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Music never did do you justice. All the songs I've composed for you show you flat, grinning some meaningless smile at the piano while the world busies itself behind you. You were so much more than that. Music described you; it became the way you moved and spoke and breathed, but it was only a caricature, like those portraits you used to do in chalk on the boards. I have nothing now, nothing but words, and I cannot say I will not try.
I don't remember the first time I met you, but I remember that day in second grade when you gave me half of your sandwich. I was quiet, then, and people didn't like me much, but you sat next to me and shared with me your lunch. To a little boy, that was the kindest thing anyone could have ever done. I was your shadow from then on, and the next year, in third grade, when that menacing hulk of a boy Jonathan Billings insulted your honor by insulting your hair, I gave him a black eye. Of course he twisted me into a sobbing pretzel after that, but I'll always remember looking at your face right after I punched him, hoping you were impressed. But no, you were just mad. I never did that again.
We buried a memory box that year, under your big tree in your mom's front yard, don't you remember? We put in silly things; a button from your dress, a drawing we'd scrawled of ourselves, a clover . . . You swore that the clover would magically grow a fourth leaf if we wished hard enough, and that when we opened up the box again we'd have blissful luck forever and ever. I'll bet that box is still there, rotting under the roots, waiting for us to open it.
Middle school came, and your eyes fell off me. You found those foolish girls you called your friends, and then came the game of pretending to be grown up far too soon. You wore makeup and skirts too short and tried your hardest to fit in. I won't say I was immune to the lure of being accepted, but I sat on the sidelines far more than you did, a loner looking in, watching you grow and chatter and experience your first crush. We were still friends, but less and less.
I found the piano then, and we fell in love. I played it for hours a day, but you couldn't see why. It drove us apart even more; the music you liked was the roaring banging stuff all the rage among your friends, while I kept to the more... gentle. The first song I composed was for you, but I didn't tell you that.
You had your real first boyfriend when you were in ninth grade and he was in eleventh. That was also the year we had our first real fight. I saw too much of Jonathan Billings in that boy, and you got mad at me just the same. Everyone thought you two were the perfect couple. You went to all the dances, went to all the parties together, and I remember vividly the day you told me you wanted to be with him forever.
I also remember the night, not too long after that, when you banged on my door, sobbing, your eye blackened and bruises dotting your wrists. I would have murdered that bastard right then and there had you not been in my arms. I don't believe I ever told you that.
It took you another month for you to work up the courage to break up with him. It didn't really matter by then; he was graduating and couldn't do much about it.
Meanwhile I focused hard on my schoolwork, and by the time our graduation came around I had a nice college on the east coast that liked my grades and my passion for music. I went, left everyone and everything familiar to me, and clung to the first love I found . . . a girl named Nikki. A year later we were engaged, but a month before our wedding my fiance was killed by a drunk driver. I thought I loved her at the time, but now that I know what love is... I do not know. Nevertheless I had cared for her deeply, and after her death I threw myself wholeheartedly into my work. My school became my life; I rose to the top of the class. The professors loved me, and I became the head of a piano program in a neighboring city. But I was not happy. I composed some of my best music then, songs of joy with minor undertones. They loved it; I couldn't see why.
The summer before my last year, I came back to visit my home. Don't you remember that evening in the coffee shop we used to frequent? I was playing the piano then, and you came in.
We planned to have a simple, two-minute chat, but we left three hours later. The memory in my mind is as clear as if you had painted it in blue and kept it on our wall. You told me you had gone to a local college, working in retail and as a waitress to keep a roof over your head - your mother was in a nursing home. You told me how you had fallen in helpless love, how he had told you that you were his life, how he had left you once he found you were pregnant. You cried when you recounted the pain at being used yet again, at the helplessness you felt in your life. I had a sudden, wild urge to speak a thought that burst from my heart, but I kept silent. It was a habit I should have been rid of years sooner.
We hugged, I shared your hurt, and I asked to be your friend once again, like we had been when we were young and innocent of the world. You agreed.
