Chapter Fifty Seven I
In the morning, I emerge around nine. We’d been up for some time. Janah did an hour’s worth of yoga, I stretched with her for a while, then practiced a form tai chi style. Janah ran the tub while I finished up, then let me soak in the warm scented water while she washed my hair. While Janah showers, I wrap up in a robe to get her tea. Dr Epstein is in the kitchen reading. He and I chat about the news while the water heats.
Mrs. Epstein comes in and hugs me, “Good morning angel. Did you guys sleep well?”
“Yes. We passed out in twenty minutes. Janah is still thanking you for dinner, me too, it was so good. Would you care for coffee?”
“You’re very welcome, and thank you, yes, coffee please.”
I pour her a cup and a fresh one for Dr. E. We talk a bit about what is in the Sunday paper. I clear everything, rinse it and put it in the dishwasher. Mrs. Epstein had tried telling me not to do all that in previous visits. She finally resigned herself to my neatness fetish.
I carefully put a little fresh fruit on a plate top it with crème fraiche, prepare Janah’s tea and put it all on a tray, excuse myself, asking Mrs. E what time she would like to leave.
“They are expecting us at 11, will that work?”
“We’ll be ready at 10:30.”
Janah shares the fruit with me, she eats four to six meals a day. Most of them aren’t large, excepting the Village Diner and some of the family extravaganzas. She needs a steady flow of calories. I ate two pieces of strawberry, Janah the rest. She dries her hair sitting on the side of the bed while I relax, we mental about the day’s plan and the upcoming school week. It is quarter after ten, Janah kisses my toes lightly and gets up to dress.
I am meticulous about appearance. The slob, careless look is anathema to my personality. The idea of trotting around school, the street, or anyplace else in sad jeans, a sloppy t-shirt and, horror of horrors, flip-flops, makes me gag. Flip flops are simply unacceptable footwear. Flap, flap, flapping around an entire day like a deranged duck is out of the question.
Janah looks me over, satisfied. Janah presents herself and I make tiny adjustments. We take one purse, Janah generally carries it, leaving my hands free.
We go into the living room to wait on Mrs. Epstein. Dr. Epstein is in his office, James is to come around eleven or eleven thirty. The plan is to spend the afternoon under the pretext of watching basketball.
Mrs. Epstein comes through the kitchen to the living room, she stops to survey us. We are standing at the window overlooking Park Avenue. I, in a mid-calf skirt, a rayon t-shirt and a short-waist jacket, Janah in a long maroon skirt and clogs. My nearly black green eyes turn as Mrs. E enters.
“If there are two lovelier creatures in the world, I defy them to show themselves. You are both absolutely splendid.”
Janah smiles at Mrs. E, I say, “Thank you. You set the bar high for elegance, Mrs. E. We’re learning from your example.”
James comes a bit early. He told Mrs. Epstein he wants to talk with Janah and me briefly before we leave. She goes to tell her husband that James has arrived.
James, “I wanted to speak with Dr. Epstein about the family secret. I’ve asked the moms and they’re fine with it. What do you think? I don’t have any reason he or Mrs. Epstein need to know other than they are family in your eyes. It seems right.”
I look at Janah and back to James. “We think it’s overdue. Janah says he suspects there is more anyway. And considering all they are to us, we want them to know.”
“I guessed that’s how you’d feel. Still, we agreed two years ago and this is the first time we‘ve included anyone else…unless Master Kim....”
“Janah was thinking of speaking with him soon. She wanted to talk to Chris, really all of the family, first; Chris has such a special relationship with him, we want her to think it over.”
“Do you want me to wait until you get back?”
We turned to each other, then I say, “We’ll tell her when we get back this afternoon. You can talk it over with Dr. Epstein while we’re out. He’ll have the most questions and will want to discuss it from a professional point of view. Mrs. Epstein doesn’t need to sit through all that.”
“It’s a plan then, enjoy your day out, ladies.”
We go to the office with James, hug him and Dr. Epstein.
I couldn’t resist a parting, “Have an interesting day doctors,” as we leave.
Dr. Epstein, “You show up early to catch the girls and Daphne can’t resist a teasing incongruity as she leaves. You have something to discuss. More interesting than a ball game I’m sure. Martha has arranged lunch. Would you like coffee, perhaps a glass of champagne? It’s Charles Heidsiek, very tasty.”
“Champagne would be perfect, thank you.”
