Isn't it lovely when you can finally reap the rewards of hard work? Isn't it lovely when, after a period of perseverance, discipline, and doing of something mentally or physically exhausting, you can appreciate your efforts as well as yourself? Isn't it lovely to be able to think, "I did this. I am amazing."? They're rhetorical questions, really; of course, it's great to feel proud of yourself. People are so often consumed by self-doubt and loss of sense of purpose that they forget that a passion, a project, or even a person can bring them back to life. There was a time in my life where I was so close to death by my own hand that each day where I resisted seemed a gift for those who knew my situation (namely, my mother and my therapist). I will exclude the details because I am in need of no sympathy. I received enough self-pity as well as pity from others long ago.
As you can conclude due to my writing of this, I am indeed alive. More alive than the average person, you could say, because I have found my passion, my project, AND my person.
My passion is the piano.
My project is a composition, which I will elaborate on shortly.
My person is my mother.
She is the best human I have ever met. Intelligent and witty, compassionate and strong-willed, she is the person who drove ME to be a better human being and who consistently saved me from myself and those nasty, persuasive voices in the dark.
In the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, "death doesn't discriminate between the sinners and the saints, it takes and it takes and it takes". My mother is a saint, the one-in-a-million homo sapien whose virtue knows no bounds (and I don't just say this because she is my mom: if there's one thing I'm good at, it's being critical, and her only fault is a distaste for chocolate). There is no reason for any god (not that I'm religious) to condemn her, to harm her, or to wish for her to be in the state in which she now resides.
She has gone from smelling of cinnamon and sage to the sterile stench of the hospital. I miss visiting her and hearing a soothing Danish audiobook or smooth jazz coming from the outdated speaker her friend at a sound company got for her before I was born because now, it's the unsettling beep of her heart monitor and the strangely disconcerting whispers of the nurses. Coronary artery disease, and Alzheimer's.
It should be me.
How is it that I am perfectly healthy (mostly) while the most wonderful woman, my matriarch and savior, sleeps on a bed of death?
And the thing that breaks me is the forgetting. The, "Who are you?" and the show of introductions every time I visit.
"That's your son, miss. Arthur? Do you remember him?"
"A-Arthur? I... No, I don't recall. He's... my son?"
"Yes, miss. He visited this morning."
"Ah. My... my head. It gets in the way sometimes."
Then we talk for hours, as if nothing were wrong, and then I leave to go to the bathroom, and when I come back she looks at me with blank eyes and says, "Who are you"? and I say, "It's me, Mom.", and she says, "Mom? I am your mother? I don't have a son."
Right then. The, "I don't have a son." That breaks me. Every time. But I go back. I talk with her, twice a day if I can, because the stories never get old for her. I tell the same things, about my students or my boyfriend, Marley (my dog) or the shenanigans of the neighbors, and she laughs and smiles and offers advice every time. I'll cry later, after speaking with the nurses about her heart condition or how everything is steadily depleting. I'll cry where no one can see me. I'll go back every day because that's what she would do for me. That's what she DID for me. I was never alone; there was always this golden soul fighting off the black molasses that was melancholy, and I hope that I can do for her half of what she has done for me.
I have been working on a gift for her. A final one, so it needs to be perfect. I have always felt like music is the best way for me to communicate; I've never been particularly talented with words. A true masterpiece has threads instead of notes, forming a beautiful tapestry that pulls on the heartstrings, makes you feel things you have never felt before and yet they seem so familiar, and you're surrounded in a world of colour, sound and emotion. That's my passion. I have been able to turn it into a bit of a career for myself, the piano, by becoming a tutor for wealthier families and if I'm lucky, giving the occasional recital as a part of a program. It pays the bills, and I'm doing what I love, so it works.
I'm not sure what my mom's passion is, because she puts passion into everything she does. I think it might be people.
Last week the nurse says that it is likely my mother will pass away soon after the new year. Her birthday is January 2nd, and this project will likely be her last joy, if I pull off what I hope to. I want to create a masterpiece of music just for her. Something that will bring all her memories back, if only for a moment; something that will bring her joy, in her last moments.
But I have a deadline: tomorrow.
Midnight tonight, to be precise. I have but a handfull of hours to compose my mother's last song.
I. Am. Screwed.
I've composed things before, but never as important as this. I need to put years of love and thankfulness in to a song, and I haven't the foggiest of how to go about executing it. And that is why I am panicking over the piano, hands trembling and panic rising, at 21:00. My boyfriend will make the neighbors something sweet and warm in the morning to ease their tired eyes after a night of my relentless banging, so I'm not concerned about the level of noise I'm producing.
"Does this sound... happy?" I ask, and then play a very preppy tune that sickens my own ears. "On second thought-"
"Arthur, you need to find a theme. What are you going for?" asks William.
"I don't- I don't know! I want to find something that speaks to her, but all I know is that she likes jazz! Otherwise her taste in music is classical Danish stuff." I sigh.
