ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD
A serial memoir by Jean Fogelberg
When Dan bought the land in Pagosa Springs in 1979, it was still the wild west; everything was done with a handshake. Thirty years later, selling the 600-acre property would require surveys, inspections, permits, maintenance bonds, verification of water and mineral/gas rights, title commitments and insurance, and two access agreements.
I would have to widen the road to the house, technically a Forest Service road, and pay for two miles of gravel. The house and guest house had to be stained to maintain the wood, costing $30,000. Early in 2012, the pipes under the barn froze, and the repairs cost $98,000.
As I was filling out forms and locating records, the most surprising thing, to everyone involved, was that there was no property survey on record. We searched everywhere, but none could be found. The survey estimate I got in May of 2008 was $35,000, with a deadline of July or August. It ended up costing $60,000 and going well past October, when the global financial crisis killed the sale of the ranch as we were just about to close.
I lived in a constant state of low-grade dread, wondering what new disaster was waiting to burst from the pipes, the walls, the ground. Hiring Lisa in 2012 had been my best decision, giving me an ally and competent helper. But now her mother was very sick, so she needed to go to Arizona to care for her. Lisa loved living at the ranch, despite all the craziness, but she reluctantly gave her notice in the summer of 2014. She would return to visit, and she would continue to field the inquiries about the ranch that were coming in from the new website.
To fill the on-site manager position, I hired a local woman named Jody. She was tall and strong; a pretty blonde cowgirl who had worked on ranches for many years. Her husband was a successful fine artist who worked from home, so they were well-suited to the isolated, but beautiful, living arrangements. Lisa trained Jody before leaving, and would be on call for any questions.
Watching Lisa drive away in her RV, with her dog and cats looking out the windows, was hard. I’d come to depend on her so much. But I knew she’d return, and I knew our friendship, forged from fire, would endure.
Lisa and I would always meet, once a month, to discuss what needed doing at the ranch. Going over our lists, we’d cross off everything that had been done, and add new items. During my first monthly meeting with Jody, we reviewed the current list:
Projects for Ranch for July 2014
Cal Structural Engineer to look at the foundation in green house
Main house screen door replace screen
Drain holding tanks at Guest House
Repair bottom steps at Guest House
Stain Guest House
Repair fire hydrant
Repair cedar fence posts
Clean out cattle guards
Repair pond - call Elk River Construction
Call Bear Wire Electric - follow up with Lisa
Burn piles - call dispatch
Check fire suppression system and clean and check hoses
Downed tree at main house
Find way to move gravel ASAP - coordinate with L. Ranch and call Dave L.
Equipment rental $175.00 per day - Bayfield
Remove trees on pond - east side
Collect all fire extinguishers and call Arrow again to check
Call on fire hydrant check with Fire Dept. Plumber? SWAG?
Weed flower bed East of main house, rent Harrow - call sears if they have one
Power wash horse barn/shop/gas shed/snow blower
Cut up downed trees at gate above main house
Clean up leftover rotten poles in pasture and fence line
See Frank at County about weeds - get advice and spray foxtail on road sides
Trash to dump
Main house water check
Call County Ext Office about copper sulfate in water
Call Western Refinery about fuel
In August, a Pagosa Springs realtor brought a couple from Texas (many residents of Pagosa Springs are transplanted Texans) to see the ranch. Jody did the showing and I stayed away. I’d made the mistake of becoming friendly with the previous couple and I did not want to make that mistake again. Even so, Lisa and I both exchanged emails with them in the upcoming months and came to really like them.
The first Texas “buyer” had brought so much drama with him, the new buyer negotiations seemed tame in comparison. We had a signed contract and were just weeks away from closing when they asked if they could move in ahead of closing day; they had school-age children and wanted them to start school on time. I said of course they could. I was moving my belongings into a storage unit in Santa Fe, when they called to say they’d been delayed.
They never did come, and neither did the money; I’d been duped again. Now I had to decide whether to put everything back in the truck and return to the ranch, or head for Maine.
