I've become an energy sponge these last couple weeks. My mood and strength are very impressionable. I'm porous and vulnerable. My therapist gave me sound advice. She said to notice my surroundings during the moments when I feel closest to you – where I am, how many people I'm with, who those people are, what's happening in the background – and to keep doing those things.
My friend April flew in from Chicago last night. I arrived at the Denver airport to pick her up a half-hour late. I was paralyzed by the sirens, emergency vehicles, and flipped car I'd passed on my icy drive and was simply out-of-sorts. She was unfazed by the delay when I began my series of apologies. She, a beautiful mess of punchy-colored leather, fur, blonde hair, and good energy, looked at me with an Are you freaking kidding me? As if you really need to apologize for anything right now expression, and climbed in the car. She gave me a two armed hug from the passenger seat and held me for longer than I held her. Before we exited the airport terminal, she had already reminded me of the one time that she had met you, and how it only took that one time for her to know how incredibly exceptional of a man you are, and how complete you had me. I knew immediately that she was the right person to have by my side right now.
Before going back to the house, we stopped at the grocery store where you and I always shopped. She helped me get through a few 'firsts'. The first time entering our local supermarket, where you generally would grab the cart for us, but this time, I did. The first time choosing avocados and knowing you weren't going to be there to eat them – spooning them right out of their skin with a dressing of coconut aminos and hemp seeds. The first time picking out cheese without you, you liked the raw mild cheddar. The first time stopping at the beverage section and realizing I didn't need to buy coconut water, because you liked it and I don't. Your 76% ChocoLove dark chocolate, your marinated rosemary chicken, your favorite free-range eggs, your unsprouted almonds, and your Ben & Jerry's Americone Dream… I walked past it all. I did not put it in my cart. I no longer shop for two. I paid and we made it out the door. I exhaled and a tear escaped the corner of my eye.
This morning April, Kira, and I drove three hours south of Boulder to Mount Princeton Hot Springs. I charged your phone and hooked it up to the stereo as we pulled out of the driveway. We turned on The String Cheese Incident, your favorite band and the artist that monopolizes your data usage. The feel-good bluegrass jams hit my porous ears like water to a sponge. Each song that played ignited a hazy memory.
I had never seen String Cheese until we started dating. In the beginning of our relationship, my little brother, who shares your taste in music, told me which album to listen to first. I would drive around Austin listening to that record. One of the first songs that stuck out to me was Sirens. I remember texting you the lyrics on day, out of the blue: I just want to say I love you / And make sure you feel it everyday / 'Cause if today had been my last chance / It's just something I wanted to say. You sent back a purple heart, an icon of cheese, and an excited response. You were psyched that your new girlfriend was doing her music homework. I remember that song being played at one of the shows we attended together later that year. We wrapped our arms around each other, swayed, and sang to each other. I remember that song being played again, two weeks ago, at your memorial.
As the Cheese songs continued to pour out of your iTunes today while April and I drove, I felt a sense of peaceful nostalgia. It was as if you were choosing each song for us to listen to. You were selecting the soundtrack for our mountain drive. We chatted, we cried, we listened. I imagined that you were sitting in the backseat of my car as we drove, adding in your perspective through the song. Sometimes, along the way, I would even hear your jokes or responses in the back of my head, a silent but distinct voice. I chose to believe in you.
I remember the first time we went to see The String Cheese Incident together – it was my first show and your one-hundred-and-ninety-sixth. It was in Austin on July 3rd, 2013. You were in my city visiting me, but you got to introduce me to your world.
From the moment we were dropped off in the lot, I had never seen someone so plugged in. You knew nearly every other person we passed. People were calling your name with excitement from all corners of the parking lot. You were hugging and smiling. You were introducing me to person after person, spouting off their name and the three other nicknames they also go by. Your eyes were twinkling. You were in the zone and it was incredible to witness. It was spectacular to be by your side, to be your girl. I was proud.
The first song the band played that evening was Lonesome Fiddle Blues. You were off to a good start at getting me to like this band because LFB is a bluegrass song that I recognized from my childhood. My mom is a fiddle player in a band, so the standards are familiar. The nostalgia grooved in my heart and I smiled at you and said, "I know this!" "Alright!" you responded with a proud grin.
Our love grew that night at the Cheese show. Me, seeing you in your light. You, seeing me dig your scene. It was beautiful for us. It got even more exciting when the band closed their first set with BollyMunster. As the bhangra-inspired dance tune flooded my ears, my hips started to shake. Synthe-electronica poured in over the Bollywood bluegrass, I gritted my teeth with anticipation of a bass-drop. I didn't even know what was happening, but I absolutely loved it. "If THAT is what this band is all about, I'm ALL over it," I told you after the song ended. You laughed, knowing I was hyped up over a shameless dance party jam but stoked by my excitement.
Later that summer, we went to Horning's Hideout for a String Cheese Festival. On Sunday, the last show of the weekend, I watched String Cheese play Struggling Angel, a song they had written after Sarah's death, in honor of her. I watched nearly the entire crowd of thousands of people, blanket their arms around one another and pull each other in close. I watched hundreds of people gather around Chris, Sarah's husband, and silently support him with hugs, love, tears, and meaningful appreciation for her life and her memory. You were by Chris's side the whole time, holding him. I watched you bawl through the entire song. I watched tears stream down Chris's face too. I saw so many tears during those six minutes and realized how much support this band was offering those in need. I cried too. They were carrying on your friend's memory with beauty, song, and hope. I never met Sarah, but because of what The String Cheese community created for her (and what she had helped create in them), I feel like I know her. I'm so glad you were so involved in a community of people who take those memories so seriously, that are so in touch with their own emotions and supporting emotions of others in need. It's a beautiful thing.
I haven't heard Struggling Angel live again, but we would listen to it on the new album when we needed a good cry at the house. I only heard BollyMunster one other time with you, at a free show in Boulder. And I haven't heard them do Lonesome Fiddle Blues live since that show in Austin. I thought that my seven shows in the past year and ten months was a good start. But I thought it was just that, a start. I never imagined that eighth show I'd see would be them playing at your memorial.
Music has been really hard for me since you died, my love. It was such an important part of you. It's hard to hear a song without making a direction comparison to you. It's hard to listen without being able to ask you, "Who is this again?" and you being able to chime in with an in-depth description of artist, genre, and song. The String Cheese Incident is the only band I've listened to since you left this place. I've listened to them more in the past few weeks then I did when you were alive. I hear you in their music. I see your smile in their rhythms. I feel your love in the lyrics. I imagine the shimmer of excitement in your eye and you lifting up your arms to shake your hands in your one gimmicky dance move that you always did at the end of a song, the final snap. It's giving me some solace to fill my soul with the music you loved so much.
When April and I pulled up to the hot springs resort, SCI's song Joyful Sound echoed through the car and our hearts. We recognized your actions and your life's meaning as a direct correlation to the words of the song. We sang along, out loud. I cried, because my heart is broken open, your hand isn't their for me to grab, and your hips aren't there for me to groove with. But I smiled because what you stand for remains. I opened myself up and let the music seep in to my porous soul, knowing you would be proud.
Take time to give thanks / Make time to be given / I'm going to stop and think twice / About the way that I'm living
Did I say a kind word / Am I proud of my actions / You know a job well done / Gives me satisfaction
Can I earn your trust / Your love and affection / Just one step at a time / In the right direction
Going to aim for the sky / Keep my feet on the ground / Raise my voice to the heavens / Make a joyful sound