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Love and Loss

A Life in 13 Pieces

By Jacinth RysePublished 4 months ago 23 min read
Music is life

The Hologram / Binary Sunset (Star Wars: A New Hope)

This piece captures a moment I barely remember. Already familiar with the film, I was in our "new" house, so I was at least eight years old. And I was watching Star Wars: A New Hope for the umpteenth time.

Even then this piece filled me with longing. Yearning. Yearning for something more, something deeper. To be part of something bigger than just myself. To have a destiny. The feeling was so strong that it drove me deeper and deeper into the galaxy far far away: reading the books, learning the expanded lore, playing with plastic lightsabers. Star Wars was my best friend growing up. And while the sad chuckle is certainly appropriate, I wouldn't go back and change it. Because it made me who I am today. It led me to my best friends. To my soul-mate of sixteen years (married for eleven at the time of this writing).

The Force theme from our magnificent maestro Williams shaped me almost as much as my religion did. It is more dynamic than any one emotion, because it doesn't just capture strength, endurance, celebration, or comfort. It somehow captures them all. It captures the depths of all the experiences life has to offer, good and bad.

It is humbling to have such a magnificent piece woven throughout my life. And I simply cannot wait to see what it manages to capture next.

A Place to Call Home (Final Fantasy IX)

I was twelve years old. And for the first time, I had all the time in the world to play a Sony Playstation. My brother's best friend was over for a playdate. I don't remember what they were doing. Probably playing Smash Bros on the Nintendo64.

But I wanted to play Final Fantasy.

My older cousin Nic had always talked about how amazing the games were. He wouldn't shut up about Final Fantasy VII.

Unfortunately my brother's friend had brought over Final Fantasy IX.

"Oh well." I thought. "It's probably still good."

My life was never the same. From the moment "A place to call home" played on the title screen, I was hooked. Nobuo Uematsu claims a high rank in my list of composers. His breadth of skill displayed over the course of ten games is staggering. And while I had never played a Final Fantasy game before, in this piece, he managed to capture the feeling of homecoming.

Something I was desperate for at that age.

I played for hours. It was intoxicating. I remember admitting as much to my mother later, when I was trying to not-so-subtly hint that I would be ever so grateful if she could add a Playstation and Final Fantasy IX to my wish list.

She did not appreciate my utter honesty, admonishing me for falling so hard for a video game. But she did at least add it to my list.

By my thirteenth birthday, my cousin Nic had landed his first job. He bought me a Playstation 1, Final Fantasy IX, and Final Fantasy VII.

And while it would be years before I mustered up the courage to play FF VII, the series has been a part of my life ever since.

Kohaku's Trace (or Image of Kohaku) (Inuyasha)

I love my parents. They worked so hard to keep us kids on the straight and narrow path. Unfortunately I feel this led them to adopting some very narrow-minded beliefs about what ended up being most of what I was passionate about as a child.

I loved Japanese anime. One of my favorite shows to watch on *gasp! whispers* Adult Swim was called Inuyasha, a show about a modern Japanese schoolgirl who falls down a well and is transported back in time to Feudal Japan. A time when demons roam.

"Demons. Uh oh. I'm not allowed to like or even associate with anything with that word!" Demons are of the devil, and therefore must be shunned.

I watched it anyway. I still love that show, as ridiculous as it is.

Another show I watched was called Yu-gi-oh! I started playing the card game just a few years after it was published. My favorite card was called Dark Magician Girl.

As I got older and was able to save a little money, I was finally able to buy a holographic Dark Magician Girl off of eBay. I built a deck around her. I was so proud.

I remember the day she was finally delivered. I made the mistake of opening the package at the dinner table and leaving my euphoric delight on display for all to see.

Including my father.

"Dark... Magician Girl???"

He exploded. Full on fire and brimstone. Threatened to burn all of our cards, including my precious Dark Magician Girl, to see if demons would shriek and flee the cards while they burned.

I don't think I finished dinner. The next thing I remember is laying on my bed crying harder than I think I ever had up to that point in my life. And the doleful flute featured in Kohaku's Trace accompanied one of the most painful experiences of my life.

I remember my brother came in and just stood there inside the door. Wondering what we were going to do. Probably looking to me for guidance, when I had none to give. My world had shattered. Ended. Nothing I loved was safe if dad could just decide it was demonic and burn it without listening to anything I had to say in my defense.

