The day was going to come. I’ve known it now for months, reading between the lines, shocked at how selfish I can be.
A family grieves, including small children and people who were once small children, who once came under the spell of one particular teacher. I read their comments on her Facebook page. I resist the urge to add something, to make it about me, although of course I’d feel compelled. It turned out to be about me.
I knew her for such a short time, and up until a few years ago hers was just another dusty name, alive and well in my memory but for reasons I didn’t quite understand.
I’ve tried to explain this on several occasions, and I don’t seem able to, somehow. But here you go: I’m not very interested in writing to make myself feel better. To rant, to vent, to rage against injustice, fold it up into a paper airplane and sail it off into the world, to do nothing constructive but spew; I’ve done it, but it’s not satisfying and I rarely have the urge.
Some people can pull this off, this personal catharsis that comes with assembling stray thoughts into little clauses. It’s just never worked for me. If I want to change my mood, I’ll take a walk or pull weeds.
But sometimes I learn things, if after the fact. Sometimes I’ll re-visit something I wrote, sometimes years ago, and see what was on my mind, what focus had been adjusted by the act of typing characters on a keyboard and waiting to see what came out.
So I wrote about her a few years ago, this distant memory of a music teacher, just a cute story I thought that pushed the narrative along. I was an adolescent, she was kind and inspiring, and how funny that my life would look oddly as though my trajectory was changed, if ever so slightly, by a few months of singing and learning, and watching.
And what I learned, later on, looking back at that piece, was that while I could spin a story about influence and inspiration, and how funny it was that I’d end up fascinated by musicians, marrying one and fathering another, there was an actual teachable moment there. Or moments. A long time ago.
I sent her the column, finding her alive and well online, and we had some communication after all of these years. And I tried to tell her, without getting too sentimental or lofty, that somehow she gave me confidence. It was a good time to receive it, at 13 years old. It made the next few years a lot more fun.
I figured out what I’d learned, that’s all, and why it wasn’t what I’d always believed.
And that was it. The occasional notes from time to time, and I kept an eye on her life as much as anyone else I once knew and now can observe through social media, lurking or engaging, my choice.
The last comment she left me was on Facebook, in fact. It was strange, with missing words and a few misspelled ones, which I tried to pass off as maybe a quickly dictated note, or maybe done with one hand in a spontaneous moment. That’s all I thought. I already knew she was dying.
That much she’d told me, if indirectly. I knew about the brain cancer and the treatment, and her decisions about the future. But it wasn’t as though we were close. Just a teacher, and a former student, and some people in common in a few crazy but actually understandable connections.
And yet here I am, trying to deconstruct a slight, tangential relationship to find something else. To find out why this makes me so sad.
I don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s because, after connecting at a distance after all these years, I assumed that one day we’d end up in roughly the same geographic location, close enough to make a trip to say hi.
Maybe it’s because she was 67, in a year when we’ve lost some famous people who never reached 70. It was the same age as my father when he died, although under different circumstances, and that was 13 years ago. I obviously am closer to 67 now than I was then.
Or maybe it’s just what it is, and was. She was young and pretty, enthusiastic about music and about sharing it with young minds and voices. She lit up the classroom, and taught with humor and joy.
And sometimes she’d sing, just a little, a beautiful voice, a lyric soprano who knew more about her own instrument than most of us would ever learn about our own.
I may have married my music teacher, in other words, the way some people are said to marry their fathers or mothers. I have no sense of this, although maybe it explains the familiarity I felt. I have very little insight into what I was like at 13, and no wisdom about what makes love happen.
It just made me a little desolate yesterday, knowing that we were losing a little light in this dark world, wishing it didn’t have to be that way. Wishing I had just one more chance to say thank you, for lessons learned. About singing, about music, about me.