I don't know music. I don't understand the theories of the sounds or the placement of the hands or the progressions of the chords. I can't read the little black-dot doves that flit through the worn white pages, landing on ledger lines and slender open spaces, singing their little hearts out when he touches his fingers to the keys. I ask him, and I have no idea what his answers mean.
But when I hear him play, I hear realities echoed back to me whose existence I have never dared to acknowledge, never dared to even admit. I hear anger and fear and love and terror and want and pain all wrapped up together, all stitched one to another to another until it's impossible to see them as separate things anymore.
I hear the stuttered breathing of nights spent in the deserted darkness of your bedroom, watching the lights outside your window—watching them come into your room and tiptoe across the ceiling before leaving you in the dark again, alone again, as though they had never touched your velvet shadow at all. I hear the tears you shed there in the quiet-dark hours when no one else is awake, when it's just you and God, you and the heavens, you and the universe at large, crying, help me, help me, help me, I don't want to be alone.
And I hear the quiet apprehension of mornings spent with women who don't love you, who have, maybe, never loved you, the very thought of it enough to crack your ribs apart. I hear the kisses you start to question and the truths you never knew, the mouths you've touched and the hands you've held because you thought you could make them love you, because you thought if you held on long enough then maybe someday what you had to offer would finally be enough. I hear the silent footsteps down the creaking stairs to see if she's awake, if she's still there, if she has even noticed the bloody, broken mess of a desperate heart you left on the kitchen table for her to find. I hear the aching wonder as you try to decide which loneliness would leave a lighter wound.
I hear thunder there, and rain, and the resolution of the rose who knows this may be the rainstorm that manages to finally blow its petals away. It's muddy and messy and gorgeous, standing outside in a hurricane and trying to dance because you're broken open, because you've been torn asunder and nothing will ever be this terribly beautiful again. It's angry and it's soft and there's a melody running through that bespeaks the volumes of a heart as it moves: I am lonely, I am lonely, I am lonely. I am a tender, fragile, trembling soul trapped in a world that does not understand me, that does not make room for the broken loves like me, and still I conjure the all wandering stars and sing them into flight.
I hear—pieces of myself, in his music, back when I was younger and more tender and more free. I hear the honeysuckle boy I was back then, all sticky fingers and freckles and big ideas, before the war beat me into the kind of man I always swore I would never be. The chords are quaking in their sound, in their truth, vulnerable and proud, echoing voices in a war that left the rest of the world speechless, and in their harmonies I hear—
I hear the person I could have been. I hear the person I still someday hope to become.