My life was now starting to unravel in all directions. I had taken a big leap into my vagabond life with Paul when I was still pretty young, became a mother two days after my twenty-second birthday, and moved from one coast to another and back again twice. We’d settled in upstate New York because in second grade, Jessie refused to move again. I liked living there because I had finally built up a community. I felt settled. Paul, on the other hand, got sustenance from being on the road. He was always searching. He knew there had to be something better out there waiting for him. He was not happy being settled, and the bond between us just died. I understood that he needed to move on, but he wouldn’t abandon his family. We didn’t fight anymore. We still played music together and felt a little spark at those times. Those were the only good times. The rest of the time, Paul was miserable and withering away. It felt like we were both dying, so I resolved to leave.
One day, I told Paul that I was planning, at some point, to move out. A little after Justin was born, I told him that when both of our two children were out of high school, I would want my own place and try to maintain our marriage if he wanted. We could stay at each other’s places but live apart. I knew even back then that I couldn’t be around that much anger constantly. He kind of shrugged it off. I started trying to come up with a plan. I was only making one hundred twenty dollars a week plus extra money each month from music lessons and gigs. The first thing I had to figure out was finances. Then one day in the spring, as my friend LoAnne and I were sitting at Barberville Falls with our dogs, she told me that she was going to Europe for an adventure. She offered to let me stay at her apartment for the cost of the utilities during that time. I started to cry. This was the first open door of this new episode. At home, I started ignoring the guilt trips and yelling deciding instead to let it just wash over me until I could move. She was leaving at the end of the summer, so I told Paul that I would be moving out Labor Day weekend. Once again, he just kind of shrugged it off.
Justin was fourteen and was wild. He’d mostly grown up in New York and was well versed in both the backwoods and the ghetto. He also gravitated to the rough customers. I was going to be staying in a really tough neighborhood. I’d lived in the South End and was streetwise, but this section of town was one of the worst. I decided not to take Justin with me. I hoped that he and his dad would bond once I was gone. Their relationship was always a bit tenuous. Paul had left for more than a month when Justin was only a few months old. He had gone to Pittsburgh to be with his father in his final days. Justin was a very clingy baby and mostly wanted to be with me. He was wary of Paul when he returned, and I think that hurt Paul, causing him to step back. And, I tend to also be a force to be reckoned with. I was often trying to make nice between them. Now, it was time for me to step back. I would take Austin, who would be three.
Being a boy, Justin was trying to connect with and model his life after his dad’s. Paul had a lot of good traits. He was one of the most generous people I’ve ever known. More times than I can count, I saw him give away his last dollar to someone who looked like they needed it more. He always told me that the more you give away, the more comes back to you. He was friendly and outgoing, incredibly funny and loved “bad jokes,” especially his own. He was everyone’s friend. He had an unusual style of rhythm guitar. He could easily go from basic or complex rhythms to a rhythm lead that almost sounded like two guitars playing together. His hands were also large enabling him to reach his fingers across even wide guitar necks like a spider’s legs. I realized later in my life that I learned a lot about playing rhythm guitar from living with him before I ever played one myself. Paul also read constantly. He read newspapers, novels, non-fiction, anything he could get his hands on making him brilliantly smart and well-versed in many affairs. I hoped that Justin could learn great things from his dad.
I would still need to figure out what to do when LoAnne came back. I knew that once I left, I wasn’t going back. But another thing I had learned from Paul was to have faith that things would work out in the end. We both knew that if we looked for the clues, and followed them, the path would unfold. So, I didn’t think about that yet and just started to pack. I didn’t want to take much. I didn’t need household things, because LoAnne was all set up, but I wanted a few treasures, and I knew Austin would need things. I tried to talk to Paul about the upcoming split, but he just ignored it all.
Jes was now living an eleven-hour drive away outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. She also wanted to just leave and not look back, but she was not happy there. I didn’t know how to talk to her about these things. She had always been a dramatic person. Was she blowing things out of proportion? Should she come back? She was still only seventeen. During every phone call, she was angry with me for trying to interfere. I didn’t know how to navigate this part of parenting. I knew that her birth control prescription was due to run out and wanted to be sure that she’d found a new doctor. I even tried to get her to come home long enough to see her old doctor, who absolutely would have seen her. She was determined to live her life on other own. I had done the same thing, but I was a few years older than she was now. Then one night, I suddenly woke up. I got up and checked in on both boys, then looked all around. I even walked outside. Everything seemed to be okay, but I had this nagging feeling that something was very wrong. I tried to go back to sleep and got up again. Then the phone rang. It was Jes calling to tell me that she was pregnant.
