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September 25, 2023

No Ordinary Recital

By Terry Petersen


Songs I recognized from at least twenty years ago rose from my daughter's kitchen CD player. Amy seemed to prefer a beat to match her so-much-to-do syncopated movements, although she never let anyone know what the emergency included, except for some vague importance to taking out the garbage. I suspect the garbage had something to do with me.

She stirred a pot to the rhythm of a rock-band. She hummed as she turned up the oldies. However, when she turned to me, she reacted as if a snake-oil salesman had opened her back door, and then had the audacity to sit at her kitchen table with a cup of her freshly brewed coffee.

My grandson had brought me the cup, as if it had been a prize. Then he left with his daddy for rehearsal. I'd visited because Mikey had invited me, the grandpa he wanted to know, but didn't. Yet.

Temporarily, I had moved in with Amy's brother, at least until I could get back onto my own two feet. Amy saw the possibility of my walking a straight line as likely as a change in the Law of Gravity.

I had played keyboard, guitar, violin -- you name it, lead guitar in a band, taught myself trumpet. I'd worked in an everyday office by day and ruled the stage at night. Before I lost just about everything. To king alcohol. And a few months in jail.

The sweet jazz quartet calling from the player could have been the news reporting earthquakes downtown, or worse in my daughter's backyard. Ten feet from the back door. Two feet from where I sat now. Then again, I felt that tremor begin in my chest and work its way to my stomach. My coffee grew cold. My daughter grew colder.

She stared at me with that look I recognized. Can't-count-on-you-Dad didn't need to come to her lips. Instead the anger showed in her eyes, voice, the tight pull of her lips.

"So, you say you'll be at Mikey's recital Friday night. On time."


"And you will be sober." She leaned over the table. "Not, but-I-only-had-two-drinks. Two quart-sized drinks?"

I had talked to Mikey. Before I'd set foot in the house. He'd run out to meet me. "Oh, Grandpa! My recital. It's going to be different. Big kids and littler kids like me. You know what Daddy told me?"

I'd admitted I didn't.

"Daddy said you played violin, too. You played really, really good. Could you play for me now? When we get inside."

"How about some other day?" I'd answered. "Right now. I'm way too excited for you."

A partial truth. My heart wasn't ready to pick up a bow yet, or to look at the simplest sheet of music. It reminded me too much of what I'd thrown away.

I'd put my hand on his shoulder and Mikey didn't pull away. He didn't have the storehouse of empty promises in his memory his mom had. Her brother, too. He had taken me in -- to a bed in his basement, between the hot water heater and stored Christmas decorations. The upstairs door remained locked. I had to knock to get in. I'd stolen from both my children. I admit it. Giving back wasn't easy.

"Did you used to live in Florida or California?" Mikey had asked. "Or was it another country?"

I'd bit my lip. I'd lived ten miles away before I passed out on the job. Mikey had no memory of me at all in his seven years of life.

Since then I'd managed to get a car, guaranteed only to be a car. I had my license back. I had a job, more of a pity offer, with pittance pay.

Respect? That was going to take more time.

Amy: three days later

Mikey's recital is about to begin. I know I should have told him about the call about his grandfather. Cliff, my chicken-husband is putting off the inevitable. The police swear the accident wasn't Dad's fault. He was stone sober and wearing his seatbelt. Probably wasn't paying attention, however, as the semi crossed the middle lane.

Damn! I'd like to think something positive about my own father. He's stone dead now. And my insides feel just about as cold and empty. Maybe I didn't give him much of a chance to apologize.

Mikey's group is up last. Cliff told him the best gets saved for the end, so nobody needs to follow it and feel less-than. Mikey thought that made sense. Of course, he believes in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

"You're awfully quiet," Cliff says. "Are you okay? Or at least as okay as anybody can be ... under the circumstances."

"We can't just pretend Dad beamed up into a spaceship." My voice doesn't leak sarcasm. It explodes it.

"Mikey doesn't have the same complicated memories you have. You can't shield him from hurt. You can't assign your feelings of guilt to Mikey either." Cliff's voice is soft, but he doesn't blink.

"What guilt?" I raise my voice and the lady in front of us turns around.

"Sorry," I say to the woman, feeling heat rise to my cheeks. Guilt. Maybe. Dad said something about making amends. He could have been talking to an avalanche.

Cliff pats my hand. "I could have been kinder, too."

I want to swat him, but don't. Not here.

I hear each musical presentation, the way I hear a passing train while waiting for safe passage. Yet I wonder if safe passage exists.

Mikey's group appears. He doesn't seem to see us right away. I don't wave and make a point of the fact his newly-discovered grandfather is missing. Then, Mikey begins his solo, a simpler version of an Irish song I vaguely recognize from forty years ago, when I was small. I asked Dad to play it all the time, and then I danced across the floor.

My son's technique and timing seems to have improved. He adds style I didn't know he knew. Cliff looks at me with his brows pulled together. He shrugs. Apparently, he wonders when Mikey transformed from a better-than-average violinist at age seven to a prodigy.

He is beaming as he leaves the stage. Several people grab and hug him before he gets to his dad and me, but his eyes seem to scan the back of the auditorium.

"Mom, Dad!" he calls. "Where did Grandpa go? He was here a minute ago. Why didn't he tell me he was going to be part of the show?"

"He. Was. What?" I ask.

"With all those lights around him. In the back. You'd think everybody would be turning around to look at him! But, I got it, the way he held his fingers and moved the bow -- to make the song sound better. He didn't seem so far away. He felt right next to me.

"I'm not sure how. For real. Not sure I could play the same way again without him."

"You're sure that was Grandpa?" I said, "because ..." I choke on words that won't fit together.

He stares at me. "Grandpa didn't have a twin. Did he?"

When we get to the car it is locked, exactly as we left it. However, Dad's violin is lying across the back seat.

"A gift," I whisper, "from Grandpa." That was his. I'd recognize it anywhere. I knew Mikey would hear the story of his grandfather's death in a different way now, a way he would be able to accept long before his dad and I could. Mikey believes in miracles.

Now, I needed to believe in forgiveness.

Article © Terry Petersen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2017-05-08
Image(s) © Terry Petersen. All rights reserved.
1 Reader Comments
09:59:51 PM
Wow Terry! What a powerful story. I loved it.
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