Originally posted August 31, 2020 for DJK, who pulled a Churchill and kept on walking. Right out the other side of hell.
Mark Knopfler's debut album was released in 1983 and Peter Riegert was finally released from the Boone persona by virtue of Mac's rather tragic redemption in the film, Local Hero. Thirty-seven years ago I was seduced by a Selkie and decided I should probably have been born inside the Northern Lights. Maybe I was.
Local Hero's theme, Going Home, knocks me on my ass at 2:14 in the live version. Thirty-seven years later, I still maintain that this man is the greatest guitarist to set foot on a stage. Listen to Telegraph Road, all fourteen minutes of it. He'll haul you straight out of your head. It's damned important to be hauled, or haul yourself straight out of your head more often than not.
It is better that you have five contextual links embedded in one hundred and nineteen words, than a one thousand and nineteen word prelude. I might have lost you in the storm.
The Chapter and the Light of the Verse
When she was small, she kept a paper bag of receipts with the full and clear intention of absolute analysis. I have no doubt that analysis is complete, published somewhere, and appropriately filed. It's in her DNA, woven tightly into the helix, and trapping her in her head until she found the temporary reprieve which is probably why the light's still on. I owe the universe a particularly large debt for this fact.
I met her on the school bus in sixth grade. I'd been in Glastonbury for precisely zero days. OK, maybe a few weeks. It was fall. She sat down beside me. She bounced just a bit, and offered me a piece of bubble yum. My exposure to chewing gum was pretty limited given my mother's visceral reaction to the stuff. I'd certainly never had anything like that and I certainly had no idea how to blow a bubble. I ended up spitting the entire wad onto the seat in front of us.
We must have been friends because when she disappeared after seventh grade, I noticed. Eighth grade proceeded without her. She reappeared, a sophomore, at the beginning of my freshman year. They'd pulled her from the last year of middle school and dumped her directly into the ninth grade at Choate Rosemary Hall. Tuition for the 2019/2020 academic year, room and board, was $62,760. Never mind the 1977/1978 numbers. Nothing has changed except inflation. What prompts a family to come up with that sort of tuition? What prompts an adolescent to accept the event? Nothing. Apparently. Based on results, she either didn't want to be there in the first place or decided she didn't want to be there very quickly.
At the end of seventh grade, she looked just like the beginning of sixth grade. Bizarrely preppy (I'd never been exposed to any sort of 'preppy'), but glazed in a thin sheen of light; the stuff the universe uses when it makes life, all life. Most of us have that scrubbed off by the time we're eight. I think I was sitting, leaning against the wall behind the school. The designated smoking area of pretty much anything.
She stood over me, a deep, dark haze of Janis Joplin hair. She was wearing a peasant blouse and jeans. I think there might have been some sort of epic belt as well, but she didn't have 'The Hat' quite yet.
'Hey, I remember you. You're Heather Jefferies'
'You don't know who I am, do you?'
'Nope. Sorry'. and I was. I didn't have a lot of spoken words at my disposal until I was about eighteen unless I was bouncing off the walls and those people STILL address me as Spaz. In context it didn't sound like it might, just as 'Freak' was a badge of honor to them that earned it. There are only two people on the globe with permission to use that name and one of them is Deeb. That's who she was, but not who she used to be.
'I'm Deebo. I used to be Debbie K***, but not anymore'
Wheels crunched, gears ground, and I got it. For the record I was not stoned. Not even the least bit high. Dissociated and startled, I had a tough time coming up from the deep. Getting high did not help. Getting high in school was like a bad acid trip. After school was marginally OK. The words 'Debbie K***' in conjunction with the hair got my attention fast. I swam hard for no good reason I could have named other than insane curiosity and maybe a little bit of joy, but I couldn't have named that either.
I don't remember much after that. I have a lot of rock solid memories but very few of them string well together. I remember that Ed, who is now Chris was somehow deeply embedded in our clan of four and sometimes five. I remember Woody, who's name is Cindy, or Cindie, or Cynthia depending on how she's feeling in the moment. We were four for years. And years. And years. Also, there was Amy but I never understood that construct, it just was. Amy was fluid; she came and went like a slow leak out the bottom of a well. I cannot defend that statement. I just know it's true.
