In writing these memoirs, I’ve had trouble with the timeline. Now, I have to backtrack a few years to 2007. I met Paul Cavanaugh when I was twenty and he was eighteen. We hitchhiked across the country only a year later, had a baby then another and a third quite a few years later. We grew up together and separately as we struggled to survive and raise our family, and we made beautiful music together. After a tumultuous twenty years, we went our separate ways into new lives while remaining the best of friends. I often wondered if it would have been better to have been friends rather than partners, but then we would never have had our children who we both loved and cherished. Paul was the historian in our relationship. He always remembered every detail, names of people and places, dates and more. After we split up, he ended up with a woman he had had a crush on while we were still together, and I met Dick Kavanaugh. We never stopped loving each other but had to move on to our next phase.
On December 15th, 2006, Paul was diagnosed with lung cancer. He had been suffering from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), an incurable disease that makes breathing difficult. He had been a smoker since he was eleven and had grown up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at a time when pollution was uncontrolled. Both of his parents had cancer as well, and his dad had died from lung cancer. Although Paul finally gave up smoking cigarettes, he never stopped smoking pot. I remember him arriving at one of my parties, gasping for breath but walking to the back of the large yard, stopping frequently to rest, until he finally made it to the smoking section where he spent most of his time. I guess we all knew that it was inevitable that he would get cancer someday, but in the five years that he suffered from COPD, his doctor never ordered another x-ray. By the time he got his diagnosis, it was a stage four cancer.
He was still living in the trailer we had purchased when his mother died, though it was in shambles now. There was mold growing inside, the floor was rotting, there was a pile of garbage in the front yard that never made it to the dump, and the front porch that I had built with my dad was falling off. He asked me to take him to his appointment with the oncologist. He could barely get around anymore, so I asked our older son to go with me to help me get him out of the trailer and into the car. That day, the oncologist predicted that he had maybe three to six months to live without any therapy and possibly a year with radiation and chemotherapy. He decided to forgo any therapy and enjoy a better quality of life while he still could. We brought him back home and got a call later that night that he was in the hospital in the ICU unit hooked up to a ventilator.
We rushed to the hospital, where I noticed how agitated he was, trying to pull out the ventilator until they had to strap him down. While we were there, although he was unconscious, he was calm and fairly relaxed. I started reaching out to my community immediately and set up friends to sit watch over him, hoping that he would recover. I was so touched by the number of people who came. Paul had people there twenty-four hours a day. After a few days, he regained consciousness and was soon released. Meanwhile, his partner told me that she was not able to care for him anymore in the condition he was in. It all broke my heart, and I wasn’t sure what to do now. I still loved him more than anyone else. He was one of my oldest friends. I spoke to my children and to Dick, and we decided that I would not take him back home but would let him stay at my apartment until our daughter could set up a space for him there. I felt so lucky to have a partner who was willing to house my dying ex-husband for those few days. Paul was not happy when I picked him up from the hospital and refused to take him home. He didn’t know that his partner had handed his care over to us, and I didn’t tell him. I decided to let him think I was being bossy and bullying him into this new arrangement.
Whenever we asked him if he wanted to travel anywhere during this final time, he always replied that he was satisfied. “I’ve had a good run,” he would say. I wanted our children to have the opportunity to ask him questions, hear his stories and just enjoy their dad. But Paul was ready to go and mostly wanted to be left alone. He was still angry from his early trauma and as the end came near, her started to take it out on the people close to him. It was a very difficult and stressful time for everyone. Paul’s partner came once a day for a short visit which usually soothed him a bit. Our older son, Justin, was out of work and stayed at Jes’ house to care for Paul. He was the one child who had struggled the most in their relationship, and he was the one who stepped up when needed. I did the same thing later on with my mother who I never felt liked me. Jes was working from home, trying to maintain her work schedule while her dad was dying in her son’s bedroom. My grandson mostly stayed with his dad during that time. Our youngest son, who had the closest relationship with his dad, was sixteen at the time.
I visited every day and brought our son and granddaughter who were both living with me. Many friends came by to visit with Paul, and his siblings traveled to see him. We all thought we would have a few months, but Paul died exactly a month after his initial diagnosis on January 15th, 2007. I remember that day so clearly. It was icy that morning, and I almost didn’t go because of the road conditions. As I was driving along, I suddenly started crying and said aloud, “It’s good day to die, Paul.” When I arrived, he had just passed. His closest sister had also just arrived for the second time. We had called and told her that we thought it was going to be any day, but she just missed him as did I. None of us thought to look at the clock to mark the time of his passing but it was not long after eleven am. Paul loved numbers and would even recite them in his sleep. He marked special times with parties such as his 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9 party which was on June 7th, 1989, where we all had to whoop and holler at 01:23:45 am and pm, and his 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-0 party which was on July 8th, 1990, where we whooped and hollered at 12:34:56 am and pm. He was born on November 11th, 1955, at 11:11 am, so we decided that he must have died at 11:11 am. It was close enough for us.
Only a few days before hospice had finally come and brought a hospital bed and supplies to make his parting easier. I was angry for a long time that it had taken them so long to come. We had been asking for two weeks, knowing that the end was near. I was also angry at his doctor for not staying on top of his condition, for not finding the cancer before it had gotten so bad. I felt robbed of more time with him for my children and for myself. We never really had closure. All of his stories were lost, except for the ones I could remember and retell. My best friend, the father of my children and our historian was gone too soon, and everyone looked to me to take charge.
I had never had to deal with a death as an adult, but I figured it out. We called hospice who sent someone over immediately and helped us arrange for his body to be taken away. Then I helped our children find a funeral parlor and arrange his cremation. I navigated Social Security and other bureaucracies and managed to have “road scholar” included on his death certificate. With the help of many friends, we threw a wonderful celebration of his life. He always said that he wanted to have a big party with music and food when he passed on. We showed videos and had recorded music of our band as well as live music by many friends. Lots of people brought food for a potluck, and thankfully, one of our friends told a couple of bad jokes. Lots of people showed up, even my parents and siblings, none of whom ever liked Paul, came to pay their respects. I think he would have been pleased at how it all turned out.
The music community was supportive as well. Greg Haymes wrote a wonderful piece in the Metroland about his passing and promoted a fundraising concert that would be held at the Lark Tavern. One of the many reasons I had eventually obtained a legal divorce was to remove each of us from financial responsibility for the other. Paul had not paid his property taxes for a few years and was facing repossession of his home. We didn’t know this until after he passed. He left our children nothing but debt, and the community wanted to help out. Two amazing people who we have since lost arranged and promoted this amazing event, Greg and Caroline Mother Judge.
There is still not a day that goes by that I don’t think of Paul and miss him. I miss our shared music, our incredible adventures and most of all our love and friendship. Although, I have loved since then and am now living happily and very much in love with my third life partner, Paul was my first true love, and I will always cherish our time together in spite of the hardships. We truly did make beautiful music together in more ways than one.
This was his masterpiece that took years for him to compose.
Suite: Visions of an Airplane
I have always known that every chapter in my life, even every little incident, whether good or bad, just leads to the next chapter which may be completely different and unexpected. That was how I felt about the gig in Europe. Because of the choices I made when I was younger and just starting out in my adult life, I lived below the poverty level for most of that time and never imagined that I would travel overseas. I was resigned to my lot and even embraced it. I’ve never been religious. Even as a child, being raised kind of Catholic lite, I was thrown out of Catechism class in twice. My parents were able to enroll me again for the two big sacraments, First Communion and Confirmation. I guess I “asked too many questions.” It was disruptive to the rest of the class. But although I’m not religious, I am spiritual. It’s probably more along the lines of Native Americans and Druids. I pay attention to any signs that come my way. Sometimes they’re dreams, other times premonitions. I also tend to go whichever way the wind blows. My partner teases me about being spontaneous. It’s true. I can be running a short errand and end up on some adventure or exploration for much of the day, and I usually say yes immediately to most things.
That’s how I ended up in Europe. As draining as the actual gigs were, the rest of the trip was amazing. After the other musicians left to go home or on to their own travels, we rented a car. We toured around Berlin for a day, finding Dick’s old haunts and listening to his outrageous stories about his adventures there as a young man. He even spoke a little German, just enough to get us by. I found that I understood more of what was being said than I thought I would. I didn’t know if it was because German is a similar language to English or if it came from my musical background. Musicians often have an easier time with language. In addition, when I studied classical voice, I often sang in other languages such as German, Italian and French. Either way, we were relieved to have had no trouble navigating the country. We soon headed south to Bavaria where we saw a few old castles and stayed in a motel at Schwangau. Schwan is the German word for swan. This is where the Hohenschwangau Castle and Neuschwanstein Castles are located. It is also the location of Swan Lake or Schwansee. Both castles have an interesting history.
Hohenschwangau Castle was built sometime around 1397 and sits on top of a hill overlooking Schwangau and went through many owners until finally being bought in 1832 by King Maximillion II. It was Maximillion who built the park which has Schwansee in it. His son, King Ludwig II, grew up there and later built Neuschwanstein Castle on the top of the neighboring hill which also overlooks the lake and village. Neuschwanstein Castle became the model for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. King Ludwig has an interesting and tragic story. He was called “The Mad King.” In reality, he was shy and quite eccentric. He spent his money wantonly. He insisted on only eating outdoors and wore a heavy coat on the hottest days in the summer. He often behaved in a childish way and avoided politics and state business. He was expected to produce an heir but never married and was known to be attracted to men. In the 19th-century, Bavaria was intensely Catholic and socially conservative. Homosexuality was illegal and punishable by death. The scandal of a homosexual monarch would have been intolerable, so he was deposed and later murdered.
