13 August 2010

On Days Like These, It's Nice to Have Music

I'm clearly a sucker for music. My passion for sharing music with strangers has been a constant throughout my life. Sharing personal experiences with strangers has also been a strange coping mechanism I've had for awhile. I can't explain it without giving an example.

When I was in 7th grade, I got into the worst car accident of my life. My cousin was driving me to school in the morning - only a 10 minute drive - when a tiny, red sports car spun out of control on the other side of the road and collided head on with us. My cousin's car was totaled beyond repair and gas was leaking out of the front, leading us to believe that it could go on fire. I was horrified, my nose was fractured, and the seat belt had dug so far into my chest that I thought I was internally bleeding. My cousin had scraped her leg pretty badly on the dashboard and the driver side airbag had come out at her full force. The entire experience was just on the verge of life-threatening.

For some reason my first instinct when I got out of the car was to run to a stranger. A middle aged man had seen the entire incident happen from across the street and ran over immediately to see if we needed any help. I saw him running over and I just grabbed him. I was so scared and I knew my cousin was even more frightened than me so I took comfort in a total stranger. Since I was a little kid, he hugged me back and asked a thousand times if we were alright. I don't think he actually did anything to physically help us in the end because the ambulance came quickly and rushed us to the emergency room for x-rays but his support was something I'll never forget. He was just an average guy that might not even remember doing anything on that day but I think of him fondly.

ANYWAY, that story illustrates exactly how I feel about strangers in general. As long as I don't have a reason for having ill feelings towards someone, I usually figure they're the same as me: just a regular person struggling to fit in and find peace in a rather tumultuous world. My desire to share things with them stems from sharing the human experience with other people that are not friends or family. Sometimes the greatest connections happen out of not knowing someone at all.

My grandfather passed away yesterday evening and I didn't want to be around my family or friends. I didn't want to get a hug because a family member lost his life. It felt disingenuous. I know it's great to give and receive comfort at times like these but I can't deal as well with my own close relations as I can with strangers. When there are immense feelings involved it becomes overwhelming. I don't want to see my mother cry, I don't want someone to see me cry, I don't want to be a part of it at all. I wanted my grandfather to always be there and that's it. I don't know how to put this in perspective.

I do know that I had a feeling it was going to happen from the first second he was admitted into the hospital this last time. His breathing had become shallow and he was immediately put on life support. My cousin and I rushed to the hospital to see him and in a strange fit of longing for normalcy, I brought a Benny Goodman record I had gotten for him on Father's Day. I kept forgetting to give it to him and I remembered on the day he is barely surviving. I carried it into the emergency room with me and put it in front of his face.

"Look! Benny Goodman! Greatest Hits! You'll be able to listen to this when you get out!"

He couldn't really move his head from the position it was in so when he even nodded slightly, I took it as a good sign. My mother wanted me to have a few minutes alone with him - I guess to say my goodbyes in case he didn't make it through the night - and although I didn't want to, I stayed in the room with him. Luckily, a nurse came in after only a couple minutes and saw I was having difficulty finding things to say.

"This is your grandfather?"

"Yes, I brought this record for him."

"Oh! He likes Benny Goodman? He looked like he might like that kind of music, that's why we have this station on."

She pointed to the television that had been set to one of those weird music channels in the 800's. Of course "Big Band Music" to her means elevator orchestra music that equates to the audible version of a dying emergency room.

"Yeah, I'm sure he likes this," I lied.

"YOU LIKE RECORDS??" she yelled at him upon seeing the record so he wouldn't have a chance of missing the question.

He nodded adamantly.

I don't know. After that I tried telling her that he used to be an award winning dancer and it was his favorite thing but she was more interested in talking about her great-uncle that used to play with Benny Goodman. She was nice though. Once again, a stranger saved me from myself.

Of course the real meaning behind that story is the music. My grandfather was dying and the one thing he was most receptive to was discussing music. The only rational thing in my brain, despite the irrationality of it, was bringing that record to the emergency room. My mother seemed skeptical when I walked in holding it but I couldn't help it. My grandfather and I shared a massive love of music. He passed it on to my mom who passed it on to me.

Every Christmas we would buy my grandfather blank cassette tapes. He loved to transfer vinyl on to cassette but never got into the whole cd wave - and certainly not mp3's. As cassette tapes became harder to find, we'd still scour out stores to buy them, particularly my cousin. And when we'd hand them to him, he'd always say, "Just what I needed!"

As he got older and couldn't hear as well, he'd blast his music louder and louder from his room. I lived across the hall from him for years so I had the good fortune of listening to Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, and all the other legendary performers - all through really good speakers. Sometimes he would dance to it alone, sometimes he would just lay on his bed and take it all in. I can understand.

He had thousands of records. Thousands of cassettes. and hundreds of shoes (our other shared passion). He was a collector.

My grandfather got me into classic movies, Gene Kelly, musicals, stereos, fashion - everything - and yet we never had the closest relationship. I remember my grandmother always had to fold his pants a certain way so the crease was down the middle. When I was younger I always tried to mimic  that with my own silly clothes because I thought it just looked so cool. My grandfather was a snappy guy. I can't believe he's gone.

With all my heart I hope he's in a better place. He was suffering a lot near the end. I hope he's with my grandmother and they're dancing in some version of "heaven". Musical Heaven.

I love you, Grandpa.

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