Monday, September 10, 2018

Playing the Fiddle for a Dying Soul

    I stepped into a bedroom with a four-poster bed and a poofy white comforter.  A little head stuck from the top of the comforter.  She was smoking, completely horizontally, and with her head barely visible!  A bottle of whiskey sat on her end-table, but it looked pretty full.  I blinked hard, then stared--this must be the cantankerous DYING woman. What was she, recovering from a frat party?
    "So you're the fiddle lady?  You're not what I expected at all. You're much older."
    I studied her, then before stopping myself, responded with, "You're not what I expected either.  You don't even look like you're dying."
    Her daughter, who had led me into the room, turned very pale. Then, so did I--the queen of saying the wrong crap, always. 
    I thought I'd get the smack-down from "Old Smokey," who still puffed away at that Camel Gold, but as she looked at my apologetic face, she suddenly burst out laughing...and coughing, and laughing again.
    "Awe, kid. You're too damn honest. But so am I."
    I bit my lip and smiled at her. "Mrs. Beck, I like you." 
    "Ya, that happens from time to time.  I'm usually an acquired taste, but the people who like me right off, I figure those are the good ones."  She grinned so wide, showing several missing teeth and even a big silver one that Lil Wayne woulda gone crazy for! "So what do you got, kid?" she asked, and I bent over to begin taking my violin from the case.
    "I'm gonna play some oldies. That's what I heard you like."  I snapped my shoulder rest into place, tightened my bow, and was ready in 20 seconds flat!  "Mrs. Beck," I said, because I'm super direct, "you keep calling me kid, but you said I'm older than you expected."
    "That?  Anyone under fifty is a kid to me! And they keep bringing pre-teens over to see me--like they're doing a good deed or something.  Why are you here anyway, Elisa? Why did you come?"
    I thought for a minute. "I guess, I just want to make you forget whatever it is that you're going through--even if it's just for a minute. Focus on something else, and enjoy."  I set my violin on my shoulder.  "So, I have a favor to ask you.  Set down your cigarette, and close your eyes."
    She kinda snort-laughed, set her ciggy down, then snuggled into that huge white pillow and closed her eyes.  
    "Now, as I play, I want you to picture a story."
    And I started.  First I played the beginning of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel. The music started out quiet--a trickle of spring rain. "When you're weary, feeling small." The words swam around my head as I played. "When tears are near your eyes, I will dry them all...  I'm on your side when times get rough, and friends just can't be found. Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down."
    Little tears seeped from the sides of Mrs. Beck's eyes.  She looked so utterly beautiful, like an elderly Snow White or somethin' with her sheered, dyed-black hair, and leathery face.  But instead of lying there, waiting for the kiss of her prince, she was dying, waiting for the kiss of God.
    Tears suddenly came to my eyes too, and I told myself to quit being such a freakin' pansy.  I shut my lids and instead of letting my emotion escape through the weakness in my eyes, I pushed that pain into my arms, my fingertips.  And I played that violin, like a flippin' lover--it cried in my arms, wailing over the melodies and having so much power it couldn't help reacting to the sheer feeling flooding my body. I knew Mrs. Beck and her daughter could feel the very sorrow that was deep in my soul--for them. Because that violin was a magnifying glass, exemplifying exactly why I was there, who I was, and that I wanted to offer at least some semblance of peace.
    "Sail on by. Your time has come to shine. All your dreams are on their way...."
    Then my bow grew with deep friction and strength, and I transitioned into notes and melodies that just came to me. My fingers and violin took over. That's the funny thing about me and my fiddle; I think I have control, then that damn thing takes over like an addiction. I have the roadmap, but my fiddle has the details that always take me there--a good friend, leading me home.
     The song swelled, over and over.  At one point, I realized the window at the foot of Mrs. Beck's bed was open, because a gust of wind rode in on a high note.  It was right after that, when my fingers and bow slowed to a stop. The notes descended to my D string, and the weight of the music left my body. The song...was over.
    I held my violin at my side, that freakin' extension of self. I faced the window and closed my eyes. I didn't want Mrs. Beck or her daughter to see that I was crying.  I even prayed the wind would come again, and God would dry my tears. The Becks were sad enough. They didn't need to see some kid--over thirty--crying because she "felt bad."
    "Elisa," Mrs. Beck rasped. She beckoned me to the side of her bed. I wiped my eyes, then obeyed. She reached out her wrinkled hand, with that soft, paper-thin skin, and grabbed my fingers.  "That...Elisa, that was beautiful."
    "What did you see," I asked, "when you closed your eyes?"
    "Something from when I was a kid.  Something I thought I forgot. Me and my mom and dad were walking in a field." She took a very deep breath. "I miss them. They were good parents."
    I had to twitch my nose just to keep from crying. After all, she'd probably be reuniting with a lot of people soon. I put my violin away, then hugged both Mrs. Beck and her daughter.
   "It was nice meeting you both," I said. Then, I left the house, and I never saw either one of them again.'s a gift, but sometimes it sure is a strange thing.


