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How I Used to Play the Cello

This is an old piece I always thought of doing something with. Looking back at it now, I’m happy to let it be.

It’s been such a long time since I saw you on stage, honey dripping from your hair in the spotlight as you transformed from one of those caged birds into a wild falcon. You were all motion and music. And as your violin cried out its sequacious notes, I sat in that uncomfortable auditorium chair with stemmed roses and baby’s breath digging into my forearm. Lateness forced me into the back of the room due to lateness, but you reached me from your perch a dozen yards away, standing before the conductor, swaying in time to his baton.

Vivaldi never sounded so untamed, so passionate. I closed my eyes to you and let your Winter swallow me whole. Oh, those sweet, tripping melodies that swarmed me then! What frosty paradise was conjured beneath my lids as you sang to me in a muted voice? It was like you were playing just for me, even though you didn’t know I was hidden among a sea of faces. But how could you not be? It seemed an impossible notion with the way you kept those soft grace notes tripping elegantly over one another, reminding me of how we played duets together as children.

The way you serenaded the room told me we were no longer young. I wondered if we ever had been. You must have sold your soul to the Devil, just like Robert Johnson. I’m curious, did you meet him at the crossroads of your life? How else could I ever hope to explain how your music took wing to make short work of Vivaldi’s rhythm and trills? You, once so gentle and coy, now stood like a woman possessed by Niccolo Paganini!

I envied your bliss as you closed your eyes to us, your adoring audience, and disappeared where you could be alone with whatever grand thought happened to be floating in it. I wondered what could have taken you away from such an important moment. Ah, but then I understood. There was the crescendo that began to rise with volume and rapidity before hovering at the edge of musical climax that culminated in the whole orchestra engulfing you into its raw joyance of low, rumbling warbles.

You swept the audience’s breath away held us captive. There was an eruption of sound from within the middle of the crowd that crashed through the audience until everyone was standing and throwing roses at your feet. You stood with such grace and poise, bolder than I had ever seen you, but in your own modest way. Even from so far, I could see the light twinkling in your eyes, which glistened with the tears. It was the eve of your triumph.

I realized then that I had never had a love for something like you did, and that gave me pause. Your music succeeded in tempting me to examine the point of upbraiding myself for past desultory deeds. I felt as if I had been slumbering my whole life, and in that time, I had allowed myself to sink into a sort of twilight.

Then there you were, coming through the crowd like a queen, neither pretentious nor priggish, and found me with a smile. It was almost as if you knew exactly where I would be. I like to think now that it was Fate that drew you to me. Do you remember the kiss you placed upon my cheek? The way you laughed like a breeze, the sound somehow more melodious than your playing? I was so captivated by your breathy brilliance that you had to repeat yourself, laughing again at my folly while clasping the bouquet close to your heart. You asked me to dinner, promising delicious dishes while you stared at me with eyes that reminded me of little elfins from a storybook we used to read together. Part of me greatly desired to go with you into the night and have a meal, but the other part was so full of ennui and numerous needs to find myself. So, I left you, making sure to tell you that you sound like a virtuoso.

The simplest things in life set our minds off spinning in a thousand different directions, sending us abroad as we seek the knowledge that will hopefully round us out. And I know it’s been a few years since I saw you last. And I know that I never replied to those messages about grabbing coffee. I’m sorry about that, I really am. But there was always something holding me back when I tried to pick up the phone. Maybe it was the fact that I traveled, looking for myself. Maybe it was because I was trying my hand at poetry. Maybe it was because I was trying to become a better cook. Or maybe I was afraid that you wouldn’t want me.

You inspired me to find something about myself that I would feel something for, but I’ll admit that I still don’t find myself as driven as I want. I don’t feel that fire that I saw in your eyes when you played Vivaldi. If only I could burn so brightly!

I’ve tried playing my cello again, but it still remains sealed lengthwise inside its casement, half-hidden behind my couch. When I hold her neck in my hand, I know its desire is to be caressed, but I cannot make myself do it; my head is clouded with thoughts of tomorrow. A tomorrow that never comes. My dear friend, I have longed to be more like you. I want to have your commitment and drive. I want to have your passion for anything. And now you tell me that I must wade through my self-doubt. How might I take that? Shall I sit for hours before a wiry stand and pretend that I remember the way to the human soul? My mind is too fuzzy, and I fear that I can never be as disciplined as I once was.

Maybe I can follow your example, just as I wanted to so long ago. Will you play for me? Better yet, let’s play a duet. Bach’s Air? That was always your favorite. I will play it for you even though I have always thought the cello piece boring. That doesn’t matter anymore. I’m desperate to find my way. To be able to play the Cello Suite Number 1 in G. Had I been as dedicated as you are, then I would have been just as successful. I would have been Mischa Maisky. We could have been having coffee for years, talking about music and life and all the ways our mothers were too hard on us.

I’ll call you tomorrow, and we’ll play like we did when we were children.


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