I have always associated certain landscapes with certain people. Each having distinct personalities, sometimes geographical region and human soul overlap. In my heart I keep a catalogue of such.
I remember connecting Jeremy Sheehan, my first real boyfriend, to the state of Colorado. In particular with the dramatic terrain known as the Front Range. I’m not sure how I would have explained it then, especially having never seen him here, but it still rings true within my 42 year old heart.
He left "this sweet old world”, as Lucinda sings, twenty years ago this month. He had just turned 23.
At that time he was living back in Chicago and I was going to school in Nashville. We were not “together” then. But our history of adolescent romance began when I was 14 and never really ended. It was intermittent, tumultuous, and full of ache, break, deceit, and desire -- plus the peculiar, tenacious sentimentality that often outlives our first loves.
At his funeral I asked his mother if I could place a piece of paper in the casket with him. It held a poem I had written after seeing him a few months before. I imagine she was at a loss on all counts. In response she nodded briskly.
Jeremy had been my muse all along. Granted, I was inspired most by the torment -- nearly all the songs and poems I wrote about or because of him were full of longing and sorrow. The helpless sense of not ever being able to get close enough to the one thing you want to get closest to, the impossibility of romantic love. How could it feel better than most anything I had known to entwine my body with his, while at the same time in so many ways we were hopelessly at odds? We could really provoke each other’s ire. We could leave each other in the crossfires of life and walk away.
Jeremy was willing to go places I would not. He always seemed like he was running somewhere. Like he knew about something on up ahead and he didn't have time to explain it to me. He just had to get there himself.
Not being around each other for a spell, going on with our own lives, did nothing to quell the storms of emotion that seemed to find us each time we met again.
Somehow I imagined the thread between us would endure. I secretly hoped that “someday” we would settle back together. Maybe in the future, maybe in the mountains.
Is it place-and-time that has led me here, to writing about a forlorn subject I have managed to largely put out of my mind over the years? Context is alive, present and pertinent, and I can’t help thinking about this person for whom I felt so many things (still do) and penned so many lyrics.
I am in Colorado, in the mountains. This time of year, in September, the month of both his birthday and passing, how could I look at the changing colors, the magnificent peaks, lines, skies -- all with so much clarity and aliveness-- and not think about Jeremy?
Twenty years after his passing the mysteries of love still haunt me, as well as the inconclusiveness of death. Visages of Jeremy come to me in dreams, and I know it’s not really him. But who is it? And where is he?
Three years before he died I wrote “Skeleton Song”, it is on my very first album. In it the lines: “I can’t be your wife, I can’t be your mother, I can’t call myself your girlfriend… But if we --- once -- were lovers -– how --- does that end?”
When you are a veteran of something, in this case love, you surely hope you’ve won some wisdom along with the inevitable scars. In the years since Jeremy disappeared I have lived and loved fully. I have lost, again and again. Still longing survives, desire can find us no matter where we've retreated.
Experience helps to build us, layer upon layer. It is not the same as having answers -- I still have none of those.
I do recall, not perfectly, the poem I wrote after his death.
It was accepted to my college’s literary journal, and I remember reading it aloud to peers and professors, a surreal experience as the emotion of it all still had quite a hold on me.
Two decades later, I can walk down a mountain road in Evergreen, Colorado whispering the lines to myself as they return and still find myself in tears.
Here I am somewhere along the unforgiving spiral of Time, just wanting to say hello again, Jeremy.
Here you go, once more:
There are stretches of love on life’s landscape
That never rest beneath the skies.
Like a valley’s hungry waters,
Or a cricket’s song at night.
Willful as wolves move, tireless over land.
Desire that by its nature
can never be fulfilled.
We too have been like this.
I can say “I know what love is.”
And now that you have traveled on ahead
And must know now what I can only guess –
Rest easy, rest easy in my love.
Rest easy now, rest easy in my love.
As easy as it was
When it had only just begun –
Like the first time we ever held hands.