Thursday, November 12, 2009

Second Assignment

I was about 12 or 13 when J ran away. It wasn’t unusual for him to disappear, but one day he was really gone and we didn’t know to where. I admit that I did worry for a moment, until he called from Colorado and told us that he and D had left to get away from the crowd they had been hanging around with and that he was okay. Mom and Dad told him they would send him a bus ticket whenever he was ready to come home and reminded him to keep calling and checking in. That was that for me. I was in junior high had other things to worry about than my middle brother, who may have been infinitely cooler than me but was in no way smarter than me. He would come home. Mom and Dad would handle the worrying. I wasn’t going to miss him teasing me or being obviously embarrassed by me or telling me to go away. I wouldn’t miss the police cars dropping him off in the morning or the green ink stains on the bathroom rug from where he’d tried to dye his hair again. And honestly, it was nice the way the kids at school reacted when I told them my brother and D had run away. Concern, amazement, awe. Finally I had something interesting to talk about.

Eventually he and D ended up in California. They got clean and learned to surf and make bagels. Then when he did come home, he had changed. He was still way cooler than me but now in a way that I actually wanted to be. He was clean and healthy and confident. He got a smart, pretty steady girlfriend and ran for student office and won. What a loser…

Things changed at home, too. Mom and Dad started fighting more. They went to counseling. And when Dad’s contract at the college expired and he got another teaching job in a different state, he moved and we stayed behind. We stayed so J could finish high school and Mom, who had just gotten a promotion, could get a little experience in her new position. The plan was to move to be with Dad after J graduated.

Dad came home for the weekend sometimes. I would come in the front door after school and hear the vacuum running and know that he was there. And I would feel disappointed because that meant I couldn’t watch “Santa Barbara” and that there would be fighting that weekend. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my father or miss him; it was just easier, less tense, when he wasn’t there.

One evening, somehow, Mom, Dad, J, and I were all sitting at the table eating dinner together. My oldest brother wasn’t there, but he had moved out and rarely ate dinner with us. We were eating and talking and the tension was building, like it usually did when we were all in the same place together, and then my dad broke his tooth. He exploded. He swore and then shouted, “YOUR MOTHER WANTS A DIVORCE!”

That kind of ended dinner.

My mom came into my room later to check on me. She had already talked to J; I’d heard her go into his room and knew she’d come to me next. I was doing something random, reading on my bed or lying on the floor or something. She said, “I’m sorry, sweetie. That wasn’t how we wanted to do that.”

“That’s okay,” I said. And it really was.

“Why aren’t you crying? Everyone else is crying?” she asked.

“Everyone?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “Even J.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I’m just not surprised.”

Thursday, November 5, 2009

First Assignment

Dad and I had an early dinner and headed out to my piano lesson. It was dark earlier than usual because the sun had gone down behind thick snow clouds. He parked the car behind the church, and as we got out and started across the street to the building that housed the church offices and Sunday school classrooms, we could hear the gentle tap, tap of the first snowflakes falling on the holly bushes that lined the side wall of the church.

The front door of the renovated old farmhouse stuck a little. It always took the slightest extra nudge to pop it open. My stomach jumped with the sound of the door un-sticking, and the butterflies that had been fluttering just a little became more forceful as we went in and started up the wooden stairs. I was always a little nervous before my piano lesson, but this night, each step up to the next stair just increased my nervousness because I knew that Holly would know that I hadn't practiced what she had assigned for me. Plus, I needed to cut my fingernails.

The lesson before mine was just finishing. I could hear the last few notes of a piece and then Holly's voice. My nervousness turned to a guilty dread as I listened to the sound of a folding metal chair scrape the floor and then the student's mother's voice getting nearer as they came toward the door. I hoped that they knew they could take their time. There were the usual hello's and how-are-you's when they opened the door and came out and my father and I went in. I took my time crossing the long room to the tall antique upright in the far corner. I sat on the round-topped wooden stool and was relieved to feel that it was too low. I stood and postponed my lesson a little longer by spinning it higher. Very slowly. Eventually, though, I had to sit down. It wasn’t that I hadn’t practiced at all; I just hadn’t practiced what Holly had told me to.

I sat and turned to Holly. “Before we start, can I play something for you?” I asked. I had read ahead in my lesson book and knew that I could play the next piece well. She agreed, and I opened my book.

I don’t remember the name of the piece or the way the notes looked on the page or even the melody. I have a vague feeling now that the piece was in the key of D Major. Maybe D minor. What I do remember is that when I started to play, I felt the music fill the room. I don’t know where it came from. The music didn’t come from inside me. It felt like came through me. It flowed out of me as if I was the instrument and the music played me. And while I played, I wasn’t full of butterflies anymore. I was confident and comfortable and whole, engulfed by the music.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Can You Help?

Would you do me a favor? Would you leave a comment describing the sound of snow falling at night? Thanks!
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