Summer House: Ch. 3


C minor chords crash through the house. I can play as loudly as I want, as late as I want. The other side of the duplex sits empty. A family has rented it for the summer, all paid up through Labor Day, but they haven’t yet moved in.

I play Beethoven’s Fifth Sonata. It’s one of the easier ones–considered light, insignificant. But it still exacts payment in emotions.

During the school year, I can’t play Beethoven. I play Bach each morning: preludes, inventions, sinfonias. As I play, the loose tendrils of dreams become tied back onto the trellis, and the nagging fears and sorrows slide back into drawers. Bach spring-cleans mind and soul. When I stand at the front of the class, with twenty-five students gazing at me, if I’ve played Bach, I keep the attention on the day’s lesson, and I become unimportant: a cog in the engine of learning, and the students are the drivers.

I don’t dare play Beethoven before a day of teaching.

I play the Fifth Sonata in the summer house, while the other half of the duplex sits empty, while the ocean batters the beach below, while the clouds roll past the lighthouse towards the music room where no matter how pianissimo I play, chords crash down. Each minor chord severs the tether of another tendril, empties another drawer, and runners of the dreams grow through the spilled emotions, no matter how quietly I play.

This is why I can’t play Beethoven during the school year. I am raw, exposed, vulnerable.

But I play tonight.

It all swirls–before I realize, tears stream. What am I crying for? For the c minor chord. I feel these are not even my emotions–these are implants from Beethoven. What channels did he connect to that move through me?

Glaciers melt, and the sea inside opens, as waves crash, again, again.

I play until my fingers stop, and in the silence, I rise, following the shafts of moonlight out to the back meadow, to the bluff, overlooking the sea.

During the school year, I have to step back, always, from the precipice. If the ice flow melts, how do I move through a day? How do I keep it all together if I’m drowning in the release?

Sometimes I don’t think there is such a thing as silence, for when I become still and quiet, I listen. My pulse beats. The waves crash, again, again. My breath runs in shudders and long still rows of in and out. And beyond that… if light runs through everything, every crystal of every being, then we can hear a hum that is either too high or too low for our everyday ears but which we feel when the crystals within each of our cells resonates. I always hear music.

During the school year, I stop my ears more than I listen, for when I hear, the ice flows melt.

In my computer, in the inbox of my email, sit five messages from the department secretary, each asking the same question: When will I sign and submit my contract?

I have a few weeks until the deadline.

Right now, Beethoven has hooked me up with a channel of feeling, and the ice flows have melted, and the moon shines down, and the waves crash, again, again, and my pulse beats, and everything sparkles. Everything hums.

This I know: I want what is real.

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Summer House: Ch. 2


I walk along the beach at night. Let go, let go, let go, sigh the waves. So I do, though I don’t know what I let go of.

Betrayal? My betrayal of Sasha in remaining Denny’s friend. Denny’s betrayal of a student’s trust. My own betrayal of neutrality by feeling guilty when no guilt is needed. I let go. It’s just the wiring of the social mind.

Let go, let go, let go. 

I let go of a need to decide.

I walk the beach, and where the waves meet the sand, I remember what is hidden within each crystal grain.

Let go, let, let it, let it go.

My parents said I was a happy child ensconced in a happy childhood, and I played along until I couldn’t. In fifth grade, the tears came, and I couldn’t let go. I cried after school, one day, two, one week, two, until the bouts of tears stretched across months.

My mother returned to work that year. She was tired when she got home, busy. But she would put her hand on my shoulder, and that’s when the tears would fall, and she’d ask why and I couldn’t tell her.

I had no words, only tightness in my chest that walled up, and even tears couldn’t wear down the wall, for I wasn’t allowed to cry, but I cried anyway.

My parents talked, quietly in the hall.

“A counselor?”

“Maybe a doctor. A psychiatrist.”

“Is it like with your mother?”

“No, it’s not like that. I’ll call our doctor.”

And the next day, they both smiled. “Growing up is tough,” they said. I heard my mother on the phone with my aunt. “Hormones,” she said.

At school, we read Anne Frank, and I couldn’t understand why someone would write a novel like that–what twisted mind could invent such cruelty? But, no. My mom said it wasn’t a novel, but a journal. A real diary of a real girl, and the Holocaust really happened. She was alive then, my mom, and that’s what the War was all about. Yes, it was horrible, when they found out.  Yes, people did that. No, we don’t know why. Anne Frank was a real girl.

