19 July 2007

They Don't Think I'm Funny in Kansas

After a couple hours of piano work tonight, I took out the trash and ran into my neighbor and his friend, out in the parking lot working on his car. As I passed the door to #6, it opened and Tony came out. All three men started talking at once (people do that), stumbling over each other to comment on the music. "There's the piano lady!" "Thank you, Ma'am, for the music!" "That's some mighty fine piano playing!"

I slid into my southern voice (I do that these days) and we chatted for awhile about taking music lessons as a child, about the difficulty (for one of them) of finding time/making time in a grown-up life to play music, about playing in the band in junior high...starting off on trumpet, moving to cornet and later to drums.

I am the Piano Lady to these men and the rest of my neighbors. They all seem to stand up a little straighter when I walk by. They're always flawlessly polite. They nudge their kids into good behavior and respectful greetings when I pass by. They all call me "Ma'am" and "Miss Alex." The noisy neighbors lower their voices if they're being rowdy in the courtyard when I return home.

Somebody ought to write me into a novel.

To most of my UU friends, I am the Passionate Artist. Even to and among these universally acknowledged free thinkers, I'm seen as a step beyond. Because I'm an artist. And a black woman artist at that. Because I create music and theater and do things they say they wish they could do ("why can't you?" I ask then). Because I ask soooo many questions. Because I cry in public. Because I wear bright colors. Because...

To my son's father, I am... Well, I'm the kind of person you take on a tour of the "bohemian" part of town and then buy a bottle of wine to drink by the fountain under the stars and talk into the night. My best guess, from the way he talks about his life, is that he doesn't do that with many if any other people these days. That's what we did the first time we met (although it was beer instead of wine back then), thirty years ago; and that's what we did last Sunday when I stopped through on my way back "home" from Kansas.

We talked of things we have never spoken of before. Finally, together, approached and found courage to touch the shy elephant that has slumbered, snoring gently, in the middle of the room for three decades. Time and wine: an effective formula for unstopping the tongues of intimate strangers. It was a surprisingly deep relief to finally have things said; but more surprising still was how comfortable and easy we felt. I don't remember us ever making such true eye contact in all the years I've known him.

There's still not a question in my mind about the feasibility of partnering with him; I knew then and remain convinced that attempting to make a home with him would have been disastrous. But the son we made together was a crowning success. A gigantic silent moment swelled up within and around us Sunday night after we affirmed our love and pride in the man our child has become. I don't know what he was thinking. I was thinking, Wow! I'm sitting with the only other person in all of the universe, in all of Time, who loves Wade as much I do. And we just acknowledged it out loud, beneath a timeless night sky.

Talk about your a-ha experience....

We are each so many.

Maybe he thinks of me as Mother of My Son. I am not Piano Lady to him. He has never heard me play.

He is Father of My Son to me but higher on the list of identities is The Man Who Does Not Sing. I was dumbfounded when he told me this a few weeks after we met. Had I ever before met a person who never sings and admits it?

And, like the first (and only) family telephone number I knew by heart by age 4, I can't forget it. 944 8873. The Man Who Does Not Sing.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm.

    Rich reflections, Alex ... I'm glad to have been in that courtyard and to have been among the beneficiaries of your playing.
    I am one of the ones who had(has?) no patience with being a beginner, so I dropped practicing piano right around junior high school.
    Meanwhile, my mom has been playing for nearly six decades ...

    Glad to hear about your intimate time with your son's father. What a terrifying and transcendent thing to be truly eye to eye.


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