Adele, For the Well-Dressed Guest

“Thank you everyone so much for coming out here tonight. I didn’t know if I was going to accept the invitation or even be able to find the courage to speak on my sister’s behalf. But after careful consideration, I think it would be nice for everybody to get an idea of what the real Adele Vidette was like. Please, if you have any questions, save them until the end. Thank you. Please start the slides.    

 ‘It goes without saying that we are all profoundly affected by the way we were raised and Adele, dear Adele, was no exception this rule. You see, we were raised by a terribly hurt and selfish woman. The house that our mother permitted us to live in was stringently maintained by force and demoralization. It’s not uncommon for one’s emotional development to be stifled. Myself, I feel like we as people need room to grow and blossom as unique individuals, perhaps allow ourselves to think outside of our immediate circumstances to incorporate the best of everyone and everything.  But, of course, that happens so rarely. Does it ever really happen? Nature itself is cruel. Gosh, that statement could be framed and put on the wall of the dining room, right above our stuffed cat. But I digress. 

    ‘In our house, creativity was typically viewed as a non-productive nuisance. I think that job security must have been the prime motive for this dismissive perspective. So, when our kind-hearted, never-present father gifted Adele with a beautifully crafted violin for her eighth birthday, she kept it in the bushes for three days before sneaking it into our house. Our mother found it under the couch while vacuuming. She called us all in to find out who had brought this abomination into her sterile environment. Adele stepped forward, said that she got it from dad and that she loved it. Mother’s stern resolve to throw the instrument away weakened by the pleading expression on her first-born daughter’s face. It was with great hesitation that mother allowed Adele to keep the violin. But grades needed to be raised to A’s. And church attendance on Wednesdays was no longer optional.  These criteria were met consistently without complaint.  It wasn’t at all uncommon for mother to poke her head into Adele’s room while she was practicing to remind her that there were real people doing real things that really mattered. But, despite the pervasive and consistent derision, Adele had successfully established herself as an accomplished musician. She was lauded outside our walls, receiving local and regional rewards with grace and charm.    

   ‘Looking back, I’m grateful that she had found an outlet. She had always been an intense and controversial figure. I’m glad she had finally found something that was uniquely hers. I like to think that playing gave her something to focus her turmoil on. She slept with that damn violin. It seemed odd to me that Adele was in love, or at least she had found a passion with an inanimate object. She adjusted her schedule to our mother’s.  When our near, dear mother was on her twelve-hour shift, be it graveyard or evening, Adele was fully absorbed; stepping forward on her path to greatness. 

    ‘You know, it’s kind of funny: the cumbersome contemporary life that was expected of us. Sometimes it felt like a one-way ticket to a tearful suicide. But here I am. I guess that’s important. Being here. Right Adele? What’s interesting is that I’ve been pouring more and more energy into becoming this someone; subscribing to a lifestyle that I am clearly contemptuous of: fake smiles and shallow conversations, dressing in a mildly conservative style of muted colors, so as not to draw any negative attention. Avoiding automatic exile in the minds of soccer moms at the park on a sunny afternoon. And I’m here. I’m present.  

   ‘By the age of twelve, Adele had already envisioned her glorious future. She was going to play in the Cleveland Philharmonic. And, in an effort both to avoid our mother as much as possible and to completely devote herself to her craft, she asked to have her bedroom be set up in the attic. To maintain focus, she had reduced her belongings to her sheet music stand, her chair, and her bed. Nothing else. From that point on, I could only hear her running though scales only after I had opened the attic door. On my way up the stairs I heard her working frantically, as if playing fast enough might fend off an unknown spirit. Our daily routine consisted of my telling her when it was time for dinner and her telling me that I was never to touch, breath on, or look at her instrument. I would nod and head down to the kitchen. She was furiously possessive and defensive with her violin. Not because little brothers and sisters are known to break things, but because to her she was protecting the honor of a sacred possession.  

    ‘Unlike our mother, it wasn’t often that Adele was away. But when the opportunity presented itself, I would tiptoe up the attic stairs to fiddle. Sometimes, I would just open the case and stare at it. If ever I was caught, Adele would make me bleed. I used to feel like this fierce defense stemmed from a belief that I was defiling her most valued possession; maybe from my unworthiness. In a strange way, it made sense to me. It made me feel like there was something beyond; something outside of ourselves worth striving for.  It was because she was cool, because I looked up to her, that I too wanted to be a violinist. I started lessons when I was eleven. I tried my best, but despite my steadfast dedication to practicing during Adele’s schedule and all of the bands, quartets, ensembles I had been a part of, I would never feel as though I could find in music what Adele did. In fact, the more I poured myself into it, the less connected I felt to the world. The theory behind the sound made math of my muse.  It was as if my heart was gradually drained of blood and replaced with technical terminology. So,  I lost all desire to play. I don’t know if I had woken up to the fact that the dream was never really mine to begin with or that, in pushing myself towards professionalism, I had unintentionally taken away my drive to be awesome, special, creative; to inspire and be inspired.    

