It’s the first day of 2019 and I realize that I am carrying a lot over from the year that’s passed. Of course I am; two of the magnificent male presences in my life left us in 2018. I’m not comparing them; the losses are entirely different, yet there will always be a connection. The first time I visited with Tom post-diagnosis, one night I got a little teary and said, “I’m sorry—for some reason I’m really missing Lou right now,” and he said, “Of COURSE you are! How could you not be! He was a huge part of your life for 16 years.” He got it, and I didn’t need to feel self-conscious mourning my dog in front of a man whose mortality had recently become fact. Later that night, after he’d gone to bed, I sat in my room and sobbed, about Louie, about Tom, about everything and everyone I’ve lost and will lose. At this point in our lives grief is cumulative, though each and every occasion that dredges it up is entirely new.
Perhaps one of the things that helped Tom cope with the end of his days on earth is the fact that he, like me, chose to believe in an afterlife, chose to believe that this is not all there is. Chose to believe that, as he said, he could come back and “haunt” us as a benevolent spirit. And in my estimation, he’s doing a fine job of this.
It could all be coincidence. I know that.
The other night we were out to dinner and I was wearing one of Tom’s scarves around my neck. My mom commented on it and mentioned its provenance to my dad, and we had the briefest of conversations about the sartorial splendor of Tom Vaught. I realized I was on the verge of crying and so I turned away, fooling no-one, and in that moment, in a restaurant in Paris that had been playing jazz, a Grateful Dead song came on. Just one, and just then.
It could all be coincidence and in that case, what a joyful and comforting coincidence it was.
I am in Paris where I spent Christmas and celebrated my birthday and now the New Year. I was not meant to arrive until this past Friday, the 28, but a last-minute glitch in the plans of other family members compelled me to reroute and come straight here to spend the holiday with my folks. And I am so very, very grateful that I was able to; we had a lovely time, and most important is that we were together. I am still here for another week+ and while at first two weeks felt quite daunting, now it feels like barely enough. I’d lost sight of how much I love this beautiful city, and of how different it is once you figure out how NOT to eat every meal and drink every coffee in a restaurant, and how NOT to feel compelled to do something rich and cultural every day. Sometimes just sitting still in a place helps you to embrace it.
Someone asked me today if I make New Year’s resolutions, and my answer is that I do not. I make goals. This time of year is a conflation of events for me – my birthday is right before the new year, and the Western new year is followed by the Chinese one which, culturally, has always played a role in my life. Rather than make resolutions that I can break and restart, I set goals; that they are often the same from year to year (finish my book and exercise more) is not the point. Goals not met can be aimed for anew, while an unmet resolution challenges the veracity of one’s word. So among my goals for this year: to once again and finally finish my book, to record some songs, to spend more time writing and less time wasting it. And many, many others that you don’t need to read about.
I made some mistakes in 2018, took some enormous missteps, and so another one of my goals ties into this. It’s certainly not to learn to forgive myself—I’m very good at this—it’s to arrive at a profound understanding of how and why I’ve taken these missteps in the first place. In starting to write about Tom, I’ve inadvertently started to study this. I don’t know that my writing about Tom (beyond what I’ve posted publicly) will be seen by eyes other than mine, but it is serving many purposes.
I have two incredible muses now. Two more.
And so while I start this year with a huge hole in my heart, with an aching for one being to whom I knew I’d someday say goodbye and from whom I was not at all prepared to part, and with another who I somehow always expected would be out there somewhere, I embrace the changes that have been foisted upon me and those which I’ve set into motion.
I love you Louie. I love you Tom. I love you 2019; I will take a cue from Tom and find significance in every day.