It didn’t occur to me when I eloped with Stephen with a ph in Lake Tahoe that I’d have to leave everyone and everything behind.
“Can’t believe you’re going to leave,” my friend Victri said, the two of us sitting in my bright green Vega wagon that kept breaking down – looking out on to the ocean.
Maureen coughed and passed a joint to us – it was the beginning of 1980 when we watched the sun set into the ocean – this is what I’d miss the most, I thought.
But it’s what I wanted, I thought, as I took a small toke of the joint. I wasn’t much of a pot smoker, but every now and again it was good. This just seemed like the right moment.
“Can’t believe it either.” I don’t think it sunk in for any of us – I’d known Maureen and Victri practically my whole life. I grew up in San Francisco and hadn’t lived anywhere else since I was five years old when we moved to San Francisco from Chicago – oh yeah, I had that short stint in Hayward with that boyfriend and my sister and I rented an apartment in Redwood City for a little while – but I’d never moved far away.
Now here I was leaving on a plane – early tomorrow morning.
“Of course we’ll have a going away party for you tonight,” Maureen said. “Mom’s pulling something together.” Maureen’s mom was like my surrogate Mom – my mother lived all the way up in Oregon and I was staying with Mary Doherty and her kids in San Francisco for a little while waiting to head for Germany – I had tried staying with my new mother-in-law and all of Stephen’s brothers and sisters in Hayward, but that was a huge disaster.
That night I sat in Mary Doherty’s living room – my Dad and my sister Jennifer had showed up –what a surprise! And, all of my close friends were there, Paula who traveled all the way from Sacramento to say good-bye, and Cathy, and all the Meehan family whom I’d grown up with and known since I was five years old – Mary Doherty, of course and Eileen, Maureen and Kathleen, her kids – and Victri, the daughter of my mom’s best friend since I was five – everyone was there crammed into Mary Doherty’s living room.
I’ll never forget that night as long as I live…Michael Meehan had showed up with a brown paper bag on his head – and he set it on fire and acted like everything was just normal while I freaked out and everyone laughed. Mike Meehan, believe it or not, went on to become a successful comedian, appearing on Comedy Central TV quite a few times. That didn’t surprise me. I’d known Mike Meehan since we were little kids and he was always cracking jokes and pulling pranks with his brothers Howard and Johnny and Chris. Katie and Dolores Meehan, and Meg Meegan along with their mother were all there too.
“Play your guitar!” Kathleen had said – she was around 10 years old then. I remembered babysitting for her sisters Eileen and Maureen before Mary D. had Kathleen and how that summer we all thought she was going to be a little boy.
So I strummed the chords and played a few songs – some Eagles songs I used to play and sing with Eileen and Maureen when they were younger, and then Leavin’ on a Jet Plane, one of our favorites.
As I began to strum the chords and sang, it all hit me – I was leaving behind my life here in San Francisco and heading for Germany the next morning to be with a husband I didn’t know too well except through letters.
I started the words, “All my bags are packed I’m ready to go, I’m standing here outside your door..” and then I choked up and began to cry – it was so embarrassing because the room was crammed with all of my friends and the people who were family to me – everyone there in that one room at Mary Doherty’s flat in San Francisco on 15th Avenue. I kept playing the chords, but I choked on the words, feeling overwhelmed with emotion.
Then I heard the singing – it was my Dad filling in the words I couldn’t sing, his voice a mid-tenor range, slow and true…”I hate to wake you up to say good-bye!!!”
Then others joined in, and before I knew it, everyone in the room sang Leavin’ on the Jet Plane while I played the song on my guitar completely unable to sing – and in the song I could feel so much love…
And I knew as I played the end of Leavin’ on the Jet Plane that things would never be the same again after this night in San Francisco, that I’d come back again of course, but this moment in time with all these people I loved and cared about in one room, would never happen again.
Everyone clapped and cheered when the song was over, and then we were all quiet for a moment.
They knew too…