He was a patron of the arts and was drawn to classical composer Richard Wagner. He decided to build the castle as a private residence but also as a retreat Wagner. He used his own private money rather than using public funds and borrowed an extravagant amount only to leave the castle unfinished. It is extravagant and quirky. It almost reminded me of the creepy Winchester House in San Jose, California with its staircases that lead nowhere, doors that open up into walls and useless rooms, except that no expense was spared for the construction of the castle. He was so involved with the design; he often gets credit for being the architect. On the tour, which consisted mostly of climbing up and down stairs to look at many unfinished rooms, my favorite room by far was the Singer’s Hall. The walls and ceiling were built of hollow cedar boxes to mimic an acoustic instrument, like a guitar body. It was one of the last stops on the tour and I stayed behind the group long enough to sing inside the room. It was awesome. The richness of the sound was unlike anything I’d heard before. That one room made the whole tour worthwhile. After the one night in Schwangau, we started traveling east on our way to Switzerland to stay with friends at their home.
As we traveled through Bavaria, we noticed that the area was still very conservative and Catholic. There were many crucifixes along the road, in people’s yards and churches everywhere. In one small town, we noticed an outdoor art fair, so we stopped. Some of the vendors spoke English. One of them had lived in upstate New York for a few years. He did watercolors. We had our instruments with us and thought maybe we could play here. There were no other musicians around, so we asked this new friend. He explained that we would have to get permission from the local priest who would only permit it if we did sacred music. We were stunned. We asked if he thought the priest would accept instrumental tunes. He advised us to forget about it, so we did.
The autobahn was incredible. It was a solid road with no potholes or cracks in the concrete. We saw some workers building a new road and were amazed at the outstanding construction. Everything in Germany seemed to be well-built. No floorboards creaked and no doors or windows were warped, no matter how old the buildings were. When we had first arrived at the Berlin airport, we had seen windmills everywhere. Now there were hundreds of them and yellow fields of rapeseed everywhere that would be harvested to make Biodiesel fuel. We saw these sights all along our journey through Germany. It was also clean everywhere. There was no litter, and every restroom was immaculate and staffed with attendants. I was also impressed by the hospitality in every region, and food was wonderful.
We got stuck in a traffic jam on the autobahn for a couple of hours. When there’s an accident, traffic is at a standstill until everything is cleared away. It usually involves many cars and takes a while, so people get out of their cars and socialize. We pulled out our instruments and practiced, having a great time for a while, then finally got to an exit and, looking on a map, found a way around the mess. When we were about an hour from our destination, we got lost in Eastern France for a while, driving along narrow, hilly winding roads in tiny villages. Every time we hit a dead-end, we crossed our fingers that we could manage to turn around. The borders were all open, so I had to get a photo with one foot in each country. We finally made it to Fahy, Switzerland around dinnertime. We were starved and exhausted, but we were so excited to see our friends for the first time in many years, we ignored it.
I had asked if I could do a short program at the local school. I had brought along a limberjack in addition to the mandolin. I wanted to demonstrate traditional American culture to the young students. Ursula suggested that we walk over to their neighbor’s home and talk to the kindergarten teacher there. As we approached the house, I realized that I hadn’t grabbed anything to eat and was starting to feel a little light-headed. I figured we wouldn’t stay long. The guys were back at the house preparing dinner. We knocked on the door and were told, in French, that Mama and Papa were in the cellar. I was confused but Ursula led the way to a separate underground wine cellar. Inside were benches and tables and about 8 or ten people drinking wine. When they heard that I was one of the musicians who would be playing at the house concert the next evening, they greeted me enthusiastically and handed me a glass of wine. I started to refuse when Ursula instructed me to take it so I wouldn’t appear rude. I started sipping it cautiously, but they kept toasting and cheering me on. Before I knew what was happening, I had another one in my hand. They wanted me to try their special vintages. I tried to insist on small tastes, but they weren’t having it. They were hosting the American musician and wanted to make a good impression. Then they took me into the smaller room and showed me a wooden cask of cognac from the 19th century and gave me a glass of that.
I don’t remember walking back to Ursula and Ed’s but somehow, we made it. Back at the house, Ed and Dick had wondered where we were. They had cheese and crackers and, of course, wine waiting for us. Then we had another glass of wine with dinner and fruit soaked in alcohol for dessert. I can’t believe I never got sick, but I survived without even a hangover the next day.
Ed was going to play some fiddle with us at the concert, so we spent that day jamming. After dinner, we did our concert for a very appreciative crowd who all brought snacks, and we had a nice visit with everyone after the show. Between my little bit of French, Dick’s little bit of German, a couple of interpreters who spoke English well and some of the residents who had varying degrees of English, we got to know people and thoroughly enjoyed the night. The next couple of days were spent sightseeing and catching up with our friends. Finally, on our way back to Berlin, we visited an old Roman ruin. I have always been fascinated by history and loved the entire trip. I treasured it as a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Now that I had made the decision to take on my granddaughter until her dad was able to care for her, I had to face the reality of the situation. My income was reduced because I could no longer take on the extra jobs I’d depended on. Childcare, although it was more than reasonable, was more than I could handle on my own. And, I still had a teenager at home who needed resources as well. I soon fell further and further into debt. Eventually I realized that here was no way out, so I filed for bankruptcy through legal aid. As long as I was dealing with them, I also filed for divorce from Paul Cavanaugh. I had never really wanted to get married in the first place, and divorce seemed like it would be expensive and unnecessary at the time. However, Paul was also incurring debt, and I didn’t want either of us to be responsible for the other’s debt. Both of these ended up being pretty easy and cost me nothing. Once I got the old debt erased, I was able to keep up with the current expenses, though the stress-free feeling about my finances was gone.
I was teaching music at two different preschools, doing birthday parties here and there and giving a few piano lessons, but it wasn’t enough. I also started making beaded jewelry and selling it at craft fairs. This was something I could do while Tabitha was around. I could usually count on Justin to stay with her on a weekend. Then, a friend recommended me to a man who was self-publishing music books and needed someone to transcribe the music on computer, edit and proof the work. I went to the interview and got the job. He bought me the software for writing music, and I learned it quickly. Then, I also got a job writing the index for a non-fiction set of books about the anti-nuclear protests. That one was not so easy and quite tedious. But I was glad to have the work and learned a lot from both of those jobs. The music writing job lasted for years, and I also used the software to start transcribing my own music.
I continued to find exciting new venues to play. Our local crowd had dwindled a bit, but I found that when we played out of town, we were well received with a large crowd coming to check us out. We played in Rochester, the Finger Lakes Region and a very cool art gallery in Connecticut that had once been a railway station. Everywhere we played, people asked if we had a music to sell. I’d never been able to do any major recording project, but we decided to start exploring our options. Then one day, I got a phone call from a woman in the Woodstock area. She was looking for a woman who played mandolin. I explained that I was just a beginner and really only played chords, but she insisted that I would be perfect for this gig. After a few more calls, I finally accepted the challenge. My policy has always been to say yes to any offer then figure it out later. This time, I felt that I was in way over my head and started immediately to try to figure out the notes on the strings. We didn’t get any music until just before the first rehearsal. I went to that first one with a friend who was also hired to play mandolin.
The program was put on by Ars Choralis, a vocal group based in Woodstock. I was to be part of a recreation of the women’s orchestra from Birkenau concentration camp. All but one of the women in the camp had survived the ordeal by playing music for the Germans and for the prisoners who were marched off to work or to their deaths. It was a combination of beautiful vocal arrangements, readings from the journals of some of the original orchestra members and the orchestra playing some of the pieces that were played at the camp. The director, Barbara Pickardt, had found the original instrumentation as well as the journals. In the camp, they used whatever instruments were available. We had accordion, recorder, guitar, violins, mandolins, piano, flute and more. I found myself playing pieces such as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz on the mandolin. I had transcribed the written music into tablature since I didn’t read music for the mandolin. It took me more hours than I can count to figure out where each note was on the mandolin and tab it all out. Then, I had to learn how to play it up to tempo.
At the second rehearsal, I went to Barbara and explained that it was far beyond my ability. She insisted that I stay on. She needed two mandolins and didn’t know where to find someone else. I offered to help with the search, but she refused. I was almost in tears. There was no way that I was going to be able to pull this off. I was playing alongside members of the Albany Symphony Orchestra and other professionals. I went home and practiced more than I ever had before. I even got my friend to help me. I did get better but still was out of my league. Once again, I tried to quit. Barbara explained that at the camp, there were women who didn’t play at all but had to learn if they wanted to survive the ordeal. The women in that orchestra all played at different levels and helped each other learn. Some of them did the transcribing because they didn’t really play at all. So, I ended up sticking with the orchestra and played four shows that year. It was a grueling experience for all of us because of the deep emotions we all felt. The women in the camp were made to wear lavender scarves because the sight of their shaved heads disturbed the Germans. Many of us didn’t get through the first rehearsal where we wore those scarves without breaking down. I kept wondering what I would have done in the same situation and realized that the music would keep me alive not only in physical ways such as a little better treatment, but in a spiritual way. When I play music, I’m able to escape into that and leave everything else behind for that short time.
All of the shows were incredibly well received, and we repeated them the next year. Then a couple more years went by, and in 2009, I was asked to do it again. This time, I was told that we would perform two shows in the Hudson Valley then one at St. John the Divine’s in New York City and two shows in Germany. I couldn’t believe it. I was going to be going to Europe, my first trip off the continent. I arranged for a few mandolin lessons because I wanted to be better prepared. I was still a lesser player, but I was better than before. My travel was paid for, and I was able to get Dick a discount for him to travel with us. We decided to extend our trip so that we could visit friends in Switzerland, and they arranged a house concert for us there. I had my mandolin, and Dick brought a guitar. We each played both instruments and were able to switch back and forth. It was an amazing opportunity that we jumped at. I soon made arrangements for Tabitha with the village that had been helping to raise her. She spent a few days at a time with the various families that she was already comfortable with, and I would call her at least once at each place. I felt slightly guilty for leaving her but knew I had to follow my own path. It would be the first time in too many years that I had traveled without a child.
