I was sitting in my usual seat at practice for the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Chorus. I was tenor section leader at the time, and we had just finished singing a song that I particularly loved. The conductor then said the name of another song, “What’ll I Do?” an Irving Berlin classic from back in the 1920s. I should have known what would happen.
We started singing. I always had a freaky good memory for music, so I always had songs memorized very early in the typical practice cycle, and would start memorizing the other harmony parts to keep my focus. Besides, my favorite choral professor in college had insisted that was the only way to learn.
So I was one of the few people in the chorus who was off book. Good thing, too. The first half of the first refrain is when it started:
What’ll I do
When you are far away
And I am blue
What’ll I do?
The song is about a lost love. And most of the lyrics refer to the loved one being with someone else, now. So it’s a break up song. I had not broken up recently.
But my first husband had died only weeks before.
And I started crying.
I kept singing. A part of me got very stubborn. I knew the music. This was rehearsal for an upcoming concert, one that was going to be dedicated to Ray, in fact (since he had been involved as a volunteer for years, specifically the music librarian the last year and a half before his death).
I wasn’t sobbing. I mostly managed to keep control of my breathing. But the tears were flowing and I couldn’t make them stop. I didn’t want to disrupt the rehearsal by standing up and walking out.
We reached the end of the song. And it was break time, anyway. The conductor told us to be back in 10. I tried to get away. But Adrienne grabbed me.
She had been a super volunteer with the chorus for years, as well. She and Ray had often working together at the back of the room on various things for the chorus while we sang.
She grabbed me. She kissed me, and then she let me finish fleeing the room.
I found out later that most of the folks sitting around me had not realized I was crying while we sang the song. As Mary 1 (we had two Marys singing tenor) told me, “I didn’t know until I saw Adrienne grab you, and saw the tears welling up in her eyes.”
I was standing around outside, cursing myself for having quit smoking just a year or so before—and seriously thinking of walking over to the group of smokers to bum a cigarette. But also knowing how angry Ray would be at me for starting up again on his account. He had never managed to quit, see. Even when his illness and the chemo started destroying lung tissue, he just couldn’t. He had been unbelievably proud of me for quitting. Knowing how disappointed he would be had been the only thing that kept me on the wagon for months after he died.
I pulled myself back together, walked back inside, and finished the second half of the rehearsal.
It’s a little early in the year for me to start getting melancholy about Ray. But only a little. His birthday was two days after mine. So as my birthday gets close, I keep thinking about him. I start being moody. And it doesn’t let up until November, when the anniversary of his death comes around.
I think about him at other times of the year, of course. I don’t always get weepy. Sometimes I smile, or even laugh. I remember it was a bit more than a year after he died when I realized that I would smile when remembering him about as often as I was sad.
But the September through November period is fraught. Ray was a little crazy about anniversaries. He would give me anniversary cards for things like our first date, the first time he made me breakfast, the first time I made him breakfast, the first time I bought him flowers, et cetera, et cetera. I could never remember all of those anniversaries. I knew our first date had been early in September, and when we had our commitment ceremony a few years later, it was on National Coming Out Day, in October, but all those other things blended together, for me.
Even though I don’t remember the exact date of those anniversaries, this time of year reminds me a lot of those firsts. And as we near November, it reminds me of a lot of our lasts (which at the time we didn’t know they were, of course).
It’s been fifteen years, but being awakened by any sound too close to that of a bookcase falling over still sends my heart into panicked super overdrive.
But crying is good. It reminds us that we were loved. That the loss hurts so much should also remind us that we had something precious enough to deserve being cried over. And it should remind us not to take what we have now for granted.
I have a lot of wonderful, talented, loving people in my life. I don’t deserve to have all this wonderfulness in my life. Thank you for letting me be a part of yours.