He recoiled from my choice of music. "This is sad. Why are you listening to it?" As if it made things worse.

He didn't get it. I still don't know if he ever figured it out. When your heart wrings so painfully in your chest, sometimes you need a piece of music to make it wring harder. To get the feelings out in a torrent. So that the storm may pass. And after a good, deep sleep, perhaps you're ready to start picking up the pieces and make your way forward.

It goes beyond a father disapproving of his children's past times. It was the excruciating realization that I was not safe to be myself in front of my father. I was not free or safe to express myself. To expound on all of my musings of the stories that I so dearly loved. To shine with joy over a long-awaited acquisition.

No. I found that safety a couple years later, thanks to Star Wars. But not before I learned that smiling was dangerous. Not before I learned to keep myself to myself. And when I found myself bursting at the seems to express something somehow, I buried myself in my notebooks. Where I kept the secrets of my heart right next to angsty (though not terrible) poetry.

The Promised Land (Final Fantasy VII Advent Children)

Fast forward two years (only two?? It felt like eternity back then). I had met my platonic soul-mates. My best friends. My ka-tet. They were all Star Wars nerds. They all loved video games and anime. Cartoons and comics. Dungeons and Dragons.

And one of them knew more about Final Fantasy VII than any one man really should. We were anxiously awaiting the release of the Final Fantasy VII movie, Advent Children.

I played this piece over, and over, and over. In the only way I knew how in 2004: I'd pull up the web page and just sit in front of the computer, chatting on MSN Messenger, or doing my homework.

But it's the MSN Messenger conversations that this song takes me back to. Because I was finally beginning to find the intimacy that I craved. Friendships in which I could express my passion. People with whom I could seriously discuss the nuances of the Force, the particulars of the Sun Crusher (was it actually more lethal than the Death Star?), the various forms of lightsaber combat.

And among all our fiction-focused conversation, I was allowed to be real. I began forming my deepest friendships. Twenty year old friendships that last till this day.

And though conversations rarely turned to explicit discussion of real-world struggles, our group remained a haven for the lot of us. A place we could always come, be safe, and hang out.

I still listen to this song. Every night. It's on my sleep playlist. It has the most plays in my entire library.

There is something about the atmosphere this song creates. A sacred, hushed feeling. A call to introspection. To soul-searching.

A deep sorrow. Co-existing with a deep peace.

For there is sorrow and pain in the world surely.

But there is peace in the knowledge that I am safe with my friends.

Sanctuary (Kingdom Hearts II)

That same year, Square Enix and Disney released Kingdom Hearts II. And though I wouldn't get to play it till the following summer, this game and its music has a special place in my heart.

I spent the better part of 2005 forming a strong bond with the young man that would become my husband. I was fifteen years old, and had already given up on finding love. I was perfectly happy to allow this relationship to stay as platonic as it had started.

We worked in the church coffee shop together. He was among that sacred group of soul-mates, so the conversation during those shifts was good. Deep. Significant. And I still had no idea he's the one I would fall in love with.

We talked about Kingdom Hearts. Specifically we discussed, at length, the character named Riku. The one who had fallen to darkness. Who did not think himself worthy of redemption. The one for whom his best friend risked everything to redeem and save anyway.

I was desperate, I think. Desperate for someone to validate my fixation on these sorts of story arcs. Desperate for someone to understand me.

He did. Story after story. He seemed to just... get me. Even better than the other guys in our group. And things he didn't get, like when I'd nerd out about music, he'd just smile and listen anyway. He always found something to appreciate.

We only got to see each other twice a week. It was torturous. Agony. I would find out why much later in life when I discovered that my primary love language is touch. My secondary? Quality time.

And there's one particular arrangement of Sanctuary that underscores the final cut scene of the game. When the final boss is beaten and you think the heroes have been lost to the darkness through noble sacrifice. But they wake up. Home.

All together.

And that's what our time together became. A homecoming. Sacred safety.


That fall, in 2006, that seventeen year old boy confessed his love for me. Over text-message, of course. We are millennials, after all.

I knew then that I would marry him. I was sixteen.