After a glass in silent appreciation, Dr. Epstein pours them a second. James settles into the big armchair and looks over at his old friend seated in its mate. A small table between them keeps the champagne bucket in easy reach. James spends the next half hour telling Dr. Epstein the most amazing story he ever heard. Even more amazing than the ones his more interesting patients made up.
Dr. Epstein, “I thought it had to be because they simply knew each other so well. I can’t tell you how many times my wife has said, ‘It’s like those two read each other’s minds.’ She chalked it up to being two people simply perfectly matched. Just a lovely coincidence. I’m not sure she wouldn’t be happier believing only that. Still, I would like her to know. I don’t get the impression you told me as one psychiatrist to another.”
“No, as one family member to another is more like it. The girls, all of us, see you and Martha as family. They wanted you to digest it before they told Mrs. Epstein. They’ll do it when they get back this afternoon. It’s not the kind of thing to discuss over brunch.”
Dr. Epstein nods agreement, “That kind of story needs a good place to sit and reflect, ask questions and let the thing sink in. The girls show their usual good judgment. Thank you for telling us. I understand the reasons to keep it close to the vest. Daphne’s parents would also want to be cautious of course.”
They spend the afternoon discussing theories about our capabilities. It is beyond anything in their range of even their considerable experience.
Dr. Epstein, “I had this feeling there was more to it. I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it. I can only conclude it is so beyond logic that my mind just refused to see what was in front of me.”
He tells James a story, “The first time tall ships from Europe appeared off the coast of South America, only the shaman of the tribe could actually see the ships. The other natives had no concept of ships that size nor had they even seen any people different from themselves. So, even though the ships were sitting plainly in view offshore, the natives couldn’t see them, it was as if they didn’t exist.”
James, “The shaman could see the ships because his mind was open to the possibility of more than their immediate world.”
Dr. Epstein, “Yes. We can’t know if the story is true. The fact that I couldn’t register that the girls could literally exchange thought lets me understand how it might be. I think it was you who once told me, there’s more in the world than we understand and more than we can understand.”
James, “I’m not sure where I got that from. Janah says it’s a paraphrase of Hamlet, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, that are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ I’ve experienced it. I live it every day in a state of constant amazement. The girls take it all in stride. I’m not sure what puzzles me more, that they can do the things they do or that they don’t give it a moment’s thought.”
“I know you’ve asked them how they are doing, how it feels to know someone else’s every thought. What do they say?”
“They give a pretty rational explanation actually. Daphne says it’s like Janah’s memory. Other people wonder how she keeps all that stuff in her head. That’s because they’re not Janah. To Janah it’s just how she is. She doesn’t feel strange because she doesn’t know anything else.”
Dr. Epstein, “So it’s the same between the two of them. It’s just there and they can do it. It’s neither strange or unnatural.”
“That’s what she says.”
“Yet they weren’t born this way. I mean they met, physically, at, what, age 12?”
“Yes, they both tell the same story.”
James laughs at himself, “Of course they tell the same story, what else could they tell? Before they met, they felt a fuzzy connection to someone. As time went by, things started to get clearer. A few months before they met in person they knew what the other looked like. They knew some family history, parents and their careers. Janah gave us details about Daphne and her folks that she could never have been known without knowing Daphne. I can swear they never met, certainly never face to face, until the day Kara and I looked at the condo we wound up buying.”
He relates the story of how Janah contacted me mentally on the spur of the moment and had me call them. How I then read a book Janah picked off a shelf at random.
“While both girls are very computer literate, neither used e-mail or IM for anything. Besides, neither of them are duplicitous or sneaky. After seeing them in action for over two years, the mentaling, as they call it, is definitely real.”
“Do they exchange sentences, is it a conversation?”
James, “Excellent question. It turns out, it started that way. Now it’s instantaneous. They talk mentally, Daphne says what really happens is almost a flash of energy. They feel the emotion of the other along with the thought.”
“Ah, that was my next question, do feelings cross between them? They do. That would mean they have no miscommunication, no confusion of the words or even the feelings behind the words. Which also means that having someone know your every thought isn’t only not a problem, it’s a joy of seamless communication, of communion.”
James, “Exactly. They are a living example of relationship without conflict.”
Dr. Epstein stares at his shoes, then nods slowly, “Had I paid more attention, I might have caught it. They’re like watching a perfectly choreographed dance! Old fool that I am! Now it makes perfect sense. It was right in front of me all the time. They never miss a beat with each other, they practically breathe together. I saw it, even marveled at it. I never thought through how such harmony was possible. I couldn’t see the tall ships.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Bernie. They conceal it well. It’s not like you see them every day.”