I told Lisa I was worried that maybe I was somehow jinxing the sale. I’d done everything humanly possible to facilitate it: repairs, permits, survey, redecorating, new website, and burying a St. Joseph figurine upside down in the pasture below the house. Maybe my desperate need to sell and move on, combined with my deep longing for the past, were creating conflicting vibes. I returned to Maine.
My memoir was coming along in stops and starts. My writer friend, Katherine Hall Page, suggested I find a writer's group. Two of the friends in my book group belonged to a writer’s group, and I asked if they had room for a new member. The day I read my Prologue aloud to them, I was so nervous my voice shook. They loved it, though, and accepted me into the fold. Three of them were published authors, one was an editor working on her first book, and one was an aspiring writer. We met once a week, and I started learning things like where to put periods and commas when a quotation mark was in the vicinity. They taught me to get rid of anything that didn’t serve the story, and “Oh, Jean, that chapter was so tight!” was high praise indeed.
On Halloween, as the sun was falling behind the trees, I was drinking a cup of coffee in the kitchen and staring out the window at our driveway. Each year I bought candy, just in case, but no costumed children ever came down our rural road. I stood there, lingering in memories of my first date with Dan, at a Halloween party in Santa Fe. Then, a movement in the trees to the right of the drive grabbed my attention. It was a critter, bigger than a squirrel, but smaller than a raccoon. It was a cat.
I went outside and sat in the yard, calling softly, and an emaciated, striped tabby emerged from the woods. She circled me as I talked, getting closer and closer until I could pet her. Ironically, considering our “must have tail” stipulation when Dan and I adopted our kitty, Fiona, this little stray had no tail, just a short nub. Hurrying to the kitchen, I put some tuna in a bowl. The tabby was waiting on the steps for me. I sat with her while she ate and purred, and then I started to cry. I knew that this was a sign from the universe. My life was about to change; I could have a cat.
That night she sat quietly on my lap as I pulled eleven ticks from her chest and combed the fleas from her fur. I named her Sofia, and wondered what fabulous name Dan would have given her. At bedtime, I turned off the light and pulled the comforter over my shoulders. A few minutes later, Sofia leapt on the bed and snuggled next to me.
On December 10th, a couple in New Mexico saw my “Ranch for Sale” Google Ad and contacted Lisa.
The ranch sold on the 24th of February, after only two months of negotiations and paperwork. With no realtor commission to pay, I was able to give Lisa a nice Thank You gift for all her help and hard work.
Eight years of price adjustments had led to a final sale that was seven million dollars less than the neighbor was going to pay before the 2008 economic collapse, which probably makes the overdue land survey the most expensive survey in history.
Dan and I had planned to finance something at MGH that would bear his name. I had hoped to fund cancer research and the arts. In the end, I was grateful to walk away with enough money to pay off the ranch loans and the mortgage on the house in Maine, and live a comfortable life.
With my art, photography, websites, and Dan’s memorabilia, I would find ways to support research, causes, and local businesses, just on a smaller scale. The workshops I taught for Heaven and Earth Workshops would pay for my travels.
In March, while sorting and organizing Dan’s photos and tapes, I came across an old DAT (Digital Audio Tape) cassette labeled “Carnegie Hall.” Dan had told me that before his performance there in 1979, his management team had asked if he wanted to record the evening. He’d said no, he was going to be nervous enough playing Carnegie Hall, plus his parents were going to be in the audience. Knowing it was being recorded would only add additional pressure.
He said he’d always regretted that decision; the concert turned out to be one of the highlights of his career, and all he had was a house system recording of it.
And now, apparently, I was holding that recording in my hand.
I’d saved the recording components that Dan had used at the ranch studio over the years: reel to reel, DAT, compact cassette and compact disc recorders, so now I pulled out the DAT unit, connected the USB audio interface to my computer, and sat back to listen.
After what Dan had told me, I was expecting it to sound really bad: room hiss, audience noise, mic pops, feedback and fluctuating levels, but it sounded GOOD! And, knowing of the advances in audio restoration in the intervening 36 years since its recording, I felt certain it could be made to sound GREAT.
