The Season of Hollow Soul

I just returned from a trip to Arkansas, the central purpose of which was to attend a memorial dinner for Pam Hudspeth, a fellow journalist and one-time girlfriend who died in November at age 58.

I will have much more to say about her, especially the things she wrote, later.

One of the few souvenirs of Pam I took home was this slick of Pam sleeping on a couch, probably shot in the mid 1990s, with her Shelty. I love this image both because Pam looks absolutely angelic in it, and because it so closely resembles me napping with my own Chihuahua Summer.Sleep was hard for Pam, especially at the end of her life, so this picture of her resting has extra merit.
One of the few souvenirs of Pam I took home was this slick of Pam sleeping on a couch, probably shot in the mid 1990s, with her Shelty. I love this image both because Pam looks absolutely angelic in it, and because it so closely resembles me napping with my own Chihuahua Summer. Sleep was hard for Pam, especially at the end of her life, so this picture of her resting has extra merit.

I made a few notes about the dinner, but my insights are tenuous at best when it comes to her life. I thought I knew her, and she thought she loved me, but those are black-and-white definitions of what could only be described as a dark grey relationship.

My romantic time with Pam was dark and difficult, and was shaped, as many parts of my life are, by music. Among other music I discovered in 1992 was k. d. lang’s album Ingénue, so that season ended up being called Season of Hollow Soul from the song from that album, and expresses very accurately how I was feeling at the time…

“Fate must have a reasonWhy else endure the seasonOf hollow soulThe ground on which we leave onHow strangely fuels the seasonOf hollow soul hollow soul”

Everyone who knew Pam remembers that she wrote anywhere and everywhere, often on the legs of her jeans, often angry and politically charged.
Everyone who knew Pam remembers that she wrote anywhere and everywhere, often on the legs of her jeans, often angry and politically charged.

I entered my romantic relationship with her feeling lonely and unhappy, but emerged from it feeling energized and optimistic, partially because I was learning to fly.

Dinner was hosted by Pam’s long-time supporter, caretaker, benefactor, housemate …there aren’t actually words to accurately describe their relationship… Dr. Bill Ashmore. We all met at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Rogers, Arkansas. I was just two minutes late for the designated starting time of 5:30 pm, but was the last to arrive, which seemed odd to me.

Guests included Pam’s father Phil and his wife, Pam’s son Dane and his wife, Pam’s longest-time and best friend Stacy and her husband, and other friends and co-workers, for a total of 15 of us around the table.

We discussed her life, how we met her, our thoughts about who she was and what she did. It was cordial. Stacy talked about how she only ever knew her as Elo, but no one seemed to recall why. I told them that Pam told me it stood for Electric Lips Orchestra.

After I spoke, I said that I was really in love with her at the time she moved away in 1992, and more than one person chimed in that she felt the same way, but that’s very revisionist. If you could have seen and heard her at the end, she was very distant and ready to be done with me.

This vial of Pam's ashes is about the size of a couple of Tylenol. In this image, it sits on one of the notebooks we shared, and bears her signature "Elo," which was her nickname, as well as one of her smiling "Elo people."
This vial of Pam’s ashes is about the size of a couple of Tylenol. In this image, it sits on one of the notebooks we shared, and bears her signature “Elo,” which was her nickname, as well as one of her smiling “Elo people.”

At the end of the night, her son Dane gave me a tiny vial of her ashes, which was thoughtful.

The next day, Dr. Ashmore invited me to take a tour of her room and her things, which was also very kind. It didn’t yield any pearls, but I saw a few interesting artifacts of her life. She had a couple of recent photos of me on her walls, which was flattering.

One thing Pam and I had in common was that we both wrote journals our whole lives. I'm not sure what the disposition of her journals will eventually be, but I made it clear I wouldn't want them to disappear.
One thing Pam and I had in common was that we both wrote journals our whole lives. I’m not sure what the disposition of her journals will eventually be, but I made it clear I wouldn’t want them to disappear.

