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I go out walkin after midnight
Out in the starlight
Just like we used to do
Im always walking after midnight
Searching for you

When I came to visit you in the hospital, the harsh lights washed away any pretending that things would get better. There, the truth is unflinching and pale and yellow. You were my grandmother once, but now you are an ornament, a shrine at which we throw Medicare bills and cut flowers. I often wonder if I will be in such a sorry state. Glibly I announce to my sister, "At my funeral, you have to have cake. It's the only proper thing to do for such an inconvenience." You didn't hear me, you were on another white-hot morphine trip, but you would've laughed in your smoky, quiet voice.

I walk for miles along the highway
Well thats just my way
Of sayin I love you
I'm always walkin after midnight
Searchin for you

The first real memory I have of you is the day Stephon's house burned down. We were at the grocery store, and on the way home, they stopped us and told us there was a fire at one of the houses. You made me run home to make sure it wasn't mine. Days later, when you caught me wondering through the burnt-out husk of a home, you yelled at me: "Get away from that place!" Could you see him then? The grim specter of fate that had claimed Stephon's stepfather? I might've done epic battle with him, if only you had asked then. But you just lit up another cigarette, and egged him on a little more.

I stop to see a weeping willow
Cryin on his pillow
Maybe hes cryin for me
And as the skies turn gloomy
Night winds whisper to me
I'm lonesome as I can be

From then on, whenever I saw you on our frequent visits to Waco, you seemed cautious around me. A hug and a kiss and a spirited slap on the butt, and then you would vanish into the crannies of your life, re-emerging to see us off on Sunday afternoon. Your room was off-limits, your closets labyrinthine, your garage a museum. It took us years to find your photo albums, and even longer to find your record collection. Floyd Cramer, Loretta Lynn, Lefty Frizzell, Hank, Johnny, Merle, and Patsy. My favorite was that small Mills Brothers 45 you had from the late 40s, but then one day it disappeared to places unknown. You always had a hankering for Patsy, though.

I go out walkin after midnight
Out in the moonlight
Just a-hopin you may be
Somewhere a-walkin after midnight
Searching for me

She, the ghost of '63, whose sad song of love and loss must've dogged you when you reflected on your first husband running away with another woman, the kind of story you only hear on weepy soap operas until you overhear them behind closed doors you are too close to on sleepless nights. I heard "Walking After Midnight" on more than one late occasion coming from your room. Were you even there? Or was the song merely your apology while you roamed the wild streets searching for answers to your old life, before Grandpa and dad and Uncle Pat and the beauty parlor? But like clockwork, your 5 o'clock cup of coffee would be in your hands before I awoke.

I go out walkin after midnight
Searchin for you

It's been 3 years since they turned off the machines and let you fall asleep in your favorite chaise one last time. I guess at 18, it's hard to gauge the importance of such things as love and hope and the endless search for all things grand. I secretly like to think that on one of your lycanthropic escapades you found what you were looking for, and took off for the Rockies or Mexico or the bottom of the ocean, and only left enough heart in you to say goodbye and hold our hands as you made your getaway. Last night the friendly folks of trucker radio brought it all back to me with this song, your elegy and your memory. I couldn't imagine anything else on your stereo.

Words and Music by Don Hecht/Alan Block. For Patsy and Grandma, who cooked a mean roast.

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