In 2002, Dorothee Kocks premiered the first of her Accordion Monologues at the Rose Wagner Theatre in Salt Lake. The monologues cover topics such as sex at midlife, hope in the face of war, and other concerns as immodest as a red Gabbanelli.
Below is the full text of Accordion Monologue II, a work entitled “Love on All Channels” that Kocks performed at the Utah Arts Festival, June 2003. You will have to imagine the accordion’s role in the piece – or better yet, travel to Utah for her next performance.
P.S. Please observe the copyright
Once upon a time… there was a little woman with a crooked back… who fell in love. A crooked back, like the s-curve of backs, a ribs-fused-to-hips-sideways sort of back, that hurt all the time. She had curly blonde-gray-blonde hair, and her name was Joan. Now she walks, straight as she can, to the phone one Saturday. At the other end is this voice. Frank. Frank of her youth. Frank of her midlife flirtations.
Frank, on the other end, does not know if she is married, or married again. Frank, on the other end, is thinking: “if a man answers, I’ll just ask for Pete and hang up.”
Back in time, Joan hears “code blue, code blue” in a hospital—leaning forward in a seat in the waiting room, trying not to ask, but having to ask, those nurses rushing, those doctors running—Is that my husband you’re running to?
Joan is once divorced and once widowed. Frank is thrice divorced, and once widowed. Frank’s most recent wife has been dead only three weeks and he’s calling anyway. There is some urgency. They’ve waited long enough. And they fall in love, the hold-your-hand-through-the-night-tell-me-your-whole-life-story kind of love, the why-did-you-drop-me-before-but-I-don’t-really-care kind of love, the kiss-me-now-you-fool kind of love. …And don’t stop. And don’t stop. And don’t stop. As long as we both shall live.
Love happens. If you think what I’m going to tell you, sitting up here with my big red valentine of an accordion, is a love story, you’ve got it partly right. It’s a story about how to stay open to love. Even when your own back hurts. When your own back hurts maybe even from the weight of the world.
Flashback, now to 1971, when Joan and Frank catch sight of each other at midlife. Hmm, erroneous pleasure. Love of a different kind, this is not the Hallmark-on-TV-sweet-but-maybe-a-little-sappy version. This is a different channel. A different time too. Because—we have to talk about sappy now. Sappy, sappy. I’m so happy, ring-the-wedding-bells love has had its problems. We all know. And in the 70s they knew too, they knew in a breakthrough way, in a Gestalt-therapy, expand-yourself-into-freedom kind of way.
Joan, with her back already starting to bend, has had The Fifties; she has had her early married years, all on a quiet—seeming street in Denver. Now she’s driving a VW bug, with her four children in it. Four children two of them nearly grown, two of them still pubescent. Four children in a VW bug with her and her dreams of saving a marriage. In Chicago, her husband Garrett waits. Garrett who moved for a job but lost it, Garrett, a WWII vet and not so much the better-off-for-it, Garrett. Garrett and Joan discover Gestalt therapy, or therapy discovers them—finds them, like fresh meat, with their illusions and their cottage-built-for-two mentality and their assumptions about who pays the bills, who sleeps around, who knows how to run the business—the cottage industry—of love.
Who does know how to run the cottage industry of love, the making of the beds, day after day? Who does know how to make love and not war?
If you think what I’m going to tell you, sitting up here with my squeeze-box, studded with rhinestones, fake diamonds, is that love disappoints, you’d be partly right again. But… love is good thing, love is a good thing, love is not jealous or unkind. We seek it, and the road is not straight and narrow, nor easy to find.
And so now I’ll tell you Joan is my mother-in-law, I married her son, jingle the wedding bells, and she is an example to me, with all the twists and turns in her road. The next part is about the happy open feeling in your chest—the it’s-easy-to-breathe feeling, the light-shines-through-me-and-is-me feeling, a feeling that comes with love, which is a relative of love. You might call it self-love, you might call it god-love. We might call it happiness if that word weren’t a porcupine of rhinestones, fakes, imposters.
Joan is an example to me because she had to die inside first. All that seventies story—you got a tiny piece of it, and Frank by the way, wasn’t the home wrecker. He was hardly a blip on the screen. It was the therapist actually, who deserves the blame if you’re wanting to blame—all that seventies story ended as it began in a church basement, with an encounter group, peace posters on the wall, and Joan’s and Garrett’s marital problems splayed out for everyone to see. Joan died inside. Of sadness, shame, of self-hate. The opposite of that open feeling; the opposite of that joy in the sunrise world where dandelions bloom, our weeds made holy. The opposite.
She was checked into a mental hospital. She was treated with high doses of medication. How did she find her way back? Oh master, how did you find that prickly beast of happiness? How did you find the path that left you open again to the wide wide universe?
