Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Barbi Beckett: Aeroplane Over the Sea

Pop botched the call where he told me my brother was dead. I was backstage at a theatre celebrating Cinco De Mayo when I got the message to call him. He answered and told me that Ken had overdosed. My chest tightened. He’d been doing so well since he got out of prison…I thought. We spoke a little more and I asked which hospital he was in. Silence. “Oh. No, honey. He’s dead.”

Years later when I got the message to call my other brother, I knew it wouldn’t be good news, but since my dad had been taking better care of himself and had no history of delinquency, I wasn’t expecting the call to open with, “Dad’s dead.”

I know I screamed. I know I fell to my knees.

I know that moments later, still on the phone, a warm body was behind me, arms wrapped around my chest, keeping it from hitting the ground too.

A neighbor came to the door, concerned that I was being beaten by the man in my living room. I don’t remember what I said to him but I do remember him hanging around outside the window for a while, just to be sure. It must have been a disturbing sound that traveled through the wall.

Those arms had been around for nearly two months. They’d wanted to be around for many more months but it wasn’t my habit to reciprocate interest if someone else started it. (A club that would have me as a member syndrome?) But this someone was lovely and wise. He let go without going away and I was able to see him and find myself thinking about him and move closer to him because he was my The One.

What a beautiful face
I have found in this place
That is circling all round the sun

He came with all kinds of music. Neutral Milk Hotel was the soundtrack to that shallow breathed, highly pressurized time. We’d find ourselves parting because we felt like we should, not because either of us wanted to. One of those afternoons, sitting in his big van, we’d returned from some outing to where my car was parked. I knew I should get out but I didn’t want to. I wasn’t so sure at the time, but he didn’t want me to either. Tension. Stalling. And then, POW! An explosion and the sound of shattering glass. The whole back window of the van had imploded – just, burst. No rock was thrown, no sudden change in temperature. We walked around the back of the van, trying to make sense of what happened. We didn’t. But the pressure was released and we drove off together.

Loss and grief were my familiars. I was shocked to find that careening into love was not entirely different – like that line between tears from laughter and tears of sorrow. I’ve crossed over from A to B before. It feels and, I’m sure, appears, psycho. One difference with this big love was hope and potential. I don’t know if anything had ever scared me more. Not my comfort zone, those.

Aimee Mann said it best, “Now that I’ve found you, would you object to, never seeing each other again?”

But, he gave me music that explained it. Gave it some order, some words, a melody that matched the intensity, melancholy, joy… happiness.

And this is the room
One afternoon I knew I could love you
And from above you how I sank into your soul
Into that secret place where no one dares to go

And your mom would sink until she was no longer speaking
And dad would dream of all the different ways to die
Each one a little more than he could dare to try

And then the floor dropped all the way out. My dad. My one and only Pop. And that music stopped. All music stopped, except for David’s. He made his own and I couldn’t have stopped that if I’d wanted to. I couldn’t have wanted to.

I had just told my dad that I was in love. In years passed, I had cried about boys. I had spilled my broken heart to him but I had never told him I was in love. A few days later he left a message brimming with dad humor – stuff about how he was such a big intimidating Texan so David better watch out, a Mormon joke, since David was from Utah, and the sincerest excitement about meeting my love.

A week later he had a heart attack at the desk in his bedroom. Two days after that, a concerned neighbor found him.

Months had passed when David put that CD on again and, without a thought in my head about it, every part of my spirit whipped back to that time when our love was finding it’s legs and my parent was in the world. Shut it off! Too big too hard don’t play that!

Sense memory, they call it. All of your senses remember, not conceptually but with goddamn, as if it’s happening now, feelings. I’ve tried to give it a listen a few times since but I still can’t do it.

Sometimes I wonder if I could conquer it with the immersion technique sometimes used on OCD patients, but I don’t want to drain it’s juice. I think I’d rather have it out there and not listen to it than hear it and feel “neutral.” It’s nice that there’s some place, besides my mind, that remembers a portal window in time where the two most important men in my life were both in this place that is circling all round the sun. Maybe there was even some kind of gauntlet passed.

“She’s all yours. Good luck, Utah.”


  1. Barbi, you blow me away. I can't say more. I wish I could. So proud to know you.

    Ugh, so beautiful. Ow.

  2. Ah Jesus B. Sometimes a little time reveals that this kind of fucked up time is a gift to the future. LIke right now. You've gifted me here in 2010 while my baby naps and someone mows a lawn and I cry remembering and I cry loving you and your dad and I cry remembering my dad and welcoming you into the 'dead dad club' with the arms of someone who understands but was real sorry to see you come in. I remember your father's voice the most. It was like a rumble of love.

  3. Should I be concerned about the back window? and oddly, I listened to that album today and thought about the two of you.

  4. Once a glass spontaneously combusted in our cupboard. So strange. In your case, it seems explainable: the powerful love and tension generated by two intensely powerful people. What back window of a van could withstand that?
    Thank you for this, Barbi. Love is powerful, indeed.

  5. oof, you punched me in the gut, in a good way.

  6. wow. i love most that your Pop knew you were in love and David was there. What a sense of joy for your dad to have. glad I got to meet him and so glad...you're still there. - Marti