What I have discovered

Since the flood, as I’ve thrown ruined stuff away, I truly do understand that things are just things and most are replaceable but some are not, and I just have to deal. I am dealing, actually.

But sometimes a thing is more than a thing. Here’s an example.

I’ve featured this album on my blog before. It’s utterly ruined. Every record inside is in its own sleeve with lyrics, and those sleeves remain a soggy mess stuck to the records.

I’ve long had all this music in my iTunes. There isn’t one song from it I can’t hear whenever I want to. I don’t need the album replaced.

It can’t be replaced. It was given to me by Riley when I was a teenager, and we’d lie on the floor in front of my parents’ stereo and listen to it and talk about the Beatles and music and everything else that came into our heads for hours. It’s one of the things Riley touched and I touched, so our energy is in it together. Riley is dead, and there’s never going to be any new tangible thing like this album for us.

So while it’s just a thing, it’s a thing with an energy that is connected to my heart and soul. It’s a thing that’s hard to throw away. But I will, and everything will go on because after all, all things must pass.

Missing You

Today is my friend Riley’s birthday. I miss him so much. I want to read a new poem from him, hear a new song, and tell him all the ideas I have in my head for things I want to write, the main one using our adolescence together in a ghost story.

Tom and I started going through those bins on our carport that so desperately need purging. I have an action plan for some of them, so I’m on my way. But mostly I wanted to find all my Riley correspondence. It stretches back more years than I will admit to. I’m lucky that he liked to draw and write and gave me so much of his work.

None of his stuff, of course, is part of the purge. Somebody else can trash it after I’m gone. It still means too much to me.

circa our junior high school years

I love you, John Riley. Thank you for an amazing history.

…and I was singing this song for you…

Ugh, this year, the last week…the death of Leonard Cohen, whose songs I’ve had the privilege of teaching as poetry (and Kate McKinnon’s SNL opening was everything, by the way).

Now another loss that sent me to the closet where my silent albums live.

Lucky enough to have seen him at Farm Aid V, and lucky enough to have friends who could afford all his albums when I was a financially struggling youngster. Besides his solo success, Leon Russell recorded and performed with damn near everyone in his long career. Songwriter, session musician, superstar. This is for Debbie and all the nights we listened to Will O’ the Wisp, for that character Douglas and what he owes to Leon Russell, among many, and for Riley, just because I miss him so much.

Button Sunday


Today’s button is part of a bigger picture.

A few years ago, Lynne and I were digging something out of her large walk-in closet at her Green Acres house (she’s in a different home now, and about to move again, but that’s a good story for another day), and she pointed out her fringed, suede vest hanging in the corner, a leftover relic from our hippie high school days. I felt a pang of envy that she still had it and wondered aloud what might have happened to my fringed jacket from that same era. I thought I had a photo of Lynne’s vest, but I can’t find it, though I did one time put a high school photo of me in my fringed jacket on my blog, right after I discovered that it STILL existed. My sister had held on to it through the years and taunted that it would remain forever in her possession.

Debby has just moved to Houston–she found a bunch of buttons in her former basement that she brought to me, and the one above was among them. What she did not bring was my fringed jacket. It had been inadvertently left in a closet of clothes she was donating.

I felt a moment of regret, then I let it go. After all, up until three years ago, I thought the jacket was long gone from my life. It would never fit me now, and anyway, though the jacket would be a tangible connection to people and times that are gone but still loved, it’s all alive in my mind, right?

Then–as Debby was unpacking–look what she discovered!

And I’m sixteen again. Lynne will pick me up in her tiny white three-speed Opel, and we’ll go to my sister’s house that is never warm enough to hang out with Debby’s friends and probably Riley will come over and maybe My First Boyfriend and there’ll be cards and frozen baby Reeses Cups and breaking the law, breaking the law, as hippies did.

I still have my memories AND my jacket. Thanks, Debby!

The Long and Winding Road

Last week at the RPM loading of the van to send dogs and cats to their new homes in Colorado, I took particular notice of this guy. He’s one of a litter of five–all gorgeous, their coats like velvet–who were being taken home for a few more days of fostering by one of the terrific volunteers who make saving these animals possible.

He’s cute, right? Sweetest little face. Of course to me, every one of them is uniquely beautiful. The reason he caught my attention is that someone named him Riley. In my life, Riley was one of the friends I loved most in the world from the time we were fourteen. He died too young in 2008. Since he knew and was amused that I named a villain in a TJB book after him, I think he’d really appreciate knowing he shares his name with this handsome guy. Riley the puppy will make someone a great best friend in his new home.

You can see photos of the other twenty-six dogs traveling with Riley tonight by clicking here.

ETA on December 4: Riley has been adopted! I think he’s going to have the best Christmas ever.