No one knew what to do now, not us, not Jack’s parents. Everyone had their own opinions and feelings. Those poor kids must have felt assaulted. They had jumped into their own adventure but didn’t have a solid plan. They were living in the basement of Jack’s family home. His parents were not happy with the situation. I never understood why they agreed to this move in the first place. They could have just said no, and it would have waited until they were more prepared. Now there was a potential child. We were summoned to a meeting. So, we drove to Michigan to talk. As I said, everyone had their own thoughts, and it was brutal. I wanted them to look at all of their options. I had done this with my first and third children because they were surprises. There was anger and many tears, accusations and general tumult when suddenly Jes jumped up and ran out of the house. Jack swiftly followed. The meeting was over. I remember breathing a sigh of relief. When she returned, I asked her to come home with us for a visit to help her settle herself a bit. Once again, she accused me of trying to make her decisions and run her life. We left shortly after, and I wrote her a long letter on the ride home. I poured my heart out, but I never mailed it. I think I still have it somewhere, a memento of an emotional time. Here I was at forty leaving my twenty-year relationship while being financially insecure on Labor Day weekend with a three-year old, while my seventeen-year-old daughter was expecting a child in another state in September. September was turning out to be a big month.
In addition to the craziness in my personal life, General Eclectic was having personnel issues. Bob and Andy weren’t getting along. They’d never really meshed. Paul and I loved playing with both of them, because we thrived on variety. These guys provided musical variety but that came with varied temperaments. They grated on each other. Then a woman got involved with one of the members. Let’s call her Joan. She was incredibly sweet but didn’t understand her role in the group. She and I started to clash. She wasn’t one of the musicians but came to every practice and wanted to voice her opinions. She was also jealous of the time spent at practice and of the shared music not only among the entire band but between me and Paul. She decided that she and her boyfriend would start a duo on the side. Before long, she wanted to be singing with us, but we said no. She and I were friends, and I felt bad, but we all knew it wasn’t going to work. The music started to feel toxic because of all the tensions in the band. Then Andy left, or maybe he got thrown out. I don’t really remember much about those difficult days with everything else that was going on for me. I just know that I felt a huge sense of loss when that happened. Andy had been with us almost from the beginning of General Eclectic. He was part of the DNA of the band. Not long after, the band started crumbling apart.
But there were still gigs to do and parties to play, so the band played on. I kept reminding Paul that I was moving out. He didn’t seem to have noticed. There were decisions that had to be made but I certainly didn’t want to make waves, so I stopped talking about it. Then one day in August, we went to a music party in Troy. I had been stacking my few boxes in a corner of the living room as I packed and was starting to let myself feel excited. The party was all abuzz about my impending move. Everyone had heard about it and wanted to know where and when I was going. I tried not to talk about it around Paul, knowing that it might be upsetting to him. We partied and jammed until late. As we were walking to the chair, Paul turned around and started screaming at me about how angry he was that he had to find out that I was leaving him from friends at the party. I just stood there in amazement. How could he not know? I’d pestered him for a while about logistics and had been packing and stacking boxes in full sight. Suddenly I realized that his avoidance of the subject had been to support his denial that it was even happening. I told him that I’d been trying to talk with him about it for many months, but he wouldn’t listen. He didn’t speak to me for the next two weeks but drove me, Austin and our things to Albany on Labor Day. Austin turned three the weekend we moved.
Justin was starting school, so I told him that he could visit on weekends. I didn’t sleep much that first night in this temporary apartment. I was sadder than I’d ever been. I thought that Paul and I would stay together forever. I was counting on it. My heart was not just broken, it felt shredded. I always knew that music has amazing healing powers. I wore out my copy of “I Can’t Make You Love Me If You Don’t” by Bonnie Raitt. I would start out singing along to it, trying to heal myself until my sobs prevented it. Little did I know at the time that Paul was doing the same with “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler. We’d arranged for Austin to spend equal time with Paul. They had created a strong bond at Austin’s birth, and Paul was trying to be a better parent with him. Once in a while, I would go out to a club to hear another band. There was always someone around that I knew. Suddenly, I was being paid attention to in a different way. I’d always had male friends. Most of my friends have been male. Now, the vibe was different, and the sudden change made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I’d never done much flirting and didn’t really understand the process. I was thankful for those who remained the friends they’d always been. My head was already reeling, and it felt like I was being thrown to the wolves. Some of my friends were even giving me advice about dating. They knew I hadn’t been in that scene for twenty years. What they didn’t know is that the brief time I had been in that scene was pretty traumatic. Of course, everyone had their own set of standards. Some encouraged me to not have sex until after the first few dates, others suggested that I jump right in. Everyone cautioned me not to get serious about someone else too quickly. I wasn’t interested in any of it. I determined to finally be on my own. Maybe I’d have a little fun, but nothing more than that.
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