Dick and I were both excited about this trip. He had enlisted in the army during the Viet Nam conflict to avoid the draft and ensure a better position. He ended up being stationed in Berlin, Germany in a very cushy job with his own apartment and a car. He had special clearance and had been able to go across the border into East Germany as often as he wanted without being searched by the Russian soldiers. He had never been back, but now he was going to be able to see the changes that had taken place after the wall came down and trip down memory lane. The flight was long and uncomfortable. We traveled at night, but I was too excited to sleep. Once there we had a busy itinerary. We checked into the hotel and were taken on a tour immediately. At the end of the tour, Dick and I decided to walk back to the hotel from the last stop. I had no idea how far it was, and ended up walking many miles, stopping frequently along the way. By the time we arrived at the hotel, it was already time for dinner. Then a bunch of us went out to a bar. I slept well that night and was able to sleep in a little in the morning before another tour and our rehearsal.
We played one show at a Lutheran Church in Berlin then went northeast to Ravensbrück camp in Fürstenburg for their liberation anniversary ceremony. We stayed at the camp in the SS barracks and got a tour of the camp before playing in one of the workhouses. We saw the inmates’ barracks, the hospital, the torture devices, the crematorium and the lake where the ashes were dumped. We were told about the townspeople who mostly stood by and let it happen and about the few who tried to help. It was very moving when one of the original orchestra members came to the show in New York City, but playing at the camp was intense. We all felt like we were playing for ghosts. It was incredibly eerie. Many survivors from that all-women’s camp came and cried throughout. Afterwards, I needed time to decompress before joining the crowd for food, drink and mingling. The next day I wrote two poems.
Across the lake, the sentinel stands
Witness to the atrocities that have come before
He stands silent now as they were silent then,
and then silenced forever.
But who will cry out?
Who will tell their stories?
Layers of ashes at the bottom of the lake
Ripple and roil as if crying out,
“We are dead but never gone.
Tell our stories! Sing our song!
You must never forget!
We must never forget.
The sentinel stands, silent as ever,
Knowing that time passes.
The crucifix atop his long arm reaching up and up
out across the ages and seems to laugh,
Reminding us of all the horrors committed
in the name of God, in the name of Nations.
But that was then, and this is now,
Now I sit and wonder what’s really changed?
And do we still remember?
And will we remember tomorrow?
Who tells us to forgive and forget?
“To err is human; to forgive divine.”
I forgive and forgive and forgive again,
But I will never forget. Will you?
I hear the voices of the dead and of the living.
I see their faces when I close my eyes.
Sometimes I dream their dreams late at night.
And across the lake, the sentinel stands,
watching and waiting.
watching and waiting.
‘Til the End of My Days (8-14-09)
Music is my life.
Without it, I might die.
My body may stand an empty shell
With no spirit, only flesh and bones.
They say I sang before I spoke.
This is easy to believe
For I still sing my way
Right through my life.
You may sing in showers
I sing memories, dreams and conversations.
I’ve sung my children to sleep,
I’ve sung my grandchildren to sleep.
I’ve sung weddings and funerals.
I’ve sung politics and education.
I hope I will sing
‘til the end of my days.
I sit in my comfortable house
With my comfortable family
In my comfortable neighborhood
And think about the women’s orchestra of Birkenau
Forced to play for executions, roll calls,
For workers marching off to forced slave labor,
new arrivals sent off to be gassed
For the pleasure of their sadistic captors.
Hated by some
Facing the condemned daily
While knowing their preferential treatment
Increased their chances of survival.
Given the same choice
Would I sing for my tormentors?
I would live and I would sing.
I would sing ‘til the end of my days.
For the first time in my life, I wasn’t worrying about money. I wasn’t rich by any means, but I no longer wondered whether or not I could put food on the table. I started to relax into this newfound freedom. We went on vacations to South Carolina and Florida to visit one of Dick’s daughters and were going on regular yearly trips to Maine. I was able to do things for my youngest son that I hadn’t been able to do for my first two kids. It felt great. I even bought my own mandolin and started looking at options for recording a CD for the first time. I was so excited to buy a mandolin. I went to various music stores, trying out every single one they had until finally finding the perfect one for me. Dick tried to talk me out of it because it wasn’t the instrument he would have bought, but I stood my ground.
We got home, and I started dinner. I put potatoes on to boil and grabbed my new mandolin. The stove in our kitchen had a space heater on the side. It was a chilly day, so I leaned against the heater to stay warm as I played. Suddenly, I heard a crackling sound and wondered if the potatoes were burning. As I turned around, I caught sight of flames and realized that I was on fire. I remembered that you’re supposed to stop, drop and roll, but there was no way I was going to drop with my new mandolin strapped on. I quickly tried to pull the strap over my head while calling out to Dick for help. I could hear him in the other room sighing and saying to my son, “Go see what your mom wants.” Meanwhile, pieces of my burning scarf were dropping onto the floor starting small fires there, and I could smell my hair burning. My son, in his stocking feet, started trying to stamp out the flames on the floor and managed to set his socks on fire. Dick finally ran in and put out the fires. When it was over, the back of my sweater had a huge hole in it and my long hair was now burned to just above my shoulders. I don’t know how I escaped any burns on my skin or scalp, but I did. I cried when I looked in the mirror and immediately called a friend who cut hair. It was the first time in a very long time that I had short hair. Somehow, that incident was an eye opener for me and inspired a poem about feeling like a phoenix.
Like a phoenix rising,
I emerge from my own ashes
Reborn and wide awake,
Ready to take on my life
Like a fighter accepting a challenge.
My colors brighter than before,
My voice stronger and clear as a bell.
My wings unfurl and prepare for flight
As I stand on this precipice
Not knowing what lies ahead,
But knowing what I’m leaving behind
And what I choose to keep.
I realized that I was not happy in this unsupportive relationship where everything always seemed to be my fault and compassion seemed to be absent. I knew I needed to make a change, but I believe in commitments and loyalty. My friends have referred to me as a serial monogamist. Then there was the issue of Dick’s cancer. I didn’t want to abandon him in the midst of that, but I needed things to change. I was beginning to realize that I never learned to stand up for myself and started trying to figure out how to do that. Up to that point, I had been immersed in being a wife, then a parent and now a partner to another angry man. My two older children were out on their own and my youngest was thirteen. It was time to start looking ahead at how I wanted the rest of my life to be.
Then, I got a phone call on Christmas Eve that year from my older son. Their baby was coming. I raced over to their place and realized that the labor had just started and was very mild. I assured them there was still plenty of time, but Scout insisted on going to the hospital. When we got there, they sent her home. I could see that she was scared and not handling the discomfort well. I offered to stay, but she just wanted to be in the hospital, so back we went. I went home and slept a few hours until I got the next call that my granddaughter was born. I wanted to get there right away, but Scout wanted sushi. She was starving after working hard to birth her daughter and would settle for nothing less. I drove to the restaurant she had requested on Christmas Day morning, and it was closed, as I knew it would be. However, I could see that there were people inside, so I knocked on the door, explained the situation, and they made some sushi for me. When I arrived at the hospital, I was shocked to find out that Scout’s mother and aunt had been there for the birth, against her express wishes and had even filmed the birth. Then, I was told that I had gotten the wrong food and not enough of it. After having supported her throughout her pregnancy, driving her to the hospital twice then being told to leave immediately, I was extremely hurt by this treatment and almost walked out. Then suddenly, Scout insisted that her mother hand me the baby. As soon as I gazed into her eyes, I fell in love. She was so bright eyed and alert. In that moment I was only aware of the two of us, and everything else, all of the aggravation, hurt feelings and inconvenience was worth it all. They stayed in the hospital for a couple of days, then I picked up my son, and we drove them home. On the way home, Scout cried and kept saying, “All I’ve ever wanted was a family. Now I have one.”
Things went well for a few days, then Justin had to go back to work, leaving Scout home with Tabitha. I had agreed to be their support person and checked in every day. One day, when Tabby was about two weeks old, I got a hysterical call from Scout. There was a dirty diaper and no baby wipes. She didn’t know what to do. I urged her to use a washcloth, but she refused and insisted that I drop what I was doing and bring wipes. Another time, we needed to change a dirty diaper when we were out grocery shopping, and she couldn’t deal with the mess. She started gagging and walked off, leaving me with the baby. When I wasn’t available during these minor crises, she called Justin making him leave work. I was beginning to worry. Often, Scout's aunt or I would have Tabby for a weekend. Then, when she was only a couple of months old, I got a call at 6 am one Sunday morning from Scout screeching, “You have to come right away and get the baby out of this badness!” I threw on my clothes and raced over rescue her. Her mother, covered in blood from her own doing, was admitted to a psychaitric hospital, and Tabby lived with me for three weeks. Soon after that incident, Justin moved out, taking his baby with him. We went to court and got him physical custody. He lived with friends for a while then eventually moved into our communal house.
Scout came regularly for a while to see Tabby, but the visits got less frequent as she fell deeper into her distress. Although, she didn’t always call ahead, I always knew when she was coming. Tabby would be playing quietly when suddenly she would shout, “Mama!” Sure enough, a few minutes later, Scout would show up at the door. I was amazed at the strong psychic connection between the two of them. I tried to include her in as many things as I could. I knew she loved to swim, so I invited her to come with us to the beach for Tabby’s first experience in the water. I tried to keep her in the loop about developmental milestones and related funny anecdotes. In spite of my efforts, Scout never stopped believing that I wanted to steal her child from her. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I had already raised kids from the time I was just barely twenty-two years and wasn’t even finished yet. I was fifty with a thirteen-year-old still at home and certainly didn’t want another baby. But I was totally in love with this beautiful child and wanted her to have a good start, so I did what I could while continuing to try to reach out to her mom. I still held on to the hope that her mom would figure out how to escape from her demons.
