Dear Partner Letter #11: Life Changes

Songs & Stories From Home Episode 71



Bought a new shirt some new shoes made vacation plans
Can’t do what I want so I do what I can
If I couldn’t then it wouldn’t look like anything’s changed
Or that anything is different now that you’ve gone away


Got a haircut looked old friends up ordered carpet wall to wall
No controlling the big things so I deal with the small
If I couldn’t then it wouldn’t look like anything’s changed
Or that anything is different now that you’ve gone away


The little things mean a lot when they’re the only ones I’ve got
For telling me that nothing is the same
If they couldn’t then it wouldn’t look like anything’s changed
Or that everything is different now that you’ve gone away


©Copyright 1964 Love Gives More Music


That’s a video from the 80’s of McCoy and me singing Now That You’ve Gone Away. In 1983 I learned and relearned that we often have no control over monumental events that turn our lives upside down. I also discovered it’s helpful and healthy during those times to occasionally focus on the little things we do have some control over.


Dear Partner, 

In one of the last letters I talked about how life changing it can be when love is bound together with truth and truth with love. Looking back I realize a lot of my life has been a quest to do just that. Made more challenging because when I learned at twenty-two my dad had been in a mental institution when I was born everything I thought was true was thrown into doubt. And then in 1983 I discovered how much more I had left to learn about loving and being loved.

In the early morning of July 4th, two weeks after Sands’ death on Father’s Day, the phone rang. My younger brother, who had driven from Spokane to be with me for Sands’ memorial and burial, was back home and in distress. And while advised to wait until more was known, my experience the fortnight before told me that with or near my brother was the only place I wanted to be. I was in the car heading east in time to watch the sun come up, arriving in Spokane sometime before noon. 

It’s been more than thirty-five years, and still I struggle when talking about that time. The most important thing is that ten days later my brother was home, destined to go on to have a remarkable teaching career as well as continuing to be a great dad, husband, son, friend, citizen of the world, and brother.

And while I didn’t have words for it at the time, driving back to Seattle I realized my truth about our family’s relationship with mental illness and the silence that could surround it was not the same as that of my parents or my brothers. In the car that day the distance between love and truth left me feeling both lost and lonely.  

When I got home the house was clean. The fridge was restocked. At the time Susan and I had keys to each other’s houses. She had come in while I was gone and filled the place once again with love and life. We met shortly after I got back from the Lady 80’s tour at a dinner hosted by Drager and his wife, Louise. Something clicked. We fell in love. And it felt great. Still I had a lot to learn about why my first marriage failed and she was recently separated with a couple of young kids. Looking back it may have been too soon to be so involved. Then by the Summer of 83 in many ways it was too late. Though love is seldom that simple. There were times I would wonder what might have been if the day I got back from Spokane I’d known enough to go over to her house and knock on her door, or take out the key and let myself in. I didn’t. Then by the time I went and desperately pounded on her door it was truly too late.

The middle of August I unexpectedly learned for the first time in a casual conversation how serious things were for my dad in that mental institution.

In early September I was at your place. We were outside on the edge of the lake, that line between water and land. Leaning against your canoes, I told you everything about those last months. It was the first time I had told anyone what was, up till then, the whole story. You did what you often do. You listened. You were my witness. An important moment. For the two us. For me. Thirty-six years old. Just beginning to practice sharing my story. Just starting to have murmurs of how good it feels when someone hears us. 

A few days later I was in St. Paul with my cousin, Joanne. She’s where I’ve gone and continue to go when I’ve needed to sort things out. We got to know each other when she taught history in Spokane before becoming a child psychiatrist. Her first year teaching was my senior year in high school. And she would come to my football games on Friday nights. I’d visit her on Saturdays. We bonded over card games and conversations, about sports, movies, politics, family. It became a point of pride to see who could tell the best jokes, and eventually who could discover the best restaurants. Concerts in the early 80’s when I would talk about everyone needing a Merlin and a Zorba, and how you were my Zorba. Well, she was and is my Merlin. You and Jo, among a handful of people at my first wedding, and the two who stood next to me at the second. 

