Finishing Before I Forget

Christmas morning. After finding Santa’s kind gifts, celebrating with the girls, Lance, friend Todd and my mom and step-father…I am off to the ARCH to help sing songs for the homeless, to pass out good cheer…and pass out lots of hugs and hand rubbing (many freezing hands, and touch is one of the most important gifts you can share with the homeless…)

Who should I see this morning but Anastasia? She is in the same outfit as yesterday, but ready to sing sing sing.
Every song I sing, she sings an octave higher. It is as if one of the chipmunks is doing a duet with Karen Carpenter, my voice sounds so ridiculously low…

I meet Phillis. Phillis joins us…and she is a marvel! Not only does she have incredibly smooth, chocolate milk skin, but her smile is wide and beaming. We immediately hit it off..and she sings like Mavis Staple! Soon, we are formulating grooves behind Miss Anastasia, laughing and percolating rythyms beyond compare! “I’ll take you there!” sings Anastasia, and Phillis and I burst into, “You’ll take us where!?” and turn the phrase into a “wherawherawhera” a la Aretha…Mind you, I’m trying to play my guitar while dancing and singing and laughing. It’s a blast! A fellow walks up and tells Anastasia to sing in her real voice…”You’re too high!” he protests. She claps her hands (out of time, but joyfully) and totally ignores him. She prances around on her heels without a topple in sight.

I notice a man over in a corner, alone. He is wearing heavy sunglasses. After awhile, I reallize he is watching me. He removes his glasses and I see a giant shiner on his right eye. A scratch along his cheek. But as my group wraps up a song, we are swept over to another part of the room, a part of a moving mass of people, so we sing in another area of
the open forum for awhile.

Margaret is there, too, the young girl from yesterday. She runs up and gives me a super hug. I hug her back, careful not to thwack anyone with my guitar. She wants to sing “Joy to the World,” just the two of us. She leans over and tells Anastasia, “you can’t sing on this with us!” and Anastasia shakes her fake curls and says, “Well! You know how to wreck a Christmas!” and walks off in a huff. Margaret doesn’t care a whit. She’s excited. We are singing for her boyfriend, she says…”He’s just over there…See him? At that table?” I squint…which one, I wonder? But I shake, “Yea, I see him!” I say.

We sing the song twice through. The second time the karaoke people have arrived and bump into Margaret, shoving her slightly off balance. She is frantic and angry. “HEY!” she hollers. “Oh, NEVERMIND! It’s RUINED! Allll ruined NOW!” and stomps away to my, “Margaret, wait…hey, Margaret!” But she is off and swallowed up by a line of people consuming cookies and waiting to go upstairs for thermal underwear.

I take the moment to head back over to the man with the black eye. Yes, he is still there. I shyly walk around a corner and approach him from the side. I find the end of a desk, prop my guitar on my knee, and lean in to sing a quiet rendition of “Chestnuts Roasting on an open fire….” His face breaks into a grin. We are smiling, silently at one another…
I see his body relax.

“Thank you,” he whispers to me as I sing.

“HEY! I need to talk to you!” says a booming voice. I turn at the interruption, and shake my head slightly, “no…not now” I am saying and I return to singing….

When I finish, we hug. The man and I, strangers on a sunny, cold afternoon. Knowing we will never meet again, and letting the moment linger.

I turn to a row of seats, to this new man who is waiting to talk to me.

And here is my story:

The man begins to ramble, quickly. I stop him to ask his name. His name is Jerry, he says. He must apologize to me, twice now, he says. Slow down, I say. What are you needing to apologize to ME for, I say…

He says, “Well, I came to apologize to you about one thing and now I need to apologize to you for interrupting your song…”

“Oh, no!” I say…”No need…but I did need to finish the song, you understand…”

“Oh, yea…Yea, of course! I’m just sorry I didn’t shut up!” he says.

“Well, that is kind of you, but no worries…” I take his hand. He seems nervous.

He begins to tell me how he has been looking for me for two years. He had met me at another event on behalf of the homeless, and he and I had spoken, and I had promised to put him on my guest list for a show at La Zona Rosa.

“Oh! Oh, dear!” I say, a grimace on my face. “And…Did I forget to put you on the list?”

“No, no! Nothing like that…You kept your promise. You put me on the list. But I was mad. I was mad out of my skull.
I had been drinking and I knew if I walked across town to see your show, I would lose my place to sleep that night…
but I had promised YOU I would come to your show…So, I did it. I walked to your show, but when I got inside, well…”

And here he sort of fumbles. I squeeze his hand.

“Well…” he continues…”I was so drunk and mad I took it out on you and said some things at you on stage that weren’t very nice…”

I can’t recall any hecklers or mean folks at my show from that night, and I tell him so.

“Oh, no…I was horrible…” he looks embarrassed.

I reassure him. I tell him it is all ok and obviously it didn’t bother me at all…I ask him where he slept that night?

“In a stairwell…” he replies.

I feel horrible. I tell him how sorry I am that he slept out in the cold just to come see me sing! I am so honored, I say.
I stumble, too. What should I say? I feel for him.

He goes on to say that that is why he wanted to apologize because he was so sick with what he had done that night that he was sick for one whole week after that. Literally, physically, ill.

I tell him to let go of any thing he is holding on to because he has been so kind to find me and tell me his story.
And it makes me wish I could apologize as sweetly as he has to those I have hurt. The courage.

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