Hammers and Strings: Part 2
THE LONG AWAITED PART 2 to the Hammers and Strings one shot. I’m excited that you’re excited
If you haven’t read part one, you can find it HERE.
For the entire time that i wrote this, there were two songs on repeat. First and foremost, “Hammers And Strings” by Jack’s Mannequin, the song that started it all. And also, “Life is Beautiful” by the Icarus Account, which you will find towards the end of the one shot
I’d really appreciate any sort of feedback from this one shot. I’ve spent a pretty substantial amount of time writing, and I’d love to hear what you think
Thanks! and Enjoy!
(I’ll have a support group tiny chat tomorrow if people are sobbing)
Hammers and Strings: Part Two
"Cause lately I’m not dreaming
so what’s the point in sleeping?
it’s just that at night i’ve got nowhere to hide
so i’ll write you a lullaby”
I used to wake up to the sound of Molly breathing. Some mornings were filled with slow and relaxed breaths through her nose, the peaceful sound of the lack of pain in her body, and others filled with labored snores. Something about the sound of air passing in and out of her body brought comfort to me. It was the sound of life passing in and out of her body. That noise, and the weird morning habits she took part in; anything from tracing words on the skin of my exposed shoulder with her index finger, to running her lips from my forehead, down my nose, to my lips; a safe gesture. Even when she was sick, she’d still manage to curl her body up into my side, her hands picking up my arm as she slid her head underneath, till we were almost forehead to forehead. She’d mumble a sleepy “morning” and I’d pull her into me, hearing her wince. I’d nuzzle my chin into the space between her neck and shoulder until I’d get a small laugh out of her. I miss the way our bodies fit together, filling each other’s empty spaces. It’s so cold in this bed alone.
For a while, right after it happened, I woke up to the sound of Eleanor crying. Nothing is worse than the sound of your own child losing control. The strangled screams, the hiccups, the uneven breathing of someone who you’re supposed to protect is heartbreaking. I can’t make the pain go away, I can’t bandage up her internal wounds, I can’t make Molly reappear. The first time I heard it I couldn’t place the noise as coming from her. I’ve heard her cries when she was hurt, when she’d send her body through space and time faster than her feet and tumble onto the ground. But this was a different kind of pain. I found her sitting up in bed one morning, the clock barely reading 6am, her tiny palms pressed into her eyes, sobs violently shaking her entire body.
“Eleanor” I mumbled sympathetically, still half asleep, as I took a seat on her bed, scooping her up and setting her in my lap, my arms wrapping around her tiny body. Her hands gripped the front of my shirt in tight fists as she buried her face in my chest, a scream mixed with a sob coming out of her mouth. I rocked her back and forth with my hand rubbing circles on her back until she stopped making almost feral noises. She lifted her head, and tried to get out of my arms, pushing me with all of the strength she could muster.
“Eleanor” I said sternly, as she kicked and screamed until I let her go, watching her retreat to the top of the bed, her eyes still red from crying, “You’re okay, baby”
“I want mama” were the only words that came out of her mouth, before she started crying again. What could I say to her? Watching this little girl, my little girl, cry for someone who shouldn’t be buried in the ground. She deserved to have a mother. I sat there, powerless, realizing that’s the only thing I wanted, too.
For the next few days, Eleanor would sleep in our bed. She’d make her way into bed after a few hours of restless sleep, tugging on my shirtsleeve to wake me up. She’d crawl into the space next to me, curling her body into mine, her face pressed into my chest.
Then I woke up to silence. Deafening silence. My ears begged for the sound of Molly breathing, my body begged for the warmth her body used to radiate. There was nothing but the ringing in my own ears. No laughs, no cries, or giggles. Just empty air. I was haunted by that, with the fear that I’d never feel the warmth of life ever again, that’d I’d continue like this shell of a person forever. Eleanor stopped crying when she realized Molly was never coming back. I watched her grow up like that for a few weeks, as a ghost of the little girl I knew. No smiles, no frowns, no tears, just a blank expression, mimicking how empty she felt inside. I didn’t know what to do. Taking care of a 4 year old proved difficult when I was having a hard time taking care of myself.
