Monday, May 15, 2006

one year

When I was seven years old, my parents bought a piano. It was the end of a vacation in North Carolina, and they bought it at a piano dealership just two towns over from where my father was born. We put it in a U-Haul trailer and dragged it all the way back to Florida, where it was installed in the "fancy" living room.

Over the next few years, my sister and I pounded out various scales and musical pieces. Meanwhile, my mother, who had played in the student orchestra when she was a child but never quite got around to learning piano, bought herself The Billy Joel Songbook. The whole family loves Billy Joel, Mom especially. She set out to learn her favorite Billy Joel song.

Unfortunately, Mom never did manage to find her way around that piano. I don't know if it was because she only played on it when the mood struck her, or perhaps the fibromalgia was already doing a number on her hands, but even twenty years ago, she was struggling to get through the first phrase. My sister and I, subtle creatures that we were, used to tease her mercilessly. Whenever we heard that first phrase

*chord* Don't go changin'...

we would howl like wounded animals. "Oh noooooooooooooo," we'd moan. "You're killing my ears!"

As I grew older, I learned to leave her in peace. She would never be a virtuoso, and we both knew it, but it gave her happiness and who was I to make fun of her for it? When financial circumstances forced my parents to sell the piano, I like to think she gave it one last shot the night before, for old times' sake.

One year ago today, I sat in the back seat of my father's Buick.

Forty-five minutes earlier, my mother had been taken off the ventilator in ICU at the hospital. Dad thought it would be a good idea to eat an early dinner before going to spend the evening at the hospital, so we were in the middle of preparing some leftover sauce and cooking pasta when the phone rang. Mom was fading.

So I was sitting in the backseat of my father's Buick trying to prepare myself for the worst. I knew what was coming and I couldn't wrap my head around it. My heart was beating so hard I could hear it. It was a rainy, cloudy day, and it seemed everyone in Asheville was in our way, slowing us down.

Mere moments before pulling into the parking lot of the hospital, a new song came on the radio

*chord* Don't go changin'...

and I knew. I knew like I know my name, that she was gone, just that moment. I couldn't say the words, I could barely keep the tears from spilling, but I knew it.

It was confirmed minutes later, as we entered the ICU ward and washed our hands, that we had only just missed her. Fifteen days shy of her 60th birthday, Mom had lost her fight with Scleroderma.

I said I love you and that's forever
And this I promise from the heart

I'm not really a superstitious person, and I'm just as skeptical of supernatural stuff as the next person, but I know that my Mom sent us a message one year ago today.

Mommy, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of you. I miss you and need you more than ever. But I want you to know that I heard you.

I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are

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