A 35-year-old kid

Monday, September 3, 2018

All That Remains Is Love

Just remembering...

    On January 30th, a few years ago, I drove through treacherously snow-filled mountains. Flakes shot down, forming an unwanted curtain around the truck. My eyes darted to the right of the canyon, but I could barely see, let alone remember any turnouts in that area. The lights from a huge semi bounced off the road behind us, shining increasingly closer. That driver loved tail-gating people--for a living. Who gave that idiot a CDL? But I didn't say the words aloud; instead, I white-knuckled the steering wheel in terror and realized from the icy breath of my family around me, they were terrified too. 
    And maybe they should have been. This was an unlucky day for us--the same day my son died 13 years before.... Normally each year I'd visit his grave, read my journal--the book I wrote about him. (More about that HERE.) 
    But this January, I didn't do any of that.  After all it's his Death Day. I don't want to go back to that damn memory--of a hospital that reeks of iodine and rubbing alcohol. Those stupid machines whirring and beeping to keep OTHER parents' kids alive. But. Not. Mine. Because the damn doctors said he would never live. THEY said he'd die despite all their fancy gadgets and his will to live. His fight...was for naught. So he died that day, amidst the stench of medicine, after my ex-husband and I removed him from life support, and he suffocated in our arms....
    As I drove through the snow-infested mountains, with the wind nearly ripping our truck from the road, I couldn't help thinking about Zeke. I shook my head telling myself not to. This drive was dangerous enough, without me trying to see through tears as well. 
    But what happened next, surprised me.
    This year, I didn't recall all of the sad circumstances of his death. Instead, I simply remembered a specific day nearly a month before he died.
    Zeke's nurse had said I could hold him in a rocking chair. Right before she was about to pass him to me, he started crying really hard. Another nurse came by and said I shouldn't hold him, that they needed to up his vent settings. But I pleaded, BEGGING them to let me hold my baby. So they handed him to me. 
    I rocked so slowly, careful since he had so much tubing in him. And instead of crying harder like they'd thought he might, he melted into my arms, as if he was always meant to be there. I put my pinkie near his hand and he wrapped his little fingers around it, holding on so damn tight. Tears filled my eyes as I rocked him forever. And in that moment, it didn't matter how sick he was or how hard this was. We loved each other.  Nothing could take that away, not time, not sickness, not death. And that moment, admist the stench of medicine and all those whirring machines...that was a perfect moment.
    I could hardly believe it had been 13 years this January. I blinked, focusing on the road ahead. The weather began clearing a little, and it wasn't quite so terrifying.
    After we were safely home and all of the kids were in bed, I told my husband about the memory. "I can't remember the complete details of the bad parts of Zeke's life anymore, but I do remember every detail of when I held him in the rocking chair for the first time." 
    Mike squeezed my hand.
    "It's crazy, Mike, but I feel so much peace right now. When time has passed and everything else is gone, all that remains--all that really matters--is love."
    And so now when I think of Zeke, the memory of his love is in the forefront of my mind. I hope that's what he remembers about me as well....    

Happy birthday.