All I ever wanted was to know that you were dreaming


I have a passion for home, but I long ago accepted that I have no passion for house cleaning. One of the things I don’t mind doing, especially if I have a window, is washing dishes. This is why I rarely used a dishwasher, even when I had one. Debby and I used to argue over who had to do the dishes–I think that’s a natural teenage sibling thing. I remember those arguments best from the house we lived in just before she was married and moved out. (David and my father rarely did the dishes. Different times…)

After I became the only kid left at home, dishwashing was left mainly to Mother and me. I remember lots of evenings staring out the kitchen window of the last house I lived in with my parents, watching the street, the main road through our little town, and smiling when my friends or boyfriend drove by and blew their horns.

Now both my sister and I are content to be in suds up to our elbows, as my mother always was (she also rarely used a dishwasher other than her kids). I do a lot of thinking at the kitchen sink, and looking at this photo, I realize why my thoughts so often turn to people I care about. Just the items on the shelf over the sink and on the fence seen through the window evoke reminiscences of Tom, Lynne, Lisa S, Timmy, Paul, James, Tim, Jeff, my parents, Debby, Jess, Laura, Lindsey, and Rhonda–and Margot and Guinness. It’s a place of friends and family, as homes should be.

Last year during this time, Aaron and I were trading texts about his coming to stay here a few days during spring break. Tom and I were so happy he wanted to spend time with us, Tim, and the dogs, and I wouldn’t trade those days for anything.

So many memories…

Today is Riley’s birthday. How I’d love to call him and wish him a happy one. He’s another of the people I think about and miss deeply. The year 1980 was one of the most significant in our long history of friendship. I can remember the house I was living in then, and all the time he spent there, and how Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” LP stayed on my turntable almost constantly. There are so many pieces of Stevie Nicks’s “Sara” that tell a story of Riley and me. I’m sure lots of people feel the same way about the song for many different reasons–true of all the best songs, I think.

For Riley…

February Photo A Day: Your Name


I received this from my parents as a ‘tween for my bicycle. Clearly I never left my bike out in the rain because the tag isn’t much weathered. From the time of my first bike (and I remember the training wheels!) when I was a youngster, my bikes meant freedom. I try to believe that in small towns or at least suburbs somewhere, children still fly out the door in the mornings and grab their bikes, only to come home if they’re hungry or when dusk sets in.

Of course, back then, there were no helmets and lots of wrecks and crashes. In our family, my brother’s bike catastrophe was breaking his arm. I remember I was too young to be allowed in the hospital to see him when he had to stay overnight, but because I was a worrier, my mother let me stand on the grass outside and pointed out the window where he stood, waving his casted arm at me. My sister’s catastrophe: wrecking her bike on a hill. She and the bike slid down together, its pedal stabbing her in her leg, which had to be stitched. My mother said the resident putting in her sutures had shaking hands and wasn’t doing a great job. She was worried what kind of scar it would leave and gave the attending physician an anxious look. He tactfully asked the resident if he wasn’t long overdue for a break and offered to finish. Once the resident was gone, he removed the stitches and started over, making a tidy job of it.

There are only a few of my own accidents that I remember. My training wheel slipped off the sidewalk once and I was thrown into a ditch. I remember screaming all the way home and sitting on the kitchen counter, feet in the sink, while my mother washed my wounds and applied iodine (that hurt worse than the wreck). One time I found an iron rod, probably a piece of rebar, and was dragging it behind me as I rode. I stupidly let it get ahead of me and pole vaulted myself over the handlebars, landing in the middle of the street on my back and, as they say, getting the wind knocked out of me. The only witness was a woman standing in her kitchen window. She ran out to make sure I was okay and helped me and the bike to the curb. After a few minutes, I was on my way. She kept the rebar. Another time my foot slipped off the pedal and I scraped the top of it on the asphalt (it was the South; I was barefooted). For years, I had four little circular scars at the base of my toes, but those are long gone.

Then there was the time my bike and its tag betrayed me. It was probably ninth grade, and my boyfriend (Tim) wasn’t delighted when I spent lots of time with just Riley. But Riley had taught himself new songs on the guitar and begged me to come over after school one afternoon to listen. Riley lived several blocks from me, but right around the corner from Lynne, so I told Tim I was going to Lynne’s that afternoon, then pedaled straight to Riley’s. We were in the basement–where his drums, piano, and guitars were–when the doorbell rang. Riley went to answer it, and I heard Tim’s voice ask, “Is Becky here?”

“No,” Riley lied.

“Her bike’s outside.”

“Oh, yeah. She and Lynne went somewhere and asked if they could leave it in my yard. If you want to hang out here, you can probably catch her when she comes by to get it.”

