Close to You, Part V
Updated: Apr 5, 2020
Click for Part I.
Click for Part II.
Click for Part III.
Click for Part IV.
The concert pianist dutifully greeted his audience at the doors of the auditorium after the show. I stood off to the side, and watched as people put two and two together as to who we were: these young people they'd been seeing aboard their ship that didn't seem to have any business being there until now (like many cruise lines, this one catered to the recently retired). They glanced sideways from the pianist to me and seemed to raise their eyebrows with approval. If only what they thought they saw were still true.
We strode back to our cabin. I was remarkably calm, having resigned myself to the earlier events of the day. I was leaving because he'd told me to, and this was my last night. I knew he usually felt insanely horny after a performance, but didn't think I'd have any luck with that, and wasn't sure if I could handle it even if I did. I just wanted to go invisible and be as scarce as possible before getting out of there, without making him think less of me than he already did.
He glumly undressed while I showered off the makeup and put on pajamas.
"Let's go to bed, darling," he instructed.
I wasn't tired. He always wanted to go to bed earlier than I did, and back in the day when we had sex all the time, that was fine because I was exhausted. But he hadn't worn me out once on this trip, and I'd just lay there, the compliant peace-keeper pushover that I can be, wide awake for hours until my biological clock deemed it time to doze. Then in the morning, we'd wake up when he got up. On top of jet lag recovery and allergies, I was extremely sleep deprived.
At least he wasn't horny.
I slid myself under the covers and stuffed my arm under the pillow, facing the wall.
"Darling?" he implored.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, asking me to roll over. I complied, confused. He took my hand. I flinched.
"It's our last night together, darling," he said with raw resignation. "In honor of...us."
I nodded, and gripped him back as his fingers entwined around mine. He turned out the light and kissed me, then adjusted himself facing me on his pillow, and fell asleep. I lay there and silently cried. Why did it take a break up for him to show any romantic affection? I didn't want his pity. Was this an act of pity? Or did he do it because he wanted to?
My eyes adjusted to the moonlight that snuck around the lifeboat hanging at the window, and I watched his face as he slept. He was remarkably still, for someone prone to night fits. After what could've been a full hour, I finally cried myself to sleep.
I woke up to my shoulder aching with stiffness and my arm tingling. Our hands were still entwined, and he was as motionless as a log, completely unmoved. Is this what he needed to sleep peacefully?
I never wanted to let go, never wanted to leave, and never could've of my own free will. I'd flown all the way to Australia to be close to him, and this was one of the rare moments where I finally got to be.
But I needed to adjust myself a little bit. Maybe I could lay on my back and hold his hand with my left instead.
I began to press myself up, and he suddenly jolted awake and punched me square in the eye.
I landed back on the mattress with a grunt, which seemed to bring him back to reality.
"Oh my GOD!" he exclaimed. "Darling, are you alright? I'm so sorry!!"
"What?" I was completely stunned. "I guess."
The truth was it felt like a relief. Maybe he should've beaten me more. Finally my body was carrying a bit of the pain and my soul wasn't left with the burden all by herself. I felt more numb than pain, and I dryly recognized that it was a welcome change of pace.
"I'm so sorry! I'm such a spaz in my sleep," he held my face in his hands. "So sorry."
I let myself lay down and began feeling with my fingers if there was any swelling. And just as abruptly as he'd sat up and slugged me, he rolled over to face the wall, and began snoring. Thus was the end of our intimacy.
Morning came, and I dressed. I felt like I was attending my own funeral. My eye was tender, but didn't show any bruising. He watched me as I got ready for departure, and wondered why I was checking my face like so in the mirror.
"Do you remember what happened last night?" I asked quietly.
"After the show?"
"No, after we went to sleep."
"You punched me."
His jaw dropped. "I did?"
I nodded once.
"Darling, I am so sorry," he was mortified. "I can't believe it...I've done the craziest shit in my sleep... Does it hurt?"
"It's a little tender, but does it look bruised?"
"No, I honestly can't see it. Oh my God..."he groaned as his shoulders slumped down.
He helped wheel my luggage to the lobby, where we would complete my disembarkation with Eleana. We sat in agonizing silence on a couch and watched a line of cruise guests waiting to go down the gangway. Meanwhile, my luggage was taken for customs inspection.
The cruise director walked by, and spotted us.
"Oh! Good morning!" he jovially approached. "I just loved your show last night, and the guests have been raving about you!"
"Aww, thank you," the pianist put on his best conversational face.
"And you! You're his guest? Are you a musician too?" he turned to me and looked genuinely interested.
"Yes," a lump was welling in my throat. I had always known this conversation would happen with the cruise director, only I didn't think I'd have to decline his interest because I'd be leaving. "I'm a vocalist, and violinist."