Deebo said she hated Choate and I didn't know what that was. When she was done explaining I understood exactly why she got herself out of there. Yet again, I didn't have the language to say exactly why. It just was. In retrospect, her brain would have exploded if she'd stayed. If a person like Deeb has enough raw intelligence to see through the academic facade that was, and probably still is, Choate, a person like Deeb would not have been able to abide. Not at all.
I accepted the current explanation: That place is a nightmare and I cannot stand most of those people. My parents are pretty pissed. I got thrown out and I had to work pretty hard at it.
Underground urban legend took that story so far I can no longer recall the actual events. Her name, Deebo, was a short for Debbie Burnout. She didn't look burned out. I guessed she had to smoke an awful lot of pot to make it through that one year. Here are two versions of the same story which may have nothing to do with the truth:
- She walked into the headmaster's office, sat down, and lit up a joint.
- She walked into the headmaster's office holding with a keg tap from the night before. This is probably closer to the truth, although both are plausible.
After that, it's a haze until April 10, 1980 when we got on the Hartford bound bus that stopped in front of the high school at noon. I had $60 that came off my father's dresser that morning and a bag with maybe one change of clothes. She pawned her saxophone when we got to Hartford and we got as far as the Philadelphia YMCA before our fathers caught up with us the next morning. They drove all night, my dad and Dick K***. My dad was amused (after the fact) but Dick was apoplectic and kinda stayed that way. It was all my fault. His daughter would NEVER have done that, and you know what? That's probably the truth. That girl had more than a lick of sense on her. I had just about none.
She cried quietly on the back of the Philadelphia bound bus and I asked her why. She'd taken one of her sister's pills for cramps. Darvon, a narcotic used to treat 'moderate' pain. THAT shit doesn't happen anymore; you can be laid out on the floor with cramps pretty damn reminiscent of hard labor and you get bupkis. It didn't help her at all; it dragged her deeper into a hole she'd probably been occupying for a while. I just hadn't noticed.
I was ecstatic. I had the bit in my teeth and I was galloping off to Hatteras where I was going to work on a fishing boat and live in a motel closed for the season. Later, shaking his lowered head (the one he puts in his hands sometimes) he asked, Sweetie, what is you think you would have been doing on that boat. Oh. Oops.
Deeb was sinking fast but also incredibly competent. I said no to the Radisson and no to the runaway safty nets (they're fly trapssss), and pointed us to the Y. She figured out how the hell to check us in with her older sister's ID, an astonishing competence, and leaving me on the steps in the process. I was about to turn sixteen and I looked like a fourteen year old on a good day. I'm still not sure how she got me past the night desk. She either slept or did not sleep and I worried. I don't recall if she said the words, 'I want to go home', but I heard them.
I think she's still pissed that I got to jump out of a plane two days later with promises of bus passes to safe places if I really needed an adventure. She was grounded for life and I really thought her father would have put a permanent bed board between us. He did not. He went as far as snarling in my general direction but that was about it.
Life continued. I moved to Fairfield in November of my junior year and wanted to die of it. She went off to Hofstra the next fall. And life continued. I got married. I had a baby. She got her MSW (I think that's what it was) at Smith and when I was pregnant with my middle child she got married. We all lived happily after for about thirty seconds.
In April of 2010 I was just pulling myself up from possibly the worst eighteen months of my life. In April of 2010 I was wondering if she might die. I wanted to scoop her up and light out for the territories. She was barely making it at that point and I was trying to figure out how the hell I was going to keep paying a mortgage built for two with a single income.
I don't know when we decided, or she decided and then I decided that witnessing the Northern Lights was not just a desire, but a necessity. April 10, 2010 was the thirty year anniversary of Heather and Deeb lighting out to the territories. That's Huck Finn in the event that it didn't stick when you read the book. It's the last line in the book and it's got that certain weight of 'Keep passing the open windows' although I don't think I ever spoke them directly.
