Music for the Road

Back in early May, my house became the gathering place for a very special day. It had been more than 10 years since my good friend, Curtis Brown, passed away. For those of us who knew this incredibly special guy, it was a day of remembrance, laughter and much joy. Many of us had not seen each other since we had graduated, or since Curtis’ funeral, so not only did we spend time remembering our friend, but remembering why we were all friends with one another.

One of the things that I did in anticipation of that day was to put together a play list of songs I knew Curtis either loved or likely would have loved had he been around long enough to hear them. A large portion of the play list was provided by the Dave Matthews Band and Billy Joel, two of Curtis’ favorites.

Of all the songs on that play list that remind me of him, the one that stands out the most is Lullaby, by Joel. The song was played at Curtis’ funeral. I don’t remember ever listening to that song with him, but it is deeply entwined with my last moments with him. For that reason, and that it is a beautiful song, it has been a touchpoint for me for more than a decade. Its one of those songs that centers and brings clarity about life and what a gift it truly is to each of us.

But despite having that playlist on my iPhone for nearly 4 months now, I don’t know that I’ve listened to it since that day back in May. Its not that I was burned out on it or avoiding it, but I spent a great deal of time putting it together, listening to it over and over, making sure it was something fitting for my friend. It was a labor of love, so to speak.

As I drove home this evening, having gone to a board meeting after work and had a generally cruddy couple of weeks, I decided it was time to turn off NPR’s non-stop coverage of Ted Kennedy’s passing and spend a little time with some good music. As the songs flipped through on random, eventually, as it always does, Lullaby by Billy Joel came on.

Many of you know I was a vocal major my first two years in college, and because of that and all the years I sang before that time, there are just some songs that it is nearly impossible for me to sing, especially if I am alone in the car. This song definitely falls into that category. As I sang, I remembered a story I told to the assembled friends back in May.

When I got married in October of 2008, I told my wife that I had only one regret about our wedding day, and that was that Curtis was not there to share the day with us. He just means that much to me and helped make me into the person I am today. His friendship allowed me to express my frustrations with life, small though they seem now more than 10 years later, and allowed me to be a sounding board for his frustrations. He and I grew together in ways I just cannot explain.

There were many firsts that have happened in the last 10 years that Curtis and I did not get to experience together, and every time one of those comes up, I pause just a moment to think about how exactly he would have responded upon hearing whatever news it was that seems so important.

After Curtis died, I said that if I were ever to have a son, I would want to name him after my departed friend. No, its not really a popular name anymore. Yes, most people think it a ‘dork’ name (something I don’t think Curtis would argue at all). Regardless, its something I have always considered to be a last memorial to my good friend.

Well, that time may have come. Its been nearly 10 weeks since my wife informed me that she is indeed pregnant. What a crazy few months it has been, too. I’m still in a bit of shock at the news, but I am slowly coming to accept the idea of being a father. We still don’t yet know if the child will be a boy or a girl, but as Jaime and I have discussed names for the potential kid, the first one I tossed into the ring was Curtis.

Even though it was my go-to option, I honestly had not thought about exactly what that means; not until my drive home tonight. As Lullaby played, and as I sang those lyrics, I thought about how one day soon I will be singing them to my child. As I sing, I will be reminded of my good friend, regardless of if the child is named after him or not, and I will be reminded again that he is not here to share in this moment with me.

Yes, I choked up just a bit. I don’t know how I could not choke up. The unfairness of it all, the pain of not having him here all came back in a rush. What is a very joyous moment once again brought back all the pain that comes with that missing part of me that was he.

But as we who knew Curtis well know, things with him could turn around very quickly. As the song ended, the random fickleness of the iPod app took on a life all of its own. At the sound of the first strum of the guitar, I knew the song and knew that somewhere Curtis was probably laughing at my maudlin self. The song? Lie In Our Graves, by DMB. Here’s a lyrical sample:

When I step into the light my arms open wide
When I step into the light my eyes searching wild
Would you not like to be
Sitting on top of the world with your legs hanging free
Would you not like to be ok, ok, ok

And just like that, the laughter kicked in, and everything really was ok. Yes, I still miss him and yes, I still wish that he were here to share in this time of my life… but its ok, ok, ok. I felt Curtis suddenly beside me, giving me one of his mock slaps to the head, calling me a schmuck and telling me to get on living my life. He’d be fine, I would be fine and I was acting like a baby when I should be happy about expecting a baby.