Warning: Despite my insistence that this blog is all about graveyards and dead people, it’s really about family history. This story is about part of my family, and it is part of my children’s history, so even though they are still alive to tell this story themselves, I’m going to tell it now to keep it from becoming untold.
My baby boy turns twenty this weekend. I haven’t been able to get him out of my mind because he lives nearly three hundred miles away. I have been too ill to travel for the last year or so. I’ve been having car problems too. So has Jake. I miss him terribly, but he promises to come and visit soon, and I can’t wait. Yes, this is the story of a boy and his sister. I’m getting to that–I promise.
But first, a little about a boy and his music. I usually begin my day by listening to uplifting music, and today was no different. I began by listening to “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables, but that got me thinking of sons in general, which got me thinking of Jake. Again. And then I began wondering why I hadn’t listened to anything from Waiting for Compromise lately. In fact, I’ve been avoiding it.
You see, Jake is the lead singer in a band (Waiting for Compromise). Or am I supposed to say was? I don’t know. He is one of three extremely talented singer/songwriters. Two are brothers, and then there’s Jake. Jake moved to the other end of the state for a full-time job about a year and a half ago, and the two brothers have done a pretty good job of keeping their band going despite the fact that Jake is no longer around. In fact, they’ve even released their first album. Jake wasn’t able to be around for most of the recordings, so he doesn’t sing in many of them. But this one, “Morning’s Coming Soon,” brought me to tears:
Jake does sing in this one. He’s the crazy blonde always up front and in the middle. It’s not the song itself that makes me cry, but the video montage, the fact that the boys are separated, and the lyrics. They probably did it on purpose just to make me cry. Well, it worked, so I’ve been avoiding their music for a while. To be fair though, Jake tells me it makes him cry too.
Jake’s impending birthday visit, and probably the Les Mis song, got me feeling anxious, so after “Bring Him Home,” I went to an old standby, “Mr. Gloomy.” It nearly made me late for work this morning, but I did feel a little better. I have listened to it many times in the past. It’s a good pick-me-up. Once again, Jake sings in this one, but his face never appears in the video:
After “Mr. Gloomy,” I ran out the door and went on with my day as a part-time writing teacher. I’ve been telling my students a little bit about my kids and grandkids, and when I got home in the afternoon, I suddenly realized that I have never shared any of my son’s videos with them. I decided I needed to do that, so I immediately sat down at the computer and started looking through some of my favorites. When I found the video that Andy, the videographer in the band (he wears many hats), had driven all the way across state to film just for Jake, I thought, this is the song I need to show my students first.
Jake had written the words to the song himself. That is why Andy felt it was important that Jake do the singing in it. I realized it was a perfect opportunity for my students to see my son sing and play. If they seem interested, I can introduce the other songs later.
As I sat and listened, a forgotten memory emerged. Maybe it was the pain behind the song that had made me forget the reason Jake wrote it. I had listened to it many times before without remembering, but as I began absorbing the words, I suddenly realized that this was the song he had written for his sister. This was the song that I had been trying to forget:
Jake is my youngest, and his sister Kaylen is six years older than him. Of my four children, those two have been the closest. Probably because they are the two youngest. It isn’t easy to be children in a single-parent household, and the two of them spent most of their childhood in poverty and hardship. Jake didn’t have any problems adjusting. He was just a baby when I left their dad, but Kaylen was not quite eight when I decided it was time to go, and the adjustment had been much harder for her.
I guess it’s common for kids from broken homes to “snap” when they reach puberty, and Kaylen snapped hard. By the time things got really bad, Jake’s two older brothers had become adults and moved out on their own. I had my hands full with Jake’s exuberancy (most call it hyperactivity), Kaylen’s extreme defiance (no exaggeration), and getting my own act together. Being a mom to my sweet daughter was tough. By the time she was fourteen, she was skipping school and getting into all sorts of trouble. I thought, if I can imagine it, she’s probably doing it. I was probably right, too. At least she didn’t join a gang. It was overwhelming for me. My life was a shambles. Kaylen’s life was a shambles. And selfishly, I didn’t realize that things were hard for Jake too.
