I used to play, but softly so as not to wake my father.
He was a dark, gruff man who taught me everything that I needed to know about survival in the wild by the time that I was eleven and a half.
Resting on his shoulder, we traipsed through the wooded area nearby our cottage as he told me dark stories of witches and goblins. I loved this more than any other time we spent together.
He was like that, you see; always taking my mother, brother and I on adventures.
He would throw up the old “holy” tent in the yard and grab little more than a flashlight and an emergency supply of graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows in case we had to survive a zombie apocalypse. Dragging me, my brother Eric, and my mother into the tent he’d flash the light at the darkest part. Then he’d put his hands together to make monstrous shadows on the tarp as he told us to “get low” “stay quiet.” This was shortly before he stuffed his cheeks with emergency s’mores.
He would drag my brother into our old tree house and claim that they were under attack if we came anywhere within the vicinity; shouting down “no girls allowed!” and pelting my mother and I with water balloons. Which, of course just made my mother and I take up our own weapons and fire back at them as we cooled ourselves on the hottest summer day in August.
But one of the things that I remember the most about him was the way that he watched my mother. He would always stare at her when she cooked, or cleaned, or when she sat at the grand piano; the one that grandfather gave us.
She would sit down to it, with her curly golden hair falling over one shoulder and caress the keys in a way that enthralled him. He would stand in the hall arch and stare at her. He’d stare at her the way that I would stare at him; as though he’d never seen her before and as though she was the most beautiful angel he’d ever clamped eyes upon.
The melodious colors of Chopin, Mozart, and Liszt poured through the dark corners of our house almost every day as she watched the sun set. “I want to remember, puppet,” she’d tell me as she touched the tip of my nose and putting her forehead to mine, she’d smile. “I want to remember everything beautiful, and everything about you.”
I had learned to play the piano as well, wanting to be just like her in every single way. I also wanted so badly for my father to look at me the way that he looked at mommy. Like she was magic dust, or twinkling lights.
I would play night and day, practicing, frustrated and horrified by my own mistakes.
My mother would sit down next to me when I felt like everything was going to crash down on me and say, “You’ll get it. Everything takes time.” Her voice was growing ever more quiet in those days. Often when I came home from school, she was in bed taking a quick nap before she got up to help me.
Then she’d pin her hair up, rub cream into her dry hands, and sit with me on the piano bench to play while my father watched her as if she was pure vision. His eyes moved over her as if she were not real or tangible; as if she was merely a ghost of eternal beauty and delight in the orange afternoon light. It always made me feel warm.
I smiled at her warmly when I got a piano piece right, and she’d smile back at me through white, cracked lips and motion gracefully for me to go on. Then she’d listen as I played another song or two, and then she’d slowly climb the stairs and lay down for the rest of the evening.
In September of that same year, I played very quietly so as not to wake my father.
He would drag himself in after a long day at work, stumble sluggishly into the kitchen, pour a drink. Then, he would stumble slowly up to the bedroom where he’d lay alone. I realize only now that he never wanted me to see him cry and I respect that. He always kept my mother close to his heart, and his mind in his own way. The same way that each of us do.
So when I play now, twenty eight years later on stage with a grand orchestra, and the melodious colors of Chopin, Mozart, and Liszt pour down into the audience, my father attends every concert and he watches me through crinkling eyes filled with glittering tears.