After a brilliant performance for an enthusiastic audience, Genevieve takes the subway to her hotel. She turns each affirming comment over in her mind as she sits down next to a petite young woman. Her guitar is in a case on her back and she swings it adeptly in front of her as she eases her body down. The woman next to her removes one ear bud, turning her head slightly toward her seat partner.
“You a musician?” she ventures, after several minutes of silence.
Genevieve faces the speaker, “Yes, I am.”
“Do you live here?”
“Actually, I don’t. I live on the opposite coast.”
“I didn’t think so.”
Genevieve looks surprised. “Really? Why not?”
“Most women like you aren’t out alone at this time of night. Especially not dressed up, carrying an instrument.”
Genevieve smiles. She has never feared people, whether it’s their opinions or their potentially devious intents.
“You’re probably right. They don’t. But I’m not ‘most women’,” she admits.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a classical guitarist. I teach and perform.”
“Get out!” The outburst was unexpected.
“Really. I am!”
The young woman apologizes quickly. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I truly believe you. It’s just… well, you know…I don’t meet one often.”
Bemused, “Meet ‘one’…?”
“Y..y..es. Someone who plays classical guitar!”
“Well, that’s probably true.”
“I play, too,” comes the exuberant reply. She pulls off one mitten and clumsily pushes her right hand in Genevieve’s direction. “Emilee Kirkson,” she blurts.
“Emilee, I’m so glad to meet you – a fellow classical guitarist.” She clasps Emilee’s extended hand in her own.
Emilee’s face glows with admiration.
“How long have you played?” Genevieve continues.
“Not that long. Only three years!”
“That’s long enough to know whether it’s for you, isn’t it?”
“It sure is! And it IS for me! I know that.”
Genevieve eyes sparkle as her face crinkles into a broad smile.
“That’s great! I love it when people find their passion and pursue it.”
“You must be so very happy. I mean, performing, audiences, teaching, traveling and all…”
Genevieve responds without hesitation, “Yes, I am very happy. It’s a wonderful life. Oh,” she adds, quickly rising from the seat, “This is me – my stop,” she explains as she wishes Emilee a life of joyful music and fulfillment.
After a five minute walk in the crisp pre-Thanksgiving air, Genevieve strides into the hotel which is home for one more night. She rides the elevator to the fourteenth floor, turns left and inserts the plastic card into her hotel room door. She lets out a slow, long breath and collapses onto the bed. What a week it’s been.
All evening she has been looking forward to the long, hot soak in her luxurious bathtub. As she runs the water, she senses a rare uneasiness within her heart. Ignoring it, she steps gingerly into the water, testing the temperature. Perfect!
She melts into the warm water – very warm, as Genevieve needs to thaw from the cold that seeped into her bones earlier in the rather chilly concert hall.
You must be so very happy. Over and over, the words replay in her mind. Initially her response, Yes, I’m very happy, accompanies the question. Suddenly, her response rings hollow. Superficial and spurious.
Her heart rate increases as her mind reels. But, she is happy. She is very happy. Her career spans nearly thirty years; her proficiency in classical guitar offers her the flexibility and creativity many people envy. Her Spanish-born husband, whom she met decades ago during her two semesters at the Universidad de Alicante, has set international records in foreign trade. They have three lovely daughters: intelligent, educated and successful. One is married and has two young children; the oldest recently landed her dream job as a journalist for a prestigious newspaper; the third is a business administrator at a hospice in the city they all once called home. Plus, she adores her vivacious cocker spaniel, Boo, who she rescued on Hallowe’en three years ago.
You must be so very happy. You must be so very happy. Oh would you just please stop, she wrestles with her brain. Of course, I’m happy.
But her turmoil doesn’t allow her to enjoy her soaking bath. She dries off, dresses in a warm nightgown and crawls into the cold, crisp hotel bed.
Her mind rehearses its litany of why she is exuberantly happy. Her days are full. She’s up early, meditates, fixes a smooth fruit drink, then runs beneath giant honey locust trees. She loves this tree as its loose and airy canopy allows the sunshine to filter through to her face.
Genevieve knows she is high energy, fit, competent and successful. Her months consist of practice, teaching students at a local community college and spending three afternoons most weeks with her two energetic grandchildren. Her performances aren’t as frequent as in the past – three or four locally per month; one extended two-week concert tour each fall. Perfect. It’s just as she’s planned it.
The hours tick by. One o’clock; half past; two o’clock. Finally at half past two, she heaves the covers back, reaches for the heavy hotel bathrobe, turns on a dim light and sits to write at the massive oak desk.
Am I happy?
Does my guitar
Fill my days with
Do my students
Learn more than notes
Does my time with
Make a difference?
Is he happy?
Are we happy?
Is this all there is?
She does Thanksgiving without undue thought or effort. No one suspects the crashing, deafening mental queries. Christmas follows. Decorating, baking, entertaining, shopping, laughing. Still no one suspects.
Two weeks into the new year she places one lone bag containing a few essentials into her car. And Boo. Three days later she arrives at Coastal Breeze Ranch for Girls, where equine and music therapies support girls transitioning from the juvenile justice system.
Valerio Berdini/live on 35mm
Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times
© Julia Penner-Zook, 2015