William looks thoughtful. "Rather than trying to recreate a style of music you know she likes, maybe try to find a special moment you had with her, and reflect that feeling." he offers.
"But every moment I had with her was special!" I snap. "Helvede. Why am I speaking in past tense." My nose burns.
William gets up from his comfortable position on the couch and sets down his tea on a coaster with a soft clank. He walks over to where I sit at the piano bench and puts a hand on my shoulder.
"I'm no expert on music, but I know feelings. Different things are able to move different people. Writing does that for me, music for you. I think it's quite possible that you are your mother's 'thing'. You can speak to her in ways no one else can, and you speak through music. I've heard of feelings being transformed into transmittable mediums, and music is one of the best ways there is to do that. You don't need to make it perfect. You want to make her smile, yes? Then channel the feeling of one special moment. It can be happy or sad, or anything in between, but it needs to be you. That's what'll make her smile."
I laugh but it comes out more like a sob. "If you make me cry, William, I won't be able to read the music."
He smiles, that empathetic, kind one that I fell in love with, and says: "She's in your heart, yes? So write from your heart."
"Dear goodness, aren't you poetic today."
He shrugs. "I try. 'Ts in my blood, after all." He pecks my cheek, and reclaims his rightful place on the couch.
I place my fingers on the keys in front of me, gently, as if apologising for all the banging I did earlier.
I need a memory.
Recollections of moments with my mother flood my mind, and I let them flash before my eyes until I see one. And another. And another. Moments, not all happy, but moments. With her, and me, and full of humanity and error and love.
Mother. What does mother mean to me?
Icecream in the rain just because.
Picking me up from school when I was sick.
Knitting me all sorts of winterwear so I wouldn't catch a cold.
Waking up at 5 in the morning to jog with me to give me a daily dose of endorphins.
Making me laugh for dopamine and serotonin to help with my depression.
Warm hands, strong words and smart eyes.
Laughing, singing, humming, music.
And so I played. From my heart, for my mother. For a long time, my fingers moved of their own accord, and yet with purpose, intention and intensity, and it was glorious. My passion, for a person. My heart glowed.
I finished, my mind out of breath, my hands still and satisfied.
William took a sip of his tea, then said: "Well there you have it."
"Hello. Who are you?"
"I'm here with a gift for you."
"A gift? Why?"
"It's your birthday."
"But I... I can't recall-"
"That's alright." I slipped my phone out of my pocket, and held up the headphones. "It's a recording, and I- I hope you enjoy it."
"Thank you." She looked so bewildered as I passed her the devices. The nurse helped her pair them and then adjusted them on her head. I settled into the guest chair, and once I was sure the headphones were on, I whispered, "Happy Birthday, Mom."
The nurse left the room, and the anxiety from the night I scrambled to put everything together came flooding back. What if she doesn't like it? Some weirdo recorded her some piano, of course she's confused. I watched her face as she listened. The confusion lingered, but she looked more calm and peaceful. Piano does that to you. She turned her head to look out the window, at the soft golden light wafting through the glass, and a few minutes later, she slid the headphones around her neck, still facing the window. My hands began to shake, and my nose and heart burned.
"Arthur." she said cautiously, as if saying something in a different language.
I practically jumped to my feet. "Yes?"
"You're... Arthur. My son."
I grinned, tears falling freely.
"Yes." I laughed.
She finally turned to me. "Did you... make this?"
"The piano? Yes, I composed it. For you."
"Oh, min elskede dreng, come here." She held out her arms. We stayed like that, for a little while. In that moment, my mother was mine again, in my arms, aware of exactly who I was and what she meant to me. She kissed my head, whispering sweet Danish nothings, which weren't nothing to me.
"You needn't make anything for me. You are gift enough."
I swallowed a "why is everyone so poetic recently?" just to enjoy the moment.
I am gift enough.
I am enough.
I did this. I am amazing.
My mother died on the 5th of January, due to her heart. I'd like to think it was because her heart was just to big for her body, with all the people she loved and all the love she was willing to give. She struggled greatly the days after my gift, and we were back to the routine of "Who are you?", but I had a goodbye. A few precious moments where my dying mother remembered me, and held me, and loved me not because I was another human to be loved, but because I was her son.
If there's one thing I'm certain of, it's that if there is a heaven, she resides in it, and so I will do all I can to see her again.
I am more alive than the average person, you could say, because I have found my passion, my project, AND my person.
My passion is the piano.
My project is to be the best human I can be.
My person is my mother.
She is the best human I have ever met. Intelligent and witty, compassionate and strong-willed, she is the person who drove ME to be a better human being and who consistently saved me from myself and those nasty, persuasive voices in the dark. And while no one will EVER replace her, my heart is large, and I have my students, my kæreste, and all the organisms of the world. I will enjoy my life, live it to it's fullest and I hope that you will do the same.
helvede --> d*mmit
min elskede dreng --> my darling boy
kæreste --> partner\boyfriend\girlfriend