Snow in April
Updated: Mar 14
November 2, 2008, was easily the worst night of my life. To this day, I still have to suppress it from memory because merely the thought constricts my breathing. I had been dating Walt for over two and a half years, and I absolutely believed him to be the love of my life. But he'd spent the past eight months of our relationship withdrawing from me, while blaming me for his problems. Even though breaking up felt like amputating my own leg, I couldn't see any other way to rectify our love without sacrificing myself. On that particular weekend, he had stood me up on three separate occasions, when we hadn't seen each other in almost two weeks. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. I went over to his house and he met me in the driveway. I broke his heart in the front lawn, and drove a stake through my own. I kissed him goodbye in the moonlight and sobbed on the way home, leaving my best friend, the man with the stunning blue eyes, whom I loved more than anything in life, who was the first serious relationship I ever had, and the person I thought I'd marry -- behind. It would take a solid five years for my heart to recover.
Fast forward to the summer of 2011 -- I had just been evicted (read that whole story here), and while I was searching for a new place, a friend of mine from college came to visit and provide moral support. Andre DiMuzio ran with the same crowd as Walt and me during our college music department days. In fact, Andre and Walt had been best friends at one point. But as all of us went our separate ways, and the relationships within the group dissolved, somehow Andre and myself ended up staying in touch. He had moved back to his home city of Tokyo, Japan, and was saving up money from a fabulous job to start his own recording studio.
On a whim one night, we decided to record a Reggaeton cover of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" -- like old college buddies are wont to do. Andre always traveled with a suitcase of recording gear, and he set up camp in my kitchen. We put our heads together on how the arrangement should go, then proceeded to land the entire lead vocal track in one take -- and we had never worked together before. We had known each other for five years, and had never once collaborated. Yet in less than 24 hours, we created the arrangement and had all the tracks made. Now all that was left to do was mixing. If it was that easy for us to create quality music, we surmised, then we ought to work together more often...
Thus, The Hourglass project was born.
A few months after returning again to Japan, Andre emailed me a demo track for a song he'd just finished writing for us. He called it "Snow in April".
"You know, Walt claims he was born on a day when it snowed," I replied. "His birthday's in April."
"Really," Andre said. "I did not know that."
Summer of 2012 rolled around, and Andre came back to the States to visit me in my new house. I'd been working on "Snow in April" for months, trying to select a key where it would most flatter the story told in the lyrics, and to choose a tempo and groove that would allow me to breathe. After collaborating on the arrangement and laying a few tracks, we realized we'd created a deceptively sad, hauntingly beautiful song. We released it as The Hourglass's first single a few months later.
Over the school year, Andre sent me a few more songs for our project, and back and forth we emailed updated arrangements, vocal and string tracks, and more demos -- with the hopes of being able to get as much accomplished in person as possible when he next visited. By the time summer of 2013 was here, we'd already recorded half of an EP.
Then in July, I was offered my first ever cruise ship contract! It was the singular most life-changing and validating jolt of my entire career. I did not even have a month to tie up the loose ends of my life, move out of that decrepit old house (read about that here), store a few belongings I wanted to keep, squeeze into two suitcases the clothing I'd need for all dress codes and all climates from the Arctic Circle to the Equator for nine months, and say my goodbyes.
Andre and I set aside a few hours to finish the EP so I could sell it while aboard the ship. With every new track we became more and more enthralled with our musical love child. We entitled it Over Land, Over Seas -- a line from one of the songs, and also a description of how we'd collaborated from across the world.
I drove up to my parents' house in Charlottesville, VA, to say goodbye to my family on the last weekend before I flew to rehearsals in Las Vegas. Many relatives also traveled to join the celebration. We were eating dessert after a scrumptious BBQ, when my phone rang -- it was Walt.
