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Community Love Song
by Lori B.

 

     Jane Bell awoke early one morning with a song in her head. It was a lovely tune, and totally original, she thought. Before she could forget it, she jumped out of bed and ran to her piano. But by the time she’d placed her hands on the keys, the notes had melted away like the first snowflakes of winter. Jane sighed deeply, gave up, and went into the kitchen to make coffee.

     It had been her lifelong dream to write an unforgettable song, one like “Imagine,” “Your Song,” or maybe even “Summertime.” But so far, that hadn’t happened, and it was more than a little frustrating. Jane knew she had an ear for music and a way with words, but for some reason, combining these two talents was proving to be impossible.

     She’d been clinging to the belief that, after ten years of piano lessons, two years of music theory classes, and countless hours spent listening to her favorite CDs, she had the makings of a successful songwriter. Now, though, she was beginning to understand the challenge of becoming the next George and Ira Gershwin, especially since she was only one person. It was also dawning on her that she’d never be able to pay her rent with empty dreams.

     Luckily, Jane had a Plan B. Her parents had warned her not to put all her eggs in one basket, so, in her junior year of college, she’d reluctantly switched her major from music composition to music therapy. She’d always been good with people, and a music therapy degree would at least give her a decent chance of landing a real job after graduation. And now Plan B was about to pay off. Today would be Jane’s first official day as a music therapist. 

     Her therapy office was a musty-smelling classroom in the basement of the local community recreation center. She’d been there the day before to set up the room, noticing with a sense of irony that she’d been assigned to room 88, the number of keys on a piano. There’d been a dozen or so hard plastic chairs stacked in a corner, and she’d arranged them in a circle to encourage communication. Then she’d walked around the chairs while singing a few notes to test the acoustics of the room, and she was pleased. The 1970s-era dark wood paneling surrounding her produced just the right amount of reverb.

     After coffee, Jane showered and dressed in what she hoped was appropriate therapist attire (jeans, burgundy sweater, small silver earrings). After pulling her black hair into a ponytail, she grabbed her purse, notebook, and guitar and hurried out the door. Her new job was only a few blocks from where she lived, but she wanted to get there before her clients did.

     She felt confident as she left the apartment, and comfortable as soon as she laid eyes on the sign outside her destination: Baldwin Community Center. Baldwin was her hometown, her community. It had been a good place to grow up, and she was hoping she’d be able to give something back, if only by singing and strumming together with some of the troubled locals.

     But, while running up the steps of the old brick building, she was hit with a wave of panic. She’d been told that twelve clients had signed up for her class. Who were they? What if they didn’t like her? Was she really prepared for this? Before any more pangs of self-doubt could dampen her optimism, she remembered a coping strategy she’d invented for herself in college. Standing before the entrance, Jane closed her eyes and imagined her negative thoughts as out-of-tune piano keys. She then visualized herself slowly and firmly closing a heavy, hinged lid over them.

     When she opened her eyes, those nagging thoughts were gone. She entered the building and descended the basement steps with renewed calm. But, as she approached room 88, she saw that the door was ajar, and she could hear soft voices coming from inside the room. Wow, early birds, she thought. I’m sure glad I arranged the chairs ahead of time.

     She walked in, and the voices abruptly stopped. Two men and two women were staring straight at her. They had moved all of the chairs but one into a horizontal row. The remaining chair, presumably meant for her, was positioned across from them. 

     “Hello!” Jane said cheerily, setting her guitar down. “I’m Jane. I thought we might sit in a circle today.” She reached for one of the chairs, hoping to turn it at an angle. 

     “That won’t work,” someone said in a monotone voice. Jane wasn’t sure who had spoken. 

     “Why is that?” Jane asked of no one in particular, trying not to sound judgmental. 

     “We’ve done it this way for years,” was the response. Years? Jane thought. These people must really have issues. The voice had come from one of the two women, probably the one on the end. She was dressed all in white, from her shawl to her shoes. She held herself stiffly, but her mouth definitely had moved. 

     “Okay,” Jane said, trying to sound agreeable, and feeling her authority slipping away. “But I just thought … maybe when the others get here …” She glanced nervously at the clock. It was almost time to begin.

     “They’re on their way,” the woman in white said in a staccato tone, a bit louder than before.

     What’s up with her voice? Jane thought. Maybe she has Aspergers. But of course, she kept this thought to herself.

     “Okay then,” Jane said, pulling her chair over to face the lineup and sitting down. Her hands were beginning to sweat. This was not the way she’d wanted to launch her counseling career. She closed her eyes and tried imagining those out-of-tune piano keys again, but her technique wasn’t working this time. She forged ahead.

     “While we’re waiting,” she tried, “can we do introductions? Why don’t we start with …”

     “I should go first,” the woman who’d spoken before interrupted, putting more inflection into her tone this time. “I’m See. Those who know me best usually call me Middle See.”

     “Thanks, See,” Jane said, jotting down “Middle See” in her notebook and wondering why anyone would want to be called that. “And … how do you spell ‘See’?”

     “Just like it sounds,” the woman said. “The letter C.”

     “Oh. I see,” Jane said, laughing nervously. She erased “See” and wrote “C” in its place. She didn’t know anyone personally who used initials in place of names. She knew famous authors sometimes did, though, and rap artists. She surreptitiously underlined the “C” in her notebook so she’d remember to come back to it later. 

     Jane cleared her throat. “Okay, let’s move on. Who wants to go next?”

     After a beat, C elbowed the slender woman in an ivory pantsuit seated to her left (Jane’s right).

     “I’m D,” the woman said. Jane observed that C and D looked alike, and that they had the same monotone vocal quality, although D’s voice was a little higher. She wondered if they were related. 

