Soundtrack to Life – "As The Footsteps Die Out Forever" (Part 2 of 2)

(Continued from part 1, which can be found here.)

Some folk never forget certain days. Where they were when they heard about JFK. How they remember 9-11. Me, I’ll never forget January 8, 2000.

Mom had a tendency to get ill once a year. When she did so, it was always in a big way. So, when she got sick this time around, we thought nothing of it. Similar symptoms, she’d had this before. She’d also wrenched her back at work, so she was essentially couchbound for the majority of the day. It had been a relatively cold day, Tim and Pat were at work, and I was busy chatting online. Pat came in rather suddenly, he’d gotten off early for work. He tried to call, but I was tying up the line. It was an annoyance for him then, but he’d soon realize that maybe it was for the best. He woke Mom up so she could get Tim. Something wasn’t right. She was talking about vivid dreams, and how she could have sworn one of Pat’s friends had gone to get him. He questioned her health, and as always, she insisted she was alright. She wasn’t herself though. Something was very off. Pat made her swear that she’d go to the doctor after picking up Tim.
“Okay, just let me go splash some water on my face.” she said. Pat and I exchanged worried glances, neither one knowing that those would be the last words we’d ever hear her speak.

A “thud” came from the bathroom, and after knocking with no response, Pat let himself in. He quickly told me to call 911 and tell them what had happened. I got off the phone with the dispatcher and wandered back in the vicinity of the bathroom. It was eerily silent. Then, words rang out that will never escape my memory.

“JOOOOOEEEE!!!! She’s not breathing!”

I ran to the phone, muttering something along the lines of “Oh Christ!” over and over again. I got the dispatcher back on the line and told them about the change in the situation. I grabbed a pair of boots and told Pat I was running for help. I barely noticed that the laces weren’t tied or the heaping amount of snow quickly filling the boots as I dashed across the yard to our neighbors, The Bertrams. They were at the door in a flash thankfully, and I told them of what was happening. Sally and Barry Sr. were there immediately. Sally and Pat kept tabs on Mom as Barry waited by the door. Myself, I ran to the bottom of the driveway, pacing back and forth and repeating “This can’t be fuckin’ happening.”, waiting for the ambulance to arrive. 5 minutes becomes an eternity when the life of a loved one hangs in the balance. A jogger trotted past with a bewildered look at the ashen-faced young man, barely dressed for the weather.

When the ambulance arrived, I cleared a path for the gurney, and then stayed in the kitchen as the EMTs, out of sight, attempted to resusitate my mother. I couldn’t watch. I couldn’t see her like that. It wasn’t right! They loaded her into the ambulance as we called our relatives. They were there promptly to take us to St. Joseph’s. I remember Sally hugging me and telling me I’d have to be strong, as if she already knew.

Waiting for the ambulance was hell. But sitting in that waiting room was even worse. Surrounded by loved ones, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. It was now right around 2 o’ clock. Dad would be leaving work soon. How were we supposed to contact him? All you can do is sit, wait, and hope for the best. The doctor’s arrival cut the tension, and as I looked up at him from my seat, I could read the expression on his face

“I’m sorry. We did all that we could…..”

Something shattered then. I remember hearing static and seeing things go gray. Perhaps this is how the mind deals with such things. I just hung my head. Just sat there, still, face to the floor but staring at nothing. All I could focus on was the fact that I wasn’t crying. The most important woman in my life was gone and I’d never see her again. Not one tear. Maybe it was my upbringing, I’m not wholly certain, but I couldn’t bring myself to cry. It’s a fucked up feeling knowing that this is where you’re supposed to emote and you just can’t do it. We gathered our stuff from our house, figuring that staying with the relatives tonight would be best. It was…. otherworldly. I just moved automatically, as if it was the next thing to do. Not thinking about what I was doing, just doing it.

I sat listlessly as my aunts discussed ministers and funeral homes. Suddenly, there was Dad. He burst into the room, bawling. He gave us all a big hug, and now was the time for me to finally break down. I’d never seen him like this, never before. This man had stood as a marble pillar in my life, never wavering. And yet, here he was, sobbing like a child. It really hit me then. Despite the war that had been going on for the past 6 years, he still loved her. In fact, his love for her was stronger than that any of us had. We were born with her a part of our lives, so we had to love her by default. My father, Michael Nichols, didn’t have that love thrust upon him. Of everyone in the room, he was the only one who had the choice of loving her, and he did. He chose to have this woman be a part of his life, just as she had chosen him to be a part of hers. Despite the rugged final years, by god, he still loved her.

