Reality is Merciless
Adagio translates grief in the most intricate harmony.
A painful memory flashes by without a goodbye. A smile is accompanied by tears. Love never moves mountains. It carves a tombstone. Life is unfair. It surprises with the deepest heartache. Love never tells the truth. Life never keeps you safe. It is all a game of chance. No guarantee. It is all an adventure. With no destination. It is all a wish. Just to keep you going.
It is easy to lose your sanity and be lost in it completely. Escaping from truths could also be an answer. It is not about being cowardly. It is about being brave enough to find pieces of yourself in other truths and make sense of why you must go through it without worrying about the consequences. It could just be a test of faith in love. A test of courage. A test of letting go. Regardless of how chaotic it may be, if you listen to the heartbeat of it all, an adagio is serenading you.
I am sitting at the grand piano in my cozy studio. My hands smoothly caress the black and white keys, playing Sunset over Empire. The adagio that I wrote about my one true love. The adagio that made me stop questioning my love for music. The one true love that I could have never had. The quiet one. The non-existent. The mysterious face. Her kindness and warmth that made me get up from illness. The one true love that still holds my heart since the day she held my hand and covered me round her arms.
I was 11, and in excruciating pain. I could only see blackness everywhere. I could hear her voice. Wistful. Genuine. Worried. And she cried. I felt her lips on my forehead — on my cheeks — on my hands. “C’mon, baby. You can make it. You will make it. C’mon c’mon c’mon. They’re on their way now. Please hang on. Hang on to me. Oh, please.”
It was the voice that I never recognized before. It was the only voice that I wanted to hear the moment I woke up in a hospital. But I had never heard it again. I will never find out who it was. It could have just been a make-believe. I created a guardian angel. To keep me alive. On that day.
My parents could not offer her their gratitude as she disappeared as soon as the ambulance took me away. Sometimes I would like to think it was Ethel. But their voices do not match at all. The stranger’s distinct tone sounded like an adagio. It became the inspiration behind Sunset over Empire.
I wish it were Ethel instead, so I would not have to wonder anymore.
Grace George has been watching me from the kitchen, silently bemoaning. She snaps out of it when I grant her an acknowledging nod. “Uh, peppermint tea?” she snivels.
“Come,” I reply, “sit beside me.”
She obeys and looks me in the eye. “Did you lie to me about what happened to you that day when we were kids? You said some kid punched you in the stomach and in the groin, then you blacked out. Was that true?”
I wince. “Adagio.”
“It was a lie, wasn’t it?”
“Tell me the truth, goddammit! What happened?”
“Did someone hurt you?”
“If it didn’t happen, then the adagio in me wouldn’t wake up. Would it?”
“Who did it?” she cries.
“I can’t remember!” I exclaim.
“Get your fucking memory to work or I’m out of this shit!”
“I wish I remembered, Gracie. Then I would only write a whole bunch of andantes for you. I’d simply walk on and never look back.”
And just like that. Grace George grieves as loud as her broken heart can go.
The four sheer essentials about being human are: subconscious, moral sense, emotions, and logic. I have to hear my voice in silence. My decision may not appear to be humanly and spiritually, but to crucify myself in a deathbed while my helpless body is attached to machines would not be worth it either. All because euthanasia or suicide would be an unforgivable sin. Damnation awaits wherever hell is. God would watch me burn to my eternal death.
My subconscious speaks:
Don’t you dare do it until he has paid the price of life — with life! You are prepared to go to hell anyways. Why not with a grand slam achievement?
My moral sense speaks:
You may have already forgiven him a long time ago. You moved on quickly due to your indomitable resilience. You picked your fight wisely. You won. What do I think? Forget about it and get on with the plan.
My emotions speak:
I dread for your heart. I grieve over broken hearts. I am angry at your decision. I am pleased that your suffering would come to an end. I am proud of your bravery.
My logic speaks:
You think you’re the only one who’s going through shit. The only victim. You went through spiral storms all through these years from the time you recovered from the trauma. You sought for revenge. You succeeded. Greatly. A murder plan is a satanic approach, not just evil. It is not wise for you to even consider it to begin with.
Grace George is the last card. Yet my funeral planner and piano player. Enough of persecuting her heart already. The mind has paid the price. In full. She is never the same anymore. Her language constantly changes. Her beauty is tarnished by her mental instability. Her piano skills have gone awry. She has been chain smoking, too. She is always agitated. She is having difficulty staying in one place. She is not Grace George anymore. She is Marla Feinstein.