“It’s a wonderful adventure, James. I’m delighted to become a part of it. I can’t thank you enough for telling me. It’s fascinating, completely amazing. Oh, this will give me two lifetimes of things to think over. Martha will be floored.”
“Bernie, we stay floored. Just when we think they’ve hit their limits, they come up with something new. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a comic book. Except the characters with super powers don’t dress up in costumes. Do you have any notion of what might be going on?”
“There’s a lot of work recently on mirror neurons.”
“Yes. Imitator brain cells that help us relate to other people’s actions and feelings. Even their intended actions.”
Dr. Epstein, “We see other people’s behavior and our neurons fire as if we are engaged in the same behavior. If the girls have enhanced mirror neuron capability, it may explain how they do what they do. I wonder if they’re the beginning of something.”
“Evolutionary changes have to start somewhere, James.”
James is thoughtful, “I hadn’t taken it that far. That’s something to chew on. Are they the start of, what, a different kind of consciousness? What humans could be, or will be?”
“I wish I had some glib answer. All we can do is observe. There is no way to express my gratitude for being a witness to this. It’s a paradox. One wants to show the world the possibility of perfect communion. Clearly that’s not possible. Humanity may evolve to what the girls are. Unfortunately, there is no way the world is ready to see it demonstrated.”
“They don’t want any attention. They’re crystal clear on the implications.”
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a matter of doctor patient confidentiality squared. I’ve made a few notes on them. I did it because of Janah’s memory and Daphne’s physical skills. They are unique in my experience even before this revelation. Is there such a thing as uniquely unique?”
Chapter Fifty Eight I
Q: Is all imagination unreal?
N: Imagination based on memories is unreal. The future is not entirely unreal.
Q: Which part of the future is real and which is not real?
N: The unexpected and unpredictable is real.
Questioner to Nisargadatta, I Am That
While the doctors ruminate, Mrs. E, Janah and I are busy enjoying a lovely lunch. No talk about mental powers or healing. This is a time for girls to be girls. Afterwards, we stroll to Anthropologie. Janah tries on the combination Mrs. Epstein had spotted earlier in the week. Seeing it on Janah verified her initial impression. Mrs. E insisted it was too easy. She coxed Janah into trying on more blouses and skirts. There is nothing that quite suits her. Purchases completed, we head to an edgier boutique a couple of blocks over. Surprising myself, I opt for an ankle length maroon silk skirt and Clarke’s CJ mules. I get a couple of colorful tops and a silver belt. To add to the confusion, Janah decides on a mini skirt and rayon t-shirt combination that raises my heart rate when I see the finished product in the dressing room.
We pop out to show Mrs. Epstein, who had only seen Janah in long skirts, “Oh my, how adorable. What a curvy thing you are! Very nice. Now, time for shoes.”
A couple of shoe stores later, we stop for tea, the conversation light. Mrs. E knows the best stories about Manhattan society, we laugh our way through one after another. Mrs. Epstein tells real stories, just not with real names, pointing out the pretensions without picking on individuals.
She admitted she’d had her pretentious moments, “It takes one to know one as the saying goes.”
“You aren’t all stuffy and self righteous now. What happened?”
“Dr. Epstein happened. Bernie is lost in his world of psychiatry. I admire his brain, and his reserve. I learned to shut my mouth and observe.”
“He taught you that?”
“He didn’t teach, in the sense that he said anything. He didn’t play along with my snootiness, he didn’t play up to my friends. Not that any of them were worth any such thing. I noticed they treated him differently. Unlike everyone else they gossiped about, they had nothing but respect for him. I dropped out of the game. I mean, I still call my friends, still go to this or that soiree. When it comes time to start the gossip, I find an excuse to leave. I wasn’t brave enough at first to call people on it, but I at least refused to participate.”
“Do you call them on it now?”
“Depends. I don’t want to get self righteous either. I don’t want to join the PC police, correcting everyone’s behavior. If I get a quiet chance to interject, something like, ‘Oh dear, can we talk about something else?’ that kind of thing, then I do it. Or try to change the subject. If I’m in the middle of a gaggle of society broads, I just walk away. I can change me, not the world.”