"How fantastic! I'd love to hear you!" he looked excitedly back and forth between us. If this conversation had happened sooner, he could've gotten three nights of entertainment out of us for the price of two.
It killed me to have to say it, but over the lump in my throat I murmured, "Thank you, I would've loved to. But unfortunately, I'm disembarking today."
"Oh no! That's too bad!" he seemed genuinely disappointed.
"Yes, something came up."
The pianist's jaw clenched and he fixated on the ground.
"Well I hope everything's alright?" the CD asked.
"Yes, it should be. I just need to...go take care of it."
He could tell the situation was grave, but wondered why I was being so vague. "Well it was lovely to meet you, and I wish I could've heard you. I hope you have a safe journey, and good luck with everything."
"Yes, thank you, it was nice to meet you too, I'm certainly sad to have to leave early."
We sat in silence until my luggage returned, and we made it through the line to get off the gangway. We were back in beautiful Hobart, Tasmania, the southern-most state of Australia. The last time I'd been here had been in the heart of summer, January 2014: the first time I ever had to say goodbye to this same man, only it was under happier circumstances. He had reached the end of his ten day contract aboard my ship, and those ten days were the first time we'd taken the leap of faith from deep karmic friends to passionate romantic lovers. On that day, he was the one set to fly back to Sydney, and I was sailing to New Zealand. My ship was scheduled to return to Sydney one week later for an overnight -- so we would get to see each other again before too long. Regardless, it's gut wrenching in a way that can only be understood by those who have experienced it first hand, for a loved one to leave the ship, even when there's nothing sad about the circumstances. We glumly had gotten a coffee at the cafe by the harbor, taken a few selfies together at his request, then walked to the taxi queue where I hid my tears as he drove away. A friend of a friend, Daryl Peebles, whom I'd never met before but had heard legendary stories about for years, was scheduled to pick me up to give me a personalized tour of Hobart, and that was meant to help keep my mind off my man's departure.
Now we had come full circle. I was the one disembarking in Hobart to fly back to Sydney, and he was sailing to New Zealand, but things were over now; yet saying goodbye for him to head back to sea was just as agonizing as ever. He elected to go for a coffee again, and we walked back into that same damn cafe. I requested a selfie, and naturally we both looked like ghosts. My same friend of a friend Daryl, came to pick me up for round two of a personalized tour of Hobart, and arrived before the ship sailed. My flight was leaving late and I thought it would prevent any thoughts of self-harm if I spent the day with someone. I had debriefed him about the circumstances of my surprise visit and why I suddenly needed his help -- if his schedule happened to be free, just so he'd be prepared. I was lucky he said yes.
Imagine Daryl's surprise when I introduced him to Australia's most prestigious living concert pianist, who also happened to be the son of the Senior Crown Prosecutor of New South Wales. That's alright, Daryl had his fair share of the spotlight, as he'd been on the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" with the mutual friend who'd introduced us, coincidentally named Darryl Peebles (with two r's -- the distinction must be made!). Leave it to me to be the catalyst that introduces two people with very different but very active and successful careers in entertainment, while at my rock bottom.
The pianist that had formerly been mine helped load my luggage into Daryl's trunk, gave me a brief self-defensive hug, and a kiss on the cheek.
"I'll see you when I get back," he said, business-like. "Let me know when you arrive safely to your hotel."
And without looking back, he rushed to the ship. I watched in shock, while Daryl unlocked my car door. I got inside, and had the melt down that had been coming for more than a week, in front of this grandfatherly man who barely knew me, who'd only met me once before, 16 months ago.
"It's alright mate, take all the time you need," he said softly as he handed me a napkin. "These things are so hard."
Kindness, empathy, free of debt or expectation -- so foreign to me after the year I'd survived. I had no idea how to receive them with grace. My shoulders heaved with sobs.
"I don't even understand what happened! And I was there!!" I lamented.
If I knew then what I know now about addiction and withdrawal.
When maybe half an hour had passed, and the earthquake of grief reduced to occasional aftershocks, Daryl offered with a gentle smile, "The worst is over now, of what can happen. Might I suggest, mate: the healing has already begun."
I numbly ate the most spectacular burger at a local restaurant -- the same exact burger at the same joint we'd eaten at the last time I was there. It was the best, most unbelievable burger I've ever had, but I was incapable of feeling the pleasure of it. Daryl generously treated me. I forced myself to take in the vistas of Hobart, to divert my mind, then walked around his gardens and met his elderly kitty. He showed me his ventriloquy puppets, and told more stories of the act he shared with my friend Darryl, who lived back in North Carolina where I'd gone to college.