The funeral was simply amazing, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone complain about a slipshod funeral before. It just doesn’t happen I guess. People came from all around to pay tribute to this wonderful woman, and sympathy to the family she’d left behind. It was overwhelming. I saw relatives that I’d supposedly met when I was only knee-high, people who’d I’d never even known she’d touched in her life, and of course, all of our close associates; friends and family alike. It’s in times of crisis such as these that you learn who your friends are, and sure enough, I had a small gathering of my best and most loyal friends there. Being one of her sons, I had the privilege of carrying her to her final resting place….

It’s been 5 years now, and I can’t help but wonder what would be different if she were still with us today. I guess we all wonder these things about our lost loved one. Still, she was a cornerstone of my life. Would she be proud of where I am in life and who I’ve become? Would she support many of the decisions I’ve made along the way? What may or may not have happened if she were still alive and well? Well, I can tell you for certain, I wouldn’t be sitting here in the middle of the night, sans distractions and audience writing about her. And I know that despite this tragedy, it opened the door for the greatest experience of my entire life. But I’ll save that story for another time.

As I was saying earlier, people in this society don’t care much for emotional people anymore. In this society, it’s becoming a rule that nobody is allowed to get offended at anything anymore. PC, whiny, and emo are just a few of the tags given to those who have a distaste for certain humor that is supposed to be funny. Guess I fall into that category then. Never was a big fan of “Your Mama” jokes to begin with, and only one person ever dared cross that line with me after her death. I call this man “friend” and I nearly obliterated him in the school parking lot before he realized the thoughtlessness of the act. Yes, I’m a little touchy on the subject. Does it make me emo? Maybe. Does it mean I’m easily offended? Only cuz I choose to be. Does it make me a Momma’s Boy? You bet your ass.

I remember, before her service, the minister asked if anyone in the family had a final dedication to her, a song they’d like to sing at the wake. Had the rhythm not been so upbeat, and the vocals were notably more mellow, I probably would have done it. Every time I see this band live, every time they do this song, I go wild in the pit and wind up with tears in my eyes. It’s the only song that really comes to mind when I think of this amazing woman and the life she led. Because if there’s one thing she’d want, it would be that we not wait up for her.

“As The Footsteps Die Out Forever”
by Catch-22
She was diagnosed on a Friday,
the kids were almost home,
the kids were on their way back home from school,
lying face down in the gutter
of unaccomplished dreams and broken memories of things to come,
“Sorry ma’am, I really am. I had to break the news.
I had to make the phone call to tell you that you’re due,
you know where,
I’ll tell you when,
and I suggest you start living these next three weeks, the best way that you can.”

[chorus?]
Every night for three long weeks,
she’d roam the hallways half asleep
and as the footsteps fade away
in my mind, I could swear, I could swear, I heard her say:
“Don’t wait for me,
I’ve got a lot to do
I’ve got a lot to be
and in the end maybe I’ll see you there.”

Lost her strength on a saturday.
Spent the day in bed.
Yeah, I’m fine, it’s just the flu she said
with a smile, but when they turned their backs,
the tears would flow.
She knew she only
had a while to live
to breathe
to see
to be
to bleed
to stand on her own two weakened feet
“and so I pray everyday: don’t take my mother away”

Every night for three long weeks,
she’d roam the hallways half asleep
and as the footsteps fade away
in my mind, I could swear, I could swear, I heard her say:
“Don’t wait for me,
I’ve got a lot to do
I’ve got a lot to be
and in the end maybe I’ll see you there.”

Every night for three long weeks,
she’d roam the hallways half asleep
and as the footsteps fade away
in my mind, I could swear, I could swear, I heard her say:
“Don’t wait for me,
I’ve got a lot to do
I’ve got a lot to be
and in the end maybe I’ll see you there.”
And in the end you know i’ll see you there
and in the end i’ll see you there

“Don’t wait for me,
I’ve got a lot to do
I’ve got a lot to be
and in the end maybe I’ll see you there.”

Rest in Peace, Mom. From your loving son; Joe.

2 thoughts on “Soundtrack to Life – "As The Footsteps Die Out Forever" (Part 2 of 2)”

  1. joe, I dont even know what to say to this and the peice you post before it. reading it gave me chills.

    This is by far the best soundtrack to life you have ever written! it must have taken a lot of guts to write about something so personal and post it here, but I’m really glad you did you really got at the heart of what music can do and what it can mean to a person in all sorts of situations.

    i wasn’t sure where the story was going after the first article, but this was very very well executed. you really balanced the emotions in the story with great writing and a great theme. i love that the majority of the sotry was personal and almost like an autobiography. the connection to the song at the end was beautiful. you should really do that more with the others, you know only mentioning the song at the end, it works really well.

    i’m sorry if i’m babbling but I was just completely blown away.

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