Everything I did was wrong, in her eyes. I didn’t make her bed like Molly used to.. I didn’t buy her the right breakfast cereal. I was complete shit at washing her hair in the bathtub and combing it afterwards. I tried to get her to talk to me, but all she wanted was her mother, and watching her face contort in pain every time I did something wrong made me believe that I didn’t even know my own daughter, that I hadn’t paid enough attention to her and what she liked and what she didn’t. It acted as just another fateful reminder that I wasn’t Molly.
The silence ended when Molly’s sister Emma, started coming over. It didn’t take long for my family and Molly’s family to catch on to the fact that I hadn’t been answering the phone, or the door, or doing much of anything other than trying to level with Eleanor. Emma had volunteered to come over, rather than Molly’s mom or brother. I don’t know why she wanted to subject herself to this torture, but I think I’ll always be grateful for her. Molly and Emma were practically the same person, just a few years apart. They share the same bright green eyes, and almost the same laugh. Sometimes, I’d catch her out of the corner of my eye and for a moment my stomach would rise in my throat, my mind convincing itself that she was Molly. Seeing her was hard, but this was the reality of the situation.
The first few visits were comforting. She would come over in the early hours of the morning, letting herself in with the spare key that you Molly had probably given her before she got sick, and she’d get Eleanor up, dressed, and ready to go for the day. And then she’d leave when I’d get up and out of bed.
“Today is another day, Ed” She’d hug me, reminding me that this was our life now. I’d thank her, and she’d be on her way.
About the fourth or fifth time she came over, we had a proper argument over her presence.
“Molly would be so pissed” She yelled, standing at the foot of the bed you and I used to share, “You lying in bed like this all the time.”
“Piss off” I replied, my words muffled in my pillow.
“Get up, Ed” She pulled the duvet away from my body, and a growl escaped my lips, “You’ve got a fucking child to take care of”
“You don’t know what she’d say” I sat up, glaring at her.
I watched as she folded her arms across her chest, frowning at me. Those green eyes were too similar to yours. I couldn’t even force myself to hold her gaze without a wave of nausea coming over me.
“Eleanor deserves more than this” She shook her head, “not a deadbeat father who can’t get out of bed to take care of her. Look at yourself!”
“She was my wife” I threw the words at her, and watched her facial expression change, “I miss her”
“She was my sister, Ed. My baby sister” She forced the words out of her mouth, pain flashing over her face, “You think you miss her? You think you’re the only one? You may have had her for the better part of your life but I grew up with her. I shared everything with her. I saw her best and her worst days, I was the person she called on the phone when you were being a dick. I took care of her, and protected her and I will never get to see her again. So don’t talk to me about missing her.”
“Well then why are you here,” I asked, “why aren’t you as messed up as me?”
“What good would it do?” she shrugged, “missing someone who isn’t coming back. Life goes on, and it’s messy and chaotic and nothing you’d ever expect, but it goes on. And Molly would have NEVER wanted this for us. And you can’t let this turn you into an asshole.”
She was right and I was wrong. That was the first day that I had felt something other than pain. I had felt the reassurance that I needed that this was a shared experience. I was being selfish, acting like I was the only one who loved Molly. And that was the furthest thing from the truth.
“Molly is gone, Em” I couldn’t even process the words at first. I had seen her just last week. She had been fine. A little bit weak and maybe tired, but she wasn’t on her deathbed. I’ve never been more convinced that life is a sick joke than I was at that moment. I didn’t bother hanging up. I just threw the phone down and locked myself in my bedroom. I climbed under the duvet, and pressed my face into my pillow, the material muffling the scream coming from my mouth.
How do you react to news like that? I had spent my entire life taking care of her, looking out for her. Our childhood had produced some of the best moments of our lives. Summer camps, late night sleepovers, birthday parties, tea parties, spending time with our grandparents. Molly, my baby sister. Molly, the girl who spent so much time in front of a piano that she didn’t have a boyfriend until she was 16. Molly, married with a beautiful 4 year old, Eleanor, was gone. There are people who are undeserving of terminal illness, and she was one of those people.
