Unlike my short story posted on the tab above, this is truth.
I had a wonderful time at the symphony Tuesday night. Like a three-year-old, I cannot resist asking, “why?” Why did the evening play out so charmingly? Was it the book I was reading, dinner, the weather, the setting, musical selections, the clothes I was wearing, the evoked memories, the people? Or did I finally step outside my introverted self and slay my fears?
The book I held in my left hand during dinner was “Persuasion“, by Jane Austen. My evening had not much in common with the plot other than the habit of taking a long look back. For the book, eight years. For me, at least 30; at times 40 years. Dinner itself was left-overs. The weather was mild to cold. The setting was the 1600 seat auditorium at GJHS.
A newcomer to both the Western Slope and the symphony asked, “Have you ever been up on that stage?” He was curious about the portable band shell, was it rigid? What material was it made of? “What else would you like to know,” I thought, “the location of the light cage? Whose names are inscribed on the bricks in the wings? The smell of that hardwood floor after an astounding performance? The gentle clink of the curtain as it closes for the final time? Is that too much information? Do you also want to know that I have spent more time on that stage and back stage than I have spent in these seats, excepting study hall?”
The lights dimmed, the concert master arrived and was applauded. He is younger. Not a part of my memories. The maestro entered. He is my age, but has only been here 25 years. He too has no place in my memories. Some old friends remain. I single out a face from junior high band; and a violinist I met on the school bus in grade school. Prominent is the now white-haired concert master emeritus who was all-schools orchestra director in my youth. Many of the faces are familiar. I am used to seeing them in other hats; school band directors, choral directors, private teachers, university profs.
The concert began. Brahms’ “Tragic Overture“; played with a passion and overall finesse unexpected from a local orchestra. My mind and heart snapped to attention and immediately fell through the wormhole of memory. When was the last time I heard music like this from the GJSO? Easy. That would be “Pictures at an Exhibition,” circa 1984. There I applauded until my palms turned to pulp and my arm muscles gave out. Still feeling I had not done enough, I wrote a rave review by way of a thank you note to the Symphony. With some members of the orchestra, that earned me the nickname, Sweaty Palms. But tonight, I have no crush on the conductor, only the remembered feelings of being thirty and single.
If it is true that clothes make the man, perhaps my most important decision last Tuesday evening was in what to wear. The little black dress, of course. When one has made the conscious decision to live as though given only 365 days, one wears the little black dress as often as possible. I have two. I donned my favorite. Continuing with William Borden’s fine guidelines: no reserves, no retreats, no regrets; I opted for the most stunning earrings and necklace, black tights, and my heeled hybrid wellington / cowboy boots. I made a conscious decision to be outgoing and friendly, to pursue conversation, so I joked with the strangers sitting in my row.
At intermission I enjoyed excellent conversation with my band director from seventh grade. We go back. His wife was my first trumpet teacher. He was the man who made our 8th and 9th grade band the first junior high band ever to perform at CMEA convention. We were also a marching band. We were good. Sometimes, I need to remember that I was good once. In the intervening years, all I have done on my trumpet is raise the flag on Fridays at elementary schools, teach a handful of beginning players a C scale, and demo brass instruments to wide-eyed kindergartners. He went on to the university and saw years as head of the music department.
Our intermission chat was punctuated by greetings of passers by. It was here that my past collided with my present and my very private writer’s life. There are many whom I know well by name and not by face. Former state representative and senator, Tillie Bishop is one such person. Mr. Schneider made our introduction whereupon I blurted, “Did your wife teach at Central High School?” I am talking to a man who served 24 years in the state assembly, administered at the local university and serves on the University of Colorado Board of Regents, and I ask if his wife taught at Central High School? I just as well have asked if his son shared my school bus – which he did. Such a conversationalist! Sure, knowledge and education are often forefront in my mind, especially when paired with music; yet Mrs. Bishop is firmly lodged in my memory for another reason. She makes an appearance in my short story, “Eight Months and Five Men Well.” Mr. Bishop kindly responded with the logical question, “Oh, were you a student of hers?”
To avoid frivolously taking up the time of two important men, I answered as succinctly and truthfully as possible. “No,” I said quickly, “I met her at a faculty reception – on a blind date with John Elliot.”
The men chuckled and continued their conversation. To not recognize the name Elliot would be not to have attended Grand Junction High School in the 70s, Central High School in the 80s, and never to have played tennis.
John makes an appearance in the short story, as does the resident symphony conductor of 1985, and a past president of the Grand Junction Symphony Guild.
The story, as told, is not gospel truth – it is fiction. The names and details have been changed to protect the innocent – mostly, to protect me.
It is hard, so hard, for me to trot out the memories of the past, even in fiction. I shrink in embarrassment that someone might find out who I really am. But those memories? They will come out. They refuse to remain unwritten. I crossed a milestone Tuesday night. I learned to speak directly. To speak instead of remaining silent for fear of saying the wrong thing. Besides, I have resolved to confront the future and the memories as though I have only 365 days to live. No reserves, No retreats, No regrets. This is truth.
“Eight Months and Five Men Well,” was fiction.