I sent an MP4 of “Song From Half Mountain” to Irving, saying, "I just listened to the recording of Dan at Carnegie Hall, and I would love for us to release it.” Irving listened, and was intrigued, so I sent him the rest of the concert. He thought it was great, and agreed that we should go ahead.
If we were going to call it Live at Carnegie Hall, we would need the historic concert venue’s permission. Irving put me in touch with his friend Ron Perelman, the chairman of Carnegie Hall. Mr. Perelman answered my email right away and offered to put me in touch with the appropriate people when we were ready.
Based on my experience producing the Love in Time CD, I figured restoring and mastering would cost around $6,000. I sent out an email and the first bid I got back, from the engineer’s manager, was $40,000. There was no way I could afford that. He came down to $27,000, which was still too much. When he proposed $20,000, I ran it by Irving, who thought it was still too high, but I knew the engineer’s work and believed he could make it amazing, so Irving agreed and in August I sent a $10,000 deposit check and arranged to have professional transfers sent. When I got the restored/mastered CD, I was so excited. Putting on my headphones, I pressed Play. Right away, I was shaking my head in disappointment. It sounded flat, and compressed. I wanted the listener to have the sense that they were right there in the concert hall, so a big-room ambience was very important to me, and it just wasn't there.
I called Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering, who said he’d take a listen and let me know if he could do anything with it. When I told him the recording was on a DAT cassette, he asked if I had access to the masters.
Well, that was the mystery.
Dan told me the recording was done on Carnegie Hall’s house system, but I talked to their archivist, who said Carnegie Hall doesn’t do house recordings. I contacted Sony Legacy, but they didn’t have any record of the concert. I asked Dan’s old road manager, and HK management, but they didn’t know anything about it either. So with no idea who had recorded the concert, or what medium they’d recorded to, all we had to work with was the DAT cassettes. It would be a bit like taking a picture of something through a window, but luckily, our glass was of good quality and fairly clean.
Hackers infiltrated my Don’t Lose Heart caregiver site, injecting thousands of hidden pages. So in January, after almost seven years of keeping the information current, and connecting caregivers, I took it down before it could do any harm. I debated rebuilding the site, but realized it was time to let it go.
In February, I adopted a black kitten from the local shelter and created a much-needed website for them. I named the kitten Percival because he was so sweet and brave.
Gateway Mastering was only three hours away, so in May I drove the precious Carnegie Hall DAT cassettes down to Bob Ludwig. True to his word, Bob gave me the big-room sound I wanted, for what I originally thought the work would cost.
In keeping with the “you are there” feeling, I wanted the entire concert to be left intact, including Dan's between-songs banter with the audience. Fans who had seen Dan perform in concert, with just a piano and a few guitars, would feel like they were there again. Fans who had never been able to attend one of Dan's solo concerts would now hear what the songs sounded like when he wrote them, and how goofy he could be.
By October of 2016 the mastering was completed. Irving and I had decided to release the double CD ourselves, under Nether Lands Records. Dan’s old friend, Andy Katz, gave me permission to use his studio shot of Dan for the cover. John Kosh, who had designed so many of Dan’s albums, created the package artwork and sent it to the printer.
After posting news of the upcoming album on Facebook, I got a comment from a man named Dennis Fite. It said, "Jean, I am excited that you have taken on this project and can't wait to get a copy. I had the pleasure and privilege to mix Dan's monitors on that tour."
Finally, someone who was working backstage that night! I immediately sent Dennis a private message, asking if he had any recollections of the recording of the concert. He told me that Carlo Sound of Nashville provided the equipment and ran the sound in the house and monitors. Engineer John Logan had decided to record the show on cassette, just in case Dan wanted it.
So, the mystery of who recorded the concert was finally solved! I was upset that the package had already been sent to the printers; it meant I wouldn't be able to include John and Dennis in the credits.