But this wasn’t the first time I had been here before. I lost the love of my life to a drunk driving accident two years before. The only man I’ve ever loved died in my hands, covered in blood, apologizing for drinking earlier that evening. I had seen the stages of grief before. I had lived them. I had convinced myself that I would never trade the pain that I felt, missing him, for the happiness I felt when he was alive. And I would extend the same belief to Molly. It still felt like hell, and I would frequently break down in the confines of my own home, but there was no use checking out of reality at this point. There were people who needed me, and I had made the decision, with the help of the rest of my family, to make sure that Ed and Eleanor were alright.
At first, Ed was hard to look at. A 20 something year old man who literally fell apart at the mention of her name. I’ve never seen a man cry before, other than my father when he heard the news, but Ed’s sobs were deafening and heartbreaking. I knew seeing me made it worse. I could tell. Every time he looked at me, it was like he was trying to look at her. He was trying to see the things he loved in her, in me.
“Miss Eleanor” I knocked quietly on the doorframe of Eleanor’s room, entering.
I rubbed her back up and down, gently waking her up in the morning
“Aunt Emma” her face was confused at first, and then a smile spread across her face. She sat up quickly, and wrapped her arms around my neck.
“It’s good to see you E” I held back a silent sob.
“Are you here to make papa feel better?” She asked me, a frown appearing on her face
“I’m here to take care of you and him I nodded, “until you both feel better”
“Good” she smiled, “because I don’t like it when we’re sad”
“me neither” I told her.
I began adapting my life to them, because this is what we all needed. I had always liked Ed. If there was one person who was perfect for Molly, it was him. I had adored their perfect life for years, almost jealous of their relationship, knowing that I might not ever have one like that. I think the fact that he loved her so much made this even harder for him. But I had watched him shut down, and after I blew up at him, things changed. He was different, he looked at me different, and he treated Eleanor different. He was better. It was like he remembered the things he thought he lacked without her. He remembered how to be Eleanor’s father. He remembered how to be Ed.
And then it happened, almost a month after I started visiting, and everything changed.
“Emma?” Ed called out to me, in the empty house, shutting the front door behind him, “Eleanor is at preschool”
“Good” I nodded, coming out of her room to meet him in the living room, “I finished the laundry, and I cleaned up her room, and the bathroom”
“Thank you” he nodded, an appreciative smile on his face, “I don’t know what I’d do without you here”
“So I’ll see you tomorrow?” I asked, making my way towards the door. He outstretched his arm, wrapping his fingers around my wrist, catching me before I could leave. I spun around, to see if something was wrong, and I was met with his lips pressing hard against mine.
At first, I didn’t understand. I wanted to push him away, to hit him, to ask him how he could do that to Molly. And then I realized the magnitude of his action. I pushed my hands against his chest, pushing him away from me, and I was met with tears on his cheeks, looking at me.
“Ed” I covered my mouth with my hand, my lips numb.
“I’m sorry” he retreated, pushing the palms of his hands into his eyes, “I’m so sorry.”
I watched as he turned inside himself. And I hated every second of it. Seeing him like this, in complete realization that the love of his life was gone, in need of some sort of human compassion made my stomach turn. Ed’s a good man. A good man with a broken heart, trying to fix it the only way he knew how; by replacing Molly. We were two tortured souls, both of us losing the people we loved.
I took a step towards him, and pulled his hands away from his face. I put my hands on either side of his face, and pressed my lips against his. He kissed me back, pulling me into his body as his lips moved against mine. And then he pulled away from me, and let his arms fall to his sides, resting his forehead against my shoulder. I wrapped my arms around as much of him as I could and tightened my hold on him. We stood like that for awhile, before he lifted his head from my shoulder to look at me.
“What are you really doing here, Emma” He asked. We had just got comfortable with this situation. With the fact that I was now a constant in their lives, that I was giving up my time to be here.
“I thought about the worst possible thing that I could imagine” I spoke up, “It wasn’t Molly dying. It wasn’t me dying. It was my mother dying. That was the worst thing I could imagine. Not growing up with someone who was on my side, who I could talk to about life, and boys, and makeup, and love. I don’t want Eleanor to not have that, Ed. And I know that maybe someday you’ll let Molly go and move on, but until that point, I want to make sure she has that, and I’m going to be that for her. It’s the only thing I can give her”
“I want you to stay” he replied quietly, “I want you to be that for her.”
