Dick and I continued to play many gigs as Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh, and everywhere we played, people asked if we had any music to sell. I’d never been able to do any major recording project and never imagined I would, but we decided to explore our options. Dick and I had been members of the local food co-op and were connected with a man who had his own studio. He offered us a reasonable price. I was getting more and more work, and with both of us splitting the cost and my extra work, I figured it was doable. So, we started planning. We were both composers and had plenty of material. Dick mostly wrote tunes while I wrote songs, but he had taken my songwriting workshop and wrote a wonderful lullaby that was included on the CD. Between us, we played guitars, mandolins, fiddle and mountain dulcimer, and we both sang. We got a couple of friends to collaborate on some of the pieces, playing guitar, fiddle and stand-up bass, and got started. It was all recorded live rather than tracked, making it easier for us and less studio time.
Once the recording was done, it was time to think about the art. I said I wanted to find an artist to do the cover and thought about contacting the art schools when we got invited to a friend’s party in Cherry Plain, NY. When we walked in, I looked around and saw that everyone seemed to be in a different class than we were. The men wore leisure suits, and the women were dressed to the nines. We wore our usual casual hippie garb and felt out of place. Then, I glanced across the living room and saw a large man in another room wearing a kilt and an outrageous necklace. I thought to myself, “I need to meet that guy.” I walked up and asked if he was an artist. He was. He showed me some of his work, and I was impressed. We made a date to meet and talk about the CD cover. A few nights before we got together, I had a dream about a large oak tree that had all the different seasons represented in the colors of the leaves. The title song was “Returning” and was about the seasons. When I relayed the dream to Donhall, he gasped and ran off to grab a photo he had taken of a large oak. It was the same tree as in my dream and became an integral part of the cover. Some of the other images referred to other songs. I've always loved hearing people's interpretations of the cover. Everyone sees it differently. But I find that's true with my songs as well. I may have an idea when I write it, but everyone has their own interpretation, and who am I to say whether they're right or wrong. It's all subjective after all.
Writing and recording the music was the easy part for me. Coming up with the order of the songs was much more difficult than I expected. It was a learning curve for both of us. We also had to decide what to include for the text. Then there was the layout and design. I didn't have a clue how to do that, so I hired another friend to help out with it. I hadn't realized, until working on that project, how much went into putting out an album. Because it was the first one, I also had no idea what to do with it once it was released or how to promote and launch a successful release. Now, each time I do it, I do a little better than the last and certainly better than this first one.
The whole process was a wonderful experience from beginning to end. The CD turned out great. It was mostly original material and was well received. I still sell copies today. I love the artwork and have the original drawing framed with the CD cover and CD. It was a dream come true, something I never thought would happen. I also thought it would be the only CD I would ever make, so I cherished everything about it. It just goes to show that you never know what’s up ahead. Life has had a lot of surprises for me and continues to surprise me every day.
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.
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.
I always said that if any of my partner ever got violent, I would not stay with him. I had become accustomed to physical and emotional abuse at an early age, but although I knew that I couldn’t tolerate physical abuse anymore, the emotional abuse was harder to recognize. Maybe I was also a bit naïve thinking, and hoping, that things could change. But things were getting worse between me and Paul. We mostly didn’t speak much to each other except for working on our music together and avoided even spending any time together. I had given up and just wanted peace, so I withdrew. Then the one day I did engage in an argument, and he pushed me up against the wall with his hands wrapped around my throat, screaming at me. I packed up my kids, got in the car and started driving. I had no idea where I was going, I just knew I had to get out of the house. I drove to a nearby lake, parked the car and turned around to Jes. “Give me a cigarette,” I said. “What? I don’t smoke,” was her reply. I looked her dead in the eye and said, “This is not the time to play games, just give me a cigarette.” She recognized that look and reached into her purse. It was the first cigarette I’d had in many years, and it was perfect. It gave me time to think.
I took the kids to our friends’ home and went back to confront Paul. He was upset and kept apologizing over and over again. He promised it would never happen again. I told him that if he wanted me to come back home, he had to agree to counseling this time, and he did. We found someone in Albany that we could see weekly. After our first session, she remarked that we had brought her an already dead marriage. Her advice was to start from scratch by going on dates with certain ground rules. We weren’t allowed to talk about music business or our family, and no sex afterwards. Paul insisted that it wasn’t possible to date because we had no money for that. She replied that it could be simply a walk together or sitting by the fire in the backyard. It was about getting to know each other again. But he still wasn’t having it. He explained that we had a small child that couldn’t be left alone. Meanwhile, I was sitting there thinking, “We have a baby monitor and older kids.” I explained that to him and suggested that if we were in the yard, it would be fine. If we wanted to go out somewhere, Jes would surely be willing to babysit. When he ran out of excuses, he agreed.
A week went by. At the next appointment, and the counselor asked how our date went. Paul spoke right up, regaling her with an elaborate tale of our date walking down the road to the little stream then sitting by the fire watching the stars. “It was wonderful,” he said. I sat there staring at him wide-eyed and confused. Our counselor noticed my expression and turned to me asking if I had gone on the same date. But we hadn’t actually had a date. Every time I had asked Paul about it, he put it off. When confronted with the truth in that session, he blamed me. He insisted that he felt emasculated by me always trying to run the show. The assignment for the next week was for me to not say anything but wait for his initiative. I agreed. The ride home was horrendous. He screamed at me during the entire time wanting to know why I couldn’t have just backed him up. It made him look like a fool. I tried to explain that I didn’t want to waste our money on a fruitless endeavor. Why go to a counselor if we weren’t going to listen to her advice? I didn’t want to spend money for him to lie to her.
