In Montreal, it is not infrequent to hear amateur musicians playing in the metro stations. I heard this piece played (badly) recently, as I was travelling home from the gym.
It’s a funny thing, memory. I’ve been a pro at blocking out any memory of my mother, in my day-to-day life, because the emotions are too complex and too intense to handle. The result of that is that when I try recall my mother, I can’t do so easily. I’ve stomped out all feel of her from myself. The only way I can recall her is by holding on to the objects that she used, which then trigger waves of memories. I’ve kept one of her jewelry boxes intact, with everything stored exactly the way she kept it: her parents’ wedding rings, her own wedding ring, a set of dainty reading glasses (the better to see her jewelry with) and a Remembrance Day poppy pin are all carefully stowed with a haphazard mix of real and costume jewelry, tidily organized. Holding that box, I remember so many things about my mother: how she looked seated on her bed, combing through her treasures, her coquettishness, her love of beautiful things, her need for organization and the care she took in all things. And how she always was complaining about misplacing her reading glasses, “Now where did I leave my glasses? Do you see them anywhere? I must have left them downstairs…”
This piece of music is a bit like that jewelry box. I’d forgotten all about my mother’s piano playing until I heard that terrible pianist wrangle this composition in the busy metro station. I’d forgotten how my mother could play this piece and 2-3 others (Moonlight Sonata, and somethings from Chopin) from memory, decades after she’d stopped regularly playing the piano. I’d forgotten how infrequently she played, and how hearing her music fill the house felt like a guilty pleasure, which indeed it was. A botched surgery in her youth had led to complications as a young adult: playing the piano was part of a very long list of forbidden activities, as it aggravated her fibromyalgia and chronic pain condition. But she loved it so. The rare times I’d walk in on her playing, I’d try make myself invisible (often hidden in the staircase) so as not to startle her and I’d watch her pour herself into those notes. She invariably sighed regretfully after the last note played. Then she would gently and carefully close up the piano and walk away. I’d forgotten how upset my father would be if he heard her play, because he knew just how much she’d pay for it with a sleepless painful night, and he wished she could be spared. I’d forgotten how much the injustice of it all would squeeze my heart even as I felt like it would burst from the mournful joy that emanated from my mother when she played the piano for those few brief minutes.
I’d have continued to forget all that, had it not been for that untalented musician in the metro.
Today marks the 3rd anniversary of her death. I’ve listened to this musical piece on loop all day.
Today, I remembered.