The rest of the summer I spent close by your side. I brushed away your tears when you needed it, I gave support when you were crumbling, I endured the anger that spawned from grief. Don't you remember that one day we went to the fair when you were seven months pregnant? We went on one of those fast, spinning rides they had, and we laughed so hard we nearly cried. I remember, very well, when we tumbled off, you clutching me and still trying to catch your breath . . . and I experienced that same urge to speak my heart once more. But I simply smiled and led you back in line.
I know you remember when the baby came, three weeks early. I wasn't there when you went into labor, but I got to the hospital before anyone else.
I remember the sight vividly, when was finally allowed into the hospital room and saw you lying there, your hair plastered to your forehead by sweat, but your face beaming at the babe in your arms. I felt the desire to speak, and this time I did not suppress it. Don't you remember that day? Don't you remember the first time I said, "I love you"?
I couldn't express my joy when you whispered those same words back. After I left the hospital I went home and composed a song. A sweet, lovely tune that sang all my love, my life, my joy for you . . . we called it our Love Song.
We married a month later on the east coast, in a little church against the ocean. I don't believe there is ever a sight more bright and beautiful than your own bride walking down the isle. I played the Love Song for you that day. And to think, ever since that moment my love for you has only increased.
We had planned a three-day honeymoon, since you didn't want to be away from your child for too long. But that second morning we were woken up by a frantic call from your mother, blubbering something about the baby in the emergency room.
We hurled our luggage into the car and made the five-hour road trip back in four hours. It turned out the baby was all right; he had broken out in a fever and wouldn't stop wailing, but he needed was a bit of medicine. By the time we reached the hospital he was sleeping soundly.
We finished our honeymoon at home, our child sleeping in the crib next door.
Two years later we had another child; a girl this time. Ten months after that, we became pregnant with twins. Our house became filled with life, childish tantrums, squealing, infant laughter, and all the petty joys and trials that come with raising tiny selfish little human beings. Once Julia decided it would be wonderful fun if she presented her mud pies to the carpet, and how could either of us forget the time Ben stole Mercy's doll, and she bit him so hard we had to rush him to emergency? And then there was Daniel, who was forever breaking a bone or bloodying various joints on his person. I swear, we gained more gray hairs over that boy than any of the others.
They grew. The older ones went through high school well enough, but the twins had more problems. Mercy tried drugs for a few months, but once I found out I was furious. That poor girl had no life for a while, and once we let her back into the world she never dared even look at drugs again.
Ben, the child who had brought us together, the child who was sleeping at your breast when I asked you to marry me, fell from a friend's roof on his eighteenth birthday and broke his spine. When he woke up three days later, the doctors told us he'd lost the use of his legs.
The night after we received the news, I sat late at the piano, playing alone, after the kids had gone to bed. You came and sat next to me, wove your arm about me, and sang softly along to the music. We simply held each other against the pain for our son, held each other and sang.
We moved a two-day's drive to the south after that. Our kids graduated. Mercy and Daniel married early, Julia late, and Ben never.
They gave us grandchildren. Six beautiful young children, who would jump on our laps and pull at our hair and ask us for stories. You spoiled them with candy at first, I'm sure you recall. Our children moved away, taking our grandchildren with them, and we saw them only a few times a year.
You and I lived quietly in a secluded house. We grew old. I played the piano still, and often the silence of our lives would be filled with a soft, lilting lace of notes scattering the air. We loved each other then, more than anything. We were all we had, all we needed.
You developed breast cancer. Our children and grandchildren started coming to see us again. Your strength lessened with each passing week. You moved to a hospice. I bribed a few managers and got a piano moved into your room, and I played for you every day.
Forgive my handwriting. This is... difficult.
I remember the last conversation we had. I was playing the song I had played for Ben's death, and you reached up towards me and whispered that you didn't want me to play it when you died. You wanted our Love Song. My hands faltered amidst the notes, but I agreed. That night I slept in the chair next to your bed, your hand in mine. In the morning you were gone.
I love you. I always have, and I will until the day I die.
And so I finish this letter of our life. I hope you forgive the memories I've left out, or the ones I haven't remembered with clarity. I will put this beneath your gravestone, the one that you said 'shouldn't have the date of my birth or death because that isn't what matters.' I will stand, and go home, and I will play our Love Song.