Then one early May morning, Tabby woke up crying. Nothing seemed to be wrong, but there was no consoling her. It didn’t seem as though she was in pain, but she was incredibly upset about something. She cried for hours. Sometime in the mid-morning, just as I was considering calling a doctor, I got a call from Justin. Scout had died that morning. It seemed as though that psychic connection between mother and child had kicked into high gear. Once I understood, I just sat and rocked that seventeen-month-old, cooing and singing to her until she calmed down. Her dad sat with her for most of the day, both of them taking comfort in each other. It was a whirlwind of activity filled with drama from many sides.
It was May of 2005, my grandbaby’s mother died suddenly, and her dad gradually fell apart, leaving me to pick up the pieces. I’ve always been good at forging ahead, making plans, organizing and seeing things through. This was a whole new experience. Now, I had to figure out how to support my son while also ensuring the care of his daughter and caring for my young teen. When Tabby was born, everything had been put in Scout’s name. She was unable to work and was on disability with Tabitha included on her health insurance. She had been so distressed for much of that time, they had fallen behind in well visits and immunizations. I tried to help my son weed through the bureaucracy, but he was rapidly sinking into a severe depression. He wasn’t working, slept past noon and was neglecting his child. One day, Dick took me aside and suggested that I needed to take custody of Tabitha. “What!? No, I can’t take on another child right now,” was my reaction. He insisted. He made me see that I was the most reliable and familiar person. I asked if he would help and was told that he would not help in any practical way but would try to be a moral support to me. For days, I wrestled with all of the options. I wouldn’t let her go into foster care. A friend had offered to take her, but I couldn’t face giving her to someone else. Although, I was doing well at the time, I wasn’t sure if I could handle the extra financial strain and knew I couldn’t count on getting any child support. Scout had not worked, so Tabby was not eligible for Social Security survivor payments, and Justin had no reliable income. I would have to find daycare for her so that I could work and would have to find a way to pay for it. It all seemed impossible, but I knew I had no choice. I couldn’t abandon her. I also knew that I couldn’t do this immense job with her dad living in the house draining my energy and resources.
I went to him with a proposal. He would have to leave and try to get his life back together, but I wanted him to leave Tabby with me. I would go to court and get shared custody with physical custody going to me. He sadly and reluctantly agreed. As soon as I had the custody papers in hand, I arranged for health insurance and made her first doctor’s appointment in almost a year. I found a friend who ran a home daycare and happened to have a spot available and offered me a discount. I did not go back to the songwriting camp that summer. I didn’t do any extra things for myself and had no vacation. I found I couldn’t take on the extra work I was so often offered, so each month, I slowly fell further into debt with all of the extra expenses of a young child. I was also facing the anger and demands of Scout's family and friends who were convinced that I had done something wrong, and no one offered their help. I was fifty when she was born with my life finally starting to go in the direction I had always wanted. Now I struggled to keep up with her energy, exhausted at the end of each day and wondering how I would go on. But I was also fulfilled knowing that I was doing the right thing. I loved her deeply and could see that she loved me. That gave me the strength to reach out to my village to help raise this child and I gathered up resources and support.
Dick was released from jail, and things briefly went back to normal. Our music thrived once more, and my songwriting skills continued to grow as I joined songwriting groups, took classes, went to workshops and did as much networking with other songwriters as I could. I even started teaching songwriting classes. I was still hosting the Open Mic at The Eighth Step Coffeehouse once a month. The weekly music jams had gotten to be too cumbersome to do every week, so I cut them back to once a month as well. New people continued to show up, and we had an ever-growing group of musician friends. My daughter was still living in Michigan with her new family, and both of my sons seemed to be settling in a bit. Then, my older son fell in love with a beautiful and vivacious young woman he’d met at work.
When I met her, she was full of energy, almost too much energy. She laughed loudly and did everything with gusto. I was impressed with how much spirit she had. She was funny and fun. No wonder she had captured Justin’s heart. But at that time, I only saw one side of her dual personality. She also had a dark side that tormented her. She had been through more trauma than anyone should have to deal with in a lifetime and was still quite young. It was hard for me to listen to her life story. Our lives were quite different, but there were also many similarities.
As a child, I inadvertently broke the rules often because my mom’s rules were ever-changing without any notice. She was never diagnosed, but I’m pretty sure she must have been bi-polar. Her moods changed in a second with no warning. She would go from a laughing engaged playmate to a mean and spiteful ogre, screaming at me and my brother for something we didn’t even know we had done. She also invented infractions of the rules out of the blue. I grew up thinking that I was crazy because it was too hard to believe that my mother was the crazy one. I was often sent to my room to wait for my dad to come home and mete out the punishment, which was always a beating with his belt. I remember sitting up there wondering what I’d done. When he asked, I would usually reply that I didn’t know which would cause a more severe beating for being insolent. Dad also had a mean streak that he had inherited from his family. He ridiculed me and my brother relentlessly. He was fond of hitting us and saying, “That was for nothing, now go do something.” I quickly found out that it wasn’t actually a free pass to misbehave. I spent my childhood feeling fearful of everything and constantly looking over my shoulder waiting for the next shoe to drop.
Then, just before entering high school, I was diagnosed with scoliosis and fitted for a steel and leather brace that stretched from just under my chin, lifting my head slightly and resting on my hips in a girdle like enclosure. At the same time, my parents decided it was in my best interest to send me to a brand-new school, a Catholic high school after having spent all of my time in public school up to that point. I entered that new school not knowing anyone and was bullied relentlessly. It wasn’t uncommon for my books to be knocked out of my hands, with a crowd standing around laughing as I tried to pick them all back up. Sometimes, someone would grab one of the metal bars on the back and fling me around to crash into the wall or the row of lockers. There were often mean-spirited notes stuck to the back of my clothes where I couldn’t feel them being attached. I often went home with bruises. The school counselor and my parents insisted that I was exaggerating because they were all “good Catholic kids” and would never behave that way. During those years, I became anorexic and began cutting designs in my forearms with straight pins. My mother, who was an RN, never seemed to notice. When I graduated from high school, I crashed and burned turning to drugs and barely making it out alive.
Now, I was watching my son’s lover starve herself, make herself vomit after a meal and exercise with a manic drive. I watched her dig long deep gashes in her skin with her fingernails when in an extreme state. She was always either high or low, and her lows were more than I could handle. It brought me back to my earlier days, the days I wanted to forget. When I tried to be understanding, she told me was condescending. When I tried to keep my distance and give her space, she told me I was abandoning her. When she was admitted to the local psychiatric hospital, I was the only one she allowed to visit her. But when I went to visit, she screamed at me, accusing me of being her enemy and trying to turn everyone against her. She spat such vitriol and called me such disgusting names that I eventually had to leave. I understood that she was not well, but it was more than I could take. One night, while they were living with us briefly, she grabbed a pair of large scissors and was threatening herself with them. Dick left the room immediately and tried to drag me with him, but I stood my ground and eventually took them from her. Another time, we went on vacation, and came home to find that she’d crashed through our plate glass window in the music room in a fit of anger because the door was locked, she’d forgotten her keys, and the door wasn’t answered quickly enough. We all hoped she could get the help she so desperately needed, but I wasn’t feeling confident.
Then, one day, she and my son came to tell us that she was pregnant. I tried to be happy for them. I was happy but also worried. She insisted that she wanted start eating well and taking vitamins. She had been starving herself for so long that the doctors had told her she had severely damaged her heart and would probably not live to be very old. If she wanted a healthy baby, and wanted to live through this pregnancy, she would have to be very diligent. We got books on pregnancy, and she did start eating. I was impressed with how hard she worked at making a healthy baby. She had a purpose and was determined. As her moods improved and seemed to stabilize, I became hopeful. Maybe this was what she needed. She kept telling me that all she ever wanted was a real family. Now she was being given a second chance. I’d gotten a second chance, why couldn’t she? Meanwhile, Dick kept telling me to prepare myself to take over my newest grandchild. I was now almost fifty and had been raising children since I was twenty-two with my youngest only eleven now. I wasn’t interested in another child. I just wanted to be a grandma again. And things were looking up.
That summer, I attended Summersongs, a week-long songwriting camp in the Catskills, for the first time. It was more than I could afford, but a friend had paid for it saying that he wanted to support my music in whatever way he could. I felt like I was in heaven during that week. I was in a place where I was learning and growing surrounded by others who were doing the same. No one interrupted if I was sitting somewhere writing or playing an instrument. There was no one demanding my attention or my time. I stayed up late nights sharing songs with other songwriters and hearing their amazing songs. I made connections and made friends. While there, I never even thought about home. I immersed myself in my music in a way I had never been able to do before, and it was wonderful.
When I came home, I tried to keep up this creative process and even joined a song circle with other campers in the area, including the woman who had started the camp. Penny Nichols had been in the San Francisco scene in the sixties, working as the opening act at The Fillmore and Avalon. She toured Vietnam with her folk duo in 1966 and sang back-up on many of the great albums from the sixties and seventies. In 1968, she toured Europe and recorded at Apple Records. She joined Jimmy Buffet’s band in 1977 and sang on his album “Son of a Son of a Sailor.” She believed that everyone has a voice and should be heard so she started the camp. I learned so much from her and the teachers she brought to camp. Now she was part of the song circle I joined, and I continued to learn from her and others. My songs kept getting better and better. I was looking at them as the result of a crafting rather than random gifts. I came to value the feedback I got from other writers and learned, not only how to edit my own work, but how to give valuable feedback to others. There is a huge difference between criticizing and critiquing. I was taught to always start off with something that I love about a song. It can be something simple, but there is always something. Maybe it’s the use of a word or a specific chord. Maybe it’s the topic or the way the lyrics fit the music. After giving the positive feedback, the critique is given not as advice but as an opinion using specifics and examples. For instance, I could say, “if this were my song, I would …” or, “I wonder if … would be an improvement.” Writers are sensitive creatures, and the way we phrase our comments makes a difference in the way they’re heard. I also found out that in every group, there will always be a few songwriters whose feedback may not resonate with me but others whom I would come to depend on. I guess that’s true in friendships, too.