By that time, I was out the garage door, grabbing my bike and hauling butt to Lynne’s. When Tim drove by later, Lynne and I were innocently sitting in her front yard, my bike next to us, making dandelion chains. Was he fooled? Who knows. But it gave Riley a favorite story to tell on me long after Tim and I were a distant memory.

Prompt from FMS Photo A Day.

Legacy Writing 365:343

Since today’s the anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, I think of Riley. The other day when I posted about my high school band director’s death, an old friend from high school commented, saying she’d checked my blog to see if I’d heard the news. It made my heart ache a little, because I know she’ll never forget what happened in 2008.

I’d mentioned Riley in a post I wrote about the Beatles, because their music was all over the manuscript I was working on (which would become A Coventry Wedding). Susan happened to read it and sent me an email to tell me she was sorry about Riley. When I answered with panicked questions, she was horrified. She thought I wrote the post knowing that Riley had died. She didn’t know that no one was sure how to find me, so I hadn’t heard the news. (If you read this now, Susan, I hope you never feel bad about that. You had no idea, and without your telling me, I wouldn’t have known to get in touch with Riley’s mother and a friend of his who could tell me all that had happened.)

David was visiting, and he and Tom were in the living room watching a ball game. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to tell anyone; that would make it true. I couldn’t breathe. I walked out of the house and stood outside, blind and stupid. Finally I went inside Tim’s place, walked upstairs. I stared at him a few seconds, then I broke down. Tim thought something had happened to my mother. I don’t know how long it was before I was able to tell him that Riley was dead.

I haven’t lost as many friends to death as some people I know, but I’ve lost too many, and Riley’s death took something from me that I’ll never get back. No one outside my family and Lynne knew me so long, and I’m not sure anyone has ever known me as well as Riley did and STILL loved me. He was part of my soul. He always will be.

John Lennon… I never, ever forget hearing that awful news on the radio that late night when I was visiting Tuscaloosa, cutting my trip short, and getting back home to Riley as quickly as I could. I remember every one of those days afterward vividly. Riley and I had endured such misery in 1980, and still we’d never imagined the year could end with something so shattering, something that would make us feel like all the things that youth offers–resilience, hope, giddy excitement, promise–would vanish on one cold December night.

Today, I decided to open up the bin of my old journals and see if I’d managed to write anything worth reading about that December, that event.

In all that mess–of course not! Why write about something profound when you can instead be a stupid girl and waste pages and pages and pages on some guy who broke your heart and whose memory means absolutely nothing to you now and you wish you’d never even met? Or worse, some boy who you THOUGHT broke your heart that now you don’t even remember knowing and have to struggle to see a face with the name you’ve wasted so much ink on?

Maybe the real heartbreaks are written somewhere deep inside us, where no one else can ever read them by accident, but only if we choose, after time has tempered them and given them context, to put them on paper. I don’t know. But while going through all that stuff, I did find a bunch of Riley’s poems and songs. I smiled over a song he’d written for me, that I’d typed for him, which is still so, so dear to me. Then I flipped through a few more pages and found two versions of that song in his handwriting–one with strikeouts and one final draft.


“Becky’s Song (I Knew You When)–dedicated to a best friend” he’s written on the top and bottom of the page.

Like the world, Riley and I lost all the music John Lennon still had left to write. I had twenty-eight more years of Riley after that, and I’m grateful for every one of them. If I close my eyes, I can hear his guitar and hear him singing “Becky’s Song” to me again, and like a world grateful for what we were allowed to have from John Lennon, I’m grateful for these words, music, and memories I still have from Riley.

The last two lines of the song:

I wrote this song for you
’cause you knew me then.

I wrote this post for you, ’cause you knew me then.

I miss you.

Button Sunday and Legacy Writing 365:253

This is another of Lynne’s buttons, and I don’t know if it was for a particular retailer (maybe the old Blockbuster/Sound Warehouse chain?) or if it’s somehow affiliated with the decades-old Give the Gift of Music campaign.

I’ve talked on here before about some of these music-as-gift moments of my life: when Riley gave me George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” and also all the times he sang and played for me; the mix tapes Tim used to send me from NYC and all the music he introduced me to that I’d somehow missed, especially from the 1980s; the time my brother found out I gave Riley the John Lennon photo from my White album and surprised me by opening his White album and giving me his picture; the first albums my mother ever bought me with my new record player when I was a young teen; some of the best concerts I’ve been to through the years with Debby, David, Lynne, Tom, Amy, and friends from high school and college; listening to my nephew Josh play drums in a blues band; the countless hours I’ve spent listening to music with friends and talking about it, singing along, and just being quiet and digging it, as Riley might say.

I have a zillion music-related memories. It would please me very much to turn this over to you in comments and hear a way or time music has been a gift in or to your life. GO!


Riley, December 1980