in Introspection, Personal History, Stories

Twenty-Two Year Reflection

One night, when I was twelve, I stayed up late to watch the ten o’clock news with Dad. It was the day of the first space shuttle launch, and we wanted to see the footage of the shuttle on the launch pad, the shuttle in flight, the shuttle lifting into space. (Dad possessed a strong conviction that manned spaceflight is important to our future as a species, and he imparted that conviction to me.)

We watched the entire newscast, including the end credits, which featured slow-motion images of the shuttle launch set to ethereal new age music. Dad was enthralled. The music, especially, captivated him.

He called the television station in the morning and learned that the song on the end credits was from the soundtrack to the Carl Sagan television series Cosmos. The song was called Heaven and Hell, Part 1 by someone named Vangelis. (Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire soundtrack would become popular several months later, making him a household name; his Blade Runner work was still a year away).

Dad went out that day and bought the record album.

He played it repeatedly, and we kids even played it when he wasn’t around. I liked Vangelis’ Alpha and Tomita‘s The Sea Named Solaris. But Dad — Dad played the entire album, loudly, whenever he could.

Though Dad bought the record for Heaven and Hell, the track he loved most was the Bulgarian Shepherdess Song. We hated it, and we told him so: the bagpipe-like instruments, the indecipherable lyrics, the strange shrieking of the woman’s voice all grated on our nerves.

But Dad loved it, and he listened to the song again and again.

One morning I woke, in darkness, to the Bulgarian shepherdess wailing from the living room. In our 1000-square foot trailer, sound carried well, and in this case, the volume was set quite high. I tried to go back to sleep, but it was impossible with that woman wailing.

I got out of bed and walked down the hall, through the kitchen, to the living room. I looked in at Dad. He was sitting, alone, on the edge of the couch, staring out the window at the still-black dawn. He was dressed for work, in his business suit; his wild curly hair almost looked neat.

“Dad, I’m trying to sleep,” I said.

He didn’t seem to hear me.

“Dad,” I said.

“Go back to sleep, bug,” he said, but he didn’t look at me. His expression didn’t change. He stared out into the blackness.

“But Dad…” I said.

“I said ‘go back to bed’, bug,” and though his appearance was unaltered, something about his voice told me it was best not to disobey.

I crawled back in bed and lay in the dark, listening to the Bulgarian shepherdess again and again and again, wondering what it was Dad was doing, sitting alone, staring into the darkness.

A while later I heard the front door open and close, heard Dad clip-clop clip-clop down the walk to his car. Skrp, skrp. He scraped the ice from the windows of the Datsun 310GX. The car door slammed. As he pulled away, the Bulgarian shepherdess continued to wail from the living room.

I’m older now, but I still listen to the Cosmos soundtrack; it’s a great album. In fact, I own it on vinyl, cassette tape, and compact disc, and at the end of March I purchased the deluxe expanded edition of the album (which is better than the original in some ways, worse in others — I like both).

I find myself drawn to that song which I hated in my youth, the Bulgarian Shepherdess Song. I still don’t understand the lyrics, but I think, perhaps, I understand their meaning. I understand what Dad heard, I understand what he was doing that morning, staring out at the darkness, listening to the shepherdess sing.

He was thirty-five. I am thirty-four.


On 20 May 2003 (04:53 PM),
Dana said:

Shall I hazard a guess? Is someone feeling the inexorable march of time wearing away at the strands of his life? Has the Christmas (or Birthday, or whatever) sweater become threadworn and shabby, with inexpert patches at the elbows and loose threads dangling from the edges, ready to pull the whole thing to bits?

Or am I projecting?

On 20 May 2003 (07:55 PM),
J.D. said:

Nah, I was just feeling a bit melancholy after hearing the song, and I started to think about Dad.

Although, if you substitute body for sweater, perhaps your analogy is apt. 🙂

On 20 May 2003 (08:11 PM),
Dana said:

Not analogy, metaphor. At least, that’s what I was aiming for. Ah, well.

Are you ready for surgery?

On 20 May 2003 (10:13 PM),
Dave said:

I think that there comes a time for every man (I can’t speak to the woman side of the coin, of course) at which we realize that despite our promises as youths, despite our best intentions, and most of all despite our best efforts to be someone or do something different than that which we see around us, we take stock and realize that our youth is gone and that we have become that which we feared most- our fathers. Sometimes that’s not a good thing. Sometimes it is. Most off all I think that we just feel very keenly the loss of the illusion that we could have changed and that we had a choice in the matter coupled with the sudden shock of being confronted with a reality that we thought we had a lot more time to change.

In the course of my practice I’ve seen men handle this transition in many different ways. Count yourself lucky, JD, that at the end of the day your father came back home. Many don’t.

Ok, I’m done being maudlin for the evening.

On 20 May 2003 (10:57 PM),
Virginia said:

What can I say? I miss him!! Why was I blessed with a life span of (at this point) 10 more years than my brothers? At this time Steve knew he had cancer. If he was thirty-five it would have been the winter of 1980-1981. Ice generally
comes in Dec. or Jan. Mom, your Grandma, was also dying of cancer. We had just found it out.
She died July 3, 1981. One day when I was down at Steve’s place he had just bought a CD of Enya. He loved the song “How Can I Keep From Singing” That was in the early 90’s. By that time he had resigned himself to his condition. He was a great person.

On 21 May 2003 (08:02 AM),
Nikchick said:

I have two handwritten books of poems that I collected in high school. About half are my own poetry that I thought represented my best efforts at the time. The other half are poems from issues of Patina, or poems that I exchanged with JD, Andrew Parker, and Mitch Sherrard. (Strangely, I also have poems from David Carlson and Darren Misner…)

I also have one poem that Steve wrote and that I find just as touching today as I did when I was an intense, naive, romantic 14 year old. This is it:


If I do not sing,
My music
Will break its bonds
And cause great damage
To my soul
And maybe yours.

My music is love.
My music is freedom.
My music is joy.

My song is for you.