Let it Be (The Beatles), Angel (Sarah McLachlan), Vindicated (Dashboard Confessional)

It was my senior year in high school. And though I had met my platonic soul-mates, I still struggled with loneliness and depression.

I had one close friend at my school. And her name was Belen.

She was a beautiful dancer. Smart and ambitious. In all the AP classes with me. She'd had the guts to apply to Dartmouth. She was going to be a writer. She published her first book our sophomore year. I still have my signed copy.

It was late February. I missed school for a college entrance audition in LA and then went straight to another school in San Diego for a weekend long interview process for a sizable scholarship.

I was with my mom and my Aunt Kelly at a Starbucks. I still know how to find it. I know exactly where it is. I could go there and stand where I stood when I got a voicemail from one of my classmates. She was sobbing. I could barely understand her. She said something had happened. To call her back.

I still remember that feeling in my chest. That panic. My heart racing. I called her back.

Distraught, and crying too hard to tell me, she handed the phone off to another classmate.

Belen had died in a car crash that morning. The counselors were looking for me. Trying to make sure we all had the support we needed.

I don't really remember how that conversation ended. My mom came out of the Starbucks with our double blended Mocha Frappuccino's and quickly realized there was some sort of crisis. Did she take the phone? Did my classmate tell her? I don't remember being able to say the words out loud.

I remember being in the back of the van, curled up on my mother's lap as much as I could with a seatbelt on, sobbing. My Aunt Kelly drove. It was hard to breathe. I coughed and almost choked. But eventually I cried myself out and just laid there. Not really thinking about anything. All I knew was pain.

My mom didn't give me a choice. I would still participate in the scholarship weekend. It was a wise decision, and not just because I ended up getting the second largest scholarship. But that weekend was miserable. Already shy and reclusive, the pain of loss exacerbated those tendencies. I remember standing on the Coronado beach, crying, wishing someone would come over and ask what's wrong so that I could talk about it.

I didn't have anyone to talk to. My boyfriend was in college, and there's only so much comfort you can communicate through text message.

The songs listed above for this section are the songs I associate with that time in my life.

I sang "Let it Be" with a choir friend at Belen's graveside after the memorial service. The leading lady for our musical that year sang "Angel." I never associated that song with Sarah Mclachlan and sad footage of puppies. I only ever associated it with losing Belen.

"Vindicated" was the song to which Belen choreographed her senior dance. They performed it in her honor.

I've sung "Let it Be" enough since then that I can now sing it without choking up. I can listen to "Vindicated" without crying. I can't listen to "Angel."

Each song still carries the extra weight of loss.

Pa-pa-pa-papagena! (The Magic Flute; W.A. Mozart)

Belen would have gone to college for writing. I ended up going to college for opera.

It was my freshman year, and it turned out that they were holding last minute auditions for The Magic Flute. They needed a cover for Papagena. A very small role that had maybe one or two lines in our production, but then has the famous duet at the end of the opera.

I worked hard. I practiced so much. I learned it the best I could.

And I landed that part.

The brand new freshman. Beating out upperclassmen for a part in the opera.

I was freaking thrilled.

And I'll never forget that. My first opera role. Papagena.

I remember my grandma (my first voice teacher) came to my performance. And according to my dad, she gasped aloud when she heard me sing.

I didn't think I had made that much progress in just a few short months. I thought I sounded like a frog. Awkward and growing. And highly embarrassing. It was like revisiting puberty.

My grandmother, a very austere woman, evidently thought otherwise. She said as much to both me and my teacher afterward. Usually so reserved in praise, it was strange to suddenly find myself lavished in it.

To this day that role and that duet have such a special place in my heart. I've reprised it over and over, even after "graduating" to singing the lead's music, simply because it is such a joy to sing. It is so playful and fun and silly and I love it. And it is one of few opera pieces I will briefly come out of "retirement" to sing again.

Symphony No. 3, Op. 36: II. Lento e Largo - Tranquillissimo

2010. Junior year. Finals week.

I was learning a piece called the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, by a Polish composer named Gorecki. I was scheduled to perform the second movement with the orchestra in the spring semester.

The piece already had a visceral grip on me. The lyrics taken from a message scratched on the wall of a concentration camp.

"No, Mother, do not weep. Most chaste Queen of Heaven. Support me always."