The very next day, UPS delivered a small box with a sample of the CD package, for my approval. It looked fuzzy, so I put my readers on and went to stand by a window. My heart sank. Instead of clean, smooth lines, the beautiful Andy Katz shot on the front cover had jagged edges. The Nether Lands logo on the back, already very small, was unrecognizable. There were indentations along the outside edges of the pockets, where they were glued shut, and I found it difficult to slide the CDs out of the center openings.
It turned out that the printing company had accidentally used the wrong file to print from. Kosh didn’t like the center-opening pockets either, so we decided to go with a different package - one where the pockets opened on the outside. Since he would have to reformat the artwork to fit the new template, I asked if he could possibly slip two extra credits in. He said, "Sure, no problem."
The album wouldn’t exist if John Logan hadn’t thought to record the concert through his soundboard, so I was very happy to be able to include him in the credits.
In April, I went to Bowling Green for a week. Each time I saw Mom, she looked more frail; each time, Dad looked thinner and more tired. As usual, I had to sneak around the house while Dad was napping, to do a thorough cleaning. I’d asked him, more than once, to let me hire a house cleaner to come in, even just once a month, but he wouldn’t budge. I wanted them to move to Maine, so I could help care for Mom, but Dad said the winters were too long and cold for her. Conversely, the scorching summers in Kentucky were unbearable for me, and I avoided visiting then.
Dad said Mom was having long discussions with people in her head. When I had taken Dan to meet my grandmother in Santa Barbara (my mother’s mother,) it was obvious she was spending a lot of time living in the past. And Dan said his grandmother, Meem, had gone back to her girlhood life in Scotland toward the end. So, I hoped Mom was spending time with the father she adored, and the horse she had loved, before they had both been taken from her.
My morning ritual was to have coffee with my father in their sunroom. We’d watch the birds and squirrels at the feeders and talk. When we heard sounds of my mother stirring, from the baby monitor, I would go and get into bed with her.
Even if I’d been there for weeks, she was surprised to see me, every morning. “Hi honey!” she’d say, and we’d talk about where I’d been and what I’d been doing. She never remembered that Dan had died, and when she asked after him, I usually told her he was fine, and busy at home.
We would talk about our days in Lompoc or Santa Fe, and sometimes the dementia curtains would part and she’d remember names I’d forgotten. On my last day there, I got into bed with her. “Hey, there,” I said softly, “you awake?”
“Oh! Hi, honey,” she said, happily, “what are you doing here?”
“I came to see you,” I said.
“You did?” she asked, “To see me? Why?”
“Because I love you,” I said.
“Oh,” she said, “I love you too.” She planted seven little kisses on my bare shoulder. They were the sweetest kisses I could remember from her; the unreserved kisses of a girl who hadn’t yet sworn to never love again.
Dan Fogelberg ~ Live at Carnegie Hall was released in May of 2017. It was the live solo recording the fans had been asking for, and they loved it. The CD sold faster than we expected, and the reviews were fantastic. Audiophiles began writing in, asking us to put the concert out on vinyl records, and Irving agreed that we should.
Kosh was deeply embroiled in a film he was making with his wife, Susan, so I would have to design the package on my own. Bob Ludwig formatted the music for vinyl and recommended that the tracks be distributed over three records, for the best sound quality. It all came together in a 3-record collection, with Dan's hand-written lyrics, drawings, and personal photos throughout the package and on the records.
On August 8th, my mother died at home, at 89 years of age. Five days later, I was in Denver for the tribute concert that would induct Joe Walsh and Barnstorm, Caribou Ranch recording studio, and Dan, into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. Standing backstage at Fiddler’s Green, on Dan’s birthday, I watched the hustle bustle of concert preparations and listened to various bands do their sound checks. A whirlwind of emotions churned inside of me.
Then a buzz of excitement rippled though the venue: Garth Brooks had arrived for rehearsal. He greeted all the musicians on stage, shaking their hands and chatting. I went and said Hello, thanking him for the millionth time, then returning to the backstage area. When they started playing Dan’s song, “Phoenix,” it suddenly hit me that this was really happening, and happy tears mixed with sad. Mom would have loved this; maybe she was watching.