April 10, 2010 came and went. Her shit hit the fan in April, most likely, of 2006 and I was well on my way to undone when she went down. Woody caught her but I don't think Woody ever forgave me for not taking that one damn phone call. And she shouldn't. I surely have not.
Time passed like a freight train and we had a million miles between us.
I think the last time I saw her was February 14 or 15 of 2008. In my memory, it was the same day or the next after my release from lockdown. That's my story; I have no other. I have no idea how she found out I was hospitalized. A pocketful of people knew. That pocket needed to have been a lot bigger.
But there she was at the front door with pizza and salad in a tin. We bring food in dire situations. Bread is the staff of life and a dire situation requires something from the bottom level of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. This is an imperative directed by the Old Brain with a boom! if the response is sluggish.
When she came to me, I don't think I'd seen her since my last wedding. Three times she stood up for me and that third was a bitch. She had to climb straight out of hell. I didn't know if she could but I asked for her anyway. How does anyone climb out of hell? By the time I was escorted into the inn by Sparky, she was transformed; beautiful, nearly ethereal, torn up and open. There is a photograph taken in the middle of a very long and unorthodox ceremony. I can't find the damn thing and I may never find the damn thing because I'm not sure there's a single remaining damned photograph. Who she was at that time negates the 'correct answer' to the question, 'would you rather have a broken heart or a boxed heart?' That heart had been stomped so hard and for so long, it needed to be in the effing box. At least for a while.
But there she was, two years and four months after the fact, rushing up the stairs and into the living space. I don't recall all that she said. I was mostly checked out; dissociated from just about everything. I opened my face and probably my eyes and tried to wrap a very muddled brain around her words. I know her feelings about psychiatric institutions. No good can come of it and most likely an awful lot of bad. I was just relieved to have had a bucket of water dumped on an inferno of pain. Later I understood 'an awful lot of bad' very clearly.
She stayed just long enough to gather and analyze the data. Just long enough to be just sure enough I wasn't going to die tomorrow.
Keep passing the open windows.
I don't know how long we've been saying those words to each other because I can't remember when we did not. The first publication of The Hotel New Hampshire was in 1981, so certainly not before then.
I honestly do not believe I've seen her, front and center, since that day. I also expect that day was a much steeper climb out of the pit, but I don't really know. My pit was a lot deeper than I understood; you get into something like that and you can't see, hear, or feel jack shit.
The freight train carried on and I grieved.
I have absolutely no explanation for what I did last night.
Vienna. I heard Vienna on my daughter's Youtube mix. That song happens to appear on her eighteenth birthday mix, from her father. I thought about Deeb. I don't remember why Vienna. Maybe the Hotel New Hampshire. Vienna prompted The Only Living Boy in New York and I know exactly where that came from. That was hers and I recall having to work a little harder than usual to figure out why. I know why now. When I was posting the links, in the wrong damn order, on her Facebook page I heard Pumped up Kicks and decided THAT was a fucking requirement right now.
I posted them in the order below (although you know that makes them backwards on Facebook). If you listen to them, you will hear her. She deserves to be heard. Possibly the brightest person I have ever met or known in my life with a ground up heart that went down, down, down with the inevitable cadence that comes with Despair. The sort of despair that is palatable. An agony of helplessness.
I can't support this. I haven't seen her in twelve years nor heard her voice, but I'd question the truth on this one. That shine? The light that covers her skin? You know the one. The one beaten out of most of us by the time we're eight. It's still there. It's ripped, scared, and full of holes, but it's still there. I know this thing is true.
She deserves to be heard.
This. For so many reasons...
but mostly this...
and this thing which is a pocketful of joy...
You know, this is the video that is a writer's prompt. I didn't need a prompt today but knew where to find it. Look at the photograph at the top of the post. While Going Home is absolutely what is required of this post, the 54 seconds of Whistle Theme makes me cry to this day.
She deserves to be heard.