I stood at my mother’s kitchen door and watched the large moving truck painted with ivory keys and musical notes back into her driveway. As the truck reversed, the gears grinded and an annoying beeping noise echoed through the crisp winter air. I leaned my forehead against the door and, without warning, tears suddenly blinded my eyes and raced down my cheeks.
I rushed to the bathroom down the hall, dark from lack of electricity. I examined my tired, puffy eyes in the dim mirror and erased the dampness from my face with the sleeve of my coat. I sighed in frustration. I was so exhausted at the sobbing, the snotty nose, the sadness. I was tired of breaking down over simple things like a piano truck backing into a driveway.
When I returned to the kitchen door, two men were approaching me. The heavyset one carried a bag of tools and packing blankets. The older man behind him pushed a dolly. We exchanged routine pleasantries, and I showed them to the baby grand in my mother’s otherwise empty living room. Without saying a word to each other, or to me, the two men began doing their part to disassemble the massive instrument.
I stood silently in the corner, in a daze as these strange men quickly turned the Ivers and Pond piano onto it’s side and the strings echoed beneath the lid. They worked quickly and accurately, removing the legs from the piano and loading it onto the dolly. They did this all day, every day; move pianos. That’s what these two men did. To them, this piano was no different than the hundreds they had moved before.
But this wasn’t just some piano. This was my mother’s piano. Some of the most beautiful melodies ever created had reverberated off those strings. I’d spent my entire life watching my mother’s fingers move effortlessly up and down the keys, the faint sound of her long fingernails clacking against a minor chord. She’d banged the hell out of it when playing the blues and gracefully skimmed the keyboard when playing the Chopin nocturnes. This wasn’t just any piano. This was my mother’s piano.
Within minutes, the men were done. They rolled the piano down the driveway and loaded it into the truck. The older man secured it with bungee straps and packing blankets while the hefty guy shut the sliding door on the back of the truck. He told me to have a good day, and they were soon out of the driveway and out of sight.
That was it. In only twenty minutes, two strangers had removed the last (and most important) piece of furniture from my mother’s home.
Shivering from the cold, I walked inside and stood in the middle of the empty living room. The silence engulfed me. No piano playing, no bacon frying, no TV blasting, no ceiling fan slicing through the air.
I looked into the bare dining room, a lone dust bunny clinging to a baseboard. I remembered our last holiday meal at her beautifully set table. I’d laughed so hard that afternoon that I had to leap from my dining chair and rush to the kitchen to spit a mouthful of tea into the sink before I choked.
Down the hall was the room she’d decorated just for my daughter- my little girl’s home away from home. The white iron bed was gone, as were the blue and yellow gingham curtains and the board games she kept in the corner for her grandchildren. My eyes then focused on the kitchen where cakes had been baked and I’d stood at the counter eating a tuna fish sandwich while my mama complained about the government.
To the left was my mother’s bedroom, housing nothing but a wadded up Kleenex in the corner. The beautiful bedroom suite was gone, as was the comfortable plush mattress that had always welcomed me when no other place in the world did. That’s where my lovely, lively mother took her last breath, peacefully as she slept one warm Saturday night in September.
I looked to the empty space in front of the living room window, where the piano had always rested- marks embedded in the carpet from the heavy instrument. I fell hard to my knees and then slid the rest of my body down to the floor. I buried my face into the sea of beige, and the silence was quickly replaced by an eruption of grief.
I’ve shed buckets upon buckets of tears since my mother died three months ago. Scarce drops when I glance at her photo on my foyer table, streams when I reach for the phone to call her, sobs when I want so desperately to feel her holding me close and running her fingers through my hair. But only a few times have I bellowed like a heifer giving birth- moaning in despair and feeling as if my eyes are going to catch fire despite all of the moisture consuming them.
When I learned she died, I did this. When we put her in the ground, I did this. When I sprawled my long body across her empty living room floor, I did this.
I was soon exhausted from screaming like a toddler in the toy aisle at Target, and I tried to catch my breath. I remained frozen on the floor, my face resting in damp carpet and my arms stretched across the room. I began talking to her as if she were right there beside me. I made apologies and accepted them. I told her things I should have told her when she was riding in the passenger seat of my car. I imagined she told me that this brick and mortar couldn’t compare to where she was now. I imagined she told me it was time to let go.
I rubbed my arms across the carpet and prepared to stand, and I noticed the long strand of hair clinging to my thumb. Without a doubt, it was my mother’s hair, which had probably been shed as she sat on the piano bench and played a difficult classical piece by ear. Long and blonde with a hint of that curl she’d always abhorred. It was my mother’s hair, and it had somehow been missed by the vacuum, by the hundreds of footsteps that had tread that very spot taking things from her home, by the piano movers. That delicate hair had firmly stuck to the carpet for months, and it found it’s way to my hand.
I secured it in a small bag in my purse and walked through the house one last time, recalling blessed memories, laughs, hugs and tears that had been shed there. Before I walked out the front door for the last time, I called out, “Bye, Mama. Love you.”
That’s what I always called out before I left.
The tears began to fall again as I walked to my car parked on the street. I quickly climbed in, my bones aching at the cold. I turned the ignition and threw it into drive, but I couldn’t press the gas pedal. I could only stare at my mother’s home, looking so empty and abandoned. Only months ago, the front flower beds, now overrun with dead vines and brown grass and unruly bushes, were gorgeous and well-manicured, overflowing with Begonias and Clematis and Hosta. The front door looked foreign without one of her amazing homemade wreaths adorning it. The window blinds were closed, a pile of leaves on the front porch, an open mailbox with no letters inside.
I’d done enough crying in the living room floor, but grief didn’t care. Another wave pelted me without warning, and I was banging my gloved hands against the steering wheel, wishing my mother were still alive, wishing her flower beds were still alive, wishing I’d be back at this address in a day or two for a chat and piece of Mississippi Mud Cake.
Battered and broken and exhausted by the day’s events, I finally pressed the gas pedal. I watched the home in my rear-view mirror until I reached the stop sign. When I turned right, my mother’s house was no longer in sight.
It was no longer hers.
It was no longer mine.
It was gone.