The concert at Fiddler’s Green was scheduled for August 13th, 2017. Hosted by the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, the event was called The Rocky Mountain Way. Jimmy Guercio of Caribou Ranch, and Joe Walsh and Barnstorm would be inducted into the CMHoF, and various artists would perform to honor them.
Then the tribute to Dan would start, and artists from the CD would perform. Amy Grant & Vince Gill would sing a duet on “Longer;” the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band & Richie Furay would sing “Run for the Roses.” Dan’s first back-up band, Fool’s Gold, (Denny Henson and Tom Kelly) would play “Old Tennessee.” To close the concert, Garth would play “Phoenix” backed by the Lumineers, then all the night’s performers would come together to join him on “There’s a Place in the World for a Gambler.” It all came together beautifully.
Dobie Gray had died before the concert, on December 6th, 2011, and Donna Summer as well, on May 17th, 2012. I knew they both would have performed their tribute CD songs that night, and I was so sad I never got to meet them in person. But one of the highlights of the concert was when Donna’s daughter, Amanda Sudano, and her husband, Abner Ramirez, performed “Nether Lands,” the song Donna had recorded for the CD. Appearing under their duo name, Johnnyswim, they did Donna proud.
When I introduced Garth, the crowd went crazy, and I think we hugged as I carefully walked off the stage (in heels!) and he walked on. His rendition of “Phoenix” was a powerhouse performance that had the audience on their feet. Partway into “Gambler,” Garth motioned for me to come out on stage. His assistant shouted, over the music, “He’s talking to you! Go out there!” It never occurred to me to walk over and share the microphone with Garth Brooks, and even if it had, I don’t think my feet would have carried me all the way across the stage. Instead, I snuggled in between two of Dan’s old friends, Jim Photoglo and Kenny Passarelli, and sang “Let it shine.”
Unfortunately, when our concert tickets first went on sale, scalpers bought a bunch of them and created a Facebook page, calling themselves Country Music Events. They posted an ad, supposedly for a Garth Brooks concert. Offering 100% Guaranteed Verified Garth Brooks Tickets, they sold our concert tickets at hugely inflated prices. Consequently, there were some confused and angry Garth fans in the audience, complaining loudly through the other acts and inductions.
None of the performers or organizers were aware of the scam yet, thank goodness. When I stepped on stage to thank all the artists, and to introduce Garth to the audience of 17,000 people, it was a moment of triumph, after seven years of hard work. I accepted the CMHoF induction certificate for Dan, and shouted a Happy Birthday to him. The sold-out concert raised $152,000 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
The next day, angry Garth fans started writing to me, Fiddler’s Green, and AXS, accusing us of scamming them. They contacted Colorado news outlets and the Attorney General, demanding an investigation and refunds. I responded as best I could, but it was pointless. Some of them had paid as much as $600 for $25 to $125 tickets, and they were angry.
On the 15th, the Denver news station, 9NEWS, ran an article online, titled, “Lots of people were duped by this vague Facebook event promising Garth Brooks.” The scammers knew what they were doing. They knew that, instead of checking Garth’s website, or the Fiddlers Green schedule online, the fans would jump in, afraid tickets would sell out quickly, which they did.
While all of this was going on, I was in Kentucky, helping Dad get the house ready for my mother’s memorial service. With family, and a few friends and neighbors, we gathered together to celebrate her life. Flowers and photos of Mom were set out on the dining table. We watched a video my sister, Bits, put together, and a silly film I made one year during a family gathering. We reminisced about happy times, and with the memories came tears and laughter. The next day, August 21st, we donned our cardboard glasses and watched a total solar eclipse in the front yard.
On Saturday, September 9th, I attended a Dan fan reunion in Nashville. It was a beautiful day for a picnic, and I saw many familiar faces. Late that night, I felt a bladder infection coming on. Curses! With no antibiotics, I went downstairs and bought all the bottled water in the hotel gift shop. I stayed up all night long, drinking water and peeing.
The next day, I attended the Part of the Plan musical Red Carpet Event, looking tired, pale and bloated. Kate and Karen had done an amazing job, though, and I was thrilled with how fantastic the play was.