It was not a man. Frank appeared in her bedraggled days—her ‘I’m drugged to my eyeballs’ phase. He ran the other way and she didn’t blame him, those years later, those hold-her-hand-through-the-night-tell-me-your-whole-life-story-days-to-come some decades later. No, she was doing the something-like-a-feminist waltz, the learn-to-give-up-on-the-prince two-step, turning the volume down on the someone-to-watch-over-me songs. She went to school. She got a job. She went to parents-without-partners and married Ward, who helped her go to school, get a job. With a master’s in education, she taught severely handicapped children and got perspective. Made friends. Building blocks, these were. They’d all topple without the main thing, the heart thing, the hard thing, which was, which is, which will be: A belief that things will turn out in the end.
This is the stumper. This is what I don’t get. This is what I know is true but can’t quite wrap my heart around. Look at the world. Do things turn out in the end? Read the paper. How exactly do you focus on the good news? Is it a matter of inserting head firmly into sand; is a matter two-heads-firmly inserted into the sand are better than one? How do you do it exactly, how do think positive? Is it just a case of “laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and the world moves in for the kill?” How can this be right?
So I ask Joan. We’re to the time when she and Frank have hooked up again. They got married, she wore my wedding dress. With its 22 pearl buttons down the back, it fit nicely over the curvature of her spine. They are sappy. They hold hands. They stare lovingly into each other eyes. And now, seven years after the wedding, they’re 82 and 74, triple-bypassed, bent over, they hike the mountains of Colorado. At 82, and 74, they have this destiny they have to not look at, hanging over head. It’s not death in general, it’s death in a specific stare-down way because Frank has an aneurysm. The doctors, sneaking in for a peek with that equipment they have now, found it a month after their wedding. One month, 30 days. A hole, a stretched place, a tiny, weak spot in the vines to the heart. At any moment it could burst. Imagine living with that knowledge. Imagine living with that knowledge when the code-blue/code-blue in the waiting room was your last husband dying of an aneurysm.
Don’t worry, be happy. That’s what the doctors order. You see, here’s the stumper again: thinking positive is a prescription for health. Happiness is a drug, it turns out, an elixir. Science is figuring it out, giving it a label, a neurotransmitter tag, but the faithful knew it from experience. That open feeling is healing. That open feeling will save us all. Make love not war. Peace.
So I ask Joan “How do you do it?” Her light is not l-i-t-e, not with the tiny aneurysm this winter beginning to yawn open. I ask her, this winter, while we in this country are making War in Iraq. And what I hear her say is: Practice. Practice putting worry aside. Tell yourself things will turn out in the end.
She plays these tunes of hope on her inner accordion. She plays these affirmations like music, like songs she’ll hear later in her head.
The phrases she relies upon are from the Unity Church “Daily Word.” Joan has taken me to her church in the past. It’s a New Age kind of place—the science of mind they call it. In the past, I have sung along on a Sunday and thought, whatever floats your boat. But I am the student now, I’m really trying to learn, and my voice inside, in honesty, is horrified: what, am I going to rely now on needlepoint slogans?
I am academically trained. I have the sharp Needle Point mind. Bear with me. Faith is hard for me. I try again from a more secular plane. I attend a meeting of the Carnegie seminars. You know them. They teach you how to win friends and influence people. The think-positive school of American business. We sit in a chilly air-conditioned conference room at the DoubleTree Inn, out by the airport, and on the big screen, there are these… needlepoint slogans.
Things to make you think outside the box. “There are 10 billion ways to start the first 10 moves in chess.” Things to make you lay down your assumptions. “Reno is west of LA.” And my personal favorite: “A pound of houseflies contains more protein than a pound of beef.”
But I get it now. This is truth of a poetic kind. Hope is always a product of twisted statistics. Of insisting on the red wheelbarrow in the rain. So much depends on it. The smile is power-full.
So, Frank. They schedule surgery. They delay. They schedule it again. Opening his abdomen, they find three aneurysms. Not one.
Joan is in the waiting room. Practicing Putting Worry Aside. When he opens his eyes, she wants him to see she believes he can make it.
She was born with that crooked back. Time only deepened the bend. Pain has been her teacher. What we have to fear is fear itself. What we have to love, is love itself. Love love, on all its channels.
Frank does open his eyes. He makes it. I’d like to dedicate this song to them.
The Sunny Side of the Street*
“Grab your coat, and get your hat. Leave your worries on the doorstep. Just direct your feet to the Sunny Side of the street. Can’t you hear the pitter pat? That happy tune is your step. Life can be so sweet on the sunny side of the street.
I used to walk in the shade. With my blues on parade. But I’m not afraid. This rover’s crossed over. And if I never have a cent, I’ll be rich as (J.K. Rowling), gold dust at my feet on the sunny side of the street.”
*lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Copyright 2003 Dorothee E. Kocks