Long Live

Source: Personal FIles - Joe Feeley

Going about my life, a song reminds me of you.

I don’t knew if you ever knew this, and I can’t ask you now. You know that I was in the car alone a lot during my junior year. In the car, I used to think. I thought a lot, as always. My thoughts weren’t necessarily concrete, but my mind was always churning them over in my head. Did you know about the songs I would skip, evading the thoughts they would surely illicit?

That fall, Taylor Swift released a new album. Through either laziness or addiction, or perhaps both, I listened to that CD until I grew absolutely tired of it. Still, just as often as I played it, there were tracks I’d skip. Though not specifically related to our situation, I couldn’t listen to “Never Grow Up.” There was too much emotion behind it. Was it fear that we would never have a little girl like the one she sings to?


All along, I knew that too much emotion could easily push me over the edge. That’s why I couldn’t really worship in church. I could sing until my voice began to catch. I would stop singing, swallow, mentally disengage for a line or two, and begin again. I would do that as many times as I needed to in order to maintain my composure.

Similarly, yet with an even greater effect, I’d feel a catch when I listened to T. Swift’s pop-infused country ballads.


It was November 2010. You were living in Texas and crossing the border into Mexico daily for your alternative treatments. I hadn’t seen you in a month or so, and being so far from you, in such completely different worlds, was difficult for me. I know it was really hard for you. It was always harder for you.

That fall, so far removed from your life in Texas, I couldn’t listen to “Long Live” without thinking of you. I almost felt that she wrote it for us. Knowing what was to come, that morning I made the choice to listen to the song in its entirety.

I was driving into Newark as it began to hit me. Gradually, like it usually does. It still does. I knew it was coming. The song always produced that bittersweet mixture of pain and triumph that our lives themselves produced, especially yours.


I can always feel the tears before they come, but even then I had gotten so accustomed to stopping them. I had trained myself from the first day we knew. I willed myself from the beginning not to cry in front of you. I willed myself when we were apart to not think about you. And finally, now that you’ve left for good — well, that must be how I’m continually melding the two.

It feels unintentional, yet perhaps that is because the matter is so resolved in my mind. You are there and I am here and everything will be okay. Now, though you’re always there in my thoughts somewhere, leaving them unfocused, I have trouble crying for you or thinking of you. Instead, I find other things to cry over and think about. I wish it could be you, but more often than not it just can’t.

My mind and my heart have been intertwined for such a long time, Joe. They won’t let me grieve in the way I am perhaps expected to. Instead, my grief seems to be channeled into other things and other people, which is unfortunate. I’m retraining my mind, though. It is my safeguard.


Of course, when you returned from that trip to Texas, you found that I had built walls. You must have been able to tell. In order to function, to focus on school and work, I had compartmentalized. Most evidently, I had compartmentalized my emotions to protect myself. I know that now.

We got through it, though. I taught myself how to deconstruct my walls and how to let you back in more readily, since you were home now. We were fine. We were together then, so unlike now.


Today, carrying suitcases up to the attic, “Long Live” came on, and all my old thoughts and associations played with it. It’s not until I get to that one line that the emotions start to hit me, and I feel an inner tightness begin to spread.

You held your head like a hero

On a history book page

You were so brave, Joe. I was thinking about that yesterday night. You must have been so scared, but how seldom you showed it!

It was the end of a decade

But the start of an age


You came home just in time for Christmas 2010. It had been a long year, but things were looking so good. You looked so good! Your hair had grown back and you had finally been able to gain weight. We thought it would be different in 2011. We have pictures from New Years, with a caption from this very same song beneath it, and we felt so hopeful. I remember.

Long live the walls we crashed through

All the kingdom lights shined just for me and you
I was screaming, long live all the magic we made
And bring on all the pretenders, one day we will be remembered


That New Years, it felt like things were changing. I thought that maybe the kingdom lights were shining for us again, just as they had before you were diagnosed. I thought we’d make it out alive and stronger than ever. I thought that you’d make it out alive.

I said remember this feeling

I passed the pictures around
Of all the years that we stood there on the sidelines
Wishing for right now


In order to be truly moved by something that’s been created, a buildup of emotions must occur first. Calmly, at this point, I’d skip the track mid-way. Not today, and not in the car then, in November, though tears hung in my eyes, waiting to silently stream down my cheeks.

We are the kings and the queens

You trade your baseball cap for a crown


My mind flashes to the picture of us dancing at your senior prom. You were a baseball player, but that night they gave you a crown. I think of you in all black, save your ivory tie, looking down at me and quietly smiling. In the photograph in my mind, recently removed from my wall, I see myself. I see myself in an ivory dress, a smile on my face and an arm encircling your neck. I remember feeling like it was finally your moment. I remember you wanting me to wear white.

Long live the walls we crashed through

All the kingdom lights shined just for me and you
I was screaming long live all the magic we made
And bring on all the pretenders, I’m not afraid


There have been very few pretenders in our lives, and our opponents were not usually people. Our opponent was something bigger and far less predictable. It was cancer. But we weren’t very afraid. When we were, we tried not to show it, to ourselves and each other. Then, when you did show it, when you did tell me how scared you were and when tears glistened in both our eyes, I could only tell you that I knew. “I know baby. I know you are. But it’s going to be okay…”

Now, I wish you were here to tell me that, but I’ve had practice. I can tell myself. “It’s going to be okay.” I can even believe it.

Hold on to spinning around
Confetti falls to the ground
May these memories break our fall


I wish I didn’t have to go back so far. I wish the memories were more current and less removed from my life. When I dig back, I can find them. Usually, even when you were still here, they would bring more sadness than joy. They seemed so distant, and they made me wonder how all of this happened to us.

When I go back, I usually remember the Phillies game with Keegan and Kayla. I remember how things finally felt right that summer before. How we were finally going to get back to our “work hard, play hard” motto, a credo so long ago forgotten. How we finally felt we had some control in our lives.

How could we have known how mistaken we were? How could we have known that tumors had already spread throughout your body?
And you take a moment
Promise me this
That you’ll stand by me forever
But if God forbid fate should step in

And force us into a goodbye
If you have children some day
When they point to the pictures
Please tell them my name

Tell them how the crowds went wild
Tell them how I hope they shine


Joe, you and I both know we never had this conversation. We never talked about it. Some people do, but not us. I did promise that I’d stand by you forever. Still, fate or something like it did step in, though we never said goodbye. You never told me what to do or who to be with, like some people do. You never told me what to do next, or how to make my life normal again. You never told me how to make a new future, apart from you.


Today, and then, in November, always knowing what could happen, I imagine you would have said these same words. Of course my children will know all about you, Joe. They’ll shine. Someday, I know that they’ll shine.

Long, long live the walls we crashed through
All the kingdom lights shined just for me and you


And the kingdom lights? I have no doubt they’ll shine for me again. Of course, you no longer need them. There’s plenty of light where you are.


Originally Shared in Facebook Notes.



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