On Monday, I flew to Boston to meet up with Michele Botts, drummer Mike Botts wife, and on Wednesday we boarded a plane for Cornwall, where I would be teaching a ten-day photography and Photoshop workshop.
Three months after the tribute concert, on November 17th, A Tribute to Dan Fogelberg was released on CD. In April of 2010, Norbert Putnam had cautioned me, “You know, Jean, a tribute project like this can take a year or more to pull together.” We would laugh about that many times, and he would always say, “Now Jean, we are never doing another tribute album, are we?” “No, we are not!” I’d answer.
It had taken a lot of pushing, and waiting. Once an artist committed to doing one of Dan’s songs, they had to find the time in their busy schedule to rehearse and record it. Each artist and band recorded in their own studio, or a recording studio near them, with the exception of Zac Brown, who recorded “Leader of the Band” live, in concert. Some recorded their songs for free, out of love for Dan; others asked only that we pay their studio costs.
Garth asked his wife, country star Trisha Yearwood, to sing with him. Fool’s Gold asked Ricky Scaggs, then they told Michael McDonald, Donna Summer, and Dobie Gray about the project. Irving brought Joe Walsh, The Eagles, and Jimmy Buffett. Norbert brought Randy Owen, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Richie Furay, Casey James, and Amy Grant and Vince Gill, who asked Chris Botti to lay down some trumpet parts. Chuck Morris of AEG came on board later and brought Train, Boz Scaggs, Zac Brown, and organized the whole concert. It was a team effort, and Dan would have been touched by all the time and love that went into it.
When I moved in with Dan, I remember thinking, this is the man who will see me through the death of my parents. Even though he died before my mother, the whole experience of losing him did, in fact, lessen the blow for me when Mom died, at home in her sleep. But nothing could have prepared me for the death of my father.
Dad had suffered from mild depression for most of his life, but after Mom died it got much worse. In the last five years of her life, she became increasingly dependent on him for everything, and caring for her consumed his days. When Mom died, his busy caregiver days were suddenly devoid of purpose. I told him this was a very common caregiver experience, and assured him that eventually his energy would come back and he’d resume his interests and hobbies. We had long talks about the huge void that moves in after a loved one leaves. I promised that he would find new purpose and meaning, and he always said he felt better after our talks.
He finally decided to move to Maine, and we began making plans. We would take a road trip in August, driving through Virginia, where we would visit the places he had roamed as a boy. He’d live with me until he decided what he wanted. I’d already looked into permits for building a guest cottage next to the house, and there were two homes for sale, just down the road from me.
On the night of July 7th, we had one of our long, meandering talks. We discussed our upcoming trip and he told me about some pain he’d was experiencing from a recent procedure. I encouraged him to talk to his doctor about it. At the end of our call, as always, I said, “I love you, Dad.”
“I love you, sweetheart,” he answered. Then, he added, “You’re me, you know that, right?”
Smiling, I said, “Yeah, Dad, I know.”
On July 10th, I was driving to the grocery store when my cell phone rang. It was Dad’s neighbor, telling me that Dad was dead. Pulling to the side of the road, I kept saying, “What? What?”
Then he told me that Dad had killed himself.
I asked him to stop talking.
Feeling completely out of my body, I said I would call him from home, which, thankfully, was only ten minutes away. Turning my car around, I screamed.
From the neighbor, I learned that Dad had shot himself some time in the early morning hours. A note on the front door had stopped the neighbor’s two daughters from going in to watch movies on Dad’s big screen TV, and instructed them to get their father. The neighbor called the police. Detectives had taken the gun and suicide note, and the coroner had taken his body.
The following day, July 11th, I flew to Nashville. My sister, Bits, flew there from Texas. We met at the airport, and hugged hard. When we pulled back, we just looked at each other and shook our heads - no words would be adequate. She’d lost her husband to cancer two years earlier, now we were both widows and orphans.
