the bed. Then I called Billy to make sure we weren't living in Jeff Buckley's old apartment or something. Hey, didn't hurt to ask.
I wasn't the only one taken in by Jeff. Artists flocked to him, a modern day troubadour who fancied keys, clocks and calling people. Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Bono, Paul McCartney, artists that were more than likely his heroes were mesmerized by him.
So when I hear Jeff Buckley, I think of that moment, on a treadmill when I heard an angel's voice. I think of the beautiful songs that I was introduced to. I know that I am listening to a man who wore his emotions not just on his sleeve, but in his voice. He sang what we felt, not what Sony told him to feel.