Janah, “One person changing how they behave does change the world, Mrs. E. Perhaps it’s a only tiny change in consciousness, that doesn’t matter. It’s one less person creating conflict.”
Mrs. Epstein is thoughtful, “It’s true isn’t it? Yes. Thank you, Janah.”
We get back to the condo at four thirty, bursting in the door, still laughing about the shopping and the waiter at the restaurant. He’d hung around the Janah and I chatting away about his auditions. Naturally he was an actor making ends meet, and a very good looking one. He appeared to be twenty one or two and couldn’t seem to decide which one of us to hover around the most, so he hovered equally. I joked and flirted, asked him all about his trials and tribulations. He auditioned for some television spots, done two commercials, no big break yet. I did all the questioning. To his credit the young man tried to bring out Janah, who only nodded and smiled politely.
“He was cute. I thought he was going to drool on Janah.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Well you handled the conversation wonderfully so Janah’s smile was icing on his cake. I thought he was very polite.”
“Which made him even cuter. We don’t mind guys hitting on us, just do it sensibly and with some style. I can never figure out why any girl gives the time of day to all that ‘hey baby, you sure a fine thing’ stuff. If I was going to be interested, it wouldn’t be in that.”
“Women get the kind of behavior they are willing to endure. You’re right, the initial approach tells a girl a lot. Do your Chapmans friends get the idea?”
“Most of them. There are a few who seem to be attracted to the least common denominator, the bad boy thing. It’s a juvenile rebellion phase. Most of the girls are unimpressed. They can’t relate intellectually to that kind of boy anyway. The average Chapmans girl isn’t going to dumb down to get a guy.”
Mrs. E, “Some women never grow out of the juvenile phase. They keep thinking they’re going to find the right bad boy and convert him. It never works except in television movies.”
“I can’t fathom why a woman wants to do a rehab. Must be a goddess complex. I don’t want anyone who needs me to reconstruct their personality.”
“You two really do have an extraordinary grasp of human nature.”
“I have a luxury unavailable to anyone else. There’s the direct uncommon good sense of Ms. Alva, the moms and dad. Not to mention you, Dr. E. and Master Kim. If I got really stupid in the face of all that, I would totally deserve my pain. I’m sympathetic to the poor decisions of many girls. The world can be scary, the bad boy seems to have it under control. I can see the attraction, even though it’s a lie.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Let’s go see what our bad boys have been up to shall we?”
We pile the packages on the floor near the door and go greet the Docs.
Dr. Epstein and James both look up. A ball game is on, no sound. It was clear they were discussing other business.
Dr. Epstein, “You guys are having way too much fun, sounds like everything went well.”
“It was great, Janah had our waiter mystified. He thought when he said the magic word, ‘actor,’ she’d fall in a swoon or something. She wouldn’t talk with him at all, I had to carry the ball. Mrs. E left him a big tip as consolation for striking out with Janah.”
Mrs. E, “Oh he was quite taken with both of them as you can imagine. Daphne ran circles around the poor dear. I don’t think he’s used to making so little progress with young women. When we left, he looked confused.”
James, “They’re just a bit complicated. I’m sure the aspiring actor will manage to get over it.”
“He was already working a table with three 20 somethings out for the afternoon. They were very receptive to his attention. All the demure eye batting and fiddling with their hair. Eyelashes fluttered so fast it was creating a draft. They were having fun. He was just practicing on us, we’re too young. Even so, the twenties were sort of glaring at Janah as we left.
Later, after settling in the living room, I turn to Mrs. Epstein, “We have something to share with you.”
“I’m all ears.”
I tell our story, from before we actually met up to the first time we met the Epsteins.
“Dad has by now told Dr. Epstein. Now the rest of our family knows.”
Mrs. Epstein sits stone silent for a long while. “I have no idea what to say. Between last night’s disclosures and today’s, I am stunned. I feel privileged to know.”
“We are the privileged ones. We have no idea how it happened or why us. We have no idea if it will last beyond right now. If it disappears, then Janah will be forced to talk more. She’s the one under pressure. I don’t mind talking at all. I have the most interesting things to say, don’t you agree?” I tease.
Mrs. Epstein, “An understatement from my point of view.”
I look to Janah, “Isn’t she the best?”
We stay for another hour, answering Dr. and Mrs. Epstein’s questions as much as there are answers.
Dr. Epstein, “I can only conclude that life didn’t create you to let you languish. I’m not a spiritual man, but I find myself thinking the universe has plans for you. I also suggest Janah has an inkling of what they might be.”
