Saturday, January 10, 2009


The first song I played for Cait as we drove through Yellowstone last August was Harry Chapin's "I Wanna Learn A Love Song."  Chapin holds a special place in my heart for his unabashed ardor, his activism, and for how he sort of collapses many of his songs mid-way through to think big about politics, relationships, and culture.  I like how one of his biographers describes his songwriting process: "He loved to create division in the picture, then let you draw your own conclusions."  I also like what his daughter said about his legacy, years later, "We all got louder after my dad died."  Chapin is a singer-songwriter whose embrace of sentiment and risks of sentimentality still win big for me, despite my usual appreciation for the understated and ironic.  His earnestness is sort of the Nehru jacket of contemporary American music: it looks weird when the rest of us try it on, but damned if it doesn't fit him perfectly.  

Cait later told me that, as we drove the Grand Loop Mile, playing song after song on the iPod, she wondered, half-joking, how quickly she could get me to marry her.  Which is great, because I was sitting there wondering why I was already thinking about marriage three days into our first road trip together.  It turns out that, however you quantify it--the nine years that we've known each other, the nine months since I asked Jeff and Sheila what it might mean that I might have a crush on an old friend, the six months into our courtship--the answer, that day, was "about four months."  On December 30th, as we arrived to Chicago from Indy, I sent Cait out on a scavenger hunt across the city: the Kopi Cafe, the Old Town School of Folk Music, Bookworks, Wrigley Field, Potbelly's--the works!  Making a big loop across the north side of the city, Cait met most of my people and saw many of my favorite places.  At the end, leaving my sister and her fiance at Chicago's famous Bean, she walked north up Michigan Avenue, followed step-by-step text-message instructions down to the Chicago River riverwalk, and found me at a bench, where, after waiting out a couple of passers-by, I proposed and she said yes.  

This morning, Cait made banana muffins.  We'd bought a huge bunch last week, to help combat the stomach flu I brought with me from Chicago, and while I was feeling better, the bananas were all turning a disturbing brown.  We've finally set-up most of our apartment--unpacked the boxes, moved some furniture around, thoroughly terrorized the cats--and life is kind of assuming a normal order of things.  We keep our favorite CDs in the basket next to the radio in the kitchen, and as she mixed the dough, Cait put on The Dixie Chicks' Fly album, the song "Cowboy Take Me Away," I was here, at my desk in the next room, writing, when it occurred to me, kind of oddly, that I owned that radio because Katie's dad bought it for Katie and me as a wedding gift, and that I first heard the Dixie Chicks while dating Katie, who used to play them on those rare afternoons when she'd had enough Wilco, Kris Kristofferson, Jackson Browne, and Ken Rudin.  And I just sort of smiled.  Natalie Maines's lyrics can be, at times, a bit rhyme challenged ("She traveled the road as a child / Wide-eyed and grinning she never tired"), but I love her voice, and I like how willingly she continues to speak her mind publicly, make mistakes openly, all the while realizing excellent country music.  It's like my friend Marcus pointed out recently on his blog: in our hyper-exposed all-online culture, why are we so willingly boring and inauthentic?

I've gotten in the habit, recently, of using the word "lasers" to explain how complicated things work.  As in, "When they get rid of the old space shuttle model, what are they going to replace it with?" ("Lasers.") or "How do they detail ice sculptures?" ("Lasers.")  It's a nice catch-all that hints at both the incredibly complicated processes of daily life ("How do they fit all of that deodorant into one stick?") and the overwhelming feeling sometimes that, no matter how well you explain them, certain things (black holes, microprocessors, lasers) will never really make all that much practical sense.  It reminds me of a recent Slate Political Gabfest I was listening to, in which someone said that explaining Chicago politics was like listening to Stephen Hawking explain how black holes work: even when someone speaks clearly and is completely understood, twenty minutes later it's impossible to re-tell it to someone else.

There's advice all over the web for widows and widowers who are planning to remarry, from the incredibly corny to pages that seem to have been find/replaced from "spouse" to "widow/er".  I haven't made much use of it, but I do find it amusing.  Pretty much all of these pages seem to start with "it's okay to be happy again" and end with "so buy a smaller ring/dress" and in the middle offer weirdly-specialized recommendations for invitation wordings and dress colors.  It seems like everyone takes stock and works out what works best for them; in other words, marrying again as a widow/er follows pretty much the blueprint for all other human activity.  Still, it's made me glad to have spent as much time as I have recently talking to the Chicago doc, working stuff on an individual level, step-by-step.  I don't know how people do it away from the couch.

While writing this entry, one of the younger members of my extended family called and asked what I was doing.  When I said, "Oh, writing a blog entry about Cait, Katie, getting married again, life in general," she insisted that, really, I should write separate entries for Cait and Katie, that it might be rude to talk about them both.  When I explained that I thought I should keep them together because they are both important parts of my life, she said, "Well, I guess you know what you're doing," in a not-entirely convinced manner.  I've thought recently about ending this blog, because it's changed so much from its original purpose.  Exclusively memorializing Katie has given way to trying to give a view of how Katie remains an important part of my life, as it expands and changes to include other people, a growing KMF, new locations, and now, a new marriage.  I remain somewhat terrified that someone who has read the blog for a long while will eventually (and, worse, anonymously) post something to the effect of, who do you think you are and why are you sharing all of this stuff about you in a space that used to be kept reverent for Katie?

That said, I also know that I'm something of a worrier by nature.  An overwhelming, Obama-worthy majority of family and friends have been and continue to be incredibly happy for Cait and me.  As I've said before, she is an amazing, loving, warm, bright, sparkly and beautiful woman and I can't wait to start this new chapter of our life together.  I know that, after Katie's death, some part of me is taking a leap of faith, on a bunch of levels: to love again, to plan a life with someone in a sometimes fragile world, to hope for the best when the best doesn't always work out, just as Cait is taking a leap of faith that we can handle the usual stuff together, even in the face of some unusual circumstances together.  

I have that wrong--it's not a leap of faith.  I think the thing I'm really trying to explain is how love works, for me at least, that what I'm really trying to get at is how there can possibly be enough love in the world, that I could love Cait now, have loved Katie when she was alive, and still keep her memory and love in my life.  It's a calculation that requires listing many, many factors on both sides of the equal sign and still accepting that it works out evenly, that the sum of everything is whole, beautiful, and worthy of embracing together.  If the language of that gets a bit abstract and complicated, I can offer two equally baffling, yet strangely reassuring takes on my situation: love, and, of course, lasers.


Kelly Luce said...

great post, and one i'm sure it took a (sail)boatload of guts to tackle. thanks for taking the chance and working it out on the page. and, as always, sharing what you found.

lasers indeed!

Marcus said...

Aww John...thanks for keeping up with my blog rantings in the midst of your move.

Well, if I was a young person in your extended family I'd probably have a hard time understanding too. That's why I'm glad I'm old and wise these days, and why I'm happy for you and Cait.

Kayla said...

It's about time you post! Haha. And nice video :D

Anonymous said...

It takes a heart full of love to honor the past and grow into the future. I know you will do both so very well.
This was a heart warming posting to read. You will be a wonderful example for the nieces as they observe you and grow. Keep this site alive!