Together we drove the rental car north, to Bowling Green. The house was hot, and too quiet. Heading straight to the thermostat, I dialed it back, from 86 to 70, and the air conditioning kicked on. No negotiating with Dad for a few precious digits; maybe he really was gone. At the back of the house, in “my bedroom,” I got a cotton dress from the closet and pulled it over my head. The fabric clung to my wet back and I went to the kitchen to stand in front of the floor vent.
Bits joined me and then, together, we went hesitantly to the master bedroom, where Dad had killed himself.
A self-portrait that Mom painted in the 70s was resting on the chest of drawers next to the bed. He’d moved it there from the sunroom, so it would be the last thing he saw. Did he do that before, or after writing the note?
The bed was spotless. I’d ordered him a bunch of large mattress protectors when Mom started wetting the bed, and he’d used them that night. Knowing him as I did, You’re me, you know that, right? he probably went online to check the most fool-proof angle for the gun, and arranged the pads accordingly. The gun. Growing up, we knew there was a gun in a locked box, at the top of the closet, in our home in Lompoc. Never, once, did I consider that my gentle father could use this brutish weapon to end his life.
He’d saved every handmade birthday card my sisters and I ever made him, along with cards from Mom. Normally kept under the bed, the box was in the dining room, like he’d been looking through it. Did our yellowed declarations of love make him pause to reconsider, or strengthen his resolve?
Ever since I was a baby, and he was the only one who could quiet my nighttime tears, we’d had a special bond: we had the same dry wit, an awkwardness in groups, as well as a love of music, photography and technology. When I was little I would scoot under the car with him, in the asphalt driveway, marveling that he knew what all the wires and metal thingamajigs did. Like every other Daddy’s girl, I thought he was the smartest, handsomest man in the world.
What had I missed? Surely there must have been clues or signs that I, of all people, should have seen. I kept reviewing little things he’d said; songs he’d been listening to a lot. I knew he was struggling, I just had no idea how much. Too much to hold on for even one month, until our trip to Maine.
You’re me, you know that, right? Two nights later, he killed himself.
That alone could have messed with my head. But, in this way at least, I knew I was more like my mother: willing to hang in there until the very end, in case the band decided to play one more song.
That night, I slept in their bed. Bits didn’t want me to, and tried to talk me out of it, but I was numb; I just couldn’t process that Mom and Dad were gone forever. Maybe I thought it would provide some kind of confirmation, or maybe some absolution. I laid there in the dark, hoping for a sign, a smell, a feeling; something to convince me. After a while, I fell asleep remembering Mom’s seven little kisses.
The next day, we went to the funeral home and identified Dad from a photo they had very kindly altered to hide the worst of the damage. On the 14th we went back and picked up Dad’s ashes, then we met with the coroner. To my awkward question, he answered that the bullet had been big, death instantaneous. He told us that most people who commit suicide are in so much pain, they aren’t thinking rationally. I knew it must be true. If Dad had been in his right mind, he never would have sent me to Kentucky in July.
On the 17th, we met with the estate lawyer, then went to the police station. The detectives who had handled Dad’s case gave us the suicide note, and we asked them to destroy the gun. Without exception, everyone had been solemn and kind, offering condolences and bottled water.
One night, Bits and I blew off some steam with shots of ice-cold tequila. Cheers, Dad. Standing in the kitchen, we sang and danced to music from the ‘70s and ‘80s on my iPhone, sending our harmonies into the darkest corners of the house like lime-scented spiritual disinfectant.
I slept in Mom and Dad’s bed every night, and each morning Bits greeted me with the same worried look. But my sleep was deep and uninterrupted; they didn’t even visit me in my dreams.
We were there for two weeks, packing boxes, clearing out rooms, organizing a garage sale, scrubbing and painting. I cleaned tiny flecks of Dad’s brain from the wall and patched the bullet hole, keeping it together until I cleared out his closet.
Among his shoes I found those ugly black Crocs that Dan had worn in Boston. I’d given them to Dad a few years earlier, when he was having foot issues. Bits found me, sitting on the edge of the bed and clutching the Crocs to my chest, crying for the two men I’d loved the most in the world.
Posted July 3rd, 2021 Copyright ©Jean Fogelberg 2021