Marla Feinstein was insecure and mediocre. Enraged and critical about people. Suspicious, unkind to herself, and hated her parents for believing that they would force her to become one of the greatest concert pianists the country would have ever produced. She had never had other friends but me. Until an epiphany occured. I was in shock. We both never looked back since.
Ethel would travel to New York constantly. To watch Broadway musicals and the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra. As a result of her frequent absence from home, Marla thought her mother was a famous concert pianist in New York. For some pathetic reason, her father would also make her believe that it was true. Upon digging the lies, Marla’s heartbreak turned into a raging revenge. She transformed herself. She studied piano with an ideal obsession. She delivered her first public recital at 18 and impressed the dignitaries. She became Grace George.
I had witnessed it all. I was proud of her immeasurable determination. I was by her side. Until she met Dr. Agnes Berry and everything changed. They both moved to New York, and I had never seen her since. Until she convinced me to write the most mesmerizing piano sonata I could ever conceive. Thus, Sunset over Empire was born. It became a phenomenal success. Her name then came with primo integrity. I had to fulfill my job, and it required me to stay with her for as long as I could. Though I would come home once or twice a month just to spend time with Ethel. Our affair lasted for countless years until truth caught us being tangled up in stabbing lies. Surprisingly, Dr. Edwards set his wife free. Without hesitations and regrets. He meant for her happiness. And I thought to myself, “What a fucking bastard!”
The truth had been kept from Marla. I left New York for good and built a good life with Ethel back home. The good life was a trying time for both of us though. Perhaps, I could not fully commit my heart and mind to her after all. I would be out and about, drink with work colleagues, and repudiate music for word expression instead. I would come home and find her sobbing away. She hid her tears from me. She stayed strong and faithful. She would still care for me despite my unjust treatment. I was evil. I hurt her tremendously. But she never left my side for once. Not for one moment.
Until Grace George resurfaced unexpectedly. Sick and mentally incapacitated. Alcohol became her escape drug. I told her truths that she deserved to know. It worsened her condition. Now she must plan my demise.
The irony of my life. On repeat.
Sure. There it is. I see it. Very clearly. It is the concrete validation of reality. Or is there supposed to be something more authentic than this?
Its pompous life speaks of its grandiose adventure. How each piece conceived itself through a wondrous heart, no matter how much an emotion traversed with its sprinkle of genius. How Grace George brought it to an audience’s dream through her passionate touch on the black and white keys in perfect pitch. How I found delight in my isolation as music would cry along with my sorrows and celebrate its creation.
The grand piano stands as if it owns all of me and controls my destiny. It is like a cigarette chemical that introduces me to a brand new negative thought each time I take a puff. Or a rainbow’s end that promises treasure. Only to realize that it is all just a myth. Or a mind trick. Or a mind’s reality. Or the mind that has been given the authority to command reality. I am in awe of its power to hold me. I let go. I forget who I am. I forget where to go. I forget all my insecurities. I sit there, invade the keys, and I can embrace a lonely heart with a charming melody.
Time check: 2.01 am. It is November 22nd, and the year is 2017. Yes! My mind is cooperating like a blasting thunderstorm that strikes down a dormant volcano. Yawn. Yawn Yawn. It is hard to beat a riveting irony. Sleeping is a preparation of death. A simulation in the best way possible. Oh, please. Give me a break. Not right now. Grace George is sound asleep. Her innocence and the painful smile on her face draw me to compose a piano piece in my mind. How reality intervenes is out of question. The music keeps on writing down its desire across my brain wires. I cannot even think about other existence anymore. It sparks around, blinding me out of consciousness. The inquieto melody injures my delicate memory. I cannot make it stop. My heart pounds like a lion’s rage and struggles to escape the den. I am running out of breath. Fears deliver my safety to a brilliant light that opens its door to more memories.
What is happening? Oh, I am so sorry. I am not supposed to investigate reality anymore. As I have already concluded its persuasion. Not be deceived by religious teachings. Not believe other minds. Not live for society’s demands.
The grand piano is the closest thing to reality I have ever had. I owe my sanity to it. I am going to honor it with the last drop of tears before I take my last breath. This reality is wise and comforting. It deserves honesty and love. The Divine Providence may then take care of its life once I am gone.
