How I got to this point, part I: Kirsty and Donna and the mysteries of the universe

Getting from here to there, thereby hangs a tale. And since it’s past time to tell it…

Well, it’s like this. Sometimes the divine spark, call it what you will — God, or the Great Hand that Writes, or the Fickle Finger of Fate — makes itself known in a damned heavy-handed manner that leaves you reeling and wondering why me? and what’s going on? and thinking I’d better ride this wave for all it’s worth, because something bigger than just my little old life is going on here. And sometimes, like nature, the Great Hand likes to hide (thanks for the tip, Heraclitus).

Sometimes it hides for a very long time, indeed.

As the summer of 2000 turned to fall, and fall cooled further to winter, my life in Slovenia had become, if not exactly tiresome, then predictable; I couldn’t see much of a future ahead. Work had slowed, and I had by then long intuited that certain avenues would be forever closed to me if I remained there, and I would never be truly accepted by most of the locals. I loved Slovenia — still do — but the reverse didn’t hold: Slovenia didn’t love me back. The sense of wonder and discovery (and occasional moments of horror) that marks Year One of the experience of any expat worth the plane fare had, in that time-honored expat way, long since given way to same old same old. Not a bad existence, but still. It was static and holding.

I couldn’t escape a certain restlessness. I felt an inescapable sense of things coming to an end, as if my life in Ljubljana, rewarding, quirky and different as it was, had reached a point of no return. The wheels were still turning, but I was staying in place. I felt myself at loose ends, and didn’t quite know what to do about it except go into the old town, have another coffee, and stare into the distance.

The house in which I was living, my third and, as it turned out, final residence in LJ, was, for all its flaws, by far the best place I’d lived, and certainly the roomiest. I occupied the ground floor of Number 41 F. ulica, a modest two-story home in Bezigrad; the old couple who had previously lived there had died within weeks of each other, as old couples sometimes do, and their married daughter, a no-nonsense but fair enough woman who worked for a security company, rented out the flat; the second story was vacant except for a couple of weeks a year when the woman’s aunt, who lived in Switzerland, returned for a homecoming vacation.

The house wasn’t in the best condition, mold darkened corners of the ceiling, and the old man’s clothes were still stored in the cupboard and other artifacts (including a funeral album showing yet another old guy in his coffin) were in drawers in the house and the old quilts were still on the bed (my landlady obviously had no conception of giving away or discarding such effects). A crack in the bedroom window resulted in some very cold mornings. Hey, perhaps this was the way things were done here — garage sales in Slovenia were virtually unheard of, since nobody ever threw anything out even when someone died. But springtime strawberries grew in the garden, the house’s cool, dark cellar was ideal for storing wine, and I’d long gotten used to the slowness of dial-up Internet connections on my Mac laptop.
And so I passed the days, cooking my own meals, walking to the market, riding the bus to and from downtown, attending concerts and festivals, writing articles for various publications, editing for translators, and surfing the Net. Life passed rather glacially, and there was a vague sense of disquiet to it all.
New Year’s Eve arrived, and suddenly it was 2001 — the real start of the 21st century (so I was told).
On the second day of the year, I was sitting idly at the kitchen table and checking a site I hadn’t visited in awhile, which chronicled the recent deaths of celebrities and other notables, to catch up on anyone I might have missed. And read the following.

Kirsty MacColl (singer/songwriter) — Dead. Boat hit her while she was swimming. Died December 18, 2000.

Kirsty MacColl??? My God.

I’d seen Kirsty perform on March 19, 1995, when I paid $8 to see her and her band at the Paradise, a smallish club in Boston. The house was far from packed, but her fans were, as ever, much appreciative.
My reaction at the terrible manner of her death — killed by a speedboat while scuba diving (you can easily look up the details elsewhere) — soon sent me spiraling from disbelief into full-on grief. I started crying uncontrollably for a time every day for about two weeks.
I printed out various song lyrics, memorized them, and sung them out loud while standing alone in my sun-washed kitchen with its window looking out on the garden.
I soon found a Kirsty-devoted group on the Internet, where the members were sharing their grief, and I introduced myself and started sharing.
Although I always thought Kirsty was great [I wrote], and am happy to say I saw her perform live once in 1995, I don’t own every record she ever put out and frankly, hadn’t even thought about her for several years. I found out about her death shortly after New Year’s and was completely unprepared for the depth of my feelings, my sense of bereavement and profound loss. I suppose I always took her for granted.

I’m of the opinion that it’s dangerous to have heroes, since, politician or musician, they’re bound to let you down in the end, but everything I’ve read about Kirsty so far suggests that she was admirable and courageous (to the last moments) and — well, I can say that she was, if not my heroine, someone whose legacy appeals to what I’d like to think of as the better parts of myself. For me the infuriating thing is that it’s taken her death to make me realize this. It seems so obvious now. I think the major difference between Kirsty and most of the practitioners of what passes for the product of the pop scene today is only this: She was a completely realized adult human being; she knew who she was and did what she wanted to do, and damn the chart-topping fads and followers of fashion. And it’s only now I realize what I’m going to miss. Right now the fact that people with one-tenth her talent have enjoyed a hundred times the success she did, and the stupid, infuriating way she died (about which I could spit nails) seem like exhibits A and B in Resolved: Why the World is an Awful Place.
On the other hand, I can’t stand cheap sentiment and bathos, and one of the reasons I care for Kirsty is that she didn’t either, she saw reality and talked about it, and the last thing she’d want is a weepy overblown flowery tribute. Put away the rose-colored glasses; keep it real and it’ll be fine.

