Friday, October 31, 2008

Twentieth Anniversary

I have so much to say on this twentieth anniversary of Ken's death -- so much to say, yet so little energy to go there in my mind and relate all that I want to express. I have related what this day means to me as a mommy on my family blog. But I want to explain the words that came to me only days after he took his life.

When the tragedy of Ken's decision struck my family, I was in my second month of college as a music and English major. And even though I was asked to see our college psychologist when I returned to school, my real therapy was in the basement of the music department's chapel in the practice rooms. I had my favorite room with my favorite piano and would play whatever I wanted without anyone's judgements. And a song about Ken just happened. I didn't do it on purpose; it really just evolved. I think part of me needed to play it to feel as if I were close to him in some way. I didn't make the connection then, but I had a lot of trouble performing solos after Ken's passing. Looking back, music was my thing -- the one thing that Ken didn't do better. I really believed he was more talented, more intelligent, more popular, more everything than me. I don't even say that in a negative way; it just was a fact. Secretly, I think that may have given me confidence in my musicality. I knew I excelled in academics, but I would never be as scholarly as Ken; I had a lot of wonderful friends, but I would never be the life of the party as Ken was; but I pursued music and found myself a field that Ken hadn't conquered yet. And while in one breath he would call me a band nerd, he would also tell me how good he thought I was on rare occasions.

But my confidence in every area was shot after we lost Ken. The very first solo I had in college only weeks after Ken's death was a nightmare that I replayed in my mind many times after. It was our chamber choir performance -- a select choir whose membership was by audition only and who received music fellowships for their inclusion in the group. I had auditioned for this solo and was chosen out of all of the girls, even though I was a freshman and this was my first concert. So you can imagine how mortified I was when I walked up to the front of the stage to sing my solo and completely forgot all of the words. That had never happened to me in all of my years of recitals, concerts, and solos. I had certainly been terribly nervous before, flubbed a note or two, or had shaky vocals, but forget my words?!? Ridiculous. I had several inconsistent performances after that, too. So, when it came time to perform my senior voice recital three years later and I told my voice teacher that I wanted to perform an original song, I understood her immediate hesitation. She was a wonderful woman who believed in my abilities and talents, but she also knew my story. Many people at college had gotten to know me freshman year as "that girl whose brother killed himself." I think when I sang, part of me wanted to prove to those people that I was a strong person who could forge through this pain and I would show them. But as my previous solos had proven, sometimes I passed my own test; sometimes I didn't. My voice teacher was concerned when I told her about my song. Understandably, she probably envisioned me stopping mid-verse and sobbing off of the stage. She wanted to hear it, so I played and sang it for her. Just then, my accompanist walked into my lesson. "Oh, Kristin, are you going to sing that in your recital?" she asked while she put down her things and plopped down at the piano. "No problem," she announced as she began to play every note of my original song perfectly. I was taken aback. "How do you know that song?!?" I asked, stunned but smiling. "Are you kidding?" she responded. "You have been playing this piece for the past four years. Didn't you ever hear me playing it along with you in my practice room?" So much for soundproofing. She later explained that she knew it meant something special to me, and she thought it was so pretty that she learned it after I had left one night. So much for my complex songwriting abilities.

Anyway, that moment, it became clear to all of us that I had no choice but to perform this song that I had written for my brother in my senior recital. A senior recital is the final test of a music major, and I was singing some very challenging pieces. But I needed to prove I could do this song. I needed to sing it in front of my parents, grandparents, professors, longtime friends, and college roommates. And most of all, I needed to sing it for Ken.

If you'd like to hear me sing (and play) the song for yourself, click here (in the middle of the screen, find the song "Now" under "Songs;" then click the "Play Song Now" arrow). I will leave you with the lyrics to the song from an eighteen-year-old naive girl who desperately missed her big brother and had to express it through her simplistic song, the twenty-one-year-old who performed it from the depths of her heart to all her loved ones including her brother at her senior recital without faltering, and the thirty-eight-year-old who would give anything to never hear this song again and hear her brother's boisterous laughter instead. After twenty years, that would most certainly be the best music of all to my ears.


When we were young
We needed little more
Didn't care what life
Was really for
Never thought we
Would ever be apart
Never thought then
That you would break
This little girl's heart

But now I know that
Life just isn't fair
We wait too long to
Show how much we care
What would I give
To end this circumstance
I'd give my life if
I could give you a second chance

Now when I see sky
I see your face
Although they say you're
In a better place
There's somewhere here
Where you will still remain
In my heart you'll stay
And that will never ever change

How could you be so wrong
Can I go on
Without your love right by my side
I don't know how I will survive
Oh how
Will I get through this
How could you do this to me now
Could you do this to me

© 1988, Kristin Spengler