My only fear: how would I answer Him? And how would He answer me? Who is He? Does He even exist? Where am I going? This is also a part of reality that I worry about.
Sure. There it is. I am ready.
Excuse arrogance and obsession. It is inspiration and confidence. An artist is always a restless soul. Intimate and intense. Not just emotionally and mentally persecuted. Isolation is the safe haven. Chaos brings forth more fire. Deep pains are a delight. Never underestimate the disorders. They are the hands that play music or scribble away words. Never assume death is the end. It is the savior. Never tell an artist what to do. It would ruin the flair. Normality kills life.
Normal is mundane. It walks on and goes about the day. It only worries about what to have for a meal or where to jam on a Friday night or watch reality TV shows. It only knows limited truths and boundless lies. It understands the status quo and plays along with its prime. It supports the rise of high technology for social purposes. It never discusses thoughts or ideas. It talks about people’s oddities with illogical judgments. It is never curious about beauty. It just sees it for what it is without lasting emotional attachments. It is cruelty. Why bother to live?
Grace George can never achieve such normality no matter how much she wishes for it. She is possessed by her failures in romantic endeavours. She sits at the kitchen table, slurping away her soup and muttering gibberish. Her madness progressively intensifies every minute. Music intervention is only making it worse. How is she going to plan my funeral then? I have to come up with a backup plan. Or must I save her first — instead!
“Would you want Eli and little Danny to pick you up now?” I ask her.
“Motherfuckers must die,” she murmurs, staring at nowhere and rocking herself in the chair, “Poor old Marla. Poor old Marla is going to die. You know who poor old Marla is?”
“Gracie,” I comfort her, “I’m calling Dr. Edwards, okay?”
She punches her head, startling me. “Not fucking happening!”
I bounce away from the table. “Look, it is getting really fierce now. We’ve gotta do something about this.”
“You’re never fair, are you?” she replies. “It’s okay for you to do all this shit around me, and yet when it’s my turn to fuck up, I have to be fucking normal in front of you. It’s always been about your shit attached to my life anyways. So why the fuck are you making a fuss about this one then, huh? What’s it to you? Another gain. An old heart that needs more torturing, and that would be me. Right? Oh, it must feel great grilling somebody’s sanity and driving her to kill herself in a very fucking subtle way. The Skye Stoltz way. Isn’t that right, genius?”
“No, not at all.”
“I’ll be okay once you tell me the truth about what happened to you that day.”
“What happened to me in the past is not important anymore. If it didn’t happen, then I would have been normal. You wouldn’t have had Sunset over Empire that catapulted you to fame and everything. That’s the whole point of suffering, Gracie. A special gift comes out of it a hundredfold.”
“Who raped you?”
Stunned! “Why would you assume that –?”
“Who raped you?” she bellows.
“Your Dad!” I confess.
“Fucking asshole!” she screams. “He did it to me, too! That’s why I left home, became a piano prodigy as my vehement motivation, and ran away with Dr. Agnes Berry to New York!”
“Well,” I sigh, “I would still forsake normality regardless. Wouldn’t you?”
“Yes,” she responds. “I would. In a heartbeat.”
Dr. Edwards’ footsteps thunder around my cozy studio. He flicks his fingers as if to test out reality for himself. He surveys the grand piano with his murky eyes and agitated fingers. He sits on the stool, turning his back on the black and white keys. He crosses his legs and whistles the Sunset over Empire tune, then immerses himself into a meditative mood, almost in tears. His remorse stabs into my chest as if it is attempting to destroy the crime in my memory. I watch him from the kitchen as I pour a glass of red wine. Grace George stands beside me, sipping a cup of tea, lusting after the Devil’s rush. She is aware she cannot have it anymore as she intentionally overdoses herself on it. Though I know it will kill her pretty soon. First, we must face off with the Devil himself. Dr. Edwards. Our rapist — and therapist, too. Marla’s father. My ex-girlfriend’s ex-husband. My alleged friend.
I serve him the Devil’s rush. “Thank you,” he says and takes a sip. “Hmm. Really damned good wine. What is it?”
“Cabernet Merlot,” I reply. “My favorite.”
“Mine too,” Grace George seconds and joins us. “And what was your favorite wine, sir? I completely forgot. As you know, I’ve got amnestic confabulatory disorder, so there is absolutely no way that I would have remembered that at all. Ain’t that right?”
