I’ve played the cello since I was seven years old. The throaty bass wafted through the house from four to six o’clock every night, filtering through the vents and settling everyone into a monotonous routine after a hectic day. Cello Suite No. 1 was my grandma’s favorite, and bless her heart she’d traverse all the way downstairs just to sit with me while I played it.
“It’s not happy or sad,” she would say. “It’s exciting.”
I had to agree. I always found beauty in the way such a somber sounding instrument could make my heart pound exuberantly to the tempo. I wasn’t whole until it was in my arms, singing songs that remained the same no matter how old I became.
Grandma was sick and she hated computers, but she always looked up new songs for me to try. She used to play, you see, and instead of being jealous that her broken body couldn’t create music like it used to, she lived through me. I was more than happy to let her.
She was always so proud of me whenever I performed, even when I didn’t want to. I did it for her and my mom, who teared up in the front row watching me fly with melodies plucked straight from the sweetest dream.
Grandma got even sicker and I had to spend less time with my cello and more time with her. She often begged me to go downstairs and play for her. She said she wanted to hear it through the vents as she fell asleep. My mom didn’t agree; she wanted me by her side at all times and that, I could understand. If my mom was sick, I’d want her to have company, not music.
But one day, Grandma was close to tears asking me to play.
“Please, Mija, I want to hear you,” she said. “I want to hear you play again, it’s been so long.”
I couldn’t watch her cry like that. I ran down the stairs and took it out of the case. I settled on my stool and ran my fingers down the sides. Having it with me again breathed new life into me.
I thought for a long moment about what to play. My hands started moving before I gave myself the chance to decide.
Grandma loved this rendition of Can’t Help Falling in Love. She said the cello brought out more raw emotion than words ever could. After the bleak months we’ve had, we could use that intensity.
I started slow, drawing out the notes and swaying, letting the cello play me as I became more comfortable. My fingers slipped up and down the strings, my bow danced across the helm. I felt the song vibrate through me, dispelling all of the exhaustion and hopelessness I felt. Maybe I couldn’t beat Grandma’s sickness, but I could master this song and hopefully make her smile.
After playing it a few more times, I set the cello down with a smile. I floated up the stairs, humming the song up until I reached Grandma's room.
She was lying motionless on the bed, her hands crossed over her chest. She had tears streaming down her face and a peaceful smile on her lips. She had passed away listening to the cello.
Her death tore my mom apart. Us being the closest family Grandma had meant that we were in charge of the funeral. Old friends and distant family members came to see her and hung their heads. They wept as I played Ludovico Einaudi, but eventually, they went home. Soon it was just me, my mom, and the cello.
Weeks passed and we tried to move on as normal. I found it difficult to look at the cello, much less play it, but finally, I couldn’t resist. The only constant in my life was the cello. The only thing that put a smile on my face was the thought of playing again.
So I went downstairs and set up my stool. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to play Cello Suite No. 1 or Ludovico Einaudi again, but there were others songs, ones that would carry me to a better tomorrow instead of being stuck in the past.
My mom came down the stairs just as I was getting ready to play. There were tears streaming down her face. Her lips were pursed and her arms were crossed.
“I never want to hear you play that thing again,” she said, voice wavering. “Ever.”
She knew how much I loved playing. She had to know that my cello was the only way I knew how to heal. The thing was; she didn’t care. Hearing the strong bass reminded her of her mom and instead of remembering her with fondness, she was weighed down by the guilt of failure.
For the first time in my life, my mom was well and truly something I never thought she could be; selfish.
Though maybe it was selfish of me to be angry, and not try to understand what she was going through and how we were mourning in different ways.
But it hurt to know that she could see how empty I was and she still wouldn’t change her mind. Months past, then years, and I forgot that hurt. All the way up until my mother died and someone offered to play the cello at her funeral.
Then I understood.