Janah, “In time. We are preparing.”
Silence for a long while. No one asks what Janah meant. There is no discomfort or agitation in the silence, no urge to search for answers. A sense of serenity settles over the room, covering its inhabitants.
Tears creep down Mrs. E's cheeks, can’t put her feelings into words. None are adequate. Janah goes to her, kneels and takes Mrs. Epstein’s hands in hers. She weeps, lost in Janah’s sapphire blue eyes. There is no thought, no idea. Only the intense warmth of the incredible young woman before her. She strokes Janah’s hair, her hand trembles.
She says very softly, “You understand everything.”
Janah lays her head in Mrs. Epstein’s lap. The silence returns.
Dr. Epstein and James go to the kitchen. They make a drink, sit at the counter. Each quietly reflects on the scene.
Dr. Epstein. “I know you can’t say it, so let me. Once in a great while, a person comes into being that represents all that is possible, all that is pure. What combination of events allow that to happen is unknowable. We can only be grateful that, by some incredible good fortune, we are witness to it.”
James nods. There is nothing to say.
When we get home, the moms are all huddled together at the family table sharing a bottle of wine. I announce I’m hungry, meaning I needed to feed my other. Janah and I changed into frayed jeans and baggy t-shirts, acceptable only for lounging at home. James explains that the Epsteins were clear on us.
Janah and I go off to the kitchen to make a light dinner of sandwiches and chips. I cut fresh vegetables and stir fried them with tofu. While we are occupied, James recounts more detail of the visit. How Martha had been a bit overcome and how Janah comforted her. When we come in with the food, Kara takes Janah in her arms, pulls her onto her lap. There is no need to explain why. She kisses her daughter repeatedly and holds her closely.
I fake a pout, “Sure give her all the attention, I’m just decoration.”
Chris closes her big arms around me, “And a beautiful decoration you are too,” kissing my cheek half a dozen times.
I hold Chris’ arms around me, “Now that’s what I’m talking about. Give up the affection mom.”
“All you need anytime, angel.”
I glow and wink at Janah. “You just have to know how to handle them.”
Susan groans, “You’re the expert.”
Chris sits down next to Susan. “Don’t pick on my baby.”
I lean over and kiss Susan on both cheeks, “Your woman has exceptional taste. You should take good care of her.”
“Yes, she does, and I will.”
Chapter Fifty Nine I
One who is seeking a reward is never free.
Like a man who is always frightened and being punished.
Fear and pleasure are our principle prisons.
And a mind that understands it is really free.
Janah and I are walking through Central Park, down Park Drive on the west side. It is a Saturday, a crystal sky fall day. The park is closed to traffic. The street filled with runners, cyclers, skaters, families, tourists and lovers of every variety of color, size and attitude.
Every sort of person on the plant passes here don’t they?
Janah, It reminds me of the line by Kafka, ‘The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.’ When we come here and sit with each other, just being, it seems the world does exactly as Kafka suggests.
As we enjoy our silent conversation, Janah sits with her eyes closed watching the scene through my eyes.
Janah, You see so much. The world is so alive.
What do you see?
There is a runner ambling by, so bowlegged I wonder how he moves in a straight line. There’s a white Dixie cup I’d never notice blowing across the Strawberry Field. It must be fifty yards away. I can see the colors and shapes on it. There are three pigeons pecking at croissant crumbs under the bench over there. Down the street, at least a long block from us, three women are running. I can read the insignias on their shoes, the logos on their shirts and beads of sweat trickling down the hairline by their ears. It’s all there at once, I can see the entire panorama.
What do you smell?
Janah is still for a moment, There’s a child, behind the bush across the street. He’s licking a vanilla ice cream cone. No, it’s a chocolate covered bar with vanilla ice cream. It has almonds in the chocolate. Now I’m hungry.
Like that’s news.
Get me an ice cream, please.
I walk over to the vendor a half block away and return with two Haagen-Dazs bars.
Janah, Yum. Are you going to finish yours?
I’m just softening it up for you. I hand mine to Janah.
I’m helping you stay in shape.
And I appreciate your sacrifice. Is it good?
Yours is better than mine.
It’s the same thing.
No, you gave me yours. That’s why it’s better.
We're quiet again for a time.
Janah, I’m learning why you’re so energetic, so alive. You experience the world much more intensely. Like a snake, you use your tongue to taste the air. You have the proprioception, the inner radar, of a bat and a dolphin all rolled up into one.