I knew what this meant. I’d like to think that Molly wouldn’t want him to stay this poor, tortured individual forever. Knowing my sister, she would have wanted him to find someone to take care of Eleanor, to love her as much as she did, and to make Ed smile again. Maybe I was that person. Maybe I could be that person. Because I sure as hell wanted to be.
It had been months, since Emma had moved in. I had a hard time convincing her that I wasn’t trying to turn her into Molly. I was just trying to fill whole again, after feeling torn apart and empty for so long. And as time progressed, and I spent more time with her, I realized how much I wanted her to be in mine and eleanor’s life. Most days I wondered how she could even be as strong as she was, when Eleanor would slip up and call her “mama” or she’d appear in the doorway, at an awkward angle, and I’d call her “Mol” accidentally. Most days I had no idea how she could even stand to sit in front of that piano with Eleanor trying to teach her the things Molly knew, the songs that sounded so familiar to me. She was a lot stronger than I was, a lot better at grasping the situation.
I woke up one night to her breaking point; To the sound of her crying. I got out of bed, and made my way to her room, thinking I’d find her there. Instead, her cries were coming from the living room, the faint sound of the piano underneath her sobs. She was hunched over on the bench, her forehead resting against the ivory keys in front of her. I stood behind her, the palm of my hand reaching out and touching her shoulder. She tensed under my hands, and sat up, holding her fist out towards me, the crumpled edges of a piece of paper sticking out in the spaces between her fingers.
“She knew” she managed to let the words out of her mouth, dropping the paper into my hand, “she knew I’d find it”
I straightened out the piece of paper, a note scribbled in Molly’s handwriting.
“Em, teach her how to play” were the words written on the paper.
The paper was hiding under the hammer of the uppermost piano key. I don’t know how Molly did it. How she had that much clarity in such little time. It became very apparent to me that she knew us all too well, that she knew Emma would come. That she knew she’d stay, and I’d let her, that she’d be the one to teach Eleanor how to play
I miss you Molly, I miss you being my baby sister. I miss you making me want to find the love like the one you had. But as I sit here, with Ed, and I see the way he’s starting to look at me, I realize that for the first time in a very long time, we might be okay. I’ll never replace you, and I know that, and I’d never try to. But I think that if you were here now, you’d want him to be happy, you’d want him to live the rest of his life out. Because that’s the kind of person you are. I teach E how to play the piano everyday, and hearing her play Clair de Lune, well it’s almost bittersweet. She’s a fantastic little girl, Mol. You raised her so well. But I’m here, Mol. I’m here now, and I’ll make sure she always remembers you, and I’ll take care of her as though she’s my own daughter. And even if it doesn’t work out with Ed, I will always show her that support. I’m glad I was able to spend as much time with you as I did, and I love you. Forever.
I spent a lot of the first years finding the hints you had left behind. Small notes, in the weirdest places, and little reminders to keep my sanity were scattered all across the house. I’d like to think that you did this on your good days, when you’d wake up before anyone else and have the morning to yourself. A message in the kitchen cupboard on how to make the only PB&J that Eleanor would eat, with raspberry jam and crunchy peanut butter, cut into triangles and not small squares. A small note in the refrigerator that would remind me to check the expiration date on the milk. A tiny reminder on the inside of the washing machine that told me not to wash whites and darks, and to remember to put the unscented fabric softener in Eleanor’s clothes. You knew what I’d forget, and what I needed to hear. I remember laying in bed, on one of the worst days, and finding a note with the words, “Don’t give up, Ed. You’re stronger than you think” written on it.
I miss you Mol. Eleanor, Emma, and I have this ritual every morning to remember a list of things about you. From your favorite movies, to your weird habits, to your most used phrases and our favorite moments so we can remember you forever. And from time to time, I’ll listen to an old voicemail of yours, just so I’ll always remember that voice, the way you say my name, how you told me you loved me.
I miss you every second of every minute of every hour of every day. But seeing you in Eleanor and in this house makes it bearable to live without you for a little while. I find comfort with Emma, knowing that maybe I’ll be able to give my heart to someone else. And I know you’d want that for me. I will always love you, Molly. And you will always be the love of my life. And while it’ll never be played with the same precision, I still hear you in this old piano.
