She was the six-two senior swim team captain and lead bassoonist in the school’s concert band, and I was the sophomore second bassoon. We performed a duet once.
Bassoons have six main parts: The bell connects to the bass joint that connects to the double joint which U-bends up to the tenor joint and finally ends with the bocal which curves down to the attachment of the double reed that she blew through. What makes double reeds so difficult to play is that both lips, more pursed than puckered, must be pulled over the teeth and engaged to produce a quality tone and sound. The bassoon is held diagonally across the body and is supported by the weight of the musician through a boot and strap mechanism that cups the double joint and extends under the player’s seated backside.
I wanted her to take me to the pool for swim practice so I could latch onto her belly as she swam laps – a remora attached to her underneath with my legs trailing behind me like seaweed or kelp as hers propelled us through the water. I didn’t even need her to pay attention to me – maybe just an occasional run through my hair as she pulled past the follow through of her freestyle stroke or a kiss on my forehead as she flip-turned into another lap. I didn’t want much.
Her legs came up to my ribs, and all I could picture was them wrapping around me like a lifejacket, keeping me afloat. I wanted to make love to her and be surrounded by her body and drown in her waters and not in some touristy way but like a long lost sailor’s welcomed homecoming.
She was my lifejacket, and she was the ocean, saving me and killing me simultaneously in second period. Maybe my haphazard splashing along her tides like some sort of capsizing buoy would end with my sinking, leaving nothing but a ripple across her molten surface.
The last two weeks of school were devoted to learning the commencement songs during concert band, but the seniors sat out because they’d be walking while we played. She was graduating that year, and I was alone for those two weeks, the only bassoon in the band.
But on graduation night, the seniors joined us for one last song. I waited next to her empty chair, until she swooped into her seat in her blue robe, her yellow tassel swinging at the side of her face like an anglerfish’s lure.
The female anglerfish has a luminescent organ called the esca at the tip of the illicium. The glowing is caused by a symbiotic relationship between the fish and bacteria. While the lure serves to attract prey in the dark of the deep-sea, it also serves to attract males for mating. The male anglerfish is significantly smaller than the female in an extreme case of sexual dimorphism, and both engage in a type of sexual parasitism in which the male attaches to the female for life. The male bites into the female and eventually fuses into her, allowing for continuous and multiple fertilizations while cutting the amount of resource consumption in their environment so that the female may thrive.
That could have been us.
I spent more time watching her lips than I did performing, trying to soak the image of her playing into my memory, each moment – each note she played – like a blot of ink dropped onto the canvas of my mind. The colors – the F-sharps a midnight blue, the A-naturals a crimson red, and the very few E’s a burnt orange – all melted together into a watercolor painting I’d never forget.
But we played, she returned to the rows of graduating seniors, and I picked up her bassoon that night and took it back to the school when everything was done and put it in her assigned locker that she never opened again.
I saw her four years later at our local gym in the lap pool. I hung over the floating dividers a few lanes away as she flip-turned back and forth. She was a marine biologist now, and I was a painter. Neither of us play bassoon anymore.
Image via Pixabay