The Final, Sustaining Chord
Written on December 30th, 2014
As part of A Story Each Day
My children and grandchildren come to my house to visit me. They smile at me, and my wife smiles back. She asks the grandchildren to guess how old I am, like age is a number she hides behind her back for amusement and games. Both of my grandchildren guess.
And so do I, because regardless of how hard I grasp onto my memory, it slips between my thoughts.
I tell them:
But my wife says:
“No, you’re 83.”
I shrug, because I guessed wrong.
Why do I not know my own age? Isn’t it strange that this fact, so intimate yet so public, eludes me? Not to me, not right now. It is strange, but I don’t realize it.
They ask me to play something on the piano, and I agree, but I can’t walk to the piano alone. My daughter-in-law holds my hand, and leads me to the parlor, where the piano hides. The old, rickety piano bench creaks and groans as I sit.
I only remember how to play one piece, but I play it pretty well. At least, I think I do. I don’t really know.
My fingers quiver as I touch the keys.
My memory fails me. I know this. I’m not ignorant, but my awareness hides from me, quietly, like the fading of the final, sustaining chord. I stop in the middle of the song, and pause. I turn around, as if I want one of them to help me finish the song, but honestly, I don’t know why.
“Great job!” My daughter-in-law prompts, uncomfortably. My grandchildren turn to me, confused. The song remains frozen, incomplete.
“He’s not finished,” my wife says. “Let him finish.”
She turns to me, and whispers:
I can’t do anything alone. I can’t walk alone. I can’t sit alone. I can’t stand alone. I can’t urinate alone, or bathe alone. The one thing I thought I could do alone — remembering this song — I realize now, I can’t. I’m dependent, eternally dependent. But aren’t we all?
I’m dependent on the keys of the piano, on this stupid, rickety bench, on the clothes on my back, on the glasses in front of my eyes, on the light from the lamp that illuminates the keys.
When I was young, I thought that the older I got, the less help I would need. My infant mind couldn’t wait for my parents to place me down and for my legs to learn to walk. My hands couldn’t wait to grasp a pencil; my tongue couldn’t wait to form sounds. My infant mind couldn’t wait for independence. My pre-pubescent mind couldn’t wait to be like my older brother, independent and virile; my adolescent mind couldn’t wait for the freedom of a vehicle. My eyes couldn’t wait to see what I wanted to see, and not be restricted by what was expected.
My idealistic mind couldn’t wait for my mentors and instructors to let me go, and for my own skills and talent to carry my weight. My paternal mind longed for days when I wouldn’t need help figuring out how to be a father, or a husband, or the son of an aging parent.
I wanted to be my own person. I wanted to bear my own weight; I wanted to stand on my own two feet. Not because I’m selfish, no, but because I’ve lost everything that I’ve depended on far too much.
My fingers clunk and tap against the smooth, ivory keys, and I end the song with a wrong note that tries to hide itself inside the final, sustaining chord. Memory is one of those things I’ve lost because I depended on it far too much.
I let the chord fade away, like my awareness. I look around, at my family, at my children and grandchildren. They clap and smile, and I clap and smile right along with them, then forget what we’re celebrating. But it doesn’t matter; I keep on clapping.
At that moment, full of naïve mirth and my own ignorance, I give up. There’s no sense in trying to be independent, there’s no sense in refusing that intricate reliance. I’m eternally dependent, eternally reliant on my family, my friends, my wife; on my memory, my piano, my clothing, my shoes, and my pencil. And on that stupid, rickety piano bench. I’m reliant on the lamp to give me light, on my eyes to see, on my feet to stand, on my hands to grasp.
I always have been dependent, interwoven, inextricably knit to the people and things around me. And I bear no doubt, and no regret, that I always will be.
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