A week went by with no date. On the way into the next appointment, Paul asked me to just go along with whatever he said. Again, he told a fanciful tale of our romantic evening together. This time, I turned and asked him who he went on this date with. The counselor just sighed and asked me to stay behind at the end of the session. She told me that there was no hope of saving the relationship and offered to counsel me alone if I wanted that. I accepted her offer and went out to tell Paul. Once again, he yelled all the way home, and I knew it was the end. I worked with the counselor long enough to realize that psychological and emotional abuse was as damaging to me as the physical abuse and started looking ahead. I was now back to working at The Free School full-time and giving a few piano lessons. I realized this was not going to be enough for me to live on if I left. Paul usually made around minimum wage and wasn’t going to be able to help out much either.
My job at The Free School was to manage the “upstairs” which was the kindergarten and pre-school area. I also ran the breakfast and lunch programs, taught Kindergarten, music and helped supplement the learning for the older kids in other subjects. Every day, as I taught my students, I also learned about being a better teacher. I liked doing experiential learning with them. On every first day of school, for geography class, I asked them, “Where (in the world) are you, right now?” The answers would start out with “at school, in Albany,” or even “in New York.” But I wanted to know all the details. What street and neighborhood was it in? What county, state, country, continent, hemisphere, galaxy? Then we would walk through the neighborhood looking around, learning to use our eyes and our senses to get around. Taking students into the community is a large part of the Free School model. I gradually introduced them to maps, having them draw their own and playing a fun game where they try to navigate using someone else’s map. I also loved doing science experiments, too. There are so many simple things that are educational and exciting at the same time. Just think about it, you can teach the concept of centrifugal force by filling a pail with water and twirl it over and around your head quickly, so it doesn’t fall out. It looks like magic, and what kid doesn’t like magic? Or, how about those crazy rides at the amusement parks that hold you again the outer wall.
All of the teachers had our own strengths and weaknesses when it came to teaching, so we each focused on what we did best. We asked about the students’ interests, then decided on a teaching strategy. When someone wanted to learn about volcanos, I was able to step in. I had lived in Portland, Oregon when Mount St. Helens erupted and was able to describe my experience living near a volcano. I shared my newspaper clippings and showed a slideshow my dad had given me of before and after the eruption. I snuck in some science and art by making volcanos out of paper maché and erupting them with baking soda and vinegar. We even had volcano music. I loved teaching and continued to learn and grow as a teacher every day.
Around that same time, Jes was embarking on her great love affair. I knew she and Jack were sexually active. As soon as I realized this, I took her to a doctor and got her set up with birth control. She’d had also gotten good sex education both at home and at The Free School, but I also knew that accidents happen all the time. And I realized that I got pregnant easily, even while using birth control. One day, during a particularly rough day with Austin, who was still a baby, I knocked on her door, stormed in and dumped Austin in Jes’ arms, saying, “I just want you to be aware of the potential consequence of what you are doing!” Then I walked back out the door and got a much-needed break from parenting for a few hours. Jack came for the Junior Prom that year. I helped Jes pick out her dress and remember thinking that it reminded me of a wedding.
By the summer of 1992, Jes was sick and tired of feeling repressed and alien in public school so when we heard about a new alternative high school starting up, she asked to make that change. I explained that, although I supported the change, we just couldn’t afford to pay the tuition, so she found a part-time job at a shoe store. In the middle of the fall semester, the school had turned out to be a disaster and was on the verge of closing when Jes suddenly told me that she wanted to drop out. She was now seventeen-years old and could get her GED. She was incredibly smart and was above most of her peers academically, so I agreed that it was probably the best move at that time.
It was the end of November, just before Thanksgiving, when she told me that she wanted to move to Michigan to live with Jack. She would get a job and go to night school to study for her GED. Then, she told me that she’d already arranged to be picked up by Jack and his dad the next day, the day before Thanksgiving. I had raised her to be independent, resourceful and a force to be reckoned with. I knew there was no stopping her short of tying her up, but my head was reeling. I knew she would move away, maybe go away to college, but I also thought I had at least the rest of the school year to have her at home. Suddenly, I thought of all of the wisdom I wanted to impart and the things I still wanted to do with her. Michigan felt so far away, and she was still so young. I also understood that she wanted to escape the constant tension in the house. Our children had grown up in an environment filled with apprehension and anger. I felt trapped, but she wasn’t going to be.
I spent that whole day and the next crying. The sudden loss was unbearable. I felt as though my heart was breaking. I hadn’t had any time to prepare and wasn’t ready for this huge change. She wasn’t even going to spend Thanksgiving with us. As the tears kept coming, I helped her pack, broke the news to Paul and tried to say the things that felt like they needed to be said. I cautioned her that it was too late to get her a doctor’s appointment, and her prescription for birth control pills was due to expire soon. Jes didn’t want any input from me. She was determined to make this decision and deal with the details on her own. Just as I had done with my mother when leaving, she pushed me away. I’ve noticed that it often seems easier to leave if you’re angry. Jack and his father came on Wednesday. This was the first time I met Harry. He was an Episcopalian minister. He basically counseled me while the two kids packed up all of her things into their van because I was crying non-stop. I don’t remember much about that Thanksgiving. We must have had one and I must have been there, but I was in a daze.