Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sturm und Drang (Ch.10 Pt.1)

A week after my audition with Jascha Heifetz for his masterclass, my mother has difficulty sleeping. She paces the house during all hours of the night. I can hear her rapid footsteps back and forth, back and forth downstairs in the kitchen, as she fixes tea and rummages through papers. She wanders up the circular stairs to my bedroom, peeks under my four poster canopy, and whispers, "Margie, are you awake?"
I pretend to be half-asleep. "What is it?"
There's a stack of make-up homework to complete with finals looming. All year, despite my absences due to  concerts, I've kept my grades up and even made it to the Honor Roll at Memorial. But I'm exhausted. I haven't had a decent night's rest since reading "The Exorcist" on the return flight from Los Angeles. The idea of demonic possession terrifies me, and I imagine the bed quakes when it's only me trembling.
"Can I sleep here? Your father snores."
"Come on," I whisper, and throw back the comforter. I don't want to admit this, but I'm grateful to have my mother in bed with me.

Indecision plagues her, and I'm the only listener. "I think it would be foolish to turn down Heifetz's offer."
I yawn. I'm used to my mother talking in circles, which I consider a form of data processing, or mental regurgitation. She strokes my hair and rubs my back. "But how do I break the news to your father? To relocate to Los Angeles? It won't be easy, Margie. But you're too young to go alone. If you were seventeen or eighteen, maybe, but a girl turning fourteen? No," she answers herself. "You need parents, or at least, you need me."

My eyelids close and I feel content. The teachers at Memorial treat me as a celebrity. The performance at Tri-State Music Festival and meeting with Heifetz are being featured in the weekend edition of the Boston Globe. I've become a  local star of the North-Shore, and bask in the attention. If we move to L.A., I might attend Hollywood Professional School, just like the Brady Bunch kids, and hopefully, become a famous artist one day. But more than anything, I want to please my mother. I wrap my arms around her slender waist, and inhale the lingering scent of  lavender tea. I drift off. By the time my father awakens me for school, my mother has returned to her own bed.

My father's morning routine consists of fixing himself a bowl of Kellogg's Bran Buds for breakfast and black coffee to keep regular. While he relieves himself, I tend to my mother. I tiptoe to her bedside, lower my face to hers, brush the thin wisps of hair from her forehead, and give her a kiss. She opens her eyes, and drowsily lifts her head.
"Tonight, I'll tell him...I promise." Her head sinks back into the pillow.


After work my father loosens his tie, and flings it over the living room armchair, and talks about his day at the business. He reaches for the bottle of Scotch tucked away in the liquor cabinet. The furniture movers dropped an armoire on a delivery to nearby Marblehead, and laughed as it rolled out of the truck. The customers watched with horror and demanded their money back.
"Morons, those movers," my father fumes after a swig of Scotch. "I've had it." His hands are shaking. "And to think that I lost two more clients today."
He thunders into the kitchen and eyes the dining table.

"What's for supper, Frances, I'm starving. Don't tell me that you spent the entire afternoon listening to Marjorie's practicing—"
"Margie," my mother darts me a glance. I'm standing with the violin tucked under my arm. I've been playing  "Nigun" (Improvisation) from Bloch's "Baal Shem Suite" in the living room for hours, discovering the pleasures of rhapsodic, cantorial nuances and expressive phrasing. I've discovered agogic accents.
"Go finish your music while I talk to your father."

I obediently climb the stairs to my room, leave the door ajar, and lean against the doorway to eavesdrop. My heart races. This is not an ideal moment to confront my father with a relocation or a vague future as a concert artist. I know that I should try to warn my mother; the storm clouds are about to burst.

"You wanna do what, Frances?" I hear my father pound the kitchen table with his fist."You expect me to just up and leave Kransberg's Furniture because of some asshole violinist? Who pays the bills? I'm gonna work for somebody else in a different location where I have no contacts, and start from scratch? Have you lost touch with reality?"
My mother tries to assuage him with a voice of cool reserve, like a school teacher with an unruly student. "Take another drink, John. Have a cigarette. Calm down. It would be in Marjorie's best interest—for her career—to work with Jascha Heifetz."
"You're tearing this family apart, Frances," he yells. "You're killing me with these never-ending demands. This teacher, that teacher. Boston, New York, now Los Angeles. Sell the house. Leave the business. Look, how my hands shake!"

I ready my violin and bow to drown out their escalating voices. Accusations and threats ricochet off the walls. I realize, with sudden remorse, that I'm the cause of this battle. I skip the movement entitled "Simchas Torah" (Rejoice) and begin the plaintive cries of "Vidui" (Contrition). At the caesura, I'm startled by a terrifying clamor: the shattering of glass followed by a piercing scream. I toss the violin on my bed and flee down the winding staircase. My legs feel like elastic bands. The front door slams just as I reach the landing. There, in the middle of the kitchen floor, is my mother sprawled amidst shards of broken china, sobbing hysterically.
photo of my parents and me in the Boston Globe