Trying something different here, so bear with me. If it doesn't work, I owe you a beer.
It happened easily enough. Too early in the morning, too early to function let alone answer emails, I sat behind the wheel, steering myself to work. Simon and Garfunkel were singing about wanting to go home. I could relate. God, I love this song, I thought. It faded a minute or so later, the cover of the album sliding off of my screen. A new one appeared just as quickly and immediately, I recognized it. Doubt I’d ever really listened to the whole track before, doubt I’d heard it since hearing it for the first time six years ago, but instantly, it all came back to me.
And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.
I've lived a life that's full.
I've traveled each and ev'ry highway;
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way.
The ship was long and sparkling white. I stood before it on the dock, feeling like Rose Dewitt Buckater, or some equally important person, also with three names but without the fashionable hat or look of dread. I was eager in a borrowed baseball cap.
Anxious to get away from the shoreline, to flee my life after a first year of college that brought other firsts, confusion, pain, growth. To establish myself outside of the boundaries that had been drawn for me and to rest there on my own two feet. I was ready to be reassured that I had made the right choice in my relationship. Ready to get to know the man my sister called her boyfriend. Ready to re-learn my sister, to catch up on all of our lost time. To slip back into the role of little sister, to be protected and spoiled, and to be the one who makes a few mistakes for a change.
When I leapt from the edge of the platform into the interior of the ship, I felt that I had been granted long-awaited access to “the big kids’ club.”
There were four of us—my sister and her boyfriend, me and mine. We settled into our rooms, and learned where we would sleep and eat, where adults would probably not want to go, where families with children were not allowed go, what to do if this ship went down, too. It was all far too much like Titanic. Like a dream, just the same.
Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.
I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way.
We ate stately dinners in the stately dining room. We toasted with wine, three of us, only my companion passed on the alcohol. It makes me laugh to look back now and see how he, this 20-year-old college student, turned down free alcohol for five whole days. An anomaly, for sure.
We walked the length of the ship late at night, peering overboard into the water rushing below, black and glassy. Thinking What if I just jumped? What if I slipped? We felt so powerful aboard the ship, but as the waves beat against the sides and the wind whipped hair across our faces, we tried to ignore how the water would ravage us, leaving nothing behind.
Deep inside our staterooms, without even the smallest thread of light shining from under the bathroom door, we felt the eternal darkness of death. Of invisibility. We acted accordingly—as if those were our final hours, breaths on earth. We fell heavily into sleep, the four of us emerging into the piercing sunlight sometimes as late as noon the next day. Cursing ourselves for sleeping in on our one, glorious vacation, but just the same quietly satisfied. How deliciously adult we looked and felt—lounging by the pool on the top deck with hangover headaches, sipping beers and people watching.
Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it my way.
I've loved, I've laughed and cried.
I've had my fill; my share of losing.
And now, as tears subside,
I find it all so amusing.
After dinner, we found seats at the back of a small theatre for karaoke night. My sister bought me drinks, enough to make up for lost time, to make us feel some manufactured sense of connection we would eventually grow into. Before long, I felt the warm burning of alcohol in my cheeks. The elevated silliness of a drink I only knew about from Carrie Bradshaw. With Cosmopolitan rolling down my throat, then my arms and legs and neck as liquid slipped over the edge of my glass, I felt just like her. So grown in the black halter dress that still hangs in my closet.
Ship guests traipsed on and off the stage, suffering (themselves and us, too) through renditions of songs by Aretha Franklin, The Village People, Cher. It was all a little cloudy, but sharply came to attention when a short, slim older gentleman sauntered onstage. Under a mess of white hair, he told us it was his 80th birthday. I cooed how cute he was. He wore a suit and called out to the crowd that he was sorry for the “old geyser” song, but he thought he’d sing us his favorite. The music began and he started slowly, eventually catching on to the flow of the lyrics, letting his voice deepen at the end of the each line, solidifying “I DID it my WAY.” Pleading with us to understand years of bad decisions, other women, missteps, loss, misplaced anger. “I did IT MY way.” He played around with the inflections as each verse came and went, and I believed him. He had done it his way.
By the end of it, tears were rolling down my cheeks. Lightweight, somebody joked.
To think I did all that;
And may I say - not in a shy way,
"No, oh no not me,
I did it my way."
For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows -
And did it my way!*
While the memory is as vibrant in my mind as it could be, it would be silly to suggest one sweet senior at karaoke night changed me forever. That sitting there, newly 19, with a cocktail buzz or more, curls in my hair, a man’s triumphant song of a life well—or at least defiantly enough—lived crawled inside my brain and started shaking things up. Pushing and pulling levers in my subconscious with the recklessness and randomness of youth.
But six months later, I walked away from the comfort of doing it one way—a good way, but not my way. I woke up in a panic, placed my feet on the floor and made a decision, my own, for the first in years. I scribbled out the plans that had been set for me; I gripped the pencil more tightly with my fingers and drew my own course. I will let others down, I told myself, accepting it. I will disappoint you to make myself happy. Scratching everything that came before, the roles I had stumbled into and stayed too long, and starting over. Refusing, like Rose, to hang on to something that had already been sunk—slowly drifting away at first, then more quickly, more steadily, slipping below the surface, down and down, further and darker, until it reached its final resting place on the ocean floor.
The screen changed again; another song came on. Alone in the car, I awoke to the sound of Leonard Cohen’s voice.
*Frank Sinatra “My Way,”1969