Last week my mother was going through some cardboard boxes in their garage and discovered a red CD among the contents. A plain write-able CD in a clear, cheap case, nothing of incredible interest. But scrawled in red Sharpie marker it said “Moving Mix…Love you, Wes”–the writing unique in its blend of cursive and print, like much of Wesley’s writing; he could not decide from word to word what his hand would write so it vacillated between swirling and neat with loops and slashes across the plastic disc. Wesley burned this set of 12 songs when Julia and I tearfully moved to Tallahassee in September of 2010 without him as he remained in Atlanta another 6 months while searching for a job to reunite our little family. The songs chosen have a common theme of love and the sadness of distance and being apart. The songs now hauntingly play through the speakers of my car; the distance taking another meaning than upon first hearing 4 years ago. In our relationship I was given many “mixed tapes” by Wesley and was exposed to bands, songs and genres I had never known; obscure Irish bands like The Corrs, soulful Alison Krauss and to be honest, surprising smatterings of Celine Dion, Shakira and Spice Girls! Wesley’s musical interests were nothing if not diverse. He was always so much more conscientious about sending tapes and sweet packages to me than the other way around when we were dating long distance. I would get care packages from Strasburg, VA in the early days of our dating and I’d tear into the plain manila envelope spilling cards, tapes and other little trinkets on my childhood bed at my parent’s house where I had landed after college graduation. I would listen to the tapes non-stop in my blue 1997 Toyota Camry as I drove back and forth from my first adult job at the Florida House of Representatives, often jamming along at red lights and sometimes crying as my heart hurt from missing Wesley so much across the miles. My adult life was beginning and these songs formed the soundtrack of my life and of our life that was just beginning.
I fondly remember the first song on the first tape that he sent to me in late 2000 when Wesley Cline was still just a voice on the other end of the phone, merely my friend Stephanie’s co-worker pal. Wesley sent to me, among other tunes, “When You Say Nothing at All” It was so beautiful to me and apropos for Wesley who was very quiet when we first met and started talking but who, in his quietness could provide silent and steady reassurance and love. Wesley still provides that steadiness, that stalwart constancy even though he is seen no longer, he quietly whispers to me that all is well and to breathe in, to breathe out and not to lose hope and faith.
I have discovered with some fervor that I endeavor (another Wesley word, by the way) to find those mixed tapes from early 2001 and 2002. I search the house for them like my own personal grail and hope to stumble upon one to hear the songs so lovingly chosen by Wesley and specifically the one where Wesley is speaking to me on the B-side of his musical medley, saying nothing of real consequence but just chatting to me about his day and how much he cannot wait to see me soon. I fear that as our music was digitized, and our cars ceased to have tape decks in favor of CD players and USB ports I got rid of them because I had the false assurance that I’d never need to have a tape to hear Wesley’s voice, and he would always be beside me. Now I search the boxes that we moved from house to house, city to city, hoping to find a cassette with Wesley’s musical selections or soft voice. In looking for these elusive plastic rectangles I discover other beautiful treasures and often sort through boxes of cards Wesley wrote to me, pictures of me that he took with flowers in my hair my 25 year old self looking so young and so carefree.
Often I find that songs have very different meanings to me since losing Wesley. It is like I have heard lyrics and melodies with the cotton of ignorance in my ears and heard the words of loss and joy without truly listening. I find inexplicable comfort in the lyrics of Mumford and Son’s, “I Will Wait” of the hope we find beyond the days we know here on earth or crushing sadness in Vanessa Carlton song, “A Thousand Miles” the lyrics ringing with loss now that stretches beyond an absence of days or weeks but a separation I live with of years and decades.
The words of songs help me through my grief journey as I find happiness at hearing a new song now and think, “Wesley, you should hear this new Taylor Swift song…it is so dumb, but SO catchy!” or hear a song like Norah Jones’ “Come Away with Me” that once wistfully played from our car radio as we drove through the night from Atlanta to Tallahassee as we headed to see my parents, our hands finding each other across the darkness as our fingers intertwined strong and sure. We were sure of each other then, we are sure of each other now. The melody and lyrics of hundreds of songs link us across the gulf of grief, the other side of it I cannot see but the songs I can hear. The music drifts over the distance and we are connected.