When Time and Newsweek showed up in the mailbox, I couldn’t look–I had to look. The photos. The girl, not older than me, half-naked, running down the street, weeping, bombs exploding, napalm burning. The horrible stories on the news each night. The kids at school playing army, hiding under the playground tables, shooting machine-gun rulers at gorilla soldiers, at villagers. Playing heroes. Playing killers. My cousin, up for the draft, in three years’ time, and the war never ended. Agent orange–jungles to trashland.

Purina added ash to cat food, and my cat’s liver was poisoned.

What was apartheid, and why did the students want it to end now? If it was bad, and of course it was bad, why did the cops shoot the protestors with tear gas?

I would be eleven–I was no longer a child, and this wasn’t a world I wanted to grow up in, and I would soon be too old for make-believe. Too old to escape.

At school, they showed anti-drug propaganda films, and the gas burner on the stove blossomed into a blue rose and the world look very unreal, but very beautiful, and so much less dangerous than the world the news showed.

How could I say all this to my mom? She put her hand on my shoulder, and I wept. I couldn’t even say, “Just let me be.”

I was a happy kid, until I wasn’t.

That summer, our summer house came to mean something else to me–it was the first year I needed sanctuary, and sanctuary was what it offered. With aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins, my parents were too busy to notice me. I didn’t cry when no one looked–I escaped. I ran off to the beach. I walked the coastline at sunrise, all day, at sunset. I listened to the waves.

Let go, let, let, let, let it be, be, be, let it go, go, go, let.

The sand sparkled–sunlight, moonlight. What is it about light that makes each grain of sand sparkle? I held the sand in the palm of my hand, and it sparkled. I could hear the light move through the crystal–something was happening. Something was being said, expressed. I looked more closely. Each grain vibrated as light moved through it.

In the palm of my hand, each cell in my skin vibrated, too.

Within, without, let, let, let it be.

There was something that was more real than horror, than news, than destruction, than poison, than growing up in a world no one wants. There was this–there was this vibrating light, within, without, through all of us, and everything.

There was something real! And it was being offered to me on the beach, at night, in the morning, all day.

I had no more need for tears, for I was being offered something that was real.

After breakfast, I tried to tell my cousin about it. “Did you ever look at sand, like real close?”

“Through a microscope?”

“With your eyes. But clear, like with a microscope. And did you ever hear it, like, as if it were singing?”

My cousin laughed and poked me.

I tried to tell my mom. “I think things are connected. Like–like inside and out.”

“Do you want your corn on the cob or cut off?”

I didn’t know how to talk to my dad about anything real, anything that carried significance, anything with feeling behind it.

I found it odd that at the time I felt more connected to everything in existence, I felt more isolated from those around me.

Only my grandfather listened, and as I told him about the light in the sand, his own eyes lit up like crystals. The great burden fell off of me. I don’t know that I smiled, but I felt light shine through my eyes, too, for the first time since that dark winter.

“The transcendent moment,” he said. “A mystic and a poet. Just as I suspected.”

“Why can’t I talk about it?” I asked him. “No one listens.”

“It’s not for everyone,” he said. He pulled down a thick book, opened it at a bookmark, and placed it before me.

“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren,
And the tree-toad is a chef-d’œuvre for the highest,
And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven…”

–Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, 31.1-4

I spent that summer reading, when I wasn’t wandering along the creek, climbing trees, swimming in the bay, gazing at the sand, and standing on the bluff, arms outstretched as the storm winds buffeted the coast. That summer, with Thoreau, Whitman, John Muir, and my grandfather, I fashioned a way of being that I could grow into. I discovered a world, right alongside the old one, that beckoned me, that was worth living in.

I suppose that’s what drew me to literature, too, to a chance of discovering that, human as I was, I was not so alone, after all.

And now, this night, the beach calms me, as I walk along it, listening to the waves. My strides in the moonlight lead me back to the world that has meaning for me, away from the conflict and politics of the unreal. In the moonlight, with the clouds swirling around the power of storms and thunder and lightning and discovery, I let it all go, and I find myself home with the singing crystals of sand.

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