I was younger when I met him—he wore a patch over one eye while he taught his lessons, and how he swore that he saw what he saw. Nearly blind, Mr. Stark’s sweetness found ways to die. I didn’t know what he was or how to think of him. He saw things in the war I cannot feel, and he was taught by a society with a different standard of what a man is and should be, not to mention what a boy should be.
I always wondered what he thought of me. I was a boy, and nature has it that boys feel ashamed around old men. Even more, music makes your soul audible, and it was my soul he wrestled with, my soul he ordered every week.
One week my mother and I knocked on his door. Inside I hoped against hope he wouldn’t be there or that he’d talk to my mom for a while. Shorter lessons were a type of heaven for me. Shorter anything was a type of heaven; I was a boy. No lesson that day! It was true it was true, he didn’t answer. I was happy.
I remember the day of the next week’s lesson. Sometimes in Houston—very rarely—the morning brings a wind that one can feel. And overall there is a feeling of quiet peace that begs for the stillness of heart. One slowly turns the radio down until it is off. One watches an old oak rise and lower itself in a slow, weighty dance. Knocking on the door was quieter that day. I didn’t really want to leave that day.
Perception for me meant watching my mom. Slowly, the apprehensive frown formed as she called him yet again. Silence spoke and soon my heart caught the worry.
I found out that day Mr. Stark had died. Standing in the neighbor’s strange house with my mother and the strange woman in tears affected me.
As a boy, I listened to death as if it were a distant call. I never cried, though. I moved on as an older child who has lost something. Every so often the memory comes alive, and it – he – is real. I look under the couch, or I sit at the piano, and I know they have to be around here somewhere. They were right here.
The confidence is short lived. Confused, I shift what was once real to the realm of shadows. I leave the piano bench and live in what is given to me today. At least I try to.