My husband and I live in a typical suburban neighborhood, filled with typical suburban difficulties. When our neighbors across the street were having marital problems, we knew too much about it.
On the sad day that Max* was moving out of the house, we gave him the extra sofa and coffee table from our front room to help him furnish his “bachelor pad.” We also admired Lisa’s* ability to supply him with pots and pans, dishtowels and sheets, even though her heart was breaking.
We felt terrible for their kids, too. Paul*, the youngest, needed his dad around to help him navigate the challenges connected with being six going on seven. And Kelly*, at nine, needed her dad’s male approval to help her grow into being a confident young woman. But Max and Lisa had already made up their minds that living apart, at least for a while, would ultimately benefit everyone. And so, with heavy heart, Max packed up the car and drove off into his new life and out of ours.
The day passed slowly for everyone. The kids splashed around in the pool while Lisa cleaned the house, trying to remove any trace of Max. As Patrick and I turned the corner on our way home that afternoon, we had a sick feeling in our stomachs and an ache in our hearts.
Patrick went across the street to check in on Lisa and found her sitting on the floor of Max’s old home office, rocking back and forth, sobbing uncontrollably. He gently tried to talk to her, but couldn’t understand what she was saying. The kids looked shell-shocked, and stayed in the living room with one of the older neighborhood children.
Patrick came home to get me, alerting me to the state of things at Lisa’s house. We both went over this time, and soothed and stroked her, letting her cry. The kids peered into the room from time to time, both relieved that we were there and scared for their mom.
It was now getting on toward dinner time and we decided the best thing we could do would be to take the kids out for pizza to give Lisa some time to compose herself. She was grateful for the suggestion and managed a weak goodbye to the kids.
We took them to a local eatery, letting them talk about whatever came up. They steered clear of the current issue, preferring to talk about school, their dog, the pizza, baseball and summer vacation. They were happy to be out of the house for a while, with grown-ups who weren’t fighting.
When we pulled into our driveway, we all noticed immediately that their house was dark. Not a light shined anywhere. The front door was locked, the windows were closed and the curtains were drawn. Patrick and I gulped independently, and with as much cheeriness as we could muster, told the kids to come to our house until their mom came home. (Of course, we didn’t really know if she would.) I started thinking about where they could sleep and what I’d make for breakfast. Patrick later told me he had the same thoughts.
The immediate situation, though, needed a magical solution. And it presented itself the moment we walked in the door. There, in our now almost empty front room, sat Patrick’s conga drums and percussion instruments, and my guitar. As a songwriter, I’d written many different kinds of songs, for all kinds of occasions. Apparently, even this one. I opened the case as Patrick handed the kids some rhythm instruments.
And we all began to play. And play. And play. Sometimes Paul was at the congas, sometimes it was Kelly. Sometimes Kelly shook the gourd rattle while Paul pounded the bongos, sometimes Paul struck the klaves while Kelly hit the cowbells. Whatever song I came up with, the kids (including Patrick) kept time. And we all forgot the pain, at least in that moment.
Eventually, we spotted Lisa’s car pull into their garage. A few minutes later, she rang the bell. The kids handed her an instrument and she, too, joined our impromptu jam session.
She asked me to play some of her favorite songs of mine, and softly sang some beautiful harmonies. Her voice got stronger and surer as the evening wore on.
By the end of our music adventure, we all felt lighter. Lisa gathered her kids in her arms and said, “We’ve learned quite a lesson here tonight, didn’t we? When you have a headache, take an aspirin. When you have a sore throat, have a lozenge. When your heart hurts, play Sandi’s music!”
The weeks have passed, seasons melting into seasons. We saw Lisa recently and she stopped us to catch up on some of the new directions her life is taking. The kids are doing fine, adjusting to their life without Max around. Lisa gave us the full report, and then added a comment that made us all smile.
“Whenever we pass your house, we always pause to listen. There are always the sweetest sounds coming from inside.” Me, I can still hear the congas and the cowbells, and her lovely voice singing harmony at that critical moment in her life.
(* - Names have been changed to protect the identity of our neighbors.)
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