As I listened, I suddenly realized, that “The Road Home” had been Jake’s way of dealing with his sister’s drug and alcohol addiction. I’d had a tough time dealing with it myself. I think the hardest part was watching my daughter reach adulthood in full-blown addiction, and both of us ducking as the excrement hit the fan. It got bad. She was evicted from her apartment, lost her job, lost custody of her first-born son (I had to take him away from her myself), and ended up homeless when she was thrown out of my house too. It wasn’t until she found out she was pregnant with her second child that she decided to sober up once and for all.
It was about that same time when my heart-broken son penned the words, “What makes you think that you’re the only one who’s fallen down?” At the time, I couldn’t understand those words. Jake had been so successful at nearly everything he tried. He’d been Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. He played a member of the school board, turned barber-shop quartet, in his grade-school’s performance of The Music Man. He was the pirate Samuel in Pirates of Penzance, and he had a dance solo in The Pajama Game. He also garnered superior ratings in solo competitions, even at the state level, and achieved young talent of the year–twice.
When I finally decided to throw my daughter out on her head, a family friend confided in me that Jake said he hated his sister for what she had done to me. It made me sad to hear that, but it made me even sadder when Jake admitted to me that he really was having a tough time wanting to be a brother to her. I just figured that he’d be like me, and just keep loving her all the way through it. I think it made him sad to know that she made me sad.
I am not sure if I can explain why it hurt more than just a little when Jake told me he’d written this song for his sister. At that time, he really didn’t want to have anything to do with her. As he said himself, “I’ve seen you walk this road before.” He’d confided in me that he had a hard time believing that she could pull out of it. He admitted that he didn’t want to get too close because he was afraid he’d be sucked back in. All I could hear were the words of my friend, “He hates her for what she’s done to you.”
I guess I had selective hearing the first time I listened to the song. I was picking up phrases like, “As I watch the days go by, I watch you try and fail to change.” And, “It’s not me or you, but the things you do, and what you’re doing to me.” I was hearing him say that he couldn’t trust her. That he didn’t love her. I don’t know why I blocked out the words, “I love you more than you may ever know, and I would do anything just to lift you up.” After the first time I listened to the song, I tried to forget it. I guess I wasn’t completely sure if she could do it either, but I desperately wanted to believe in her. So did he.
I must have been pretty successful at forgetting, because when I listened to the song again this afternoon, I could not be totally sure that this was the song Jake had written for his dear sister. I found tears rolling down my face when my heart finally heard the words “Alone, on this road we’ll walk, if it takes the rest of our lives. I know that it’s a long road we’ll walk, but I know you’re worth it, so hold my hand.” I still couldn’t believe that this was actually the song, so I had to call him for verification.
Kaylen’s road has been long, and even though she is sober now, I am not sure if she can see the end of it. Most of the time she feels like she is traveling her road alone. It’s been tough for me to hear her say, “Mom, you’re the only one who has truly been there for me.” I certainly didn’t feel adequate enough to be the only one providing moral support.
When I called Jake today, and he reminded me that he had indeed written “The Road Home” for Kaylen, I started crying again. He said, “Mom, don’t cry–hold on.” Then I could hear a woman’s voice in the background, and I knew I was on speaker phone. Feeling chagrin at airing my feelings to my son when he wasn’t alone, I said the only thing I could think of:
“Who do you think it is?” The woman laughed.
Shocked, I said, “Wait . . . Kaylen?”
“Yeah Mom, it’s me. Stop crying.”
“Wait. Where are you?”
“What are you doing there?”
“I wanted to see my brother.”
“Yes, and now we want to go ice skating, so stop crying and let us go.”
Of course, both of them had to crack a few obnoxious jokes before I could dry my eyes, but I was so relieved. It has been years since the two of them could relax and enjoy each other’s company without the dark cloud of addiction threatening a downpour. The storm is over, clean-up is beginning, and it looks liks my dear daughter has finally decided to go ahead and take her brother’s hand. And you know what? I think he really does love her more than she’ll ever know.