Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Losses: 3

I met her when I was  eight years old. She was tall, dark, beautiful, and her voice could have passed for RuPaul's. I loved it when she said my name. She consistently mispronounced it, and I never corrected her. That may be because she initially terrified me; but spending ten years with someone can change that.


I was a shitty player, a sandbagger. One of those people who is better than they let on to be, but so afraid to make mistakes, they feign to be unskilled. From a young age I had this attitude," I'll never be good enough, so why even try?" What an asshole kid. 

She played right along with my game, adjusting teaching as necessary. 

My mom would come to each lesson and write to me in a notebook what I should practice at home. She drew with these little colored felt-tip pens. If I was acting appropriately teenage and angsty, I got an ugly cartoon face spewing off  hate-filled speech bubbles about my naughtiness.

There were a lot of cartoon faces in that notebook.

I adored Mrs. RuPaul. She was totally unflappable. I remember chewing gum one lesson, and as I looked down it fell out of my mouth, rolling down the my instrument to land on the floor with an audible plop. I suspect I resembled a fish out of water. She merely chuckled and got a tissue. "Now about that Berlioz section my dear..."

I left her in tears when I packed up for college. I stopped playing because I knew I didn't have the passion to pursue music as a career. And frankly, she was excellent, and worked so damn hard, but barely eked out a living between 2nd chair in the symphony, chamber music, quartets, private lessons, and directing her church's choir. She was the organist too.

I did my own thing, graduated, decided I didn't like my choice of majors, and went home to another college for another degree. I ran into her again at an art show, and I was speechless, delightfully reduced to my 8-year-old self. I noticed she held her hands behind her back the whole time we chatted.

When I did see her fingers I understood. They looked like spaghetti. This explained why my parents hadn't seen her playing in the symphony anymore. This explained that vague look she'd get years ago during my  music lessons when she massaged her wrists. 

That RuPaul voice was due to the years of cigarettes, and she developed the cancer to prove it. Those cigarettes did not help her RA ; her back was in ruins at the end. I wrote her a really long weepy letter, I may have left a teardrop on the page. She said she was touched.

She outlived her lung cancer for a few years, passing away in April of 2011. By this point I was freshly diagnosed and already injecting myself with Humira, using a cane to walk, and barely surviving the workday. Her cancer was something beyond awful, but I couldn't help seeing the other connection spring to the forefront, a nasty wolf tone emanating from our shared history.

I knew she was not well at the end, suffering. But it broke my heart to lose this larger-than-life woman. I'm grateful she never knew we shared an illness, because our relationship was forged in music. With her death I dusted off my instrument, got out the rosin, and greased up the bow.  I'm still not an angel, but I'm not as hard on myself.  Now I play my songs gloriously and imperfect, mistakes ringing out and back up to her string of influence.

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