If this seems a bit long and rambling, please forgive me. I've tried to write this, or something like it, 5 times over the last few days -- I think my failures are due to trying to come up with some sort of coherent structure in the wake of a chaotic emotional sea. Therefore, I write as I feel the need to.
I first met Linda Underhill at Northern Faire in '92, the second to last weekend. It was my first faire in California, and only the second ren faire I had ever been to. I was already having a great day, when I wandered around a corner and saw Jolly Beggar... and Her... on stage.
I remember feeling the blood drain from my face when I saw her -- I think that was the exact moment I fell in love with her.
After the performance, I somehow got the courage to go backstage to talk to her. It was one of the few times in my life where I could speak as well as I could write, saying exactly the things I wanted to say without stuttering, or clutching at words like swatting gnats. I asked her if she would accept phone numbers from strange men, and she replied that she couldn't... but if I came to the next performance, I wouldn't be strange any more, would I?
I returned, and bought the tape they had just produced, which I asked her to sign... when she handed it back, it had her phone number, and the inscription "I would really enjoy seeing more of you", and a comp ticket for the following weekend... the last weekend of faire, actually.
Since I already had plans that weekend, I had to move heaven and earth to make it to fair by early Sunday afternoon, in time to catch their last performance of the year. Afterwards, we took our first of would turn out to be many countless walks together through the fair site, and I began to get some idea of who I had fallen for based on the number of people who called out to her, asked for her help, and even paged her. One particularly large gentleman actually spoke to me while she was handling some minor emergency -- he was a wall of a man with a wild beard and pike who, in all seriousness, warned me never to hurt her.
We wound up sitting and talking at the End of the World, where we had our first kiss... and I met Emma, who promptly told me that I wasn't allowed to kiss "her" Linda.
After that weekend, as such things sometimes are, it seemed impossible that there was a time I never knew her. She would comp me into almost every faire I could get to, and I saw countless performances of Jolly Beggar and Siren's Song, and loved every one. I was there when she was showered in roses as the bag-pipes played for her, and helped hang them at her apartment afterward. I would follow her as she went from cane to cart (unwillingly relenting to her body's weakness), often at a pace I found exhausting.
And I took photos. I have them of Beggar performances on and off site, of the traditional school, Friends of Faire, Northern and Southern Faire, Workshop in the Woods... and more. I honestly don't know how many photos I have taken over the last 12 years, and perhaps wont for a while yet. It's still too hard to look. Just as it's too hard to listen to the CD's and tapes of her performances yet. I will soon enough, I guess, if only to make sure that other people see them, as I'm hoping that the countless hours of video and audio tape will eventually surface.
Not to improve my memories of her, mind you: I doubt that I could ever forget even the smallest details of every precious moment I had with this amazing woman. She did so much to help me it seemed nothing I could give her... not my time, my strength, my love... could ever balance that, and I gave all three (and more) in abundance.
I digitized and lovingly cleaned up that original Jolly Beggar tape to give to her as a gift in the form of a CD in '97, as I was terrified of the possibility of relying on fragile oxides to preserve her voice. She loved it, and even asked if I could produce copies so that she could sell them to support her work, especially after she formed Presenters of the Past to keep Workshop in the Woods going. Over the last 7 years I've burned and labeled hundreds of those CD's... if you have one of the original "Shire Tour" CD's, it came from my poor, overworked computer.
There's one more important moment (of many, to be sure) that I keep recalling as I work through what has turned out to be one of the oddest weeks in my life: It was at Southern Faire, when it still circled the lake. Siren's Song was going to give a private performance on the boat as it circled the lake, and I was blessed with a seat as it sailed out.
They sang many songs, I know, but it was one in particular that seemed to resonate. I can still hear the sounds of the faire around us, low yet clear laughter, conversation, the clanging of metal, to pounding of drums. I honestly didn't think it was a cloudy or misty day, yet when they started "How Can I Keep But Singing?" it was as if the sun came out and shown down on us, only for us, in that boat, and I felt a peace that is all too rare in my life, a quiet and a sense of being so completely in a moment you forget it's only a moment, and it lasts forever. An awareness without thought that, later, I realized was what true enlightenment was.
Even as the tears come, the pain of my loss (and knowing what we've all lost), I know that moment, and all the others, are still alive in me because of her, and always will be. That's what sustained me through some dark times, perhaps even saving my faith -- how can you deny the existence of a higher power when you know someone like that? When their very presence can bring you such joy?
That prescense will always be with me, with all of us. By July, as she is "dispersed" amongst the trees, I'll be there, drinking the last of a bottle of 21 year old Balvenie we both shared, holding 13 roses... 12 red, and one white. Because as Linda once told me, even in the depths of passion and lust, there's always the purity of love.
I love you, Linda. I always will. And I will do what it takes to be worthy of seeing you again one day.
Your handsome man,
[Addendum for LJ: This took me a hour to write, mostly because I kept crying. I'll fill people in on the oddness that is this week in a bit.]