Janah laughs at all her animal similes, holding my hand, lost in my vision of the world. She feels the bliss come over her. I sense my other in that state. Ever watchful, I only taste the moment, instantly return to attending to the events around us. Janah is vulnerable, it’s why she is Janah. In the bliss, she is even more so. I watch over her physical body and continue to feed her mind the rich intense sights and sounds.
Passersby stare, occasionally whispering, “Aren’t those girls somebody? They must be somebody, singers, television?”
They didn’t know I can hear them. Didn’t hurt my feelings any.
A half hour sails by, a voice, “Excuse me. May I talk to you for a moment?’
“My name is Paul Jordan, this is my associate Jeanne. I’m a photographer, we do a lot of fashion work. Here is my card,” handing me a plain white business card.
“We are looking for a spot to do a photo shoot, here in the park. My eyes tell me you are perfect for a project we’re doing. If you live in town, please tell your parents that I talked to you. Give them the card and have them call the magazine. They will verify us. Have either of you modeled, done any photographic work?” he inquired.
“No, not a drop. I don’t think we have any photos of each other.”
His friend, Jeanne says, “The two together would be devastating. You know Mystique magazine?”
“Yes, I read it. I’ve seen your name in it. I like the way you use only a color or two. It grabs the eye, so vivid. It’s a pleasure to meet you both.”
Paul, “Thank you for noticing, no one but industry people pay the slightest attention to the photographer. People think we just point and shoot, like the camera does all the work.”
He asks, “Please, would you consider doing some test shots with us? I’m weary of agency girls, and you two are a force of nature, solid black shimmering liquid perfection against the purest white hair. And, Jeanne, do you see? It’s natural! Completely white hair! In fact, I’ve never seen hair so perfectly white, it’s startlingly stunning. Amazing.”
He repeats to his companion, “They are simply amazing.”
Jeanne, “Please ask your parents to consider it. I hope to see you again soon.”
I thank them and put the card in my pocket.
That was flattering.
I agree, Quite. You remembered the name, thanks for giving it to me. I didn’t realize you had looked at the magazine.
Janah, I see it when you read it.
I don’t read the photographer’s names.
Janah, You do but you don’t take it in; it’s still in your brain though, so I picked it up. It was the April edition that mom had left in the stack by the sofa.
Remember the page number?
Geez. Why would you remember that?
Janah laughs, I didn’t. Lots of the pages aren’t even numbered. I’ve got the issue right, although he must have photos in others as well. It was a beautiful shot. One model, short clingy black dress, deep purple sling backs and a matching sash around her waist.
We can’t do it, still, it was nice to be asked.
I noticed you particularly liked the part about shimmering liquid perfection.
He has good taste.
Janah, It would be cool to see you in a fashion magazine. You would be so perfect. It would certainly be seen by someone from school or someone you know, then our names get out...
Not good. Oh well, so much for becoming chain-smoking eye candy. Feel free to point out my shimmering liquid perfection anytime you’d like though.
We sit for another hour, then head for the subway. I drop the photographer’s card in a trash container, my high fashion career with it.
Chapter Sixty I
Who cares to listen to the troubles of another?
We have so many troubles of our own that we have no time for those of others. To make another listen you have to pay, either in coin, in prayer, or in belief. The professional will listen, it’s his job, but in that there is no lasting release. We want to unburden ourselves freely, spontaneously, without any regrets afterwards.
Elle Prescott, a sixteen year old Chapmans student, came to Janah late one afternoon in the middle of the week. Janah had just finished yoga class and is sitting on the floor with me. Taekwondo is about to start and the RSGs are filing out of the dressing room and stretching.
Elle leans over a bit, “Excuse me Janah, do you have some time?”
We stand, Elle blinks, we had risen effortlessly from our cross legged position at precisely the same moment. Then turned to each other as if on cue. Janah strokes my long hair. I bow.
Janah, “Shall we go to the empty room across the hall?”
On the way, Elle says, “You two are so….together. I remember before Daphne came, you being with us and alone at the same time. Many of the girls have said they’ve talked to you, they love the way you listen. Not one girl has ever said they heard their story repeated by someone else. They trust you so completely.”