After he and I broke up, his new girlfriend shortly thereafter got him into recreational drugs, which he then turned into a means of daily self-medicating. Whatever ambition he had for his life, he dropped and began pushing everything away that would interfere with his drug use. We continued working together in Steven Mallard's show band for a while, so I saw him periodically for the last year before he followed his new girlfriend to California. His personality, which had begun changing during the last eight months of our relationship, continued on a downward spiral into a negative, smarmy, sarcastic, skeptical, judgmental asshole -- and by the time he insensitively hugged me farewell before his cross-country move, saying "Well, I guess this is goodbye, for, like ever! Ha ha," -- he wasn't someone I recognized. It was as if the young man I loved had died and his body was resurrected and walking around, occupied by a stranger's evil spirit. By the time he rang me up out of the blue on the night of August 4, 2013, I hadn't seen him in over three years.
My adrenaline surged as I debated whether to answer the phone. In the interest of tying off loose ends to start this new chapter of my life, and for curiosity's sake, I forced myself to pick up.
"Hi, Jess!" a familiar, friendly, smooth baritone said over the line. "I'm on the East Coast for my grandpa's 80th birthday, and my mom and I are driving through Charlottesville right now, actually, on our way home. So I thought of you, and something told me I should give you a call! How are you doing?"
My throat went dry, and I was suffocating on my own pulse pounding in my neck.
"Great, actually," I wheezed. "I'm actually in Charlottesville right now too..."
"Yeah -- I just got a new job performing on a cruise ship, and my family is throwing a farewell party for me, since I leave on Monday for nine months."
"Are you serious? That's so exciting! That's great!" he genuinely celebrated. I wasn't used to him sounding so alert and positive -- I hadn't heard him that way in years.
"Well...are you guys in need of a bathroom break from your trip?"
"We are, actually...aren't we, Mom?" I could hear her laughing over the impromptu rendezvous in the background.
"OK, cool! Come on over, we have plenty of food too, if you're hungry. How far away are you?"
"Oh, I dunno, maybe 30 minutes?"
"Do you remember how to get here?"
"You'd better refresh my memory."
I got dizzy after we hung up. I honestly believed I'd never see him again when he moved across the country -- and how I'd grieved. Yes, I dated many men since I'd broken up with Walt, but I just couldn't seem to find a decent one who'd treat me well. With each new attempt, I'd think it was my chance to get it right, but once in the thick of it, the relationship lacked the richness of depth Walt and I shared. We absolutely had our problems, but through it all, Walt and I truly knew how to love each other -- and that's what I couldn't seem to find with anyone else. It had been agony watching him follow another woman across the continent, and then seeing him date other women after they broke up -- as I'm sure it was hell for him to cope with me immediately starting to date another man once I left him. Now here I was, sitting in my parents' kitchen, expecting him in less than half an hour. It was like a flashback to my college days when he'd come visit on summer vacations, and I'd await his arrival with breathless anticipation.
No I will not forget the day
When you finally stopped, when you finally stopped running.
You'd been hiding from this place,
And all the vanishing years, oh the vanishing years
Oh how they'd fall
You'd been watching the race with your heart set in flames
And how you called, and I answered.
"Mom--" I went to inform her of our new guests, but I burst into tears before I could get it out. The entire family stopped what they were doing to see why I was sobbing over a random phone call. But once they heard, they were so excited!
Walt was coming over, and they had absolutely loved him. And his mother was coming too, and they loved her so much they still keep in touch. When the two of us broke up, we didn't just lose each other, we lost an entire family. And on this joyful occasion they were going to join us once more, after having been absent for so long! Now this party was truly going to be a celebration.
"Guess I'd better clean a few plates!" said Mom.
"I'll get the leftovers out of the fridge!" volunteered my aunt.
I paced the floor as I dried my face, and fought to control my trembling. Finally the tell-tale headlights pulled into the driveway. I had waited long enough to see this man, and I couldn't wait any longer.
I let myself out the front door as he approached the house, walking ahead of his mother. I ran down the stairs and caught him in a hug on the bottom step -- after all, he's 6'7" and that way he was easier to reach. It was the best hug of my life. I was powerless to hold back tears. I was overwhelmed with gratitude to have one more chance to wrap my arms around him. We lingered there for a long embrace, then I hugged his mother.
