In real life, we are players who lack the outside perspective of an audience. If someone lays a gun on the mantelpiece, we fail to realize it may become important.
We believe we write our own scripts. We believe in accidents. We believe that nothing is foreshadowed, because the world is full of infinite possibilities. Instead of looking forward, we look back.
When the Invisible Man, in our third year together, broke up with me at an Otakon meeting, I was shocked. That day, he was wearing a weight vest, hard and unyielding as I gave him one last trembling hug. We swore we would remain friends, but even as I swore, I wondered, "Why did this happen?" If I'd only paid attention, the weight vest might have clued me in.
He'd started wearing it a couple months ago, as part of his fitness routine. At the time, we were both striving to get healthier. In addition to losing weight, I'd also been taking counseling sessions to deal with my emotional trash heap accumulated from prior abusive relationships. He was the man who had suggested I go, and I'd kept him updated on my progress. Maybe he'd finally felt I was healthy enough for him to break away. Or maybe he did it because, despite the fact that he'd only ever said he loved me when I was walking away, I'd recently shared my plans to move to his city. This long-term relationship was about to get real.
And so, in true Invisible Man fashion, this man, who had always shut off parts of himself from the world, closed himself off behind an actual wall of weights. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming.
Years before, after graduating with my MFA from Penn State, I was working as a pizza delivery driver in my hometown. One night, while reading between deliveries, the news came over the television about a Penn State campus shooting. One student was dead, another injured. As the details slowly dribbled out, with a chill, I recognized the shooter. We'd played a vampire LARP together while I'd been pursuing my degree. I thought immediately about something she had told me back then.
She had worked at a convenience store in downtown State College, ironically the same store where a different employee was later found guilty of killing a woman and leaving her body by a state highway. That place must have had bad juju.
Sometimes, I'd drop by on my way to my place, and since she worked second shift, a quiet time for convenience stores, we would chat. This particular time, we'd been alone, and she'd told me something that would later haunt me. She'd just bought a German Mauser, she confessed. I'd asked her why, because in the world where I grew up, in Central Pennsylvania, guns were either tools or collector's items. "Are you going to use it to hunt?" I'd asked her.
"I'm going to hunt people," she'd told me.
I'd laughed nervously, paid for my item, and left. Looking back, I suppose I could have told somebody, but who? I was just a walk-on character in her drama; I existed just for her to deliver that line. Could I really have changed anything, even if I'd guessed what would happen?
We walk through life thinking that we're in control. We think we know everything worth knowing about the people around us. And yet, I bring you our third and final scene, from this past weekend.
Since before our son was born, our little Kung Fu Panda has had an affinity for music. In the womb, when I listened to music, he would kick to the beat. He reminds me of my sister, who danced through her younger days, singing improvisational songs. And so, when I learned his preschool music teacher gave private piano lessons for ages 4 and above, I'd convinced my husband, The Gryphon, that we should sign KFP up.
For two months, I've attended weekly piano lessons with KFP, sat down with him for daily 15-minute practice sessions, even on vacation. Realizing my 41-key synthesizer was inadequate, I'd perused Craigslist and found a full-sized keyboard with pressure-sensitive keys.
The only thing I couldn't do was put together the keyboard stand I'd bought along with it. Apparently, three small but very essential bolts had ended up on the sidewalk when the two college students had taken it apart with a screwdriver in order to fit in our Ford Focus.
So on Sunday, The Gryphon and I went to Home Depot to find the replacement parts. He took charge of the part retrieval: perusing the nuts and bolts section before striking up a conversation with a store employee. Back home, he went to work on the stand, while I put away laundry in the next room, one ear open in case he needed help mounting the heavy keyboard on its narrow wooden stand.
Sooner than I'd expected, he was finished and trying out the keyboard. The noise drew KFP from downstairs, while I stayed in the bedroom, clearing out the suitcases, still unpacked from our recent vacation. Then, I heard something amazing.
Instead of just piddling around on the keys or playing a simple octave, I heard my husband playing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" while KFP sang cheerily along. He played it with the sort of facility you'd expect from someone who'd played the piano for years. And then I heard him trying to figure out another common tune, and I popped my head in and helped him find the last note.
"You never told me you could play," I said.
"I don't, really," he insisted. He told me he'd picked up a little from a girl he'd dated in high school.
Still, the knowledge bloomed in my head: after our eleven years as a couple and nearly seven years of marriage, he could still surprise me. I'm sure if I look back, I'll realize there were clues to his hidden, undeveloped talent. Perhaps a conversation where he'd dropped musical terms, or maybe his agile typing. But I'd prefer to savor that image: watching my son and husband bonding over an unscripted musical moment.