It was difficult to assimilate back into my real life, however. After a week of musical nirvana, I was back to having to answer to the demands of my family. Now, if I was playing an instrument, Dick would come in and grab his instruments to jam with me. He resented it and even got quite angry when I asked him to respect my space and check with me before just joining in. If I was writing, no one hesitated to interrupt for any reason. I announced that I would be closing the door to the music room if I was writing and didn’t want to be disturbed. If it was an emergency, they could knock. Now, Dick insisted that I couldn’t take up the communal music room for my own purposes, so I started writing in my bedroom. I wasn’t good at standing up for myself with a partner and just wanted peace, so I went along with all of his ridiculous and selfish demands. But I didn’t give up. I continued to write daily, giving myself assignments and accepting that not everything I wrote would be worth holding on to. I had an insatiable hunger to compose. When I wasn’t caring for my son, working or maintaining our household, I was writing - songs, journal pieces, poetry, promotional copy and more. I felt more alive than I had ever felt before. But this was the lull before the storm.
Just when things looked as though they were starting to settle down a bit, my partner, the other Kavanaugh, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It was fairly far along by the time they discovered it, and his father had died from it. We were in shock but quickly investigated all of the options. He decided not to have traditional intervention but to treat it with naturopathic medicines. He consulted with an herbalist who prescribed a tea that he brewed every morning, as well as other herbs, dietary considerations and certain exercise. He seemed healthier than ever when a past discretion reared its ugly head. He had divorced many years earlier and had four children. Unfortunately, it was a nasty divorce with many issues regarding his visitations with his children. Although he was granted unlimited visits, his children were often not there when he went to pick them up. After getting nowhere in the courts, he foolishly stopped paying his child support. It’s so sad when couples can’t look beyond their personal issues with each other and keep their children’s best interest in mind. In this case, his children suffered needlessly.
He had battled this issue for many years. At one point, the court made a ruling that each payment missed would be doubled. It turned out that this was an illegal ruling, but he didn’t find this out until after the statute of limitations had run out. He kept every piece of paper and showed me where each payment doubled. The bookkeeping was unbelievable. A few times, the entire balance owed doubled rather than just the missed payment. Two other times, a zero was accidentally added then that total was doubled. He had a series of inept lawyers who did nothing. He also kept all of the returned letters and birthday cards he had tried to send to his kids. Meanwhile, they believed that he had abandoned them. Luckily, as they became adults, they reunited with him. His one saving grace was that he always managed to track them down somewhere in their neighborhood with a cake at each birthday.
Now, just as he received his diagnosis, his ex-wife sued once more for back support. This time his lawyer understood the extent of the corruption and was shocked that the mistakes had been allowed for so long. However, he had waited too long to pursue it, and the judge disallowed the evidence. He was sentenced to six months in the county jail. His lawyer explained the cancer diagnosis and argued all of the missteps and the fact that the kids were all adults by now. Even his ex-wife insisted that she didn’t want him to go to jail, she just wanted money, but it made no difference. It broke my heart to see him enter the courtroom time after time in shackles. Each time we expected a reprieve, and each time I left in tears.
He spent that six months reading the books that we regularly sent him. He said later that, except for the food, he didn’t mind his time there. Because of his medical condition, they didn’t require him to work, and he got along well with the other inmates. For him, it was a mandatory vacation. For me however, it was a different story. I had to keep the home fires burning, caring for my young son, worrying about my other son, trying to stay connected to Dick’s kids, running the communal household and paying all of the bills. Because I was an activist, I also organized rallies to free him and did TV interviews. I worked hard to get him a vegetarian diet and provided him with the vitamins that were crucial for his naturopathic treatment for the cancer. It was a never-ending sage. The prison decided that a vegetarian diet consisted of veal, which is young calf and definitely not vegetarian. But he soon figured out that he could trade his meat to the other inmates for the vegetables he craved.
He was allowed two visits twice a week on specified days. I visited him twice a week for those six months unless I needed to give up a day for someone else. I think everyone should have to visit someone in jail at least once to see how degrading and inhuman it is. You have to get there early and wait in line usually for an hour or more. There are specific days and times for visitation for each prisoner. If you don’t have the right day and time, forgot to bring in your ID or forgot that you had something in your pocket that wasn’t allowed, you have to leave and start again at the back of the line which usually means that the time will run out and you will miss your visit. Sometimes, I would get to the desk after waiting so long only to find out that he wasn’t available. Maybe he was seeing his lawyer or out for a doctor’s appointment. Once, as I was going back home, I passed the van on the road, waving at him as he drove by.
It was a horrible experience all around, but I especially I felt for the women with children. The kids were understandably uncomfortable waiting for so long in that line with no food or drink allowed. And, the moms were impatient and often angry. Many of them had to depend on public transportation to get there and were there religiously every week. Standing in that line week after week was the hardest part of the ordeal for me. Then, when I got inside, Dick would tell me how much he was enjoying this time off but complained about the food and wanted me to deposit more money into his account for toiletries and other items that he was allowed to buy. It was making me crazy.
When we moved into the Mariner’s House, Dick took the back rooms on the first floor that had once been a doctor’s office. He used one of them for a work room to do his instrument repair and also had his own bedroom. At the time, we had a man living in the house who decided to take over those back rooms when Dick was away. He was a bit of a bully and refused to vacate them when asked. Then he started talking to me about how lonely I must be, trying to give me unwanted hugs. Before long, I noticed that he was going into the upstairs bathroom when I went into my bedroom. There were windows facing into each room and, although I made sure to close my curtains, it made me uncomfortable. When I tried to talk to Dick about it, he insisted that I was overreacting. Eventually, I had to ask him to move out, knowing that it would affect my finances with the loss of his rent, but it was worth my peace of mind. I’ve often found that men don’t always understand what it feels like to be constantly on guard because you are feeling stalked. And I know the difference between being appreciated and flirted with and going overboard. Because of past experiences, my instincts are finely honed.
During that in between time, before Dick returned home, I started having auditory hallucinations fairly frequently. This was not uncommon for me. I often have visual and auditory hallucinations, probably because of my early overuse of psychedelics. They are usually based on some form of reality. My kids used to tease me about stopping to pick up a hitchhiker that was actually some bushes on the side of the road, or the shadows from a street sign. Once, when Dick and I were going down a dark country road in Massachusetts, I suddenly said, “Whoa!” and ducked down. He chuckled and asked what I thought I had seen. I was reluctant to tell him that it was a huge flying Pegasus that narrowly missed our car. However, I was relieved when he assured me that it was a large cloud of moths and other insects. At least my mind hadn’t made it up out of nowhere.
The Mariner’s House seemed to be haunted. We had many odd occurrences there, and I had lived in haunted houses before. This haunt was not ominous, just quirky. Our cat would often back herself into a corner hissing at nothing that we could see. Things would sometimes fly out of the kitchen cabinets, and I often heard voices calling me. One night, after midnight, I heard a voice calling, “Mom!” I ignored it. It called again … and again. Finally, out of desperation, I spoke to it saying, “Look, I’m home alone and not in the mood. Please leave me alone.” It didn’t stop. I started to go into my son’s room to wake him and leave the house when I happened to look out the window and saw my daughter outside calling out to me. Whew! I can’t describe the relief I felt at that moment.
After a long six months, Dick was released and quickly acclimated to the real world. We found new roommates and things went back to normal. He renewed his vegetarian diet and vitamin and herbal regimen, and things looked like they were back on track. I was so relieved to have him home. He had renewed vigor for life and for his music which he had missed terribly. But he soon dove back down into his usual depression and inactivity. He spent hours sitting in his recliner, reading and “meditating,” which was actually napping. He hated working more than ever and avoided it like the plague. He started harassing me about bills, insisting that I wasn’t pulling my own weight. We had decided early on in our relationship to keep our money totally separate and had an elaborate formula for figuring out our communal expenses. I would spend hours doing the bookkeeping only to have him question every line item. Then I would spend hours more going over it with him, usually finding that he owed me money rather than the other way around. Luckily for him, he only had to work a couple of days to make plenty of money to cover rent and utilities, unlike me who worked full time and still lived just below the poverty level. I was getting tired of the accusations, out downs and turmoil, so I started to look at my options. Then, my older son fell in love.
As time went on, I became better on guitar and began taking my songwriting more seriously. I took a few songwriting classes and workshops, deciding to treat it as a job rather than a hobby. I can’t say that it’s brought me much financial stability, but I’m definitely more fulfilled. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to share those songs, so I started going to the Eighth Step Open Mic regularly and eventually shared the hosting job with a few other musicians. We each had our own style. It was an interesting mix. Some of us, me included, set up the PA to give folks the experience of performing with amplification and learning how to sing into a mic effectively. Others preferred to set up chairs in a circle and facilitate a round robin session, similar to the way I ran my house jams. When I hosted, I made sure to talk to everyone before they went on, finding out a little about them so I could give them a proper introduction. I also set up and ran the sound. All of this went even further toward getting me out of my shell. I met a lot of talented musicians and songwriters including many who took their music even further.