“For fuck sakes,” I mouth at her.
“Oh, shut it, Skye!” she hollers at me, then turns to him. “I know I’m not sick. I know I don’t have amnestic confabulatory shit. I know exactly how you play your board. You sent me to that fucking goddamn mental asylum just to make me believe that I was psychotic. Now why is that, huh? Why?”
“Gracie,” I warn her, “this is not how we were supposed to do it.”
“And how were we supposed to do it, Skye?” she responds. “I’m through with all his shit. I struggled to fight against the fucking nightmare everyday of my fucking life just to accommodate my respect for him as my own goddamn father who should have been dead a long time ago. Oh, yes, I’m a fucking drunk, alright. To help me go numb from it all. And I got so fucking drunk that day that I lost it. But would you believe how sane I was the whole time? That I had to dictate my mind to go erratically wild just to dissolve the trauma out of my fucking head? And would you also believe that it was such a fucking relief for me? Oh, it was, yes. Poor old Marla is still up on her feet, fighting for her life and redeeming herself. Poor old Marla became a sensational music personality all because of what this motherfucker had done to her. Poor old Marla can still play games the hard fucking way. Yeah. Keep calling me poor old Marla, motherfucker. Expect me to perform at your goddamn funeral. How would you like that, huh? You wouldn’t have thought of it in a million years, would you? How your poor old Marla turned out to be a phenomenon. Well, thanks to your barbaric dick that you stuck into my innocence to bleed forever.”
“No amount of remorse would pardon what I had done to both of you,” he says in tears. “I am deeply sorry. I was not in the right mind. I have been ashamed of myself since. Everyday I would pray and try to do something good, although I would also contemplate popping in deadly pills and chase them with a bottle of red wine. But I would hope to get closer to your hearts as just another man or a therapist who would, perhaps, help you through your demons, which I created. I am deeply sorry for ruining your innocence and youth and lifetime. I’m gone forever now. Bless you both.” He hands me back the glass of red wine. “Goodbye.” He ambles out of the cozy studio and closes the door behind him.
“What the fuck was that?” Grace George reacts.
“You confronted him big time,” I reply, “he apologized and left.”
“I know. But what the fuck was that?”
“He was already aware of the confrontation before he showed up. I told him about it. He did it out of deep remorse and for closure as well. Now he’s gone for good.”
“But how would you do it instead? You kept on fucking interrupting me.”
“I’m sorry. I just got rattled, I guess. I think it must be because I have already forgiven him. I don’t know. I’m still confused. I mean, you were –”
“Aw, shut the fuck up, Skye! I don’t get you, okay? You seem to have the best laid plans, but really, you’re a fucking cowardly bitch!”
“You know what? I don’t care what you say anymore. Just do whatever the hell it is that you wanna do. I just wanna be left alone for now. If you don’t mind.”
“My pleasure.” She drops her cup of tea on the floor and storms away.
“You’re not gonna do something flaky out there, are you?” I dash after her.
“I’m gonna do whatever the fuck I want.” And she disappears on me.
Ethel sits with me in the darkness. “What would you like to talk about?”
“My thoughts have already been consumed up,” I reply. “I can’t even think anymore.”
“Do you wanna talk about Beethoven?”
“I always wondered about what he thought of love,” she says.
“His music can answer that,” I blurt out.
“Right. Do you think Sunset over Empire encapsulates your definition of love?”
“Maybe. It is too beautiful that it hurts. It is hypnotic. It draws a smile. It is wistful. It is hopeful. It is willing to give it a shot. It doubts. It wanders off. It ends up hurting. It was still beautiful. No matter what.”
“Was ours beautiful?” she asks.
An angel’s hand holds my heart and releases its regrets and grief. “You were beautiful in it the whole time,” I reply. “I made you suffer, but you still stuck around. I don’t understand why.”
“Because love allows you to grow angel’s wings as days go by.”
“And you had resplendent white wings. They kept me alive.”
“Sweetheart,” she pleads, “please don’t ever do it again.”
“Do what?” I reply.
“Try to kill yourself.”
“Did I ever do something like that?”
“Many times. I was scared for you.”
“Is that why you stuck around and took care of me?”
“No. No. I stayed because I wanted to be with you. I loved you. I still do. I might even still be in love with you until I gasp for my last heartbeat.”
“I love you just as much, too.”
“No, sweetheart. You don’t. But I’d like to pretend that maybe you do. A little bit.”
