The love of my life recently passed away leaving behind an overwhelming collection of CDs, DVDs, pop culture reference books, albums and even 45s from his childhood. It's not all he left, but it's most of it. I've begun the emotionally and physically exhausting task of sifting through Pat's cherished collection, an impressive, sentimental gallery of a life that was very hip, very tuned in. Pat was cool.
Some of his oldest friends came to my house to help me sort and reminisce. After everyone arrived, I plugged in Pat's iPod (something I hadn't been able to do since he died) and we danced to the music that made Pat the happiest—the songs that ushered him out of this life.
We smiled at his eclectic taste: The Knitters, Springsteen, classic Beatles, Patsy Cline. And, with his music as our pulse, we began to fondle his things.
For decades, his stuff represented nothing more to me than an eyesore: needless clutter, garage sale wannabees! He had a closet stacked with albums he'd been moving around for half a century and a wall of CDs and box sets in our den. Rockabilly, rock, jazz, boogie-woogie, swing, blues, opera, classical, punk, comedy recordings and genres I never even heard of all languished in wild harmony on bulging shelves.
The media center in our living room is overstuffed as well; DVDs and box sets stacked three deep with some VHS tapes hidden in the back. I remember how I begged him to weed it all out, a task he could no sooner do than cut off a finger, something I didn't quite understand until now. Instead, the collection continued to grow, like we were living in one of his beloved "Twilight Zone" episodes.
Now I go through these personal items with awe and sadness that a small part of me missed a huge part of him. I tell his best friend how contrite I am that I never asked him to waltz me through the meaning of each item. He nods sadly.
Pat wasn't a musician, he was more of an impassioned pop culture aficionado. Each box set of TV, film, music and every book represented a precious moment in his life, a gift from his sister, parents, an old girlfriend, even me. My eyes well up as I remember 20 years of holidays watching Pat unwrap these gems and beam with joy, becoming a kid each time. These were the toys of his adulthood. We'd get back to California and listen to or watch his new disc and he'd explain its relevance; either personal, cultural or both.
He has thousands of items, all categorized, alphabetized and obviously worshipped. He created a system that made it easy to sort through, yet hard to figure out unless you too were a geek.
I move from room to room, carefully opening a few box sets: "The Complete Sopranos," "The Big Box O' Soul," "Film Noir." In each of them, I feel the gentle man who had done the same dozens of times before me. It's obvious how he coveted each disc or album like an old friend, showing them respect and tenderness.
Everything is still in mint condition, yet I know that he had listened to, watched or read everything in front of me. Books I've taken for granted, even despised a thousand times, now lay before me as his raison d'être, his passion.
How else could he have continually blathered on about the history of pop culture ad infinitum? For one thing, he had a photographic memory. Before there was Google, there was "Ask Pat."
One of the last things I uncover buried in our closet is his very first collection of 45s. A worn, moldy, baby-blue plastic album called "My First Album," clearly from his prepubescent years, which he took the care to move across the country, the 45s still pristine; Elvis, Buddy Holly, the Beatles. I pull them out by the rims like he taught me, but I'm in a hurry, desperate to uncover more.
I called his mother to tell her about this find. Later in that same conversation, she told me that by age 3, he could read record labels. He'd be put on display like a monkey to read the labels for the adults and they'd all gasp. Then, someone would flip the record to try to trick him, thinking he had them memorized, but he'd be able to read the "B" side labels as well. She regaled how he'd ask his parents in baby talk to put on "I'll Never Smile Again" by Sinatra at age 4. Then he'd tell them to turn it over to hear, "What else?" There was never enough music for Pat.
He wept the day Sinatra died, espousing for hours what Frank had meant to the world of music and to him. I was enthralled. His pop culture lectures always moved me, until he wouldn't stop. He could speak for weeks on a single topic and I'd have to roll my eyes up and mime a noose around my neck to get him to shut up.
"Not exactly foreplay," I'd warn. We'd both laugh. But now, I'd give up chocolate for one of his endless elegies.
I will have to part with most of his legacy, which saddens me. But for now, I feel alive listening to the music that made him the man he became. The music I've heard dozens of times before, the score of our lives together.
They say love leaves behind more than death can take. Pat has left me a dance card to life. He's made me fall in love with him all over again. I made a date for later with our favorite movie, "White Heat" starring his idol, James Cagney. But right now, with all the time in the world, I turn up his iPod and I slow dance to Pat.