Doing the mall crawl, laughing with Bestie. Bam! I was crying. And I didn’t know why.
It wasn’t a drip, drip, seeping cry but a sneaker wave that washed over me. We sat down on a mall bench flanked by potted plants and an ash tray, shoppers walked by. My tears flowed.
I tried to hide that I had come undone.
“What happened?” surprised Bestie asked. A legit question. I asked myself the same. What happened?
I didn’t have an answer.
As we sat I backed up through our last few minutes. Walking. Walking past the tea store with too many smells, a shop girl in front, her hair parted down the center, and an apron on, offering her tray of Dixie cup samples. “Ladies, would you like a taste of our tea of the day?”
No. No, thank you.
Before that was the luggage store with beautiful, designer suitcases we could only dream of owning. And the kitchen store. Ahhh, the kitchen store. I’ll take one of everything…
Then a big open space, aisles to the anchor stores intersected. A mall village square where the local piano store had set up shop for a weekend demo. Gorgeous black lacquer grand pianos gleamed under a massive skylight, a white baby grand, and used uprights artfully arranged with sales people meandering trying to catch our eye. I remembered seeing the word YAMAHA.
Chopin. Étude 1 in A flat major, Opus 25. A little girl playing. Small, light fingers skimming the keys.
Tiny thing sitting on the piano bench. Black velvet dress with a white scalloped collar and crisp bow tied behind her at the waist. Ruffled cuffs on her socks and black Mary Janes. A girl for a magazine, for a movie. Perfect in every way as her hands skipped across the gleaming keys of the glossy black piano.
Bestie and I sat on the bench spinning the dial backwards and instantly knew when we met the miniature pianist what the trigger for tears had been. Chopin filled my head.
My little girl would not play the piano. Would not wear such a dress. Would not smile for passersby, would not grace a mall demonstration, a classroom or any other place.
As had happened when the Half Moon Bay Review announced in its weekly news that “All Children Born in 1979 Register for School Tomorrow”, I wept because there would be no tomorrow. No yellow rain slicker, galoshes or lunchbox. No kindergarten.
There was only October 9, 1979.
I have learned a few times over, and am prepared for more, there is no mourning for that we haven’t yet realized has slipped through our grasp until a revelatory moment. Until a scene unfolds that comes with an instant knowing, “Oh, yes, and this, too…”
In the stream of daily data that cascades by there will be times the flow will dam, then drench me with a memory-might-have-been.
As I revisited the little musician in my mind I surrendered to another little death amid the old, larger wound I carried.
It has been several years since the day of the mall crawl with Bestie. I wonder if she remembers it, too.
I couldn’t have known in the beginning that I would recall with such clarity the exact second I was told my daughter was gone or that it would hurt this much 39 years years later. Perhaps it’s for the best to find out over time, after the days of searing sorrow and stifling desperation have passed, when longing has been distilled to a sad companion that sometimes asserts itself and other times recedes to a resting place away from view. It would be too much to absorb at the start.
I don’t know who my baby girl might have been by her 39th birthday. An artist? A teacher? A physician? A gardener? A scientist? A mom? Stern or funny, conventional or outrageous? Living a town away from me, or across a nation.
Would she play the piano?
I know she was and remains my daughter. She is her brother’s sister. All the rest resides in imagination.
Happy birthday, Stefani Anna King. Happy all that was and all that may have been. You have not been forgotten. Play Chopin in the heavens today. I will hear you.