He looked down at it, eyes sparkling, moving toward it eagerly. As he sat down he said excitedly, not even seeming to direct his words to me but to the atmosphere around us..."I'm going to rock this piano, I promise you."
It had been a good night already, on the way to this moment. We sat in oversized velvet red armchairs and shared delicious Middle Eastern food... grilled halloumi, lamb, hummus... I watched amusedly as he peppered the waitress with questions, his inherent curiosity not allowing him to simply order whatever struck his fancy. He had to know; what was the best local red wine they had? Would she recommend the syrah or the pinot noir? What do the kibbeh wheat balls taste like? I would have been slightly embarrassed, assuming that she would be getting a little annoyed, if it wasn't so apparent that she was a bit charmed by his accent and honest wondering eyes.
We'd been talking about music and how he was in a band and how I played the flute and handbells, and sometimes sang... "I would love to get to a piano right now! I could play... and you could sing." he said. I decided I'd do what I'd been contemplating doing since he'd arrived. "I'm going to take you to a place where you can do that," I replied. "It's deep in Montecito... I'll drive."
As I drove in past the Westmont College sign and parked by Clark Halls, he looked around with his characteristic deep curiosity. We traipsed around for awhile, making our way through Kerrwood Hall and then over to the library rock. Scrambling to the top in our fancy shoes and jackets got us laughing, and at the top he closed his arms around me and stood still for a few moments, oblivious to the perpetually smiling nineteen year olds in their school sweatshirts passing by the rock to study in the library.
I pulled him through the formal gardens and we arrived at the prayer chapel. There is a piano in there for anyone to play, although in all the times I'd been in there I'd never touched it. At that moment, there happened to be a student at the keys, having a moment, singing his heart out. While we waited we ducked into the observatory classroom and pretended to give each other lectures. We scribbled our names on the board, drew pictures, sat in the desks, and giggled like kids. When we walked back to the chapel, the guy was still on the piano. I made a lucky guess, and took us to where I thought the music practice rooms were nearby in another building, and happened to open the right door. There was a practice room, quiet, private, with a lovely baby grand just waiting.
He approached it, and put his fingers to the keys, and played like crazy. Blues, classical, rock, soul... his hands flew up and down the black and white. I couldn't remember when I'd ever seen someone play like that in person. He'd said he was in a band a decade ago, but it seemed he truly did play often at home like he said. He didn't have to think about the notes, and he sang along, and when he didn't know the words he hummed. So supremely comfortable with himself, no hint of shyness, as in anything he did. I sat down next to him and watched as he went from Guns N Roses to ABBA to Journey. I wanted to sing along but I only knew a couple lines to each song. "These songs are a little old for me...maybe could you try something post-1995?" I asked with a laugh. He laughed with me, then tried another idea. Lennon's "Imagine". I could sing that. So we did.
Then he moved on to something else, something beautiful, it seemed somehow familiar but I wasn't convinced I'd heard it before. He didn't sing, he just played. "Do you know what that was?" he asked.
"No... it was lovely though!" I answered. "I wrote it," he replied. I was impressed. "Really? It was beautiful. Beautiful and melancholy and complex," I observed.
He looked up, not at me, and smiled. Then he looked down. Then he nudged my shoulder with his and finally looked in my eyes. "Thank you... yes. Yes. Thank you," he said sweetly and genuinely. It seemed as if he'd wanted it described exactly like that.
Last time he was here we sat with some wine by the beach at night, and I said that I hoped he'd remember that moment when he was back home, so far away. He laughed incredulously, and assured me that it wasn't a moment anyone could easily forget. He's gone again, and that's okay, but now I have this piano session, in my head, not willing to leave anytime soon. It's not a moment easily forgotten.