They came inside, and everyone sat around the living room to catch up. There were no hard feelings, just happiness and joy in the reunion. We laughed and made up for lost time until people started feeling the effects of the alcohol and began to fade. Walt seemed so happy and emotionally stable, and he looked handsome. He was always good looking, but he'd shed his boyishness for some serious manhood, and it flattered him. And he was behaving like the person I remembered him to be from the first two years of our relationship.
Walt and I needed some one on one time, and his mother graciously allowed us the opportunity to sort it out. She and I adored each other, and I knew she was giving us every possible chance to resolve our differences, in hopes that we'd make it work.
We went for a walk through the ambling neighborhood, and my silly cat Grover popped out of the bushes, clearly remembering his daddy that he grew up with as a kitten. There was a light breeze through the humidity that pushed clouds across the sky, occasionally allowing the moon to make an appearance. We walked maybe a mile and a half, with Grover joyfully celebrating our reunion, trotting in circles around us the whole way. Walt took my hand at first, then we were drawn closer to the familiar comfort and walked with our arms around each other as we talked -- offering the apologies that we owed each other, owning up to the mistakes that we could now see in hindsight. We stopped when we reached a field of radio towers, overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. He bent to kiss me. It had been almost five years since our last kiss.
Do you remember how we stood
For the longest time under the greyest skies?
Said all the things we knew we should
And the clock stopped ticking and the world stopped turning
I was reeling
I was reaching around just to find up and down
Was I even breathing
When you touched my face and said sorry for making me wait?
It all happened that night, as described in the second verse of the first Hourglass song Andre wrote -- and more. It was magical. Nights like that, stories like that, don't just happen to ordinary people. How could I be so lucky? I had certainly paid my dues with years of heartache. Now I was blessed to spend one more night with the love of my life. How many people yearn for that and never get it? His personality and his aura of warmth and sincerity were as they had been when I first fell in love with him, back in 2006. And we still loved each other. He confessed that the entire week while he'd been with his family, he had been clean. Amazing how once the high lifted, he was still the same person underneath.
Several hours later, we walked back to my parents' house and found his mom had made herself a bed on the couch. She was exhausted, but deliriously happy that the two of us seemed to have enjoyed ourselves.
I was headed to Vegas for rehearsals, and Walt lived in LA, and he'd be flying back to Cali at the end of the week -- so it wouldn't be too far of a drive for him to come see me once more before I hit the high seas. To my surprise, he volunteered to make the trip! Once I got my schedule upon arrival, I told him, we could pick a weekend for him to come out.
I heard from Walt quite a lot in the days immediately after our chance encounter, and thank God, because otherwise I would've sworn our happenstance night was just a hallucination -- it was too wildly romantic. But after four days of intense attention and excitement, communication slowed down to hardly anything, the way it was right before I broke up with him in 2008. I became ridden with anxiety as I valiantly forced myself to focus in rehearsal. Apparently after he flew back to LA, he resumed his drugs and got back into his lifestyle that didn't have a place for me. But finally we were told when we'd have days off from the rehearsal process, and I needed Walt to confirm that he was able to visit.
And if I had known better, I'd have told you better never than late
What were you trying to prove?
You gave me so much to lose
So when I break
It's along familiar cracks that had finally been put back together.
How I wanted it, how I wanted it to last forever.
"Andre," I wailed over texts. "I finally gave Walt the dates and I haven't heard from him in like two days. How am I supposed to believe he's actually coming?"
"You'll hear from him. I know he'll come see you," he reassured me.
"Andre!" I was hit with a sudden realization, "It's just like 'Snow in April'!"
"Woah...how weird! But don't worry, he'll come see you. I know him. And you know how he is."
Thankfully Andre was right. I heard back from Walt a handful of days before he was meant to leave. He took off work and drove to Vegas while I was still rehearsing, and arrived that evening after my roommate left to spend the weekend with her husband. When Walt arrived, he was wired from his drive and on substances to quell his anxiety. We spent quiet hours together while he detoxed before we could really have quality time. But once I got my man back again, it was on.
