I didn't start listening to Leonard Cohen until a few years ago, when my mom's boyfriend, Bob, died of pancreatic cancer. Bob was a writer, a dedicated vegan activist, a shy, kind man. I never got to know him as well as I wanted to; my mom started dating him the year I moved away to college. But I loved him because she loved him, and he loved her. I loved him because he helped me plan an amazing surprise party for her 50th birthday, with all of her friends there. I loved him because of the stories my mom told me about him: he worked for Rolling Stone Magazine in the 70s and interviewed Jim Morrison. He'd been arrested for a number of animal activism stunts. Charles Bukowski came over to his house for breakfast once!
I just loved him.
When he died, only 4 months after diagnosis, my mom put some of his things in a storage unit. Two summers ago, we cleaned it out. My mom lives in Oregon now; she'd come to Norfolk, Virginia to downsize the things she'd left behind. When we got to Bob's belongings, she kept some of them--writing, photos--and to the rest she said, "I can't hold on to this forever just because it was Bob's. I just can't." It was hard for her, and it was hard for me.
To everything that was Bob's, she asked me, with tears in her eyes, "I can't keep it, do you want it?" and I said Yes. Yes. Yes. I wanted everything. But I couldn't keep it all, either.
Finally, I took only his book manuscripts and his CD collection with me.
His CD collection was largely comprised of Leonard Cohen albums. Dozens of them.
I grabbed one at random and played it as I was driving from Norfolk back to Richmond. 'Bird on a Wire' came on first. Some songs, as we come across them, fill a part of our heart that we didn't know needed to be filled--or could be filled--by the combination of tune, and voice, and beautiful words. I played it on repeat 3 more times. 10 more times. I've never stopped playing it, really.
"Like a bird on a wire/ Like a drunk in a midnight choir/ I have tried in my way to be free"
This song, and many of his other songs, have carried me as I carry them.
Sweet Bob, sweet Leonard: I feel your absence. But you are free.
Sarah Vedomske is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. More than anything, she trusts that stories heal us. More of her writing is at www.coffeeandinsulin.com.