     “Dee? Spelled D, e, e?”

     The woman looked confused.

     “Or … just … the letter D?” Jane asked.

     The woman nodded, so Jane wrote “D” in her notebook and wondered if Baldwin had suddenly become a mecca for rap artists. She looked at the two women again.

     “Excuse me, but are you two sisters?” she asked them.

     “No,” answered D, “but we’re very close. I’m her next-door neighbor.”

     Uh-oh, Jane thought, and she wrote “neighbor” next to the letter D. From what she’d learned in school, the dynamics of group therapy were complicated enough without involving neighbors.

     “Yes,” D went on. “C has the corner unit. I live between C and E. This is E sitting next to me.”

     “E?!” Jane blurted, feeling maybe just a little judgmental now. In case it showed on her face, she lowered her head and concentrated on writing “E” over and over in her notebook.

     “Yep, E … that’s me,” the tall man seated on the other side of D piped up. He was wearing a white lab coat and ragged white pants. Then, nudging the man in an off-white leisure suit seated next to him, he added, “And F here’s my roommate.”

     ”OMG,” Jane thought, writing down the letters “F” and “OMG” in her notebook, then quickly erasing OMG in case any of her clients could read upside down. 

     “Am I late?” cried a short man in a black sports jacket and black pants, hurrying into the room and squeezing in between C and D.

     “No, we’re just doing introductions,” Jane replied. Realizing all bets were off at this point, she closed her notebook.

     “Okay, great,” said the man. “My name’s C Sharp, but everybody here knows me already. I live upstairs from C and D. That’s how I heard about the group. And I should disclose right now that I have an alias: D Flat. I can be real moody. I struggle with depression.”

     “Depression!” Jane giggled, then clamped a hand over her mouth.

     “That's okay,” C Sharp (or D Flat) said. “I get that reaction a lot. I’m very difficult to live with.”

     “I’m so sorry!” Jane said, just as a group of seven more people filed in. Three were tall, dressed in white, and four were short, dressed in black. They nodded to the others before taking their seats. They seemed to know just which ones were theirs.

     Jane’s eyes took in the array of clients. Something about them looked familiar. Then all at once, as if she’d been gazing at one of those visual puzzles that suddenly reveal themselves, she recognized what she was seeing. “Are you …?” she gasped.

     Her twelve clients waited silently for her to go on.

     Finally, Jane had the courage to speak again. “I assume our new arrivals are G, A, and B … and various members of the Sharp and Flat families?”

     “YOU’VE HIT THE SCALE ON THE HEAD!” they all shouted in unison, sounding quite discordant. Jane was glad she was sitting down, because she felt like she was going to faint.

     “I’m G,” said a tall, stately woman in a cream linen suit. “The twelve of us have been together for a while now. We’re a community of performance artists -- The Chromatics.”

     “Yes, but we work better in small groups,” D added.

     “That’s right,” said E. “Here, let’s give her a little sample.”

     C, E, and G stood up and began to hum together. Jane thought their voices blended perfectly.

     “We’ve been rehearsing a new piece,” G continued, “and we wondered if you might be able to help us.”

     “And maybe we can help you, too,” said F.

     “Naturally,” said C.

     “What we’re trying to say is,” G went on, “we’ve written a melody, but we need your help with the lyrics. In fact, we have no lyrics at all. Will you listen, and see if anything comes to mind?”

     “Sure,” Jane said, seriously doubting any of this was really happening, but going along with it anyway. “Let’s hear what you’ve got.” She closed her eyes.

     C began. Then the others joined in, singing alone or in groups of two, three, and four. Their voices whispered, spoke, and roared. They filled the room with beams of sunlight, torrents of rain, the crashing of waves, and the beating of a single heart. Their chords and arpeggios evoked breezes, gardens, and mountains; they mimicked a rippling brook, the laughter of children, and Jane’s favorite flavor of ice cream. They showered her with falling leaves and snowflakes, brought her a bonfire, a sunset, and her grandmother’s gentle touch. They moved her with a lover’s kiss, a sob, and a full moon in an expansive dark sky. Finally, the sounds slowed, and then the room was still. Jane felt as if she were lying on a stretch of warm sand at night, somewhere on a tropical island. She could even smell the salty air. 

     She opened her eyes again. The music she’d heard was beautiful, full of colors and emotions she could barely comprehend. Then came the stunning realization that the melody running throughout the piece was the same one that had come to her in her sleep.

     “What did you think?” C asked Jane.

     “It was gorgeous,” Jane said. She couldn’t compare it to anything she’d ever heard before.

     “What did you see?” D inquired.

     “I saw the sun, and the sea, and the sky. I saw children, and beaches, and mountains. I saw falling leaves and sunsets ... and my grandmother!” Jane answered.

     “And what did you feel?” E asked.

     “I felt love,” Jane told them.

     “Then write about that,” said C, E, and G together.

     “I’ll bring some lyrics to our session next week,” Jane offered, feeling inspired. “Thank you.”

     “No need to thank us,” F said. “We’re a team, like Elton and Bernie, Lennon and McCartney, George and Ira. It’s all about being a community, just like it says on that sign outside.”

     “Community,” Jane said. “Yes. Maybe I’ll work that into the lyrics.”

     “Community,” the others whispered softly. “That’s got a nice ring to it.”

     “And it starts with the letter C,” said C. The others just laughed and tapped her on the head as they climbed the basement stairs, walked out into the sunshine, and disappeared.

     Jane listened as they drifted away. She liked the sound of that gentle tapping. It stayed with her all the way home, and was still pulsing inside her head when she sat down at her desk and wrote down the words to a song -- a song about love.

 

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