‘Regardless, I was accepted to the same conservatory as Adele five years after her. I was often introduced as Adele’s little brother by professors. It wasn’t atypical to have to listen politely while they liberally applied complimentary platitudes upon my distant sister. Instead of pursuing a career as a performer, I used my education to become a middle school orchestra teacher. I heard all the details of Adele’s college days secondhand.     

‘Somehow, despite her cold demeanor, she found someone to love her. Which is saying something since, during this time, every ounce of her being was dedicated to her craft. She never stopped. As one of the many stories I had heard goes, she bumped into Henry while turning the corner of the practice room hallway. Their crash snapped her out of her obsession. His delicate pinky was smashed between the hard cases they were carrying. She instinctively grabbed for his wounded hand and he bellowed. In that moment, she was so stricken with guilt that she allowed herself to be vulnerable. Vowing to make it right, she drove him to the hospital and stayed in the waiting room. They got to know each other. He asked her to a movie before her focus shifted from his well-being back to her work. She accepted. Over the next few years, he would wrest her chin from its plastic rest on hollow spruce and she would agree, half begrudgingly, to go out for Chinese food or whatever else was nearby. During Their conversations that inevitably led to her obsession, Henry found the joy in Adele’s quirks.  He was also inspired by her drive to succeed. He just wasn’t sure if she would know what it looked like when she found it.    

   ‘She couldn’t be hurt by anything until she let herself love and be loved. I heard that the love she gave was sparse and sporadic.  I heard that she was shrewd; that Henry would come home drenched in misery, his dreams dashed for sustainable pay. And when he ambled weakly through the door after a devastating day, he wanted to hold someone.  But she was busy. She told the man to clean himself up and that it would be a harder day tomorrow. Knowing Adele, I can see her as cruel and cold, just not in such a dramatic fashion. I assume, based on the little I really knew about her, that she was not as affectionate as he would have liked. It was fairly obvious that he was very affectionate man. Once, at a Christmas party, Henry started talking to me about his mind-numbing job. I nodded along, singing a wonderful song in my head, and he hugged me for listening. I’m not sure where that kind of affection comes from. But Adele wasn’t cut from the same cloth. She was the daughter of a shit-kicking, god fearing woman who cut to the quick. If I had to guess, I would say that Henry was asking for warmer gestures, the kind that kept relationships humming. Nothing ridiculous. Maybe a midnight embrace with a kiss on the pate or some reassuring words after a bruising week at the office. What he did not understand, his being the son of a well-regarded family doctor, is that to the daughter of an absentee father and our prison guard mother, these are gestures were those of a milksop and, thus, she would have none of it. If he were to be part of her life, he needed to toe the line, shut up, and take it like a man. Which he did. Well, he certainly tried. But, not being so accustomed to internalizing, he started to drink with coworkers. After months of coming home later than the day before, Adele became suspicious and eventually caught Henry with his pen in the company ink.  I imagine that Henry was looking for someone who paid more attention to the essentials of relationships. He found someone more interested in daily occurrences. Adele slapped him until the cops came. They broke it up. She accidentally cut herself. Funny how many times I’ve heard that the authorities were called. I heard that Henry was banned from seeing the kids for some years. Again, Adele’s path was changed. It was then that she decided to move back to the rust belt to pour herself completely into her work. She went back to school while our mother kept an eye on her children.   

   ‘She received her Ph.D. when she was in her mid-thirties. We tried to celebrate her achievement with her, but Adele wasn’t interested. She was busy. She was focused. She was obsessed with the next step in her life.  She was a full-time violinist/teacher/organizer. Her children started raising themselves the best they could. When they acted out, she locked them in their rooms. When Shane, the eldest, dropped out he was asked to leave the house. That happened about a month before the youngest, Frieda, lost vision in her right eye due to a mysterious incident involving paint thinner. Andy, the middle child, was the soft song of hope. He attended a sacred school for the rich…which also allowed the middle class to attend under certain circumstances. He got a taste of what it would be like to have friends in high places. But alas, he couldn’t shake his sickness. You see, he wanted to create, be creative, inspire, be inspired. His gift was obvious. He wrote the words that made readers feel understood.  I watched from afar as this young artist was talked into a corporate career path. He left college with high honors, shook hands, made spreadsheets. Too bad he accidentally left his car running in his garage. Too bad.  I suppose there’s a lesson to be learned.  Maybe you really are only as good as your marketability. I don’t know. Is your personal value the same as income?     

  ‘But we’re here to celebrate her accomplishments as a professional. Despite the distraction that is life itself, she has elevated her career status to the level of “recipient of posthumous metal object”. So, raise your glass to the tallest ghost in the room, alive or dead”     Some glasses were raised but most of the well-dressed guests just looked on in confusion as I was led off the stage. 

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