I also started meeting other songwriters in the classes and workshops I took and learned about the craft of songwriting. Until this point, I always waited for inspiration to strike, writing randomly and erratically. Then, I took a workshop taught by Janis Ian. She kept repeating the importance of writing consistently. She recommended that we give ourselves assignments rather than waiting for that inspirational bolt of lightning. She explained that most of those songs would get tossed out, but we would get better and better. In addition to assigning topics to write about, she suggested that we also purposefully write in different styles. I have really taken that to heart as a songwriter and as a performer. I was doing that anyway with the covers I chose, so it was an easy jump to start doing it as a writer. I have to admit that I get bored listening to the same types of songs. I love variety. But I do also realize that because I don’t stick to one style, it’s held me back in some ways. It’s a whole lot easier to get gigs if you fit into one or even two categories.
The other thing I learned from the songwriting classes was how to edit my work. I learned about the preciseness of rhyming, unless it’s purposely more freeform, prosity which is the lyrics matching the vibe of the music, and I learned to count my syllables. It may sound rigid, and it is, but it hones my songs and makes them more accessible. I also began to value input from other songwriters that I trusted. We all look at our works of art from our own skewed perspective, often not at all the way others see them. Having an outside perspective is so valuable. You do have to set aside your ego, though which is not always easy to do. And, there are always some songwriters with whom I don’t connect. I don’t particularly like their style and they don’t like mine, but they still often have things of value to offer me from their unique view. Then, there are others who I have come to depend on. I learned the art of critiquing from a summer camp I attended for a few years. There were strict rules about how to go about giving your opinion about someone’s work. For example, always start with what you loved about it. Even if you really don’t like a song, there is at least one thing you can love about it. Maybe it’s the tone, or the use of certain chords. The other important thing I learned was to not say, “I don’t like …” Instead, I learned to say, “If it were my song, I would …” All of this made perfect sense to me and resonated with my independence and my alternative school teaching methods. I began giving myself regular assignments and found like-minded people to share songs with.
But once again, I found myself in a musical partnership where I had to fight for my songs. They were “too complex,” or “too poetic.” I soon realized that I needed to pursue my songwriting and my musical journey on my own. I was happy to continue to do gigs as Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh, but it wasn’t going to be my only thing. I even stopped asking for input on my songs from my musical partner because they never made the grade. He hadn’t taken any of the classes, never loved anything and was brutal with his criticism. Meanwhile, I was determined to continue on this path. I had put my own music on a back burner for too long. I took a course in Schenectady about working as an artist/educator and created a songwriting workshop for children. I taught that in a few schools and libraries, starting to work the library circuit during the summers. I also kept reaching out to more and more venues. One of my favorite Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh gigs was in an old railway station in Connecticut. It had been turned into an art gallery and performance space. The space was beautiful, the turnout was amazing, the crowd attentive and appreciative, and we made more money at that one gig than ever before or since.
But, while my music career was going well, my personal life was in turmoil again. That same partner was starting to have a wandering eye. Every other woman seemed to be more attractive, smarter about everything and more capable than me in his eyes. He also started worrying more and more about money. He didn’t like to work and was miserable when he did. He often told me that all he really wanted to do was lay around on a beach all day. I wished him luck with that. Then one day, he got offered a job in the Bahamas. It was his dream come true. The job was only a few hours a day with room and board paid for in addition to his salary. I was shocked when he turned it down. He only wanted to go if I went along. I wasn’t willing to give up what I had worked so hard for to live in the Bahamas for six months. I would have to start over again. Also, I had a child in school. I encouraged him to go without me. I didn’t know if he would come back or if he would even want to be with me when he did return, but I hated seeing him so miserable. He didn’t end up taking that job and spent that winter so depressed, he struggled to get out of bed.
Now my eldest son was getting himself in trouble again. I worried about the company he was keeping. He was stealing from us and started stealing from our roommate. Finally, he got arrested for stealing money out of a car. My heart broke when I went to visit him in jail. We had to talk on telephones through plexiglass the first few visits. Each time I visited him, he told me that jail wasn’t so bad. He was even making friends. I quickly started calling up my friends connected in the legal system to help me figure out what to do. The last thing I wanted was for him to be learning new skills and making new friends in jail. We arranged a restorative justice meeting in which the victims and the criminal face each other and work out an arrangement. Unfortunately, not all of the victims were willing to participate but it was powerful anyway. In the end, he did time in a drug rehab facility, even though he wasn’t an addict. He was supposed to spend a year there with no visitation from family or friends for the first six months. This was also heartbreaking but at least he wasn’t learning from the criminal element. He realized later that he could have spent six months in the county jail instead of more than a year in this other place. He felt duped, but I was relieved to have him out of trouble during that time. Though he did get into plenty of trouble there while they tried unsuccessfully to break his spirit.
Then one day, he got a message to me that he was going to be volunteering, with a group of other residents, at the Holiday Lights in the Park. He was going to be dressed up as Elmo at the boathouse, greeting the younger kids. I packed my youngest in the car and off we went. He enjoyed the lights and was looking forward to getting cocoa at the boathouse. When got out of the car, I told him to go over and say hello to Elmo. He refused. I hadn’t told him that it was his brother, because I didn’t want to disappoint him if plans had changed. It had been months since we’d last seen his brother. He did finally reluctantly go over. He was shocked when Elmo gave him a big hug. When he realized who it was, he was elated. I had to caution him not to give it away because we were being watched by the house managers. We wandered off then came back again for another brief visit. It was a bizarre experience running this covert operation to connect with my son, but it warmed my heart. We were then allowed a brief visit just before Christmas to bring him gifts. Gradually, he was allowed more visits and time out, but we had to fight to get him released. After the year was over, they kept finding reasons to keep him longer. He just wasn’t compliant enough. I knew that no one was going to tame this son of mine who was as rebellious as his parents. Eventually, with the help of our lawyer and other connected friends, he was released. I breathed a sigh of relief and hoped for a respite, but there was more turmoil to come. Thankfully, throughout my entire life, it’s always been music that has seen me through the toughest times. My music was thriving.
Just when I thought that my life was beginning to settle down a bit after my tumultuous years with Paul, things started getting even crazier. Paul was now living with one of our old friends whom he’d had a crush on for years. Unfortunately, she and Justin didn’t get along, and he soon moved in with us. So much for my hopes that he and his dad would finally figure out a sustainable relationship. Understandably, our fourteen-year-old was angry about many things, my new relationship, his dad’s relationship and leftovers from all of the fighting he’d heard over the years. Dick and I were living in The Free School neighborhood. I was still working there at first, and Austin was still a student there. This new apartment was very convenient and, although it was small, it was comfortable and affordable. It was in the South End of Albany, and Justin started running around with the neighborhood kids who were also troubled. He had gotten caught smoking pot with some friends when he should have been in school and was suspended for a while. He hated school and kept getting into trouble, so I agreed to let him homeschool. My kids were smart and my own experience in school had been such a disaster, I hoped he would thrive by being on his own. Unfortunately, all he wanted to do was read about gangsters. I did manage to get him to do more than that, but I was worried about the direction he was going in.
He decided to apprentice at The Free School and loved it. The students liked him, and he was thriving on being in that leadership role. But in the evenings, he was out cruising around in the ghetto. Then, one night, he and a friend decided to break into the school. They stole a bunch of AV equipment, VCRs and the like. They brought them up to the roof of one of the buildings and wrote a note apologizing for the theft, but it was too late. They got arrested and hauled off to jail. It turned out that all of the equipment was broken, and the school decided not to press charges. However, the DA decided to prosecute anyway, probably because Justin’s partner in crime was a black teen. He ended up spending a little time in jail before we could post bail. He was convicted of the crime, put on probation, had to pay a fine and do community service. But he continued to flounder. Soon, Dick noticed that his box of change seemed to be reduced, and the loose change in his locked car was disappearing. He set a few James Bond type traps, like a hair across the crack, on his drawer to prove there was thieving going on. The hair was never disturbed, and the car was always locked, but the money kept disappearing. It was making us crazy. Many years later, I found out that Justin was wise to the hair and just replaced it every time he went into the drawer. He didn’t tell me how he got into the car, and I didn’t ask.
Understandably, after the theft, my relationship with the other teachers and Free School community changed. Although other kids in the community had stolen things from time to time, Justin was made the scapegoat. I suppose it was because I always kept myself a little removed from the cultish nature that I perceived in the community, always being a bit of an outsider. Justin lost his full-time babysitting job because the woman he worked for lived in a Free School apartment. Then, I was told that Justin was not allowed to live in the apartment we were renting from The Free School. I responded with a reminder of the illegality of that decree and started looking for another place. We soon moved to The Mariner’s House on South Pearl Street. Although I understood their feelings, after working at the school for a total of 12 years and all of my children going to school there, I felt betrayed and hurt. That betrayal colored my relationships with these friends for many years.
The Mariner’s House was a mansion built in the early 1800s located two doors south of Second Avenue. I had been visiting there and going to parties for years while various friends rented it. There were five bedrooms upstairs, four bathrooms, one with a shower and tub, one with a shower and two half baths. Downstairs, there was a double living room, an office space, an eat-in kitchen, dining room which became our music room, an unheated sunroom and an extra wing with three rooms and the bathroom with the shower. There was also a large fenced in yard that extended on all four sides of the house and off-street parking for up to three vehicles. The rent was $700 a month. This was more than we could afford and bigger than we needed for the three of us, so we decided to live communally. We moved in with a friend and her young daughter. We had all lived communally before, so we set up rules for the household. There was no arguing in the common areas, everyone had their own set of dishes in their assigned cabinet with a dish pan to put dirty dishes into while waiting to be washed and we had our own shelves in the refrigerator. Chores were scheduled and communal meals were optional and occasional.