I remember, I was listening to this piece while studying for finals. Working alone in the office of the music department. And I got a phone call from my mom.

"Aunt Kelly had a stroke. They flew her to San Diego. We're heading to the hospital now. Can you meet us there?"

She's going to die.

I remember that thought so clearly. I couldn't feel anything. I wasn't afraid. I wasn't sad (yet). I was certain that something terrible was about to happen to my family. And I wasn't in a hurry to face it. And sometimes I can't help but feel I must be a monster.

I stayed for my whole shift. Locked up the building at the usual time, and arrived at the hospital about the same time one of my best friends showed up with my younger brother and sister.

Aunt Kelly died that night. Or just after midnight. I don't remember anymore.

"Mama. Don't cry."

Aunt Kelly was like a second mother to me. I have been a singer my entire life. Aunt Kelly was the music director at the small Christian school I attended from K-8. She taught me music every year.

She was my mom's best friend. She was always over at our house. Every holiday. She picked me up from school. We played at her house, with my cousins. She was at my sister's dance recital the night it happened. We were always together.

Until we weren't.

"Mama. Don't cry."

Performing Tranquillissimo the following Spring was strangely easy. It's the only other time I achieved that strange detachment. I don't think I felt much of anything. Including any pride I might have felt at learning and singing the piece with full orchestra. Even honor at bringing such a significant piece to the audience.

Now the piece is basically guaranteed to turn me into a blubbering mess. And almost guaranteed to ruin the rest of the day.

Thus, per my husband's instruction, I'm no longer allowed to regularly listen to it.

"Most chaste Queen of Heaven. Support me always."

Dearly Beloved (Kingdom Hearts II)

Aunt Kelly died just over a year before my wedding. And the music for my wedding was... unique. I had never wanted to walk down the aisle to that trudgy Wagner piece. No thank you no thank you.

No. My wedding featured pieces from Kingdom Hearts II, Final Fantasy IX, Beauty and the Beast, West Side Story, and Cinderella.

And what better piece to walk down the aisle to than one called "Dearly Beloved"? It's in all the classic versions of weddings. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today..."

The only problem was that it was too perfect.

I love my husband. So. Freaking. Much. And this piece will always remind me of that. To the point where it's almost overwhelming.

Even more than Sanctuary, this piece, without words, encapsulates all the feelings of love and safety. Gratitude and peace. Homecoming. Bliss.

And you really just don't realize how difficult it is to walk slowly when you suddenly add the complication of working very hard not to start crying and ruin all that makeup they just spent hours putting on you (okay not hours but seriously why does it take so long for us gals to get ready?).

I remember wobbling. And being very grateful that I was both barefoot and could tighten my grip on both my mother's and my father's arms (they both walked me down the aisle).

This piece also lives on my sleep playlist. Every night, not only do I get to fall asleep cuddling with my soul-mate. I get to fall asleep to music that elicits all those precious fuzzy feelings.

Pretty great way to end the day.

Such Great Heights (Iron & Wine)

Another song from our wedding day.

My husband gave me several mix-CDs when we were dating. We exchanged three or four mixes throughout our "courtship." One of the CDs he gave me had the original version of "Such Great Heights" on it. And while I had always loved the lyrics and the melody, the arrangement just wasn't my favorite.

Fast forward a few years to when I'm in college and taking power vinyasa yoga classes. It was about a year before we got married. And this song starts playing during savasana (the resting posture at the end of every class). Even though it was simple, picked, acoustic guitar I recognized it. And I promptly burst into tears.

(Everyone cries during savasana right? No? Just me?)

I think I've mentioned before how much I love my husband, yes? Eleven years later and I'm still crazy about him.

And while this song played, and I lay there and cried, I heard the words in a new way.

"And I have to speculate

That God Himself did make

Us into corresponding shapes

Like puzzle pieces from the clay

And true it may seem like a stretch

But it's thoughts like this that catch

My troubled head when you're away

And when I am missing you to death"

We were doing the long-distance relationship thing at the time, since both of us were in college, but at different universities. Only a two hour drive away, but killer for two people whose primary love language is touch.

And when I heard it that day, I knew this would be the song for our first dance.

