It’s Monday as I’m writing this, New Year’s Eve. In light of what I’m going to write about, I’m not sure if I’ll let this go live today, or if I’ll schedule it. I’ll decide when I get to the end.
When I was about 18 or so (I can’t quite remember, it was a very fuzzy time), I was seeing someone who was much older than me, almost twice my age. As a result, I spent time with him and his friends who were of the same age as him. One friend whom I had a ridiculous amount of respect for, was called John (who was slightly older than the ex).
I was at a peak in my cello playing, and would often spend hours talking to John about classical music. He took me to concerts at Symphony Hall, often sourced out my favourite cellists at the time and took me to their performances, he almost always came to my own orchestral concerts, performances and recitals, and would often sneak me a glass of wine if I was stupidly nervous for a solo or similar. He’d come to my concerts around the whole of the UK when I was performing with some of the biggest orchestras I ever got to work with at that age, and would support me from afar when travelling the world.
Upon splitting up with my ex, I’d often escape the hideous environment with him and the shitty atmosphere at home (separation was imminent; I still wish to god it happened sooner) by packing my bag and my cello, and seeking refuge at John’s house. I’d practice for hours on end in his music room; he always enjoyed hearing me play. I’d enjoy the luxury of a glass of wine and as much classical music as I wanted to listen to on his uh-mazing music system. Often, one of his gorgeous cats, usually his gorgeous Havana Brown kitty would sleep on my lap. I revelled in this; I wasn’t allowed a cat at home, though I wanted one desperately.
If things were really hideous at home, as was often the case, he’d make up the spare room and leave me in peace to cry, or think, or just shut down as I needed to on a regular basis. He never asked about things at home; I’m not sure that he needed to. And I never told him either; I think he was astute enough to figure out that things were unpleasant. He was my mental escape, often an escape into a world I so desperately wanted to be a part of. That much he definitely knew. I don’t know if he just enjoyed my company, if he really enjoyed having me around, if he genuinely wanted to help me and this was the only way he knew…I don’t know.
I laughed with him a lot. When we went to concerts in Symphony Hall, even though he himself was nearly 50 at the time, we would laugh at the stuffy old couples who were there, too up their own arses to acknowledge a younger generation wanting to attend. The very second the interval began, we’d sneak out for the fastest glass of wine we could down, and suppress snorts of laughter at the looks of disgust from others as we made it back just in time for the second half. We had our own silly little things we made up along the way; the start of a concert didn’t “commence”, we would say “so what time is bow-off?” or “when do we baton down?”
Silly things. Stupid things. Not funny to anyone else, I guess, but things that made it easier for me.
At the very end of my music degree some 5 years later, John and I had drifted apart, sending only the odd message or email. He wasn’t a big fan of technology, but that was ok. If I was passing by in my car, I’d always knock on his door and say a quick hello. I had one solo performance left to do at uni, and I was full of music resentment by this point. My 3 year degree had planted the first of many cracks in my musical spirit. I had an orchestra (outside of uni) at my disposal to help me do a proper concerto. I had it all memorised and the conductor was lovely; the university offered no help or support in completing this. And I couldn’t do it without the ok from them. So I quite literally said “fuck it, and fuck you”. I invited John to hear me perform, but warned him my pieces weren’t great, my playing would be very underprepared, and he wouldn’t see the same spirit he had seen in years before.
He understood. And while it was my worst performance to date, even beyond the solos I had done where I was suffering nervous bow shakes so badly I was on beta blockers, he was still proud of me. He still showed up.
My standards were NEVER as high as John’s standards. Ever. I had so much to learn from him, more than I had learned over the years we had been close friends. He didn’t play an instrument. Well, he had a piano, which I spent hours practising on when I didn’t have access to my own, and he would play basic tunes, but often it sat quiet, waiting for me to play it. I relished it. But John…I couldn’t understand it. He didn’t have musical talent, but he had an incredible musical ear. He was able to pick out complex themes and melodies from huge orchestral symphonies and concertos. Like me, he could identify almost any work just by hearing a few bars of the piece. He knew if I had a cold just by listening to the intonation of my playing (my hearing goes to shit when I have a cold, and I used to rely on vibrations and resonances when my intonation was fucked).
Perhaps John understood me, appreciated me, didn’t mind me being a fucking weird, kooky, black cellist, trying to make it in a world that didn’t suit me, not batting an eyelid, not trying to change me. Perhaps John wanted a part in the world I was already in, and I was his way in. Perhaps he just wanted to be seen with a young, vaguely intelligent girl on his arm (which often crossed my mind, but too many factors dictated otherwise).
I barely saw John after that, maybe two more times. I’d drive past his house if I was in the area and keep an eye open for his smart little Mini he drove, but often, it wasn’t there. And then I had children and…and excuses and more excuses.
Like so many people in my life, I never forgot about him. He’d flit into my mind and I’d wish I could visit him. I no longer had his contact details. I missed him though.
Yesterday, maybe the day before, I can’t remember, he didn’t just flit into my mind, he came crashing in with a thump. I don’t know why; there was no trigger at all. I wondered if there was a way to go and visit him in the new year, track down some contact details for him.
Today, in the comments on my previous post, I find out he passed away. I have no further details, and don’t know if I’ll get any more. All I know of the situation, is “He thought you were wonderful. Keep that in your heart.”
My heart is heavy. My heart hurts. In light of all the things relating to classical music which have happened just this month alone, suddenly I am more raw than ever. Suddenly lost Suddenly confused.
I miss you John, so much. Even more, now. You helped me survive a time which, really, should have left me emotionally broken and immobile. You thought I was wonderful? I thought you were the best thing since your homemade brown bread, you remember? The stuff you used to make our bacon sandwiches before you’d take me back to my “other home”.
I wish, purely for selfish reasons, that I still had you by my side, as my friend, my accomplice. I should have held on to you tighter, but as ever it’s too late now. I wish, in light of my musical confusion, that I could still turn to you sometimes. I can’t now.
I love you and miss you. R.I.P. xxx