Once we settled into our new place, I started hosting weekly music jams. Every Friday, we had a room full of people playing a variety of instruments. Some of them were long time players, others were beginners, and they were all ages. I insisted that we go around the circle with each person responsible for choosing a song. They could either lead a song or just play one for us. I had been in many situations before where the musicians were either shy or hogged the show. As one of the shy musicians, I was determined that, at my jams, everyone would have an equal opportunity. The newcomers were allowed one pass, but the next time it came around, they were required to pick a song. That was really the only rule. They could even choose something for someone else to lead, but they had to choose something. I also frequently counseled folks about playing at a reasonable volume so that everyone could be heard. That was probably the hardest part. Everyone was welcome and encouraged. The beginners often placed themselves outside of the circle so that they could stumble without distracting the other players, eventually making their way into the center as they improved. Eventually, word got around, and I was meeting new people who heard about it via word-of-mouth. It was wildly popular.
One Friday night, there was a knock on the door. It was someone new with a guitar in hand. We invited him in, and he stood in the kitchen looking around before finally saying, “I think I know this house. I think it’s the house my mother ran.” He was Mike Milks, who has since passed on. His mother, Eunice Milks ran The Mariners House for many years. It was a place for foreign sailors to stay while their ship was docked at the port. She would help them with any paperwork they had such as visas or help them make phone calls home to their families. This project came about because she had found out that the sailors staying on their ship would take their pay and go to the local tavern for a night on the town. The longshoremen had a deal with the taxis to drop the sailors off at the entrance to the port at the end of the night rather than taking them all the way to the ships. When the sailors stumbled their way back, they would be rolled, losing all of their money, and sometimes even their passports and visas. Eunice decided to take this project on as a missionary work and began bringing them to her home in Guilderland until her husband put his foot down. She finally found the house on South Pearl Street and housed them there. Mike brought her to one of our summer parties and, when she died, he brought me photos from her time there. We all loved hearing the history of our home.
Many people came and went during our time there. We even had my former son-in-law and grandson living with us for a while. I found hidden overgrown gardens and put in my own gardens as I do everywhere I live. We had a big tire swing in the climbing tree just outside the back door and a rope swing in the side yard. Dick even built a tree house in one corner with electricity running to it. We had multiple parties, including an annual New Year’s Eve party, which also grew through word-of-mouth. When we finally decided we’d had enough strangers coming to that party, we shut it down and had people come knock on the door on New Year’s Eve for two years afterwards. Sitting here thinking about it now, I count at least nine people who rented from us. We lived there for nine years until the deterioration of the neighborhood and the refusal of the landlord to fix the deterioration of the house finally drove us out. I loved that house and have a lot of great memories from that time. But like with all good things, there always seem to be other factors that get in the way. Little did we know when moving in that Dick would run into health issues and some old legal trouble with his child support payments. And now, we were living right in the gut of the ghetto with all of its bad influences on my already criminal-leaning son.
Once I decided to do it, I learned how to accompany myself on guitar pretty quickly, probably because I had been making music my entire life. I seemed to have taken in Paul’s style of playing more than I realized, though I was nowhere near his skill level. At first, I saw the guitar as a means to back up my voice and had no ambitions beyond that. I learned a few chords and did my best, but it never felt second nature to me the way singing is. I was constantly struggling between being impatient and not interested in putting a lot of time into learning to play well. I regret that now that so much time has gone by. I felt a little lost. I was starting a whole new life with both my relationship and my music.
I did a few solo shows and kept up with my writing. At one point, I bought the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron and started keeping what she calls “morning pages.” It’s a process that involves writing three full pages first thing every morning with no editing or even re-reading them. It’s a way of jump starting your creativity, and it worked for me. Not long after that, I started writing more songs and soon decided that I no longer wanted to teach at The Free School but wanted to live my life as a musician, even if that meant also teaching music. I just wanted to be immersed in the thing I love the most, so I gave my notice. Friends asked me if I had a plan. I didn’t. I knew that if I trusted enough, the universe to provide the answer. Sure enough, a few weeks before my job was ending, I applied for a job teaching music at a preschool and got it. Then a few more music lessons came through and another preschool job. A variety of opportunities came my way once I was open to them. I transcribed music and transposed songs on a software program for a music publisher for about eight years, and in doing so learned to transcribe and print my own music as well.
It didn’t take long for me to start booking shows with Dick Kavanaugh. He and I played together every day anyway. We tried to think of a clever name for our first show and finally settled on Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh. We thought at first that it would be a temporary name, but everyone loved it and commented on it frequently. Telling everyone that we were romantic and musical partners who just happened to have the same name became part of our intro. It makes me laugh to think that there we were trying to be clever and didn’t see the obvious cleverness right in front of us. We played Irish and Old-Time tunes, traditional folk songs, some blues and more recent folk. But, once again, I had to fight for my own music. He thought it was too complex and thoughtful. He wanted things that were definitely in the folk tradition, and I was coming out of rock & roll. I didn’t give up, though. I insisted that I do some of my own songs whether he joined in or not, so he sometimes sat out part of a set.
Dick was an electrician who was great at his job but hated doing it. He was always angry on the job, usually taking it out on himself. After I made my big job change, he started looking at alternatives for himself and got a job delivering blood from Albany to Syracuse for the Red Cross. He worked evenings so, when Austin was with his dad, I often went along for the ride. One night, Dick brought along his mandolin, handed it to me and asked me to serenade him. I told him that I had never even held a mandolin and had no idea how to play it. He insisted that I was talented enough, with music in my blood, to figure it out. I tentatively tried guitar chords and realized that wasn’t working, so I played one string at a time finding a note that worked until I had a full chord. I just made it up as I went along. It was so much fun. Once I had three chords, I started playing songs. After that, I played the mandolin whenever I was a passenger and soon started writing tunes. Once again, I didn’t take it seriously enough to really learn the basics but just taught myself and stumbled along.
I have written many times before about how brutally shy I was. People who aren’t shy don’t really understand. The term “painfully shy” is not an exaggeration. I have experienced severe physical pain when having to confront someone, even in a friendly way. All of my music career, I had been a singer but never a front person. As long as I was singing, I was always fine. If I had to speak, it was a whole other story. I just couldn’t do it. I was even quite awkward at parties or other social events with people I didn’t yet know. Dick spent a lot of time trying to coach me. He even gave me scripts for what to say at a party to engage someone in conversation, but I always fell flat. Maybe it was because I tried too hard, or maybe something else, but it was discouraging and just made matters worse. I thought I was happy to sit in a corner and watch the world go by. I was definitely happy to let Dick do all of the talking during our shows and we had a lot of shows. We played everywhere, coffee houses and cafes, bars, small festivals, farmers markets, parties, galleries, churches, libraries, schools, you name it, we did it.
Then one night, Dick was introducing one of the songs and asked me a question. I was stunned. He wasn’t supposed to engage me. I was there to make music and nothing else. I started to sweat and shake. He just reached over and took my hand, gazing at me lovingly, and I answered him while looking at him instead of the audience. I don’t remember what else I said, but I’ve been told that I can be funny, and everyone laughed at what I said. I felt like a light suddenly turned on. Maybe I could decide to be engaging or even funny on purpose. It wasn’t easy, but I kept at it until it became part of the performance. Now, I was not just a singer and songwriter, I was becoming a performer. Dick taught me to include some of my stories in the shows. He taught me the importance of connecting with the audience personally by sharing my life but also by meeting them during the intermissions, thanking them for coming to the shows. Eventually, I was able to translate this to social situations, too. I was still shy but not terrified any more.
We had moved in together into a two-bedroom apartment in the Mansion neighborhood of Albany. It was just behind The Free School. Now, I was finally able to have my much-loved piano. This was the instrument I’d learned to play on. I have had a long and arduous history with this instrument. When I was nine-years old, I was offered music lessons in school. I chose violin. My parents got me the loan of a full-sized violin from a family friend. It was way too big for me, but I was determined to learn. I played “Hot Cross Buns” and “This Old Man” for weeks, squealing and squeaking my way through them, pleased that I could scratch out a tune. My teacher was encouraging, telling me that I was making good progress, but it drove my parents crazy. After a week, they banished me to the dirty, dingy basement/garage. My dad and brother constantly teased me until I finally quit my lessons, giving up violin completely.
One day, I overheard my mom and dad talking about a piano they’d been offered. It was free if they came and got it. I ran into the room, literally got down on my knees and begged them to take it. I wanted to learn to play an instrument. They kept reminding me that I had given up on the violin while I kept on crying and pleading with them. I wanted this more than anything. I finally agreed that I would not give it up and would practice every day for one hour. It is an upright grand piano built in 1888. It is a beautiful instrument that has a gorgeous tone and always stays in tune with itself. I have had many tuners and other musicians eager to buy it from me. With help from a few friends and a friend’s truck, my dad brought home what would soon become my best friend. I took lessons through high school and beyond, learning classical music and playing blues and modern music on my own. During high school, when I was relentlessly bullied, it was my salvation. I played for hours at a time, losing myself in another world and forgetting how horrible my life was turning out to be. When I moved out, it got stored in that dingy dirty basement without even a cover, but my family did move it from Connecticut to Upstate New York with them. When I moved to Albany, my mom told me that unless I took the piano, she was going to sell it. She was no longer willing to store it. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing this important piece of me, so I found a friend who wanted piano lessons for her children in exchange for housing my piano. Now it was time for me to take it back. She was sad to let it go.