Our dads were brothers from Minneapolis. Her dad, Bror, was fourteen years older, as much a father as a brother. A doctor who inspired my dad to go into medicine. Bror was there when Peter, their oldest brother, died in a mental institution. My dad was eleven knew only that Peter died of pneumonia. Bror was the first person my dad came to when he was sick. After my dad got out of the hospital, the two brothers practiced medicine together for five years. When my dad decided to start over on the west coast, the brothers remained close. 

The week with Joanne that September is among the most important of my life. The right person. The right time. She is both family and friend. Instinctively honest. Intuitively gifted. Professionally trained. She knew the people and enough of the history. For her the stigma, shame and shadow of the secret could simply be part of the story that finally needed to be told. We talked into the night every day. After she left for work, I wrote feverishly and took long walks along the high banks of the Mississippi. When she returned we began all over again. 

Toward the end of the week we met her dad for dinner to try to get an even better sense of events. And while his kindness showed, he could remember little. Driving back with Joanne to her place I wondered if I would ever truly make sense of things. I can still remember the sound of the rain. The wipers clearing drops in slow metric rhythm. Sleep tortured that night. But I would awaken with a feeling of peace. I sensed that while there were things I would never know I knew enough to know the truth. Trusted myself enough to listen for and hear what had a ring true. (The opposite of Hemingway’s infamous lie detector. He used a different adjective.) It finally felt possible to begin to align truth with love. It was time to go home. 

It would take a while and some rest before knowing where to start, where to stand, and so begin to understand. The week with Joanne had opened doors to a pathway that led to another that would lead to another that over the next 25 years turned out to be a way, the way, for me to know what it was, what it is, to be home with myself and the world. What a gift. Another gift she gave me, was continuing to be there for all of those 25 years, and she is there still. 

Not long after I got home I called the publisher in Nashville. He liked the new songs. And the song, Dear Partner, he said Johnny Cash was going to record the song and use it to introduce June Carter Cash when he brought her onto the stage. My career was about to take off while the rest of my life remained uncertain.

As 1983 ended I found refuge with the Bullers. John and Pat together and individually willing listeners. That feeling of being heard healing. They welcomed me into their extended family that holiday season.

Then before the year ended Johnny Cash would leave the road, stop recording and enter rehab. Dreams of him bringing Dear Partner to life were dashed. I can’t remember whether I spent New Year’s Day in Sumner with you, first drinks poured by nine in the morning, or at the Buller’s, John blending Ramos Fizzes before halftime of the first game. Either way it feels appropriate to say goodbye to 1983 with the two of us along with Ted Brancato singing our signature song, Dear Partner.


Dear Partner old soulmate we've come a long way
Down fast lanes and dirt roads crossed an ocean or two
Shared adventure and danger with friends and strangers
Doing the best that we thought we could do


There’re more lines on my face than I've left for the ladies
More no's than ever were yeses or maybes
More times I’ve wondered where do I belong
My boots have worn out ‘fore I could die with them one


Thought we'd go out in a great ball of fire
Get shot or arrested fooling with desire
Thought we'd be gone when the piper came around
Before life filled us up and started slowing us down


Old soulmate dear partner how'd we get this far
In old cars and beer bars and no one to blame
The dream was to stay young until we keeled over
We've been young together we’ve grown old just the same


It seems to take more work the harder we play
And tomorrow gets closer than some old yesterday
For the people we loved and the places we've been
I wish we'd known better but I'm sure glad we didn't


Thought we'd go out in a great ball of fire
Get shot or arrested fooling with our desire
Thought we'd be gone when the piper came round
Before life filled us up and started slowing us down


©Copyright 1983
Love Gives More Music



Songs & Stories From Home | Mark Pearson Music

One of Those Times in a Life | Mark Pearson Music

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