Bold As Love by Jimi Hendrix, performed by Robben Ford
Anger he smiles tow’ring in shiny metallic purple armour.
Queen jealousy, envy waits behind him.
Her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground.
The lyrics up there are from one of my favorite songs of all time. The funny thing is, I had never thought about why I liked it, I really thought it was just another example of some of the most amazing songwriting and playing by Jimi Hendrix. But realization dawns and lets me see that it’s not one of his songs ever played on the radio and it’s not close to being popular, not like “Purple Haze” or “Wind Cries Mary”.
This weekend I had a conversation that made me suddenly realize why I actually liked this song so much. In fact, it dawned on me that I had started to listen to it more and more and love it more and more from the moment I first met and started dating my late wife, Andrea. You’d think it’s a strange thing, to be enjoying this song after speaking or thinking about my wife, but there’s a serious reason why. You see, this song is a brilliant interpretation of the emotions and feelings that we all go through, sometimes on a daily basis. Anger, envy, happiness, euphoria – they’re all there and they were perfect examples of the amazing woman that was Andrea.
Andrea, you see, had a condition called “synesthesia” (hopefully I spelled that right) where sounds, movement, emotion, they all come to the brain in association of color. Happiness had one color. My voice had another. Everything that she heard or saw had a color associated with it. My wife, Andrea, never realized exactly what made her see and think of the world so differently. I’d heard of and thought about synesthesia before. It’s an interesting prospect, that of having such a different view of the world. I always thought it must be why we ended up together. I didn’t see the world in views of color. I saw it in terms of rhythm and melody. Music is everywhere and I live it. I cannot work in pure silence. I cannot survive without a song running through my head, something usually I’ve heard or mostly invented in my head inspired by what’s around me. I usually write with headphones on to prevent myself from being distracted by it.
Andrea suffered a horrific bout of clinical depression. At one point, in a throwaway comment, she mentioned how the color had left her world. I hadn’t really thought about it until I realized that the chemical change in her head that was part of the depression also removed the colors of her world. It affected the synesthesia somehow and as a result, she was unable to cope.
But I’ve talked about that before. It’s what drew me, I’m sure, to that song. But I thought more about it this weekend as I had a conversation about my son, Noah. Noah has had lots of problems controlling his impulses. Anger, in particular, builds up in him and he cannot control it once it takes control of him. He’s very specific, controlling, and thoughtful in every move and decision he makes. But still, anger is the one color of the world he doesn’t understand fully. Andrea was exactly the same. It’s for that reason I seem to understand Noah more than so many other people.
I’ve made no secret that my relationship with Andrea’s father was strained at its best throughout the years. After Andrea passed away it’s been far worse. I don’t hate the man, though it would be very easy to. However, I cannot bring myself to forgive transgressions of the past that lead me there. I’m not going to troll that emotional well for you, unfortunately. This is about the conversation and not my inability to let go of a grudge.
You see, today, Mother’s Day, was hard enough. The world and the greeting card companies reinforce the whole thing and try to turn what should be a day to honor these amazing women into a massive scheme to make tons of money and let people like me fail even more miserably than normal. We’ve been struggling to keep food in the pantry this week because the IRS seems dead set on keeping my refund, though I’m not certain they would ever make much interest off of it. But in spite of the cost of gas we went over to see Andrea’s Mom, whose neural disease is taking a horribly bad turn. I’m not sure how many, if any, Mother’s Days she has left. So I brought the kids to see them and we got onto the topic of school, Noah, his struggles with his temper, and the sometimes over-reaction of other kids, teachers, and particularly parents. When Noah, Sam, Abbi or Hannah get hit or argue I tell them to buck up and fix it themselves. Find a way around the situation. The world would be so much easier if more parents understood and dealt with their children rather than going off the deep end when things happen yet ignoring their kids when they get home. Noah is a kid who is so smart and sees the world so differently – much like Andrea and I did – that he doesn’t fit in. Rather than leaving him alone others pick on him.
I made the comment about how Noah will hold onto the control as long as his little body can do it and then he loses that control and therefore control of his reactions as well. Noah is much like his mother in that once he gets into that situation and loses the control it’s like he gives into it all and loses himself. I know how to calm him down because it’s exactly the same as his mother, my beautiful wife Andrea’s issues.