I hired professional piano movers because I knew it would be tricky to get it inside our apartment. I watched how they managed it carefully, so that when it came time to move it again, I would know how to do it. And, thanks to many friends over the years, it has been moved without harm too many times to count. It was fascinating watching them tip it on the side with the keys going vertically instead of horizontal. They were able to round the sharp corners with ease. Now I was able to give piano lessons in my own home instead of traveling to other people’s homes. I also played classical music again and wrote songs on the piano. I still use keyboard as a tool for writing or learning difficult things but rarely play just for pleasure. Word of mouth took over, and soon I was giving more piano lessons than ever, and now I had added voice training, too. I signed up for a series of classes on being an artist educator, started creating programs for schools and libraries while continuing book to shows regionally for Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh. My new music career was well on its way.
Once I settled into the apartment I was subletting, I started inviting friends over to jam. I was no longer living with a musician and was missing that sharing of music. I had also booked a gig for a month and a half away, knowing that although I was just learning to play the guitar, I needed to get out there and keep gigging. I enlisted the help of various friends and figured I would depend on my voice to get me through. General Eclectic had ended, but we were trying to start up a new band, One Psy Fits All. Paul was a master of puns and loved the potential plays on words that this new name offered. Bob continued to play with us, and we added new personnel. Paul was not encouraging me to learn an instrument and had refused to teach me anything. He also refused to write the chords for our originals. I’d always known he was jealous, but I never realized the extent of it. I decided to keep writing new songs and plugged away at guitar. Unfortunately, I never took it seriously enough. I always looked at guitar as just a means to an end. I just needed accompaniment for my voice.
Shortly after I moved to Albany, my grandson was born. Jes had a tough labor and delivery and ended up with a C-section. She didn’t want me there for the birth, so I drove out with Austin a few days later. They were staying at a lake house owned by Jack’s family. I was glad that she was in a better environment with enough room for me to stay with them. I fell in love with Taran immediately. He was a fussy baby though and demanded a lot of attention. Also, I was embarking on a new life as a single parent of a three-year-old. I now understood fully what my mom had gone through when becoming a grandmother. Having followed in my mother’s footsteps, there was more than a decade between my first round of children and the next. I couldn’t stay in Michigan for long. I had to get back to work and my new life. Also, as I’ve said before, Jes and I struggled with our relationship. She thought I was being bossy and interfering in their life while I felt as though I was only trying to help. I went back home feeling sad and a little lonely. It was hard to believe that I was a grandmother at forty years old with a three-year old of my own.
One day, I invited my old friend Leslie over to jam. She explained that she had invited a friend over that evening but would be happy to bring him along, if he agreed. After dinner, I settled Austin into bed and pulled out my guitar. Leslie arrived a little later with Dick. We had a great time singing and playing together, but I also felt a little uncomfortable. The friend she had brought with her looked vaguely familiar, and he stared at me constantly. I could feel his gaze following me everywhere. It wasn’t uncomfortable, it just made me feel awkward and shy. I felt drawn to him. When Leslie was ready to leave, Dick obviously wasn’t and kept putting her off. Finally, they did leave, but I was left thinking about him. I later found out that when she asked him if he wanted to go with her to jam with Deb Cavanaugh, he told her he didn’t want to make the long drive to Stephentown. She informed him that Paul and I had split up. I had moved out and was now living alone in Albany. He then confessed to her that he’d had a crush on me for years. He was now eager to come. I didn’t remember at the time that this was the same Dick Kavanaugh I had met on the Dutch Apple Cruise and had felt such a strong attraction for then. The attraction was still there, but the memory had faded with time. Leslie called me a few days later saying that Dick had asked for my phone number and asking if it was okay to give it to him. I figured there was no harm in that. I saw him a week later at another friend’s house and felt that same pull. Like I said earlier, I was naïve in matters of attraction and didn’t understand what was going on.
My time at LoAnne’s was coming to an end. I didn’t know where I was going and was starting to worry. Then, another good friend asked if I would like to rent a room in his new apartment. Phil had originally taken on this place planning to have another friend move in, but she had changed her mind. He offered me a deal that I couldn’t refuse. Phil had a daughter living with him half of the time and had promised her that she could have her own room. Austin and I moved into a large room with enough space to put our two dressers in the middle separating it into two separate sleeping areas for us. It was perfect. It was located in a residential neighborhood with not much traffic close to a park. I was only there a week or so when Dick asked me out on our first date.
He took me to The Eighth Step Coffee House on Willett Street in Albany, right by Washington Park. Afterwards we walked for hours and finally went back to my place. As we sat in the kitchen talking all night long, he reminded me of the first time we met. Wow! It all came back to me now. We had talked that evening about our attraction but also about my commitment to making my marriage work. He said that he had been attracted to me for a long time, going to our shows and sitting in the back watching me. He admitted that he didn’t really like our music, but he loved hearing me sing. After spending that evening together on the boat ride, he moved away to Massachusetts because we traveled in the same circles, and he couldn’t stand seeing me around. I wasn’t sure how much of this I believed, but I couldn’t deny the mutual attraction. As the sun rose that morning, I told him that I really needed to go to sleep, would really love to have him stay, but I was exhausted and wanted our first time together to be perfect. He lay down next to me and snuck out after I fell asleep, leaving his card behind with his phone number and a note on the back. My head was reeling the next day. I had determined to stay single, and now here was this wonderful man who had come into my life twice now. It felt like serendipity.
When Paul returned Austin to me later that day, I told him that I had met someone. He wanted to know who it was, but I wasn’t ready to reveal that, yet. I could see that he was jealous, but I’d felt it only fair to let him know. Although he wasn’t happy about it, like so many other times, he shrugged it off. Dick and I started seeing each other regularly, and I tried to keep it fairly casual. I have to admit that I was enjoying our time together. He was encouraging me musically. He played the fiddle and was teaching me to play back up guitar for the Old Time and Irish tunes he loved to play. I learned so quickly with that approach. The Irish tunes in particular had fast chord changes and unusual rhythms. I had grown up with Big Band, blues and jazz, had studied classical music, had been playing rock and roll in a band and was now learning all about folk music. I loved growing as a musician and dove right into this new world. Dick had been immersed in it for most of his life. He’d been going to folk festivals and had been a regular at Caffe Lena. He was even a companion of Lena Spenser’s for a while and was president of the first board of directors for the café after she died. He was introducing me to new songs and new people, and I was ready for a change.
Once again, many of the friends that Paul and I had together decided to take sides. Not many of them had seen Paul’s dark side, and I was always seen as being a snob due to my extreme social anxiety. Band practices were getting more tense since our breakup as well. I was focusing more and more on my songwriting and learning to play guitar. I had no patience for pettiness and jealousies. Paul and I had decided to try to remain friends. We still loved each other very much but just couldn’t live together anymore. Once we got over the initial adjustment, we became better friends than we had been spouses. But the music between us started to die. Although, most of our interactions at the end were in the form of arguing, I often wonder if it was that passion that kept the music alive. Regardless, making music together had stopped being fun. Even at jams that we both attended, he was often critical or just stopped playing and walked away.
Every once in a while, Paul would ask me again about the man I was seeing. He was even quizzing Austin about him. At that point, I didn’t see him when Justin was there. I thought it might be too hard on my fourteen-year-old son to be around my new boyfriend. Then, one day we were all at a party together. I told Dick that I didn’t want Paul to know I was seeing him, so we separated at the door, but somehow, Paul figured it out. He came up to me laughing and shaking his head. “Seriously? Another Kavanaugh,” he said. I explained that I hadn’t planned it that way but, after all, he had introduced us originally. We left the party shortly afterwards because the vibes started getting weird. People had a lot of opinions about this relationship. Some people tried to warn me not to jump into another relationship while I was rebounding. There were even some friends who wanted to warn me that Dick was a bit of a womanizer. Others made remarks about our similar names saying that it seemed a little incestuous. The name thing was a bigger deal to others than it was to us. We saw it as a funny coincidence and nothing more, though it was a little awkward at times.
One time, Dick took me to a party that his friends were hosting. I had Austin that weekend and brought him along. The hosts greeted us at the door. Austin walked in boldly saying, “Hi, I’m Austin Cavanaugh.” The whole place got silent as everyone turned to look at Dick. He had only recently come back on the scene after being away for a few years. He hastily explained that this was not his son, and everyone had a good laugh about it, except Dick. He had been clear from the beginning that he wasn’t interested in a committed relationship. We had even agreed to an open relationship. But things were moving fast. Dick, who was living with his brother in Saratoga Springs at that time, started staying at my apartment nearly every night. This enraged Paul for a variety of reasons. One day, we had a huge fight outside of The Free School just as school was letting out. He was standing in the middle of the street screaming at me, oblivious even to the fact that he was blocking traffic until someone started leaning on their horn. That was the last straw. Except for transferring Austin from one of us to the other, we stopped having contact with each other. It was still too raw for both of us. This also meant the end of the band.
I’ve often said that being in a band is like being in a family. When you share music with the same people for so long, you create a unique bond. Good music comes from the soul. Just like in a love relationship, you have to reach inside and share your most intimate self with your fellow musicians, and an audience feels that when they listen. I know that playing music with others is the best high I’ve ever had. But now Paul and I were not only ending our twenty-year relationship, but also ending our twenty-year music relationship. Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out how to untangle the two. The music had woven itself into everything, all of our shared adventures, the births of our children and all of the relationships along the way. We were incredible music partners, working well together and balancing each other as both songwriters and performers. We did manage to maintain a friendship eventually, and I was grateful for that. But the music didn’t recover. I’ve always regretted that loss the most.
Although I have often wished that Paul and I could have salvaged our shared music, my own music only grew from there as I started taking myself more seriously. I had spent four decades being criticized and stifled. Now I was being encouraged and appreciated. When I was frustrated about not learning the guitar quickly enough, Dick pointed out the steps I’d made. He pushed me to book solo gigs and taught me traditional folk music. I was also starting to focus more on songwriting. I’d always had to fight for the songs I wrote by myself. With Dick Kavanaugh’s help, I started growing as an individual rather than one half of a whole.
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