Kirsty was three months younger than me, and when you’re a teenager and discovering and exploring a new thing called punk rock, something of the spirit of it remains a touchstone for you, however much growing up you do over the decades. At the least, euphemisms and greeting-card sentiments won’t do.
So I don’t really know what else to say right now. Except that it’s still so hard to take; to echo what others have said, it’s as if I’ve lost a personal friend or a part of myself, maybe one of the truest, best parts. I don’t know where to go from here. I’ve thought about attending the memorial service but aren’t sure. In any case, “Walking Down Madison,” “My Affair,” and “They Don’t Know” keep playing in my head, in heavy rotation.The Kirsty concert I saw happened one Sunday night at a small club in Boston, filled with her proverbial small but loyal band of local New England followers. She teased us from the stage as “you Sunday night rockers, you,” and did all of those varied gems that belonged to her, and everyone loved it and was glad they’d come. Before the last encore, she hinted that the appropriate way to close such a show would be with something soft, gentle, filled with reverie. Then she and the band slammed into “I Wanna Be Sedated.” I went home with a big grin on my face.
And thinking to myself: Oh, yeah — she’s one of us.
Later that month I traveled to London to cover Kirsty’s memorial service for the Boston Phoenix (which I’ve reprinted here); I didn’t write, however, that I cried through much of it. (Well, so did a lot of people in the Church of St. Martin in the Fields.)
A woman in the US named Donna wrote back, saying how much she appreciated my post. I wrote back and thanked her.
About two days later, she e-mailed me again, asking if I was the same Wes that someone named Symboline (a/k/a Sally Cragin, astrologer and an active freelance writer based in Massachusetts) had mentioned in an e-mail to her a couple of years before.
What?? Yes, I was. I’d known Sally since the mid-’80s, in fact, when we were both doing the guest-list music-scribbling thing at clubs around Boston.
Before too long, Donna and I found out that we had been born on the same day, in the same year (as we later found out, I was eight minutes older), she in New Jersey and me in New York.
We started writing to each other, and for me, sorry if this sounds corny, it was like discovering a long-lost other half. We wrote about our families and our beliefs and a lot of things that aren’t anybody’s business but our own, and she had also seen Kirsty (in New York a couple of years before I had — her brother, also a big fan, had introduced Donna to Kirsty’s music).
In late August of that eventful year, I flew to New York ostensibly to see my family, but really to meet Donna in person. The future Mrs. Pogoer and I finally met on August 24 at a downtown Manhattan bistro (known as a hangout for writers and editors, although that’s not why I selected it). It couldn’t have been a more perfect setting for the encounter. Time seemed to stop, we fell to talking as if we’d known each other for ages, everything seemed perfect, and it was one of the most memorable days of my life and set the tone for every day I’ve had since then.
We continued the date with a concert at the Knitting Factory that same night. I remember we had to wait an interminable amount of time before a cab came to take Donna to the train station, and she kissed me goodbye in the cab as if signaling me to stay in touch, and do some thinking.
I then drove to Pennsylvania to visit friends and take in a music festival in Johnstown (more about that in an upcoming post), and returned in early September, where Donna and I met up again in Manhattan, in Bryant Park in midtown, near the main branch of the Public Library.

I realize that many couples have “met cute” stories, but I don’t think a lot of them can , in all honesty, come up to ours.

To recap, here’s an excerpt from our wedding Web page, circa 2003, on The Knot:

<<It’s a long and twisted story, but here goes. We met on the Internet – but not on any of the usual sites. In April, 2000, Donna e-mailed a question to an online astrologer named Symboline, who in real life is Wes’s longtime friend Sally. Sally/Symboline recognized that Donna shared a birthdate with Wes…and told Donna to check out Wes’s website, which Donna duly did. Hm, she thought, a bit peeved: this sounds like a person I’d really get along with, too bad he’s an ocean and half a continent away. Flash forward to January, 2001. British singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl (a favorite of both Donna and Wes) had been killed the previous month in a freak accident in Mexico. Donna logged onto an online bulletin board of MacColl fans, and the first thing she read was a posting by…Wes. Not realizing he was THAT Wes, she e-mailed him to tell him she liked what he’d written; he courteously replied. Soon afterwards, she put two and two together and realized: Hey! A whirlwind exchange of e-mail followed as winter turned into summer; in August, 2001 the two met face-to-face…in Manhattan. The rest is history. Make of it what you will… Wes and Donna would like to thank Symboline and Kirsty for making it all possible…and the fates for finally bringing them together after having been born one river and eight minutes apart on a hot day in July.

[to be continued]

One response to “How I got to this point, part I: Kirsty and Donna and the mysteries of the universe

  1. Pingback: How I got to this point, part II: Christy’s letter, the groom’s toast and farewell to Slovenia « Pogoer 2.0: Memoirs of an experienced optimist

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