I look up at the dark ceiling yet to be illuminated by the rising sun. Everyone told me the first few weeks would be the hardest, but didn’t speak for the months that followed. Save for the occasional meal and bathroom trips, I haven’t moved much. Or slept, for that matter. I’ve just lay here, staring up at the ceiling, watching it change from light to dark to light again.
The artist in me wants to draw from this transformation. Turn it into a metaphor. But the rest of me is too tired. The rest of me just wants to watch it go from black to white and black again.
I’m supposed to go to the studio today to pick up a few of his things. They told me I could take as long as I needed, but those kinds of invitations always seem to have an unwritten time limit. Theirs, apparently, was 4 months.
The ceiling changes from black to grey to white and the world outside wakes up. I hear cars start and planes take off and people walk down the street. I start counting, promising myself that the double digits will act as my cue to get up. I make it to 32 before I move.
In the bathroom I brush my teeth and splash some water on my face. I don’t look at myself in the mirror, as I have no interest in seeing the physical embodiment of how I feel. I simply pull my hair back into a high ponytail, just as I’ve done most mornings of my adult life, and I pull on a dress I used to love.
I expect they want me to at least look put together. We saw this coming after all. One doctor said the knowing makes it easier, another said it makes it worse. Ray had been sick for almost a year and lived 6 months longer than they thought he would. Up until the last few weeks, he lived well. His body, while it fought inward battles, still found a way to thrive. His mind stayed sharp and his voice stayed smooth. When someone at the funeral made a passing remark that he “could have been great,” Tyler, Ray’s best friend and producer, assured them, “he already was.”
When I walk into the studio, Tyler is sitting in his chair, like always. He’s nodding his head, hovering his hand over the soundboard, listening closely to a song playing in his headphones. I tap him on the shoulder and he holds up his index finger without looking back at me. A small smile forms on my lips, I always respected the focus he maintained, no matter who entered the room. He slides his headphones off and lays them on the soundboard, then turns around.
“Sorry about that, Mill, I didn’t know it was you.”
I shrug my shoulders. “It’s okay, don’t worry about it.”
There is a moment of silence that lingers between us and we let it simmer before continuing.
“The office called a few months back, said that Ray left a few things here.”
Tyler nods. “Right. They’re in the back room. I’ll go grab them for you.” Tyler squats down to look at his computer and sifts through his music library. In coming to see Ray record, I’d seen Tyler do this hundreds of times. He hates the quiet, can’t stand it for more than a few minutes. So whenever there is no one in the booth and he isn’t mixing, he shuffles other music.
“Have a seat,” he says, and then he clicks enter and walks away.
I sit down in a black leather chair and anxiously swivel the seat back and forth. When the music starts, I’m grateful for its slice into the silence. I nod my head, familiar with the beat and my mind begins to race. Ray, Tyler and I used to compete to see who could name the artist first. But even though I recognize the rhythm, I can’t place the artist. Suddenly a familiar voice comes through the speakers and it sends goosebumps down my arms. I sit dead still.
The door behind me opens and Tyler steps in and leans against the frame. Hopeful tears have already started to form in my eyes, and when I see the glassy surface of his, I know they are warranted.
“He finished it,” Tyler says with a sad smile. “Took him long enough, but he finished it.”
The song moves into the chorus and all at once I remember. Ray had hummed this song nonstop for months. First it was just a few beats. He would nod his head and pat his hands on any surface he could find. Then he had a melody. Before long, he had everyone humming it.
“You need to rest,” I would tell him on the nights he was up too late writing down lyrics.
“I need to finish,” he would reply.
Now I was here, sitting in the chair I’d sat in for countless hours on countless nights, listening to him sing again. Tyler puts his hand on my shoulder.
“Listen,” he says, “he wrote this song for you.”
The song unfolds and each lyric hits me like a breeze on a hot day. It’s as if he’s alive again. When I close my eyes, I can see him standing in the booth reading lyrics off a restaurant napkin. I hum along with the melody, all too familiar with its curves and edges, eager to learn the words that are now sung alongside them.
At the start of the third verse, Ray’s voice becomes almost insistent.
“And if you were to ask me,” he says, “after all that we’ve been through.”
I swallow a lump in my throat, feeling as though he’s standing right in front of me now. The music behind him is slowing down and panic begins to bubble inside me. I don’t want to the song to end. I don’t want to shift back into the reality that exists without him. It’s dark. It’s terrifying. It’s…unfair.
“Still believe in magic?” he says, and suddenly I’m lying next to him, looking up at the stars. He’d driven us up to the park at the top of the hill and lay a blanket on the grass. “What are we doing out here?” I’d asked over and over and all he’d said was “just wait.” He kept looking at his watch and then at me until finally he took my hand and looked up at the sky. “Do you believe in magic?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Do you?”
Back in the studio, I hang on the question he’s proposed.
“Still believe in magic?” he asks in a pause of the melody. “Yes, I do,” he says.” Yes, I do. Yes, I do. Yes, I do. Of course, I do.”
Tears well in my eyes as I take seemingly my first breath in months. I close my eyes and I can see him there, lying next to me. “Of course, I do,” he said all those years ago. “How can you be so sure?” I asked, and suddenly a shooting star ran across the sky with a trail of white fire. A few seconds later, there was another one and then another and then another.
“You can always find magic in the world,” Ray said, “even when everything else is pitch black. You just gotta look for it.”
I nodded my head then and I nod it now. “Okay,” I say, “I’ll keep my eyes open.”
Listen to the song here