I'm terrible at remembering to do this, but one of my favorite traditions is to pull up this song on my phone on the 7th of every month (we got married January 7th), pull him into our room, close the door, and spend a couple minutes slow-dancing to our song.

And one of the best parts about it? This is one of the few songs he'll sing with me.

Spiegel im Spiegel (Arvo Pärt)

This piece was only recently added to my life's journey (thank you Spotify). I was listening to this piece about two months ago when I learned that my closest friend (other than my husband), had once again planned his suicide.

I've talked him down from the ledge before. We've been friends for almost twenty years. And though thankfully he had talked himself down from the ledge this time, the aftershock of realizing I had been that close to losing a soul-mate (and co-author) was overwhelming.

Particularly when this piece began to play.

I had been holding it together so well. Trying to keep a cool head. Trying to handle the situation correctly. But when the simple piano arpeggios began, slowly followed by the viola... I lost it. My breath caught in my throat. My chest started to heave. I couldn't control or measure my breathing any more as it progressed to wracking sobs.

My husband was playing video games in another room at the time, and still noticed that I was crying. He came in to hold me.

I felt like such a failure. Our relationship grew deeper and deeper over the years as we helped each other through our respective depressive episodes and anxieties. He had made such incredible progress. He had been doing so well.

And if, after all that, he had still seriously considered suicide? How could that be anything other than my failure as a friend? I had failed him. It was my fault. I should have worked harder. I should have done more. I should have done... something. Anything different. I should have found the answer.

And if I can't even help my closest friends, one whom I so dearly love, who can I help? What good am I?

In its simplicity, the piece is too profound for its own good. It channeled these emotions and thoughts so acutely.

Even before this moment, it had always struck me as a happy sad piece. The sort of piece you play when you're having your own "Inside Out" moment: remembering things that should be happy memories, but are now irreversibly colored by sadness.

Now, after the moment in question, this piece is probably more of a true swirl of blue and yellow for me. Happy and sad.

Because though it is indelibly marked with the devastation and the trauma of the very real possibility of losing my dearest friend, I also thank God every day that he is still here. Every embrace before he leaves for work all the sweeter.

Now when this piece plays, yes, I feel the weight of what happened. A small echo of that day's trauma. But I also feel a small, quiet wash of joy and peace. Because every morning I descend the stairs, there he is in one of his three-piece suits, putting away dishes or prepping his lunch. Wearing the bracelet I gave him that says, "Ad meliora."

Toward better things.

And though his work is far from done, just the fact that he still breathes, and finds reasons to laugh and smile, and so gleefully and proudly shows us his latest Lego set he's put together, that's hope. Hope that things will continue to improve. Hope that he will, in fact, move toward better things.

The Playlist

In the grand scheme of things, there are many more pieces of music that have impacted my life. But as things stand, I'm already approaching the word limit.

In the grand scheme of things, it's easy for me to look at my stories and discount them. So many have suffered far worse, lost far more than I. So many have loved better and harder. What makes these stories worth telling?

Maybe my stories aren't special. Maybe they're not completely unique.

Though I would be surprised to see another playlist like mine.

So then maybe that's it. How many distinct songs has humanity written that are accompanied by just four chords and seven to twelve notes?

Perhaps the components of life, the stories, are not unique, but the combination of them is.

And maybe, just maybe, this song of mine will impact someone. Help someone get through a tough time. Maybe even the similarities will serve to bolster someone's courage. Remind them that they're not alone. Remind them that others have suffered as they have suffered. Others got through it.

And so can they.

Sometimes the most beautiful pieces of art are the most heart-wrenching. The kicks in the gut that leave us breathless. And it's not until the dust settles that we can fully appreciate the experience.

Dissonance serves to make the consonance that much sweeter. Dissonance drives us toward consonance. If all we had was consonance, we'd be bored. We'd check out. We'd stop listening.

Love and loss. Light and dark. Major and minor. Yin and yang.

It all belongs.

So don't smile when things are sad or painful. Don't pretend you're okay.

Embrace the sadness and the pain. And then embrace the next feeling (it may just be joy). Embrace the next experience. And the next. And the next.

And however long your song may be, however rough your road, I pray that you arrive at your final cadence with that deep, satisfied sigh.

Embrace the peace and quiet for a moment.

Because the next movement is about to begin.


About the Creator

Jacinth Ryse

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