Daryl dropped me off at the airport and sent me on my way with a hug, and made me promise to check in with him for the rest of my stay, to make sure I was managing. His generosity that day had been completely selfless. I was just a human being in dire need who washed up in his hometown, and he took me under his wing even though he owed me nothing. I can only hope to pass that kindness on, and that it makes its way back to him someday.
I boarded that plane extremely congested, from all the crying and the non-stop allergies. Takeoff and landing were agony, as my ears and sinus cavities whistled and squeaked with the changes in pressure. I was elated to finally land.
I took a taxi to my hotel, and while it was a bit dark and dank with no wifi, the mattress was soft, the bathroom had a huge tub, and I couldn't detect any mold or residual smoke.
I texted the pianist to alert him of my arrival, and he said, "I'm so glad. Have a good night."
Well ok then, I guess I will.
I turned up the heat, higher than most Aussies tend to set it, and cried myself to sleep.
I slept until almost 1pm that first night, finally getting to be back on my natural circadian rhythms. Convincing myself to get out of bed was another story, entirely. But I'm no stranger to depression, or pressing on when it's the opposite of what you want, so I created a mental list of things I ought to do. I wanted to find a laundromat, and I wanted to buy some food so I didn't have to eat at a restaurant every meal. My Aussie SIM card came to the rescue, and I navigated to the nearest grocery store to pick up laundry detergent, cereal, and some other snacks.
When in Oz you make friendly conversation with everyone you interact with, and as I spoke with the cashier, she suddenly furrowed her brow in thought, and stopped to say, "Where are you from?"
"You are!? I couldn't quite place your accent but I thought for sure you were from Australia!"
"Really?" I was curious as to what she was hearing.
I'd love to live here, I think I'd fit in rather well, but I guess that's less likely to happen now, I thought. At least the locals seem to agree.
"Well thank you, I take that as a compliment," and I tried to smile.
Back at the laundromat, I started making a mental list of the things I wanted to do while here on my "vacation". Go to milongas, go to jazz jams, find possible auditions to attend -- those were all things I'd hoped to do even before the breakup, to see if this were a city where I could really live. Then the touristy things, like walk around the famous places, go to the aquarium. I let my list end there, just in case the pianist wanted to hang out a little when he got back to the city.
I cried myself to sleep again that night, having gotten no word from the pianist, and not having the gumption to reach out to him myself.
The sun came out the next day, so I bundled up against the brisk fall air and wandered towards Darling Harbor. Still no word from the pianist, although I'm not sure why I was expecting it. My mind had finished its numb phase, and was now overanalyzing everything that happened, trying to understand why, and how, if at all, I'd been at fault for this relationship failure. I walked through the streets without seeing, passed the chocolate shops without noticing the aroma, lost in a trance of mental torture.
At one point I needed a snack, so I stopped into a convenience store on the corner. I engaged the cashier in conversation as best I could, but eventually he smirked at me and quipped sarcastically, "You could smile a little."
I looked up from my bag of snacks, completely stupefied. Smiling was so outside my realm of possibility that day, I didn't know how to respond. I had nothing left to offer the world, and couldn't comprehend why I literally had lost it all.
There I was, a heartbroken girl, on the other side of the world and the other side of the equator from where I lived, wandering around a strange city in a strange country where the only person I knew had kicked me to the wayside, and that person happened to be the only man I'd ever wanted to marry. I was recently brutally unemployed after losing my dream job (read about that here), and for the life of me couldn't figure out why I still had to be alive. And that cashier had derisively suggested I try smiling.
I staggered without seeing, down to The Rocks, around and through the Sydney Opera House, past the cruise ship terminal. While climbing the zig zagging steps underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I started to hear a song. It played in my mind and got louder and louder, and was painfully slow and hopelessly dark. I sat down to hum along. I eventually realized it was Burt Bacharach's "Close to You", but in an arrangement I'd never heard before. It was everything I wanted to say, everything I'd felt about the pianist, but shouldn't anymore. I could never be "close to you" again. I never once said "I love you", or got a chance to show him all the ways in which I found him attractive, endearing, exceptional. My chance for anything good with him was over. The tune rang in my head for hours.
One year later, I found myself in my best friend's house in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I was working a short contract at a local theater, and Andre DiMuzio had been so kind as to let me crash at his place. We also hoped to get some work started on our first full length album for The Hourglass, so one warm morning, we sat on the couch. Andre was wrapped up in his headphones, scrutinizing the previous day's session. I sat with his guitar, gingerly strumming the chords to "Close to You", as clearly as I could remember them, reliving the memory of that arrangement.
Andre paused the track to think, and sighed. Then he noticed I was lost in my own song, listened for a phrase, then asked, "That's nice! What are you playing?"
Before the afternoon was over, we had made this: