My dad and I really only had three things in common -- music, politics, and a shitty sense of humor, and we disagreed on all of the above to the point of near fury at times.
When I was little I was force fed a steady diet of Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings and Ralph Stanley. His Kentucky roots mapped out our musical world and I resented it. No one talked like that or listened to that here, it was the epitome of uncool.
When I was a teenager and we really had nothing in common, we had The Rolling Stones, The Doors and Led Zeppelin. Snippets of conversation, nostalgia for his 70s concert-going days, relief at common ground.
Eventually I grew up and fell in love with all music (except heavy metal and most electronic crap) and appreciated his again. I'd buy him CDs as gifts, he'd ask if I heard Willie's new song, we went to a few concerts.
Once we even saw Willie together.
He loved Willie Nelson so much and for so long, both as an artist and an individual. He delighted in the idea of a country boy owing the IRS $32 million and Willie's bemused nonchalance about the dilemma -- he quoted some Farm Aid thing so often I can't believe I don't remember it.
As he lay dying in hospice, at a complete loss over the helplessness of the situation and the end of our limited common ground, I made him a playlist full of his lifetime of favorites, all appropriate and meaningful for the journey he was about to make.
He was in and out of consciousness then, and had difficulty communicating, but at some point in the middle of one lonely night, he either indicated that he liked it or I just knew that he did. I would sit with him around the clock, both of us wrapped up in those songs while we waited for his ride home.
We had him cremated in a "Roll me up and smoke me when I die" shirt, one of his Willie favorites, something I know he would have found hilarious due to our shared shitty sense of humor and our love of shock value.
It sounds cliche to say the music died with him but the way it used to make me feel did.
My relationship with music changed altogether once I left that room.
My relationship with me changed too. I've got some issues that may surpass grief that are related to that time and I'm working on it. Or almost ready to start. Kind of. I've recognized that I need to.
But that was 3 years ago, the anniversary approaching this week. It's been creeping up on me, hiding around corners and making itself visible in the corners of my vision, whispering that I'm still alone and still scared and still not sure about life, somehow dovetailing with my latest personal drama. I've been trying to think of how to delicately tell my friends that I might need a day to lose my shit in a way that would be worrisome without the warning, and I need them to let me do it, to not try to distract me or lift my spirits.
My dad was offered Willie Nelson tickets as a last wish situation, and the concert was canceled and he passed away.
And last night Willie was back and they offered to honor the tickets, so my mom and I went. I wanted to go because I know this is the last time I'll see Willie (his age gives me true anxiety, his death will be the demise of another piece of me) but I didn't want to go because I'm so tired of feelings.
We were having subdued fun in our seats when an usher walked up and leaned down by my mom and said, "Are you getting all of this?"
She turned to him, confused.
"I know you're recording audio, just want to make sure you're getting this."
She couldn't even figure out how to zoom in on the photo she took earlier. Her purse was in her lap, with her phone inside of it.
"Excuse me?" I said. "Are you serious? She is not recording anything. You have some nerve." He apologized and walked away. I thought of his snarky, smug tone and followed. We ended up in the alcove by the exit, his back against the wall.
"How dare you interrupt our evening to accuse my mother of that."
"It's outrageous. My father died to Willie Nelson's music and should be here tonight, these were his tickets and you're walking around like the gestapo ruining it," I got more angry as I explained, until I was speaking in a low tone through clenched teeth and pointing at him, leaning forward into his space.
"Her phone wasn't even out or on. What's your name?" I peered at his name tag. "Drew? So Drew, do you think my mother, who is in her mid 60s, is going to upload this shit to YouTube for profit, Drew? Muffled audio of 30 year old songs from her purse? Is that the concern, Drew? Is that what's worth ruining my night over, Drew?"
"No. I don't. I'm sorry."
"This is ridiculous that I'm having to do this. You should be ashamed of yourself. Are you?" He nodded, eyes wide. "Good, you should, it's gross." I realized he was scared and that I was taking too much pleasure in having a target for my extra emotions, that maybe I had even out-jerked the jerk. "Don't come near us again, Drew, and I'm writing a letter to your boss."
Drew found a new place to stand. I'm writing that letter next.
I returned to my seat angry, at Drew and myself for being so affected by his crap. Here was my chance to feel the music again and I was busy bitching out some old guy. I was just frustrated and sad and sick of everything including myself.
The concert ended and people began filing out but the band continued to play, and I took it as a sign that Willie would be back. I stood and acted like I was walking towards an exit near the stage (we were at what used to be the Philharmonic, so not a typical wild concert scene) and stood for a moment near the end of the second row like I belonged there before slipping past an inattentive usher and leaning against the stage.
And Willie Nelson came back, and started shaking everyone's hand. I was at the end of the line and was agonizing over whether he'd stop and whether I should try to get a selfie or shove the program at him for an autograph like others were doing.
And then there he was. Right in front of me. Willie Nelson, close enough for me to see every line etched into that beautiful face and every stray hair escaping his braids.
He grabbed my hand and I looked up at him and said, "I love you, Willie. My dad did too. You're what we had together. You're my everything," and he leaned down and put his hand on my cheek, looking into my eyes and cupping my jawline for a moment before letting it slide away.
I still can't believe it. I will never forget the feel of that rough dry hand on my cheek. I don't know if I'll ever feel that kind of incandescent joy again. My dad would have told that story over and over again until I was sick of it had he been there. I'm so glad I didn't ask for an autograph, I got so much more.
I felt the music and it felt me back, and it felt so good to feel.