Dancing Alone

CHECHNYAnot war, but music Pixdaus.com (Chechnya)
     Daniel was a tall and handsome man with piercing blue eyes, broad shoulders and blond hair. His profile was Grecian, his nose aquiline, and even more beautiful than the fine figure he cut were his exquisite hands, the hands of a musician with long, precise fingers and well-muscled joints from hours of playing. He wanted to be a concert pianist and could play anything after hearing it only once—such was his musical genius. Beethoven, Debussy, Tschaikovsky, Ravel—he could play them all with a grace and ease befitting the concert hall. Although his talent would have pleased the ear of any classical music aficionado, he played only in isolation. You see, he lived in a world where playing such erudite compositions with such ease was looked upon with great suspicion. How was it that he was able to play something after listening to it only once? Was he hearing music in his head while others were hearing nothing, only struggling with the practical matters of life such as earning a living, raising a family or defending their country from an unknown enemy?
     So the young man became a soldier and went off to war in Korea, believing that, there, he could also learn a trade that would make his family proud. He stopped hearing the music in his mind —instead hearing the roar of guns and the deep groans of dying comrades all around him. He felt sure that he was losing his mind. At night, in the commissary with other soldiers, he noticed that there was a piano and some of the men had heard that he could play a tune or two. So they asked him if he knew any popular songs. He did not. They let him listen to some records—and one or two of the men sang for him until he began to pick up some of the melodies and improvise a baseline. Soon, he was a regular source of entertainment in the evenings when the men were back at camp, and it was the first time that he had ever had the courage to play in front of others without fear of humiliation. He played each man a memory of his home and family, of holiday celebrations amidst the whitest snow and of evenings dancing cheek-to-cheek with a favorite gal. However, he could not play his own music, or allow them to see how truly skilled a musician he was, for he dreaded the isolation that might accompany that honesty. He was certain that they would recognize that there was something truly different about him, something unexplainable. And Daniel began to lose his own memories—the ones that he had created to replace the pain he felt at thinking about his own family. He began to recall his mother’s hands twisted from disease and his father’s disappointment in his never “amounting to anything.” His father played the organ beautifully, but only for company or when he wasn’t busy with traveling for business—“music was a frivolity," he recalled him saying,  "an enjoyment, not a way of life.”
     Daniel felt a kind of split occurring within himself, as though he were living a deeply duplicitous existence. When he was asked by the other men what he planned on doing after he returned to civilian life, he told them he wanted to go to Barber school and planned to open a small shop near his parents home. This was the same story that he told his mother because he saw that it pleased her and gave her some indication that he had a goal and a direction in life. The men joked about letting their hair grow out after the war and being his first customers, but he had no intention of ever following through with these menial pursuits. Even when he talked about his goals, he felt as though he were floating in a pool of liquid space disconnected from them and from the earth by billions of miles. Music filled his senses and he was able to forget, momentarily, the pain of his lost pleasure playing classical masterpieces in isolation. For a time, he was able to dull the image of the day by imagining himself sitting in a grand concert hall playing before a live audience.
     Daniel returned from Korea a changed man. He had seen other men die—men whom he knew  and men whose dreams he had listened to when it was dark and vulnerability and sadness were as unifying as human breath and the smell of sweat in the bunkers. He decided to move into a boarding house near the nation’s capital far from where his parents lived. He would go to trade school there — at least that was his plan. At the boarding house, there was an upright piano in the front room where everyone gathered for meals and coffee. Daniel used to go down in the evenings and play Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven when others were up in their rooms. It was the only thing that kept him alive, but it no longer connected him to the memories he had once cherished for himself. He felt a sense of calm while he was playing, and it allowed him to turn off some of the noise in his head—new sounds that had not been there before—voices, the roar of guns, the groans of dying men and his own deep, wounded sadness.
     There was a young woman there, Jessie, living at the boarding house, who heard his exquisite piano playing in the evening, and came downstairs to find its astonishing source. She had deep brown eyes and a look of being deeply alone, as did he. She asked him if he would play anything by Bach, for she loved Bach’s music. He smiled, softly and sadly and began to play the lovely melodies he remembered so well. No one had ever asked him to play his own music before. They met, each night at the same time, and he played for her. She was a college girl from a good family near where his own family lived, but she was different somehow, disconnected from her family as he was.
     Daniel became deeply involved with this woman in the only way that he could. He would play Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach for her and then go to her room at night and stay until early morning. They would make love and he would tell her stories about his life—events that never happened but that he wished had made up his life’s experience—and she, young and naïve, believed him. Soon the young woman found herself with child and she and Daniel were to be married.
     Daniel’s plans for Barber school dissolved—they were never fully formed to begin with. He began trying to figure out how he would support a family and he began drinking every night to drown the voices in his head that were growing louder—voices that were telling him to do terrible things to himself or to the woman that he was to marry. He looked to his father for help, but all he received from him were gifts of money, liquor, and reproof for not meeting the goals that he had originally set out for himself.
     When he and Jessie were married and living together, he began to stay out every night at local bars in town, playing whatever piano was available to him. Certain establishments began to know him and he gained a kind of local popularity that pleased him, although the music that they asked him to play was not his own. There was one song that had come out during that period of time that he did like, and he played it almost every night. In fact, people would request it because he played it so movingly and so well—Moon River:
Moon River, wider than a mile,
I’m crossing you in style some day.
Oh dream maker, you heart breaker,
Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way.
Two drifters off to see the world,
There’s such a lot of world to see.
We’re after the same rainbow’s end,
Waiting round the bend
My huckleberry friend,
Moon River and me (Mercer, J. 1961).
     When he played this music he felt disconnected from his present life, filled with the presentiment of future possibilities, and dissociated from all memories of the past. He felt rootless, groundless, unanchored, as if he were drifting downstream forever and, for only that moment, the voices would cease.
     When Daniel’s first daughter was born, he was in a bar playing that song while his wife depended upon a kindly taxi driver to take her to the hospital. He did not want to be a father; he did not want to see his child’s face, nor hear her cries. He was afraid of those cries and what they might make him do.
     The first time Daniel struck his wife in public, he was asked to leave a restaurant where he came to play the piano alone frequently. This was a huge blow to his self-confidence. He didn’t understand what he had done to deserve such rejection. His wife and he began to speak to one another less and less. The first time he heard his daughter cry and his wife did not answer her cries, he struck his baby on the head and the side. According to his wife, this happened more than once. And then another child was born to them, a year and four months after the first, but because she had seen what her husband had become, Jessie vowed that no matter what had to be done, this younger child would never be damaged, and she would do whatever she could to make life peaceful again for her first baby, who had endured so much.
     Between bouts of drunkenness and wild piano playing he overheard conversations between his wife and his father, and suddenly his eldest daughter was no longer living in the house. She left, temporarily to live with her grandfather and grandmother where she would be safe. He was glad not to hear the cries at night any longer. He was glad just to sleep. But then his father began to visit and Daniel started to suspect the plans that his wife and father had for him. He would hear his father talking and his wife crying. There were papers they had to sign and important matters to discuss.
     Suddenly, Daniel wasn’t living at home with his wife or his two daughters anymore. He was living in a white room and sleeping in an uncomfortable bed. Nurses would wake him in the morning to give him medication that made him unable to speak well. The voices in his head began to dull a little, but they never really ceased completely. He felt sedated, rootless, and alone like he was floating in a cold pool of liquid space. There was a piano there, but the medicine that they gave him made it difficult for him to remember any of his music. He lay in bed in a Veterans’ hospital all day trying to recall the memories that had made him happiest, but he could find none. The music had disappeared. He lay in bed with a cigarette in his hand, his spirit flanked on both sides by the sterile walls of an eastern state sanitarium, and the only song he could remember was Moon River. He played it in his head over and over again until he fell asleep.
Moon River, wider than a mile,
I’m crossing you in style some day.
Oh dream maker, you heart breaker,
Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way.
Two drifters off to see the world,
There’s such a lot of world to see.
We’re after the same rainbow’s end,
Waiting round the bend
My huckleberry friend,
Moon River and me (Mercer, J. 1961).
Moon River ~ Sarah Brightman
Note from the Author: I wrote this "Family Myth" as an assignment for a family counseling course at Pacifica. We were asked to write a myth about our families, (based on true feeling) so I decided to write some of the truth and couch it in a more romantic history of the man my father might have been before he experienced a break with reality and just after it occurred. Interestingly, it was healing for me to reinvent my father in this way, and to make some effort to empathize with a man I barely knew barring the nightmarish stories passed down to me by my mother. I share it with you here for anyone who lives with mental illness in their family. There is a great deal of loss suffered both by the person who is ill and by the family who remembers who that son or daughter was or might have been before the break occurred. Many families believe that isolating children from mentally ill parents is the proper resolution. This was the case with my family. I believe that this causes an even greater disconnect that makes wellness, wholeness or any measure of happiness impossible for the person who is ill, and I think that it creates a feeling of permanent shame and emptiness for the children. We live in a culture that sequesters the mentally ill who have money enough for care. They do not walk among us. They are the forgotten, and we fear what we do not know or cannot remember. I write this because I want to remember. I remember you Dad.
~Noelle Renee
MS-Moon_Over_Water




