I held it in my hands and I started to cry.
For about half a minute, my mom kept brushing my hair, but then she noticed and stopped.
“Honey, if it makes you cry you don’t have to play it.”
I couldn’t put it down, I couldn’t even move. The little silver music box, inanimate, shaped like a tiny piano, tinkling the only song it knew, had rendered me inanimate. Part of me believed that if I held it long enough, if I absorbed its song it would make me happy. It would become beautiful, beauty wrung out of sheer will. But I also knew that although it was a gift of love, it was not present love – it was wishful love, remembered love. It was an echo, but the song was done.
I never wanted to learn that love isn’t perfect, that wasn’t what Disney was selling me. But the holiday lights were breaking, and there was graffiti on the church doors. Mom and dad were never getting back together, mermaids aren’t real, and Hollywood was built out of crumbling plaster.
But just months before, Lisa was buoyant on a dream of love, and this dream was buoyant on my father’s smile. Lisa and my father had a love like bricks and mortar – held close with the fixed force of stone, but never a solid piece, never one.
“Honey, let me take it.”
My mom gently lifted the tiny piano from my hands, and placed the lid on top. A final note escaped and gasped in the air, like a crystal on a string.
I assume the music box came from Canada, that’s where Lisa was from. It was 1988, and Lisa managed a hotel on a street off of Hollywood Blvd, slightly behind Mann’s Chinese Theatre. She had a tidy apartment, with pretty things in pale colors, ornaments. She also had an orange 1978 Gremlin. The Gremlin was a dark, no-shit, orange, with no power steering. When my dad would drive us, he would make faces like a man on a mission, stern faces, like Shaft. Sometimes, if he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, you could see that it took all of his muscles to turn that wheel – Lisa liked to watch this.
Lisa and my father almost moved in together once, but it never came to be. They were together but they floated around each other, and my breath was always a little bit bated, wondering if this would someday be another woman I would call “mother.”
My mother, in 1988, was an artist soul wrapped in black denim and shoulder pads. She had big, dark powerful hair, and a pair of silver high-heels I used to steal and wear when she wasn’t home. Mom was a 5’2” force of nature, but this was the way she had to be - from cracking through ice on NY streets, to cracking the LA television industry, she did what she had to do to pursue her writing, her art. Not to mention supporting a little girl with similar drive and very similar hair. Mom was a brick house on the outside, so she could be soft with me.
In contrast, Lisa was like a plumped petal. She carried a lightness that was almost impossible, or at least impossible for Los Angeles. She smelled like accidental sweetness, like nectar was part of her physical being. She wore wedge sandals with those thick straps across the tops of her feet connected to an ankle strap – they were “sensible” shoes, but there was a fashion intent there.
The day Lisa gave me the music box, we were getting ready to go out to dinner and a movie with my dad. My father was in the front room, and I was in the bedroom with Lisa, sitting on her plush bed. She was going through pants, and tops, and brooches. She cared so much. She allowed herself to be giddy, to be a girl that afternoon. I remember her adjusting her bra, full coverage, industrial but lacey – and I hadn’t known up until then that bras had to be adjusted. I asked about it (being years away from bras, myself), and she laughed. She had no daughters, only a son, so I was a treat for her. I asked her about my father, “Are you and my dad going to move in together?”
“Well I don’t know, would that be ok with you?”
“Yeah!” I followed the arc of the dreamy girl-talk wave, “.....Are you guys going to get married?”
“Weeeell, I don’t know…” She was stifling giggles, “Is he going to ask?” The giggles escaped, and we both laughed together. It was a moment to indulge in the bliss of completion, a family fantasy to cradle both of our hearts.
Finally she was satisfied with her outfit - slacks, wedge shoes, a pale blouse with a cowl neck and a brooch. She noticed that I had been picking over the odds and ends in her room, and I was holding the music box. Before we left the room she asked me,“Do you like the piano?”
“Yeah, does it play?”
Lisa wound the music box up, and the soft bell-voice began its song. Like lightening bugs fading in and out at dusk, it sang with such a lonely innocence. It was the only song it knew and the only one it would ever sing. The only moment it would ever experience, over and over again. I could feel each note through its tiny body, feel the resonances peak and fade. I was fused with it immediately.
“You can keep it.” Lisa put the lid on top, and placed my hand over it.
For a few months after this we had days out of time – days where we spontaneously generated a family from us three, and went to Sea World, the movies, the beach. We seemed to strike a momentary rhythm, for the better part of a year, and then I didn’t see her anymore. When people disappear, they seem to disappear suddenly. When dad moved out of mom’s house, it was all at once. When Lisa moved away, there seemed to be a flurry of paper bits and sweet powder an inch above the street, then it was gone.
I found out she moved out to the mid-West. The pace out there was more in tune with her, and she was with family. She would’ve stayed with my dad, and I would’ve called her “step-mom,” but time was only speeding up out here - for my dad, the gig hustle came first, but Lisa was looking to settle.
I never wanted to learn that love isn’t perfect, but I couldn’t put it down, I couldn’t even move. The little silver music box was tinkling the only song it knew. Part of me believed that if I held it long enough it would make me happy. But although it was a gift of love, it was not present love – it was wishful love, remembered love. It was an echo, the song was done.
Next week…A new album? Sort of! Raya makes a last minute 5-song Holiday EP! Seriously! She just decided 4 days ago and we’re recording next week! We’re crazy! Seriously, we’re crazy. Pix and videos coming! Stay tuned!