“How do you know what my heart says?”
“You have abandoned my love and my presence many times before,” she explains. “That’s how I know. But it still wouldn’t stop me from growing angel’s wings for you though. Not on my watch.”
— questions to ask God —
What does eternal life achieve? What causes a good heart? What drives a cruel heart? Which one is more powerful: subconscious or the mind? What does it take for a miracle to happen? Is there another life waiting for me? Why are truths so hard to accept? Is heart always telling the truth? Does mind trick reality? Is everything an illusion?
Why didn’t you save me and Marla? Why did you let me fall in love with Ethel? Why didn’t you punish Dr. Edwards? Whose voice was it? Who was my angel on that day? Why did I choose insanity? Why did I hurt Ethel so much? What really happened to me?
Why did you allow Beethoven to go through tremendous hell? Why didn’t you let anybody love him just as much as Ethel loved me? Why did you choose him to suffer like that? Was there ever a time when he was happy? Who sincerely loved him? Why couldn’t you do something good for him?
Justify love. Justify all your creations. Justify your existence.
I do not believe a word written in The Bible. I believe in You. My prayer is simple: make me happy one last time. Find good love for Ethel before I go. Show me the truth about happiness. Show me the purpose of life. Show me how you determine one’s destiny. The Bible might be a lie. But if you were the truth, why were you in lies?
Does pain have to accompany love for it to be truthful? Or is an illusion the actual language spoken by subconscious?
How do you decide which suffering I must go through? Which human trait will give me a heaven pass? What does unconditional love do? Can’t you guide me towards it? Why did you grant me an obsession for music? What does my mind fight for? What does my heart run away from?
Why is Ethel still here with me? Why does she love me so much? Why does she keep growing angel’s wings? What good does it do for her? What miracle would it create?
Life and death baffle me. God’s existence baffles me more. As it seems to explain the existence of love as well. Philosophy, theology, realists, the wise, and intuitive hearts are still searching for the right answer. For their words appear to be scattered rudiments of it. It is not an intellectual or spiritual journey. Neither an emotional one.
Until loss crawls in. Love challenges pain. Love becomes evident. It starts to understand as to why someone would grow resplendent angel’s white wings. Love may deny love. But it may never deny loss. For loss speaks highly of love. Grief exists for love. Ethel stays for love.
I don’t know why I deserve love to begin with. I must have done something good. There has to be something good in me. Not just the music. Not just my vulnerability. But something genuine that Ethel can never resist. Something that brings out a little love somehow.
While Eli, little Danny, Dr. Edwards, and Ethel panic over Grace George’s sudden disappearance, my instincts direct me to the dingy basement. There she is. Collected as I walk in. She is awkwardly sprawling with the fancy red notebook on her lap, browsing through the inconspicuous pages. I shut the door and pour a glass of red wine, then occupy the battered couch and taste the Devil’s rush. Silence gushes by. With a warm thought. Nothing to fear. Just two childhood best friends quietly reminiscing divine joys in their vast imagination.
“I tried to forget it, you know?” she sobs. “I tried so hard every fucking day. I made a fucking dream come true, hoping to put all the shit behind me, and I would drink my ass off just so it would die off up in my fucking head, but nothing worked. Not even the fucking confrontation the other day, which was deemed to be fucking worthless and a waste of time. I can’t believe the motherfucker is still alive after all these years. And I don’t understand why we chose to be silent about it. Now that’s really fucked up.”
“I was terrified,” I say. “The hospital insisted that there was no indication of rape, but I know the truth.”
She sits beside me and places her hand on my thigh. “I was terrified, too. Imagine them slamming your face all over the tabloids and losing everything — life, family reputation, respect — because you deserve fucking justice? Jesus. People are so fucking uptight about trivial things. What more this one, and especially around that vulnerable time.”
“The uptight part is in human genes, Gracie,” I reply. “It sticks forever.”
“Hmm. I gotta go see Dr. Agnes Berry.”
“Are you still in love with her?”
“I was in love with her. I just love her now. Maybe I was just desperate, and needed a life savior, so I could get the fuck out of here. Away from him. Away from the trauma. Away from everything that fucked me over.”
“Why would you want to see her for?”
“Make up for the wrongs.”
“You evil bitch,” I giggle.
“I am still the poor old Marla, Skye,” she says. “Don’t you ever forget that.”