Time, a British drag queen with hit records once told me, is like a clock of the heart. Meaning, or at least this is how my 10-year-old self interrupted those words, time passes and feelings along with it. But love? I don’t know if love ever passes. If all of this seems rather sad and confusing like that girl you sat next to in 10th grade art class, that isn’t my intention. It’s just that I think a lot about time and loving someone forever during the summer. I think about all of this and I think about Bernadette Peters.
In 1997, I had returned to Los Angeles from a jaunt around South America. I was 24 with no job and no apartment. So I couch crashed, went to clubs 7 nights a week, did extra work in movies and somehow found a way to drink and party every night with no money. Oh to be 24 in the 90’s in LA. I gathered a group of good gal pals and a boyfriend so I lived my life-like some flapper song about a party girl who danced her cares away. Of course it was way messier than that and always problematic. It was particularly troublesome when real life interrupted my Playboy-gayboy lifestyle. In June of that year, I received a voicemail (on a real-life answering machine!) that my grandfather had died. All of the sudden, the gin joint darkened. The record playing “Anything Goes” stopped. The lights went out. I was numb for the first time in my life not due to drugs or alcohol but because of real, deal category 5 grief. I fell into a black hole and didn’t feel shit until I was able to get on the plane and go the funeral in Denver. Except for about two hours with Bernadette Peters. La Peters in 1997 was touring with an album called Sondheim Etc. wherein the Broadway songstress performed, you guessed it, Sondheim songs as well as songs from the zillions of musicals she starred in. My roommate at the time who worked at a big time talent agency scored tickets to her show in Los Angeles. The timing was shitty. Just a few days after my grandfather died and the night before I went home for the funeral. But timing, schiming. It was Bernadette Peters. A legend. A goddess. An icon. Especially to musical theatre nerds like myself. So we went. The grief of the time coupled with my 90’s drug induced memory loss has made the exact details of the show fuzzy. However, I do remember seeing 80’s stars like Joan Van Ark in the audience. I do remember feeling special because we got VIP parking and entered backstage. Most importantly, I remember Bernadette Peters blowing the roof of the place with her voice, warmth and personality. Each song was an education in Broadway, Sondheim and her career. And I lapped it up.Music,in the eye of that grief hurricane, delivered as it always had. Music took me outside of myself. Music let me know it was all gonna be okay. It never mattered the genre or where it came from. In this case, it came from Bernadette Peters. I’ll be forever grateful to her for providing light in what was about to become really dark period of my life.
Even though he was in his seventies, I naively thought my grandfather would always be around. Because up until that terrible fucking voicemail, he always had. In fact, I had talked to him just days before. According to family lore, I was the last grandchild to speak to him, a distinction that should have made me feel better but somehow always made me feel worse. This guy, Bob, my grandfather and my grandmother lived around the corner from us when I was growing up. They cheerfully showed up to every lame sporting thing I miserably participated in, cheered me on whenever I was on stage and most profoundly, read everything I ever wrote and loved it. Needless to say, I was heartbroken. I discovered many years later that I was so heartbroken in fact that I drank myself silly in hopes of forgetting how heartbroken I truly was. What I didn’t realize at age 24 was this guy Bob taught me much of what I knew about compassion, about helping people and about love. He did all of those things seamlessly and without condition, without wanting applause. He, although not an alcoholic himself, was instrumental in helping my dad get sober some 30 years ago. This wasn’t unusual for him. His funeral was filled with people he helped. People he helped at work. People he helped at church. People he helped learn how to read. And people like me who he helped simply by being himself.
Flash forward some 19 years later and I still can’t help thinking of him every summer. Except now it’s different. Now, it’s not this throbbing pain I’ve ignored and allowed to fester and getting worse due to neglect. That pain has been healed by time. Well, time and a fuck ton of personal growth. Today, I’m left with love. At age 43, I woke up on the anniversary of his death and I felt lucky to have loved him and to be by loved by him. I feel even luckier to have been shown how to love by him. I even feel lucky to have grieved him, as crazy as that might sound. I have healed and changed. Since getting sober in 2009, my life has been turned on its head and for the better. I’ve even seen Bernadette Peters again too. The last time was on Broadway in Sondheim’s Follies, the day before I married Michael in Central Park.
As I sit here with coffee in hand, on a hot summer morning, I remember something else from that show some 19 years ago. Bernadette Peters sang a song that night. A song that made a promise. A promise that time healed everything. It sounded lofty yet I clung to that promise. for the most part it’s turned out to be true. What I hadn’t heard in that song until recently, however,was the caveat.”Time heals everything”,the lyrics tell us, “but loving you.” That “but” in the song has also turned out to be true. Maybe hurt can go away. Maybe pain can dissipate. But love? I don’t think love ever passes. Thankfully.