We had a beautiful four days together. He even took off work an extra day to extend his stay. We saw the sights, went for long walks, ate out, slept in, spent time with my cast, and made every minute count. It was dreamy to hear his voice, sleep stretched out beside him in his bear hug, and imagine a future together. We talked about what we were going to do with this new reinstatement of our relationship, and we both agreed that being apart for nine months wasn't a great foundation to restart with any formality. We agreed to keep communicating and explore what felt comfortable to us with open honesty.
"I'd forgotten what it was like to have somebody be happy to see me -- the way you greeted me at your parents' place," he said. "I can't just let you go."
I would've been happy with a more definite commitment, but there were a few non-negotiables for me that we didn't have time to address; plus I didn't want to make him feel trapped while he was obviously going through some internal struggles. Simply having his presence back in my life was enough, and I was thankful for what I got.
Just before he got in the car to drive back home, he brought up the topic of marijuana, and how important it was to him. How experimenting with psychedelic drugs had expanded his spiritual horizons. How much it had centered him. How much it had progressed his musical ability and jazz improvisation on the sax. How he needed it to get through the day.
"Walt, if you need to take something to get through the day, that doesn't necessarily mean there's something wrong with you, it means there's something wrong with your life! You need to make a life change, not medicate yourself to live through it!"
My pleas fell on deaf ears, as did his. I broke down in tears again. He was absolutely brilliant when he was clean -- steadfast, intuitive, personable, and intelligent -- why would he feel the need to change? What pain was he masking? He hadn't had anything the whole visit long and he had been thoroughly magnificent. While he was still high just after he'd arrived in Vegas, he couldn't relax and he couldn't even get it up. Why would he choose to be that way?
By this point it was late, and my roommate had returned from spending those few nights with her husband. We couldn't buy any more time, and Walt had to work the next day. It was under these miserable circumstances that we said our goodbyes, with tears streaming down my face. After a perfect visit, it had to end like that.
I joined my first ship in Vancouver and sailed around Alaska for the first three weeks of our contract. Walt communicated with me every day, and every chance I had cell reception in port, I communicated back. As my ship set sail from our last U.S. port of Seward, AK, for Petropavlovsk, Russia, I called Walt to make use of my last remaining shreds of reception. We said our "I love you's" then I was on my way across the Pacific.
The next day I received an email from Walt -- playfully intimate, funny and endearing. OK, so we're going to play this game! I thought. It took me a few hours to craft a response, then I replied in kind. I gleefully anticipated his next email.
The next day I logged into the snail's-pace ship wifi to check my email -- I couldn't wait long enough to have wifi in a port to speak with him-- and saw an inbox devoid of a letter from Walt. Maybe he was slammed at work, I guessed. I knew he was preparing to quit his miserable day job and take an offer in another industry, for better pay and more intellectual stimulation and an opportunity to climb the ladder.
I checked my email the next day while we were still at sea. And I checked it again when we were sequestered aboard the ship in Russia, and then again when we found wifi in port in Japan.
Walt never responded. I stopped hearing from him altogether, minus a mass email he sent out about some "interesting" article three months later -- to which I never responded.
Did you know this was goodbye?
When you opened your heart, told me "This is the start."
Did you know you wouldn't try?
That you would give me a day before you took it away
Because you threw my world off track
All the scenery changed like it was snowing in April
But it melted just as fast.
You might as well have been rain
I should've told you better never than late.
We were better apart with the pieces of my heart kept away.
Do you know what you did, do you know what you did to me?
You were snow in April, you were snow in April.
This time I never shed a tear. Why should I have been expecting anything different? Instead of mourning, my heart erected a barrier and adopted a numb attitude towards interpersonal relationships of any kind. I didn't hear from Walt again until December of 2014.
Andre's song, that had been written in 2011, and recorded in 2012, fulfilled the prophecy foretold in its lyrics, in its totality -- and at my expense -- in 2013.
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