Elle continues, “I feel kind of nosy asking, but…”
Janah, “Daphne would never ask about my conversations. She would consider it rude at the least. She has other priorities. Actually, some of the girls have started unloading on her. I don’t ask what they tell her either. It would be a violation of her principles. We both have lots to do. When we are together, we enjoy each other, conversations with our friends don’t come up unless it’s something that’s already common knowledge. Even then, we don’t spend much time on it. Like I said, we have many interests. Gossip isn’t on the menu.”
Elle, “Still, you two have a bond. She must be very special.”
Janah, “We just connected. I can’t explain it.”
Janah isn’t lying. She couldn’t explain it, not to someone outside the family. She hadn’t even explained all of it to them. They weren’t ready.
Elle, “She’s so attentive to you. The RSGs are crazy for her. She’s so….I don’t know…..alive.”
Janah, “Perfect description.”
They sit in a couch facing one another. Janah says nothing, waiting. Elle is quiet, her hands together, ankles crossed.
She takes a deep breath, her hands twisting, eyes on the floor, “My parents told my brother and me they’re getting a divorce.”
She looks up, Janah’s eyes silently receive her pain.
“I know this kind of stuff happens all the time, it just never happened to me.”
Janah nods her head slightly, letting Elle know she’s listening. Not the words, her heart.
“It’s not a complete shock, I mean it is, but it’s not. They haven’t been close in the last year. Dad started going out of town a lot. Mom does her club things. She hasn’t said much. She’s there, sort of. Like her head is someplace else.”
“There and not there.”
“Yes. I mean she goes through the motions; the life, the energy, is gone. I can live with the divorce. It seems ordinary, almost unusual when parents don’t divorce. What’s bothering me is her depression or whatever it is. I feel so bad for her. I tried to talk to her, she only says ‘I’m ok’ or ‘everything will be fine.’ Sometimes she’s angry and snaps at us. My brother seems to have pushed it out of his mind. He’s involved in a lot of sports, does his guy stuff. He doesn’t want to think about it I guess.”
“You want to reach out to your mom and she’s keeping you at arm’s length, absorbed in her problems.”
“Exactly. I’m worried about her, Janah. Wondering if she’s letting things build up, if she might….do something.”
“I hear your feeling for her. You’re concerned, even frightened.”
“I am scared Janah. She’s always depended on Dad. I’m mad at him. Then I feel bad for blaming him. I really don’t know exactly what to blame him for. I mean, I don’t know the cause, other than they sort of drifted apart. Like, if he’s had an affair, or she has. I don’t think that’s it. I don’t know what to think. Neither of them offer any explanation other than ‘we don’t love each other anymore.’ Why don’t they love each other? Is he tired of us, were we too much for him, or her?”
Elle’s tears flow, “I don’t know what to do, or even how to feel.”
Janah takes the girl’s hand, letting her cry, sobbing, then sniffles.
“What am I gonna do, Janah? On top of all this, I’m right in the middle of preparing for a recital. I can’t even think straight. I’m supposed to flawlessly play three complicated piano pieces. I mean, I know the music, but when I practice I just lose it. I’m playing for admittance to Julliard; they don’t care about my parent’s divorce. And I’m really worried about mom, I wish she would talk to your dad.”
“Tell me about your music. I hear you playing in the afternoons. You’re wonderful. I’ve never heard anything so moving.”
“It seemed so important to my mom. Now she hardly mentions it. Dad says I’m good enough, that when I play I’ll be fine. Everything’s so confused. Why did this have to happen?”
There is no real answer to that and Janah doesn’t offer a made up one. She looks at Elle, her eyes soft, head cocked to one side, intent on the girl.
“What are you going to play?”
Elle explains the audition requirements for a Bachelor’s admission, “I’ve sent in my demo tapes, and been invited to round one live. The other requirements are, a prelude and fugue from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, or a complete suite or partita. Second, a complete sonata by Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven. Third, a Romantic work by Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, or Liszt. And fourth, a work by a 20th-century composer. I’ll also have to sight read something. It’s pretty thorough.”
Janah, “Sounds like it.”
Elle, “I know the pieces, and I know the fingering techniques they look for, and I’ve played with a variety of orchestras. My piano teacher also teaches at Julliard. She tells me I qualify, but she won’t be on the admissions committee. They say it’s still helpful if someone there knows my work.”
Janah, "Connections can't hurt."
Elle smiles, “Particularly in the high end music world. I just want to chuck it and do jazz. I figured, at least get into Julliard, give mom something. Then I can go do my club thing later. I sneak in my jazz and blues on the side.”
Janah, “Would you play for me, please?”