My mother died when I was 4 years old. I’m lucky enough to be able to remember some of the time that I had with her. My dad still wakes me up a few times a month, and pulls Emma and I into the living room to watch old family videos of her. Even though she’s not with us physically, I can still feel her every time I play the piano, I see her in myself, and I know that she loved me for as long as she had me.
Today is the day of my first piano recital for people other than my relatives. I know Clair De Lune like the back of my hand, a family favorite. But I still feel nerves wrapping themselves around my throat, choking me. I’m nervous that I’ll mess up, that I’ll disappoint dad, and Emma, and anyone else who is watching.
“Eleanor” dad comes into my room, and folds his arms across his chest, “you excited?”
“Nervous” I sigh, frowning slightly, “it’s my first piano recital at a University”
“Nervous?” he laughs at me, “you’re the best piano player I know”
“Other than mom” I chuckle, rolling my eyes
“I have something for you” he pulls a small envelope out of his pocket and holds it in front of me, “I’ve had this for a very long time, and I think you should have it now”
I take it out of his hands, and I run my fingers over my name, printed neatly on the envelope.
“I’ll be outside if you need me” he smiles, turning to walk out the door.
I sit down on my bed, and open the envelope, exposing a letter.
When you read this, I can only imagine the kind of the person you are. Know that I regret and find it incredibly unbearable knowing that I will never know you as you are right now. But know that I have loved you your entire life. Know that you were the single most important person to me, for as long as I had you. I don’t want this letter to be something that hurts you. And I don’t want this to be about your dad, because I have already told him everything he’ll ever need to hear from me.
I want you to be okay. I want you to be able to me in the back of your mind and to be able to live your life the best you can under the circumstances. I know that I have deprived you of the support that my mother gave me, and that makes my heart hurt as I write this to you.
I want you to know that it’s okay if your dad finds someone else. It’s okay if you don’t like her, it’s okay if you don’t want to call her “mom” and at the same time, it’s okay if you do. It’s okay if you don’t want to get married ever, or if you don’t want to have kids, or if you think about me often or not at all. It’s okay if you are mad at me, for leaving you. I’m mad at me too. It’s okay if you cry about it. It’s okay to be who you are, in the absence of me. In the perfect situation I would have spent all of these years with you, rooting for you, being on your side no matter what the circumstances. I don’t want you to forget about me, but I want you to be okay without me.
I sit here at the kitchen table, writing this, with you on my lap. I know you can’t understand the words on this paper, but you’re looking up at me and you’re smiling, and I know that I will hold that smile with me forever. You were the best thing to ever happen to me, miss Eleanor. And I hope, that at some point, you realize how much I love you.
Life is beautiful, Eleanor, just like you. Admire it.
And don’t take a single second for granted.
I love you,
I fold the letter up and put it back into the envelope, a smile spreading across my face. I set the Clair De Lune sheet music on my desk, and pick up the few sheets of sheet music with the notes of a handwritten song on it. I woke up one night with the motivation to write a song. I don’t know what came over me but the words and notes appeared in my head and my hand flowed freely when I pressed the pen to the paper. A few hours later, I had a song written. And now, for the first time, after reading the letter, I feel confident enough to share it.
“Ready to go, E?” Emma approaches me, smiling, holding the car keys in her hands, “we’re going to be late”
“Yeah, ready” I sigh, and nod, nervously smiling. I’m silent the entire car ride, and when we arrive at the University I make my way to the backstage area, nervously fiddling with the sheet music in my hand. I talk to the stage director and ask him if I could possibly turn the microphone on the piano on during my performance so that I could sing. When they call my name, I make my way across the stage, sitting down at the piano bench. I glance at the crowd, seeing a crowd of people. I locate dad and Emma, and both of them are wearing smiles on their faces. I swallow my fear and begin to play.
“Life won’t always go your way
And that won’t ever change
But you’ll find blessings in the clouds
And you’ll find mercy in the rain
And you’ll have heartache down the road
And tears shed from a broken soul
But joy will seek you out and give you hope
Like candles’ lights in darkened rooms
And how you sacrifice and try to make things right
Is the whole world happy but you
But hungry children cry while thirsty siblings die
How did this life become so cruel
And then the questions come and rare are answers known
But this is still worth pushing through
Cause every smile shown
And Every laughing moment
Confirms that life is beautiful”