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
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
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.