My guest blog today is provided by the fabulous Piper Bayard, who blogs with her friend Holmes at http://piperbayard.wordpress.com. She’s @piperbayard on Twitter.
When my mother called to tell me he died, I didn’t believe it. He was born to perform Carnegie Hall concerts, to quip with talk show hosts, and to devastate heiresses into seclusion and suicide. In fact, I can still hear his music in my mind, so he must be playing his piano somewhere.
Most people I remember with one face, one voice, and in one setting. But Gregg? I saw his hopeful youth and his pensive maturity; his joyful tenor and his biting taunts; his fingers racing on a keyboard, and his feet speeding down the football field. We watched each other grow up, or, at least, I watched him.
I caught my breath when I walked into the choir room that first day of 7th grade. A boy taller than me! His long, feathered, platinum blonde hair would have turned Jan-Michael Vincent green. His blue eyes sparked wit, and his smile warmed a face that could be twin to Michelangelo’s David. And he sauntered in his twelve years more gracefully by far than I hid in my eleven. I was more than smitten. I was home.
Unable to compete with his swarm of admirers, I chose to compete with him, instead. I heckled him at every opportunity, and he responded in kind, but not for the same reasons. If he’d had pigtails, I would have pulled them daily. Where I found him irresistible, I believe he found me mildly annoying and more than a little laughable.
With all the secrecy of a YouTube post, I shadowed him through three years of middle school. I asked around to discover his class schedule, and then I walked miles to casually pass him in the hallway. If he saw me and nodded, it was a good day. If he smiled and said, “Hello,” I floated through the rest of the week. And I blessed the gods of alphabetized seating charts that so frequently assigned his “B” to sit in front of my “C,” allowing me to stare at the back of his head for at least an hour a day. For three years, these private ecstasies were my raison d’etre.
Throughout junior high, we sharpened our wits on each other. We competed for the highest grades, tied for fastest time in typing, travelled together on school trips, and worked together for choir competitions, all the while exchanging friendly insults, and sometimes meaning them. Occasionally, we were even kind. In spite of my infatuation, we achieved a genuine friendship of sorts.
But somewhere between the battle of wits and my silent pining was the music. By 7th grade, he was playing pieces that most pianists don’t aspire to in a lifetime, and, because he played for the Girls Choir, I got to hear his concerts five days a week.
We besotted songbirds leaned against his baby grand and sighed as his hands delivered commanding concertos and tender nocturnes. During lunch, during choir class, after school—I never missed an opportunity to hear him play. I dreamed at his piano for hours each week, pouring my soul into his music as his notes echoed back an understanding of emotions I did not yet comprehend myself. And sometimes, he would glance up at me and smile.
Finally, those years were over, and it was 9th grade graduation day. My grandmother had made me a special dress for the occasion—green and flowing and complimentary to the curves I’d woken up with about two years before. Mama had given me her pearl earrings to wear, and my Farrah hair had come out just right. I was a bit self-conscious in my first heels and makeup, but I was not awkward, and I knew I hinted of a woman that day as I walked into the choir room to find that he was there alone.
He sat at our teacher’s desk, writing a good-bye note with promises to visit. Smiling and greeting each other as I joined him, we talked about the day’s events as he finished his missive. And then, just like in the dream I had dreamed each day for years at his piano, he looked up at me and paused, studying me as if he were seeing me for the first time. Straight from the script I wrote for him so long ago, he said, “You look beautiful today. Very elegant.”
I froze. Then, to my own surprise, the tension and yearning of years rushed from my pounding heart, and I felt it calm within my breast. That one drop of reality dispelled all of the fantasies and stirred a new feeling deep in my soul. For the first time, the woman I would become lifted her eyes to meet his, and, for a reason I could not then explain, I simply smiled at him and said, “Thank you,” and I let the moment pass.
Through high school we continued our friendly competitions, but, just as often, we competed together on academic teams and in choir contests. He was accepted to Julliard before our senior year, but he didn’t go. There were rumors, but I never asked him why. I’m sure we parted ways at graduation with a smile and high hopes for the future, but I don’t really remember.
I thought of him now and again through the years when I heard a Chopin nocturne or saw a beautiful head of blonde hair. And I’m sure I heard his ironic laughter once in my mind to think I had grown up to be a bellydancer. And sometimes, I looked at old pictures, and I wondered what had become of him.
Now I know. Mama called to say he died. I don’t believe it, because the timid girl inside me is still leaning on his piano, dreaming to Mozart and Bach. He must still be playing somewhere. . . .
Tonight, I will wear my green scarf when I dance, because it makes me feel elegant. And, perhaps later, when I sleep and I dream, I will stand beside Gregg’s piano. And if it is a very good dream, my green scarf will catch his eye, and he’ll look up at me and say, “You look beautiful tonight.” Then the girl I used to be will catch her breath and meet his eyes through the eyes of the woman I have become, and she will simply say, “Thank you.”
In Memory of Gregg B. 1963 – 1996
How did your first crush help you grow?
Piper Bayard was once a happy and normal aspiring writer. She spent her days cleaning guns and belly dancing in between shuttling her children to and from school and crafting stories of spies and sci-fi adventure. But she felt there was more. Then, out of nowhere, White Sands beckoned with shocking visions of mushroom clouds and annihilation. Something called to Piper day and night, whispering, “The end is near.”
Piper left suburban safety and trekked through the New Mexico wilderness in search of that apocalyptic explosion. But, alas, she stood too close. Armed only with a ball cap, sunscreen, and her Maui Jim shades, Piper wandered through the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, wondering, “What the hell am I doing?”
By day, Piper followed mirages, leaving sand angels instead of footprints. By night, her nightmares returned. Mad Max and the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, until one night, the voices finally gave her the answer she sought . . . the key to the identity foreshadowed in her visions of the annihilating blast. “. . . and there came a Pale Writer. . . .”
The next day townsfolk found her, tube of sunscreen in one hand and a dried rib of saguaro cactus in the other, Piper scribbling madly in the sand. “Who are you?” they asked in wonder. “And why aren’t you sunburned?”
To which Piper replied, “I am the Pale Writer of the Apocalypse.”