What I Would Have Said To You, If You Were There


I went to your memorial yesterday. It was my first memorial. The gathering was informal, but I saw so many people I didn’t know. Wearing dress sneakers as a bad idea. I should have worn flats, to properly respect you. It felt weird to wear a business dress because of course the rental didn’t arrive in time. I wanted to wear cocktail casual, and instead I may as well have been going to class six years ago.

The display of your life, as well as your works, was amazing. Your wife, after giving me a welcoming hug, encouraged me to take a CD. I was forced to confess that I did not have a CD player anymore or a car that could play discs, but I still have the CD that you gave me. Yes, I would have taken a CD, if I knew that I would have played it. It would have meant a few more minutes of memories, of sitting on that stage with a violin in the back, hoping that my mistakes wouldn’t be noticed. One of our performances was on that CD, when you wrote a song cycle inspired by a novel.

You were always so patient. I did try on violin but I did not practice for hours each day. My focus did not exist. But you never chided students for their mistakes. Instead, you helped us, to stay on rhythm and reach that intonation. Music felt like a science, born from art and structure.

When we were doing a hard piece, the finale for the ballet Carnival of the Animals, you realized the violins were struggling. I was struggling. When we had to do one-on-one sessions with you, I was freaking out on the inside, knowing that I would disappoint you. You were serious about the craft, and I knew that my fingers were not cooperating with my brain or the sheet music.

Instead, you told me to take a deep breath after I messed up a few bars. You helped me find a pace where I could practice. That was the best I could manage with that piece. When my violin teacher a year or two later was disagreeing with the program, you stayed patient with her when she took conducting lessons from you. No teacher could cure me of relaxing completely when playing, but you came the closest to getting me to calm down and enjoy the music.

Part of me wondered if you were really gone, that you were going to walk through the doors at any moment and ask why we were either tearing up or laughing. You would have done it when alive. I felt the sadness when I saw the photos that showed your life, playing with your children and standing with other maestros. But logically, I knew that your family saw you during the years that led to the end. They had the cold hard proof that you were not here, while I only had secondhand news. I wish that I had talked to you and not fallen out of touch during the past few years. Time just keeps marching, and leaves little room for those errors.

The last time I saw you, there was a lot I wish I had said. We met for lunch, and you insisted on paying. I always appreciated how much you supported my work. Your wife said that you had always kept my art, what I had either sold to you or given. I would have given it all to you, if that art had given you a few more years. I would have stopped drawing or writing if that would have provided the same result. You were always so supportive, and I needed that emotional patronage in that vulnerable time.

What would I have said if I had known it would have been the last time? More than I did that day. I would have asked you if there was anything you needed done, if there was anything that I could do to help. I would have asked how to make it easier for your family, in any way that I could. And I would have found the words to speak properly, to say that no matter what happened, I would always remember you. That I would remember the day you talked to me, and showed your support.

You are gone, and we are here. So many people spoke of your memory, of the good that you did. I considered speaking, but I was a mere student, a second violin that spent most of the time getting into comics and reading them online or watercoloring. These people were your friends, who knew you when you were young. I saw you as a teacher, who one day talked to me during a rehearsal break and asked what I was reading.

If you were there, I would have recounted that moment. How you extended an olive branch of kindness, and made me less nervous about not being a music major. How we kept in touch after that, and I enjoyed hearing your opinions on speculative fiction. And how I kept sending messages, long after you could no longer respond.