Friday, September 9, 2022

First Word: Suzanne Roberts: Quiver


A quiver of arrows. I remember the icon from an early video game – oversized black pixels. I chose the quiver, and bow and arrows, for a weapon. It was less expensive than the gun. The primitive basket would empty out as arrows were used and then “bing” refill automatically after a certain amount of time.

I’ve noticed that in movies they never show hunters or assassins going to retrieve their spent arrows. I can’t help thinking it would be much more efficient if they did. Surely most of the arrows are reusable or require minor repairs. It’s finding them that frustrates. After all, they haven’t ended up where they were aimed. If they had, they’d be easy to find. No, instead they’ve landed under thick green ferns, in the depths of a raspberry bush, in a rotting log. They’ve lodged under a rock in the stream.

So much chaos to gather.

I’ve taken to confessing my love for everyone during the pandemic. Taking an arrow from my quiver, I end most conversations and group meetings with “I love you.” I don’ t expect anything in return, they’re like arrows that won’t be retrieved. And it feels alright, except that it’s another step in the direction of becoming the consummate bleeding heart that I’ve always tried to hold out against.

The arrows I do wish to recall to my quiver have been shot through Facebook. One to an old friend and roommate, now a world-class artist. I went on and on to her about her latest work and her inspiration to me. I didn’t hear back.

Another, just a couple days ago, to a version of ex brother/sister in-laws. I quipped a pandemic, “I love you guys.” Well, I do. I feel that I do. They live in that nostalgic part of my brain where I was young and life was wild. We saw a bit of it together. And I worry about him sometimes– I love you. She showed a degree of unconditional love that I admired and for which I feared for her – I love you. Both so talented in their own ways, inspiring – I love you. I’m a witness on their marriage certificate – I love you. 

A desperate, pandemic I love you. The past matters, the story, the narrative (as they say these days) of my life. The places and the people I knew. I love you.

Just a few months ago I received word that my college piano teacher Don B. had died at the age of 97. “Are you f-ing kidding me?” my soul cried out. How many dozens of times had I thought to try to find him in Minnesota over the last 25 years and then balked? No, he has to be dead, I’d thought. He wasn’t a particularly health conscious man. I remembered the many cigarette scars on his studio’s piano: long, charred channels at the wooden edges, where he had left them because he simply could not stop playing Chopin or Beethoven to do something about the fire.

This was the essence of him – a quintessential romantic. He loved the disconsolate songs of Schumann and Schubert. He took me on as a piano student although I was only self-taught. He called me a Renaissance woman and played chamber music with me. He gave me A-pluses on my college papers. He loved my bleeding heart; it got the job done in “Music from the Romantic Period 101”. But when I thought to visit him, I couldn’t bear to find out he was dead. He wasn’t at that time. Now he is. Tragic. He left a book he wrote and many recordings through which he speaks to me from beyond the grave.


I love you, Don. The arrow that never left the quiver.

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