The mass layoff announcement, we knew, would come on Tuesday morning. Mid-morning, sick with anxiety, I dialed my husband Peter’s work phone number. He answered in his customary professional manner and for a moment a surge of irrational hope welled up in me. “Well?” I asked, my voice cracking.
“Oh.” My hopes, like my spirits, plummeted. “Oh.”
A brief expletive on my part ensued, coupled with a reference to his boss’s privates that is best left unrepeated.
“Yeah. Well. I’ll see you at home.”
I hung up the phone and stared numbly out the window. It was a warm, sunny, Santa Cruz Mountains day, birds chirping, squirrels scampering over fallen golden-brown leaves. I couldn’t move. A minute later, the phone rang again. No, it wasn’t Peter calling to say there was some confusion and he was still in after all. Instead it was the administration at my son’s elementary school. Jonathan had slipped and fallen during a sports game at recess, landing on his back hard. Could I come in to check him out? They’d brought him up from the playground in a wheelchair as a precaution. He was still in it when I arrived twenty minutes later. Brown hair tousled, head bent, shoulders bowed, a look of abject misery on his face, he looked positively Dickensian.
His injury was mild but he was tearful, shaken. Frankly, so was I. I agreed to let him come home. Minutes upon our arrival, Peter pulled up in the driveway. We all congregated in the living room, the three of us, four if you include the cat, who meandered over, curious about this unorthodox weekday disruption. As we sat and chattered, a sort of giddiness came over the room, like an endorphin rush.
Grief is a capricious, ever-changing feeling, not without its comic element. One minute you are holding back tears, trying to keep your voice from wobbling as you speak, a chill gripping your insides, bony fingers of dread brushing against your throat. Then, ten minutes later, the trajectory reverses on you. There we were, the three of us chuckling (the cat, bored, had returned to his napping spot in the sun), Jonathan propped up by pillows on the couch, thrilled to be home on a school day, Peter, good-natured and wryly philosophical about the bomb just dropped on him. Over Jonathan’s head we murmured to each other about how we’d be fine, we could cancel this frivolity, cut that luxury by three-quarters. Our fingers touched. We would be fine, we repeated.
He and I milled around in a confused fashion over the next hour, trying to set ourselves back on track, in spite of the party atmosphere that prevailed. Peter lugged in his work boxes from the car and after setting himself up in the home office, began to make phone calls. I made sure Jonathan was comfortable, a pile of his favorite books set alongside his homework, then I went upstairs to practice my violin. I had a lesson that afternoon, a tactile reminder that, in spite of upheaval, the world and its obligations had no intention of slowing down.
How comforting, this routine, the steady droning scales, two short bow strokes and one long, before moving to the next note. Then the arpeggios and études I could do in my sleep. How sweet and pure the sound my bow was drawing today. How clean the intonation, how satisfying this simple practice. I thought of my family downstairs, Peter in the office, murmuring on the phone, Jonathan in the living room reading quietly. I looked out my window into the front yard, the lawn framed by redwoods and oaks, the distant hills appearing smoky-blue in the afternoon’s hazy light. A sense of well-being flowed through me, staying with me as I completed my scales and moved on to my assigned music. That sweet, sweet music.
This, then, is why I persevere on the violin, in spite of the many constraints of being an adult beginner. This is why I slog through the doldrums that arise from time to time. Because when life is good, you pick up your fiddle and play. When your world stumbles, you still pick up your fiddle and play. No excuses, no brush-offs. And in return, no bullet will ever penetrate this world.
© 2008 Terez Rose
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