There was a Friday last June, that like many Fridays, my husband and I took our nine year old to see a local Kansas City performer over Happy Hour. Olivia rarely chooses to join us but Eli loves the live music and the half-price appetizers. The bar is called “The Phoenix” and is housed in what is suspected to have been a brothel. The stone walls and Jazz music performed there lend to an ambiance which is reminiscent of a 1920’s speakeasy. It is not difficult to succumb to the raucous whispers from the past while our favorite musician’s trumpet wails itself into our souls. We drink sparingly or not at all because we know that Eli’s attention span is short and our promises of “dessert” will only hold him off for a short time. His favorite waitress “Tuesday” a sexy young woman in her early thirties with a Lauren Hutton smile remembers that he likes bleu cheese and brings him extra for his wings. We find ourselves hypnotized by “Lonnie” a gorgeous, lanky, jazz musician whose energy seems boundless. We know that if we stay long enough he will change his shoes, climb up upon the bar and tap dance. That Friday we would not see Lonnie tap dance. Eli lost interest and announced that it was time to go.
Almost 5 minutes into our ride home Eli announced that he really should have used the restroom before he left the bar, a scenario that repeats itself frequently. We explained to Eli that the trip home would be at least 30 minutes perhaps longer and that he would simply have to “hold it”. Eli happily broke into his “Pee song” in which he repeatedly sings the word “pee” to the tune of Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”. I’m not certain as to whether this helps him to cope with his condition or if it is meant to subject us to such a level of annoyance that we stop at the nearest McDonalds an allow him to relieve himself.
As we were driving, Andrew and I were talking about our weekend plans and the traffic had come to an almost complete stop. I became even more conscious of the “pee concert” that was being performed from the back seat and silently wondered if we should take the next exit to allow Eli a bathroom break or if the delay would compound the time in reaching our home. Suddenly we were hit “hard” from behind. We luckily, were wearing seatbelts. Our bodies were violently pushed forward only to be pulled back hard again. Our car hit an older Crown Victoria (known for exploding on rear impact) which then hit a red SUV in front of it. Before we had a chance to recognize what had happened, we felt the impact of another car hitting the car that originally hit us and then there was a sickening sort of slow speed acknowledgement of what had happened. I immediately looked back at Eli who was sitting “wild eyed” in the back seat, I looked to Andrew who was looking at me and saying something, waiting for me to respond, I reassured him that I was okay. There were fire trucks, numerous police cars, an ambulance and even news helicopters circling overhead. Out of the 5 cars, 3 were obviously totaled. Our Honda Civic was one of them and yet besides back aches which would linger for over a month and Eli’s intense fear of driving on the Interstate, we are very fortunate. Perhaps the saving grace for Eli was the young police officer who stopped three lanes of traffic to allow him to walk into the trees to urinate.
We are able to laugh about the “Pee Song” now and he still sings it with frequency but there was nothing comical about the accident. The average speed on the interstate is 70 mph or approximately 113 km/h. Eli could have been killed or been made an orphan and life could have changed drastically in just seconds.
I had a learner that I will call M. M was unusual but I could never put my finger on the reason why. When her numerous lessons began to run out I was sort of relieved. It was not that she was unpleasant or a poor learner. To the contrary, she worked hard at her lessons and she was always appreciative of our time. It was just that sometimes she was vacant. During our last lesson she told me a story. It was during that last lesson that I realized that after 30 hours together, I didn’t know her at all. I hadn’t even scratched the surface.
As a child, M lived in a small rural village in central France with her parents and her younger brothers. My impression is that life was good. One morning when M was about 12 she, their mother and the boys got into the car to drive to a nearby city to go to the market. M sat in the passenger seat, her mother was the driver and the little boys sat in the back. When they were about halfway to their destination a large oncoming truck veered into their lane. Her mother was killed upon impact. Upon entering the car she had been a girl and from the moment of the impact everything changed. Her initial role was to comfort the injured boys in the backseat of the car while concealing their mother’s death. Later she simply took on the role of their mother, cooking cleaning and caring for the boys, not because she was told to but because she felt it was her responsibility because she did not die. It was only when her father insisted that she go to Paris to University that she loosened herself from that responsibility but never entirely relinquished her role.
People are complex. They are not just black or white, good or bad, interesting or boring. They are an intricate mosaic of experiences, smells, colors, textures and tastes. I guess that all experiences shape us. We might see it in the form of a tragic accident that robs us of a loved one or we can be forever changed by a beautiful trumpet solo that pierces our being and embeds itself in our soul.