Comments

  1. my darling noelle,
    i have come here...to be close to you, never imaging you would uncover your soul so fully as you have here today. just the picture alone undid me. and then i began your story. immediately the music, the piano....the longing and the misunderstood.

    i will have to return this evening to drink in each word s l o w l y ....just know i will carry you like music in my heart all day until i can return to your stunning words.

    i love you.....

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  2. I love you too, Rebecca. Thank you for reading this and for carrying me in your heart as I always carry you in mine. I always know that you will see me.
    Much Love,
    Noelle

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  3. Eloquent. Heart piercing. Sad beyond what words can express. And that it's your newly revised story of your father makes it all the more touching. We truly can't live fully if our dreams die, can we?

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  4. Living and hopeful dreams are essential for any transformative journey.
    Meri-I so agree. They are the harbingers of life's continuing
    possibilities. Thank you for your compassionate heart and understanding
    spirit.
    With Lovingkindness,
    Noelle

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  5. dear one,
    i have returned to sit without time constraint and read again your family myth. heart wrenching...haunting, the layers of all of us, so complex.
    i marvel at you noelle...how you have traveled with great soulful intension into the heart of life.
    and here you are. always a comfort and giver of deep inspiration.

    much love....

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  6. Normally, Noelle, long posts do not hold my interest. This one, however, had me moving closer and closer to the monitor. I found myself wanting to crawl into the words. This is very poignant but more than that, it is healing.

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  7. Thank you Annie for your kindness and your compassionate interest. I am glad
    that it resonated in your heart.
    xo,
    Noelle

    ReplyDelete

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