“You want a love story? I’ll tell you a love story.
So I’m a senior in college, I’m a music history minor, and there’s this dreamy composition major who happens to live right next door to me. He sits near me in one of my classes, behind me, so I know he’s there and can feel him breathing, boring holes into the back of my head with his honey-hazel eyes, and all I want to do is turn around and run my fingers through those golden curls.
He’s beautiful, soft-spoken and more than slightly mysterious, as well as an incredible concert pianist. The kind that bobs and weaves, playing with head and shoulders as well as nimble fingers.
So, this semester, we’re in a Wagner class together, going through the operas two weeks at a time, reading a 600 page biography as flagrant and sentimental as you’d expect from an opera lover. Wagner is tragic, dramatic, wretched, vulnerable and visceral. In life, and in work. The music is violent and beautiful and profound, utterly profound. It is a soundtrack for the fated.
Well, I’m a senior in college, and my relationship’s gone sour, so one day I decide to start talking a bit. His name is Sam, and when he smiles at me I feel dumb. We exchange pleasantries, while leaving class or passing each other on the sidewalk. One day, he comes up to the porch when I’m sitting there smoking a cigarette. We begin chatting, and the conversation is pleasant. I hope he finds me charming. My roommates come home, tilting their heads and raising their eyebrows at me, pushing for details after I come back inside, a little flushed in a rosy, post-flirting high.
One day, Sam comes up to my third-floor bedroom. I have a full-sized keyboard at the foot of a lofted bed, underneath Zeppelin and Sid Vicious posters, 45s taped crudely to the wall. The room is swathed in maroon tapestries and glinty lavender fabric. I show him the chords I know, he plays me a sonata. I swoon. I daydream.
A couple weeks later, after sharing yet another a porchside cigarette, Sam asks me in his house, somehow or other we get to his bedroom. We are having a great time, it is an unexpected first date. At least, I feel like it is. It feels important, like something big in life is about to change. We’re listening to classical music – that’s all he listens to – and I’m talking about my love for rock bands, pushing my hair-brained theories with a naive optimism that music is music, on a sliding scale of temperament, that what Jim Adkins and Jesse Lacey convey is no less monumental to me than what Sam feels for Wagner and Verdi and Mahler.
Sam says he wants to show me something, and he picks a book from his nightstand. It’s an early edition of the Tristan und Isolde score from the late 19th century, the opera we’re studying in class at that time and my absolute favorite by far. Sam’s too. The book itself is a gorgeous thing, it’s hardcovered and bound gently, the ink clearly worn yet entirely discernible to the trained musical eye.
For the uninitated into opera, Tristan und Isolde is the tale of the original star-crossed lovers and their mixed up passions, their fevered pitches intertwined by faint and magic potions. I gasp and tell him it’s beautiful, he nods knowingly, and we talk about the Tristan chord, an augmented dissonant sound that weaves it way through the story – Wagner used certain chords and phrases to symbolize characters and feelings better than the rest. Inside the pages of the score, the music is lovingly printed, all the directions are in German, and the notes pile up on the pages in a language only the symphonic-minded can begin to decode. I read music, but not very well, and Sam explains the finer points of this score, what makes it fit so perfectly. I began to thumb through the pages, attempting grace then –
A tear. Right through a title page, about three inches down, straight but jagged with fibers of soft paper.
“ohmihgod. ohmugod imtheworst,” I agonize, unable to believe what I’d just done.
“What, oh, oh no it’s okay,” Sam is startled. He is sad. He is trying not to be sad, because he’s a lovely man and a gentleman to boot. But he is sad.
Does he know, maybe, that was fate? I comforted myself by thinking it was, maybe, it is my way to be with him, always. I will always be the girl who ripped his Tristan und Isolde score, marking our moment in time on a celebrated tale of the star-crossed, the unfortunate, the unrequited, unfulfilled lovers.
We never hung out again.
I think that things must work out for a reason, in this way, that the “bad things” that happen to us are there to teach us something. The really bad things – the deaths, the illnesses, the losses – those we learn from, too, but we’re often too wrapped up in emotions to notice our growth. It hurts, deeply and fully, but the pain is prolonged over time, a needle in the back of your spine going ever-deeper inch by inch. Those little bad things, the embarrassments, the unfortunates, the screwed-myself moments, those are easier to notice because it’s all so immediate – and yet, they shape us, too, to make different decisions and be different people.
So yes, I ripped the score. Yes, I told myself it was fate. I believe Sam knows it was fate, too, knows it was a moment between two scared kids too scared to take a chance, as kids often are these days. I hope, if he saw me again, he’d remember who I was, my face, my hair, my name.
But, chances are, he’d just remember be as the girl who tore his Wagner antique. So it goes.”