It was late summer and we'd been living in our homemade palmfronded hut on the southern shores of Bahia de Los Angeles. We'd been married the year before and wanted time to let the whole marriage and living together thing sink in and settle and often in the early evening we'd walk the shore gathering shells and enjoying our two dogs Rocinante and Dulcinea and just being together forever. The evening water was usually calm and blanketed with colors thrown to earth by the sun, setting over the tall western mountains.
Sometimes we had no need for talk and would walk just listening to the terns and gulls merging with the sounds of quiet waters. The merged sounds seemed almost orchestrated somehow between the seabeasts and the calm sea bubbling off the worn beach stones as we walked.
Back at our hut we sat before bed and listened to music we both liked. She was singing along to the well known tune and I noticed she was embellishing the final notes of the stanzas with a little twirl of her voice. Her singing was beautiful. I wondered about her modified ending to the song. Personally I didn't find the change introduced, while small and nice within itself, to be real. I voiced this to her. She said nothing.
Thirty years later we were riding together in our old Chevy, listening to music once again. We were driving through the area near Laguna Hanson and the tall trees were stirring in the small breeze that whistled through their branches and needles. Purely by coincidence the same song was playing. I knew something was missing from the picture the song was painting before I realized she wasn't singing along with the recorded music. I thought backward in our relationship and remembered the moment in our hut so many years and a across a lifetimes activities to where I'd mentioned her personal element of style.
Over the years intervening, between my first mild criticism of her need to embellish the music and now, I had seldom heard her sing. I had not given it serious thought until our moment in remote Baja with pine trees singing to us. It was their turn now, I guessed, and we listened appreciatively. But, alas, it was her voice I wanted most to hear. Somehow the song was recorded in my mind with her original accompaniment. It wasn't the same without her unique contribution.
There was something in the moment that hurt me. I wanted to hear her voice. Maybe she sensed my want or simply felt like humming along, quietly, so quietly I could hardly hear her. I wanted to ask her to sing louder, so I could hear more, but suddenly I realized for the first time that my original comment to her about "embellishment" of the song had hurt her. I said nothing. For one thing I wanted more time to think about the situation. At least that was my admission to myself. I suspect the true reason I didn't say anything was that I was touched by the moment and my rearview mirror vision of events, and my voice would have cracked if I'd have uttered a word. She couldn't see the droplets of water running slowly from my eyes as I realized the depth of embarrassment I had caused her. Now I wished only that I'd never said anything in the first place, never felt the need to criticize. How long had she carried this weight? Since our moment in the old hut so many years back? And how many other evaluations about her had I made, informing her as though I was somehow worthy of criticizing others, worst of all, my closest partner through life? How many modifications had she made just to get along with such a demanding me?
There was nothing to do; I could broach the subject later and we could discuss it but the minor harm that I'd done 30 years before was still hanging there in my mind, spinning, searching for complete truth. It was a long and dusty road back to the Bay of the Angels. We wound together down the southern slopes of the mountains and wandered through the desert toward our new home there. There was natural singing the entire trip, from the trees filled with breezes and an occasional hawk or raven, to the humming sounds of tires on macadam. I was reviewing our life together, she and me. How much time had I bothered over so many years to express my appreciation of equally small things that were positive rather than negative? The singing of the elements through which we were traveling were each unique and prefect. Everything has ways that are individual. Her voice was an expression on what she found beautiful. Who was I to criticize?
I guess it's not too late to change. The first part of fixing a problem, even though mild, is recognition. I recognized in the pine studded forest that day that her singing was special and, now, deprived of it, my life would never be the same.
Maybe there's something I can do to fix that.