Andrea’s father made the comment about how Andrea was the same way.
“You’re the only one who could stop her,” was his response. “What did you do?”
When I am lost and out of control, there have always been three people who could fix it for me. Andrea first, because when anything went right or wrong, she helped me talk it out. When I couldn’t get her, my Dad and then my Mom were the next in line. My parents knew exactly what I needed. All I could think today was how tragic it was for Andrea that she couldn’t count on the two people who she should count on above all others, all her life until she met me, to get her out of that situation when it hit.
Andrea and I had our arguments, that’s no secret. In fact, there were some doozies. But we always came through on the other side and my kids always knew that no matter how much we might have gotten on each others’ nerves, we always were able to fix it. We were home waking up together the next morning. Andrea, and Noah now, would get to the point where she wanted to get her point across. She’d get angry. She’d get upset. Then she’d give in to the anger, the man in the shiny metallic purple armor. There was no reasoning or control at that point. There’s only one thing you can do at that point. There was no magic trick, that’s what her parents never got and it makes me so sad. When she was that upset, the tears coming down her face – coming down Noah’s face – and all I had to do was go up and grab her.
There is a big difference between a hug and an embrace. A hug is a pleasant, quick, loving thing. An embrace is more. It’s an unspoken sentence; it’s a silent understanding. When Andrea was lost, an embrace, tight, loving, and beautiful was like a rope tethering her back to the shore. It was the lifeline that brought her back to me. It’s so easy when someone is angry to give into their anger and let it build. I did that early on and learned to notice the point where she was drifting away. Arguments are hard when you both want to entrench yourselves in your position and never let go of what you think is right. The true test of whether you love someone is knowing when the argument has gained control and realizing when you need to just . . . stop. Stop and assess what is wrong and whether you’re getting anywhere. For me, it was stopping the poking and prodding and realizing that I’d gotten us to the point where she was beyond knowing what the fight was about, she was simply lost. Not mad, not angry or evil, she was lost. Not out of control but not unable to maintain control. The best spouse recognizes this and stops everything knowing that she needs you.
I wish more couples would understand and notice that point. I think it’s probably a good reason so many people divorce or children end up distant from their parents. You just have to notice. If, in the throngs of passionate and angry discourse you cannot see what’s in front of you you’re not arguing, you’re yelling. I grew to realize there was more to our arguments than just the key thing and that pinnacle, the horrific point – one I didn’t see a ton, but did see – I could come to her, the anger making her get angry and push away until I put my arms around her shoulders and pulled my forearm and elbow around her chin, so my hand could hold the top of her head, play and caress with her hair, and simply say “it’s OK. We’ll figure it out.”
That’s all she wanted. It’s all she ever wanted. Someone to tell her she was OK and cared for. She wanted someone to bring her back. Noah is the same way. You have to be able to let go of the control yourself. You have to give in to the emotion yourself and realize that you’re not going to get anywhere. That temper and anger are showing you they need to be reassured that you love them unconditionally. I think about that and it makes me so sad that for 20 years of her life she felt like she couldn’t get through to the people she needed to give her that the most. We moved back here and that same little girl, the one who couldn’t control her impulses came back and I am angered and saddened myself because I think it’s also what made me lose her. The color of the world disappeared and I was her sole tie to the shore. By the end I was the only line and it was fraying as other lines broke. Eventually I couldn’t hold on any more and she left me, stranded by myself on the shore.
I see what happens with my son and as hard as it is to deal with I see his mother in him and realize that this is the most important thing. All 4 kids have a bit of that control issue. When their Mom left, they had one lifeline break. Two of their grandparents want more from them than they get themselves. I’m having to weave a larger and stronger rope to hold them here to the shore. I throw other lines from my Mom and Dad. But I’m the key line holding them here on the shore.
Now, my kids all come to me when they need something. I never tell them I don’t have time. I’ve seen what not spending the time does to someone and I lost my love as a result. I won’t let them do it. I know what Noah, Sam, Abbi and Hannah need when things are bad. If I don’t know, I plead for help to get it. It’s what you do as a parent.
I want them to feel the embrace, even when physically my arms aren’t there. I want more than anything for them to create more lines to the shore as they meet and love more people. No matter how difficult the situation I want them to know they’re not adrift.