They walk down the hall to the music room. There are two grand pianos, Elle chooses the one on the right. She sits and runs her hands over the keys casually, as if greeting old friends. Janah is next to her on the bench, hands folded in her lap. She watches, Elle plays. Towards the middle of the first piece, Elle starts to cry, but the music continues. Music fills the room and spills down the hall. When she finishes, applause starts from near the door, just inside the room. It is Susanna Altermann, Chapmans extraterrestrial music instructor.
“Elle! Angel, that was what I’ve been begging to hear, begging, dying for! Your soul, not just your skill!”
Ms. Altermann, in a few giant strides, is next to them, “You have always been my most technically proficient student. I plead…beg…a-go-nize for you to get feeling into the music. To release yourself, let the music soar!”
Her hands lift into the air, “You’ve done it! It’s been a long time since I’ve heard Mozart played with complete abandon. Play half that well in recital and Julliard will be at your feet,” her hand swing down towards the floor dramatically.
She turns to Janah as if noticing her for the first time, “You’re the yoga instructor, not a musician.”
Not a musician, for Ms. Altermann, is close to not a person. There are two groups of people in Susanna’s world, talented musicians and mere mortals who clutter up the place.
Janah shakes her head slowly no. She smiles up at the towering manically curled music teacher. Her fiery red hair resembles a large burning bush.
She squints down at Janah, “I demand you to sit with all my students. Elle has been inspired, if not by you, then who? No one else is here?”
Janah, “Elle is here, it comes from her.”
Ms. Altermann frowns, squints even more, then her eyes open wide, “That’s so. You are right to correct me. I’ll tell you a little secret, yoga instructor. Elle is a major talent, a major talent. She lacked a spark. Something, or someone,” she peers down at Janah again, “has provided a spark, and, with it, she ignited her fire.”
Susanna is a gifted and enthusiastic instructor, even if prone to high drama. Her students love her. While she doesn’t exactly pressure, she does offer frequent and exceptionally high volume encouragement.
Susanna turns back to Elle, “Play. Give me joy and pain. Inspire me, inspire Janah, make us suffer and soar. We are in your power. Now play!”
Janah leaves the bench and sits by Ms. Altermann. Elle looks at Janah for a long time. Janah’s eyes seem to be inside her. Her heart slows, she feels completely at ease.
Thirty minutes later, Ms. Altermann and Janah are in tears. The room is half filled with students who wandered by, drawn in by the remarkable sound. There is an explosion of applause, Elle realizing that there are people in the room including Lacy Chapman, on her feet leading the bravos.
Elle stands and bows to her audience, laughing and crying at the same time. Janah goes to her and hugs her tightly.
After the students leave, Lacy comes over, “You exceed yourself, well done, Elle.”
Lacy would make no comment like, ‘Your parents will be proud, or your mom will be very pleased.’ Not because of any sensitivity towards Elle’s current situation, she is unaware of it. She never wants to give the student the impression that just pleasing someone else, or even yourself, is important. What is important in Lacy Chapman's view is to stay displeased, discontented, to continue to explore.
Lacy and Susanna leave together, Janah and Elle are alone. Janah sits on the piano bench with her, silent, looking into Elle’s eyes.
Elle, “I guess the message is let the emotion, the feeling play out through my hands. Things will be how they will be. Endless worry won’t help will it?”
“You’re concerned for your mom, Elle. How to quit worrying and how to help mom adds two more problems to the original problem.”
“It does, doesn’t it? I don’t need another problem, particularly one I can decide not to have.”
“Be there for your mom. Hug her and communicate your feeling, how you care. Don’t offer advice, remedies or questions. Play your music. It flows from your heart.”
Elle rests her hand on Janah’s arm, “Thank you.”
I appear at the door as Elle and Janah are walking out. Elle steps to me and gives me a sweet hug, I’m not one to turn down hugs, “Janah is so special, take very, very good care of her please.”
She kisses Janah’s cheek and heads down the hall. With one less anxious person in the family, there would be a new warmth in Elle’s home. It wouldn’t solve this problem or any future problems. It would bring the stillness needed to meet current and future challenges. I take Janah’s arm. We make our way down the hall.
As we head towards the front door, Lacy Chapman stands observing what looks like a single figure, ‘Who is that walking down the hall?’ she wonders.
She cocks her head, then blinks. It isn’t one person at all, it is two.
‘What was that about?’ Lacy wonders.