Those who know me know I have been cleaning and reducing my material footprint since my wife died two years ago, so I only took a couple of small souvenirs. One of them was the green and gold notebook she and I wrote in at the very start of the “Journal Project,” an idea of mine in which writers write something – the start of a short story, a few pages of poems, other creative ideas – in a note book, then send it to the next person. It can work as a group, or just between two writers.

Here is a little bit of something I wrote in it…

There was the smokey haze of late spring and early summer. There were Friday nights around tables with beer and cigarettes and pretentious poetry.

As winter had faded, four of us gathered to read what we had written.

What did we write? Whatever it was, it better be brilliant to impress the company.

One of them, Melany. She was a tomboy. She drank too much and smoked too much weed. Once when she was pretty wasted, she walked over to me and talked for a minute, then, as she started to walk away, reached up with one finger and brushed the hair out of my eyes. Oh. Melany.

Then, Hank. If Melany was too… hm. If Melany was soft and attractive and vulnerable, Hank was equally angry and volatile. His stories were full of symbolism from the Old Testament, full of fire and brimstone. Hank was on fire.

Hank and Melany cracked open another beer and blazed up another doobie, and argued about the motivation to write.

And then, Pam.

Through the smoke and the fire and the yelling and the endless theories about this voice and that structure and which simile, Pam.

Across the table from me she sat, and I was lost in her pearl-black eyes.

She replied at length, so it seemed like an excellent idea, though she only used it as a journal, and never made any effort to create a narrative from it.

“Richard always wrote – never failed. It was part of his day, an important part. His words were opaque, and later, when he was just writing to me, his words – poetry, story, letter – each were like white feathers falling from the sky, landing gently in the palm of my hand. Scrolls, full of past, present, future.

“Richard, loaded with his camera and camera bag, would glide by and lean over, resting his head in his hands on top of my computer, and stare at me. His hair a soft red, eyes ice-cube-tray blue, small freckles running over the bridge of his nose, and always, ALWAYS with a huge smile.

“His photography was palpable, no matter the subject. God I loved looking at ALL of his pictures, feel what they conveyed to me. I would have filled the walls with every single photograph he took. I would have asked for the ones I could taste.”

Pam shared the Ella Henderson song Beautifully Unfinished with me a couple of years ago, saying it was her song about me…

“… ‘Cause every time I’m with you somehow I forget to breatheYou got me like a rag doll,Now I’m dancing on your stringAnd I keep trying to figure out who you are to meBut maybe all that we are meant to beIs beautifully unfinished, beautifully unfinished…”

The song that ended up being about Pam the most comes from when she moved away in 1992, Don’t Go Away by Toad the Wet Sprocket…

“We’ve been sharing so many words and feelingsAge is heavier, it seems, than years aloneBut, I told you things I wouldn’t dream of telling anyoneAre we drying out, like flowers from a forgotten someone

Don’t go awayI can’t feel the same without you…”

Really though, the song that best describe’s Pam life was, by her own admission, The Girl with the Weight of the World in Her Hands by the Indigo Girls…

” ‘Is the glass half-full or empty?’ I ask her as I fill itShe said it doesn’t really matter, pretty soon you’re bound to spill it.With the half logic language of the sermon she deliversAnd the way she smiles so knowingly at me gives me the shiversI pull the blanket higher when I’m finally safe at homeAnd she’ll take a hundred with her, but she always sleeps alone,The girl with the weight of the world in her hands.”

I know this all sounds dramatic and tragic, but I’m good with it all. It is absolutely true that I am thinking about her a lot right now, but not with regret. I think Pam spent much too much time with regret. I know so many people who can’t get out of that mindset. For me, today is the day, and tomorrow looks bright. I loved Pam for all the right reasons, and miss her now that she’s gone, but life, as they say, goes on.

Pam had a beautiful smile if should could find it to give.
Pam had a beautiful smile if should could find it to give.

2 Comments

  1. . You have been loved and your have loved. May my words be sappy and comforting. This part of living is hard but would we choose to miss it???

  2. Yes, it was for electric lips. She and her friend from Miami gave each other nicknames. Blowfish was Elo’s name for her. I still have some of her poems and drawings she shared with me. I am saddened by her passing. May she rest in peace.

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