When Becca died, I had trouble thinking of anything else. I took long walks up the gravel roads to the music building. The building was an old stone house on the top of the hill that many students said was haunted, because the rooms had unexpected drafts of cold air and doors would open on their own sometimes. And perhaps because of that rumor, or because of the long walk, the building was almost always empty on winter nights. I’d open the heavy wooden door to a practice room and sit on the piano bench with no one to hear.
Since I do not play piano and cannot remember a tune, I would press the softest keys in a gentle pattern until the sound of it silenced my thoughts. I liked the feeling of my fingers against the smooth surface of the keys. Sometimes I’d run my hands across them without pressing down, feeling the spaces between the white ones, then the blacks. The white keys were bigger and closer to each other, and there were more of them. But when I got outside, the opposite was true. The stars were mere pinpricks of white in a black sky, and by the time I returned to my room, the silence I had created was gone.
If I wrote then as I do now, I would have described that period through my attempt to recreate a song I didn’t know the words to, on a piano I couldn’t play. But at the time, I needed something else. So, I wrote a series of anecdotes about a family of four young boys who lose their father. Every morning, the oldest boy asks where his dad is, hoping to get a different answer. One morning his mother says, “When someone dies, they go around the next corner. And no matter how quickly you run, they’ll always be just one corner ahead.” So the boy begins to hate corners. When he grows up, he moves to Wyoming, where he can see the land spread before him in every direction, for miles.
I wrote the “boy” story in a blue spiral notebook that I carried everywhere. When I went with friends to coffee shops with large windows, they would read and I would write. I started writing in pencil, but the lead began to smudge. The words became less distinct, grays overlapping each other and running into the white margins. Then I switched to pen but made too many mistakes and covered the pages with thick scratch-outs that looked like wounds. Eventually, I typed out what I had. I didn’t think the repetition of a piano would comfort a little boy, so I gave him a train:
The night after his father’s funeral, Tommy sat alone in the kitchen, because the yellow walls made him feel safe, and he didn’t know what else to do. His mother took him onto her lap, even though he was almost too big now. She rested her chin on the top of his head and smiled slightly. His hair smelled like her coconut shampoo. She’d been running out more quickly than usual and now she knew why. They looked through a few books, one about a bear who wakes up at a construction site, one about the wind telling a child stories about her neighbors. Neither interested Tommy, and he asked his mother to tell him a story about trains. She told him trains never end, they go and go forever, like the sound, repeating itself and moving forward…Tommy didn’t believe her, but then he never looked for the end of one either. When Tommy saw a train coming, he watched it approach and then turned away.