It was an otherwise normal piano lesson. Our teacher, who has become a dear friend, was continuing to work with Anson while we waited for the next students to arrive. The phone rang and Ange picked it up.
Her husband, Doug, had had surgery on Thursday to repair a hernia that he earned as a Good Samaritan, helping push a car out of the snow over the winter. He's just that kinda guy. The phone call was from the doctor who performed the surgery. Thanks to HIPA laws, he couldn't tell Ange anything and although Doug wasn't home yet, he was expected home momentarily.
I hold Ange's baby girl, Annie, during piano lessons--at least as long as Annie will let me hold her. Ange and I hand her off and take turns jotting notes in our piano notebook and running the CD player when our hands are empty.
Since we were essentially done with the lesson, Ange was holding Annie again. As the doctor talked to Ange on the phone, she handed Annie off to free her hands to get his number and take some notes. I worked with Anson for a few minutes on the piece Ange had started him on while bouncing Annie on my hip, but he was growing restless and I sent Anson outside to play.
I was standing in the living room holding Annie, when Ange hung up the phone with the doctor and Doug walked in the door. They immediately called the doctor back with Ange teasingly saying, "Can I hire you for 5 minutes to watch my kids?"
The next students arrived and I entertained them explaining about the doctor and Doug's surgery. The mother of the next students looked up abruptly.
"I just got a text," she said. She lowered her voice a little. "It says that they just got bad news and the lesson is canceled."
The other piano mother and I exchanged looks. This is really bad, our look said. Matthew, Doug and Angela's 11-year-old son, said, "I wonder what the bad news could be?"
The other mother ushered her kids out and I was left with Doug and Ange's kids and a lot of silence. Baby Annie was going limp as she finally fell asleep. I didn't know where to lay her--her bed had been moved--and I didn't want to go poking around the house, invading Doug and Angela's privacy. Not at a moment like this.
With the other students gone, the silence was palpable. They had to be off the phone by now, their boys Matthew and Jonathan, were nervous. I was looking for words to say. Something that would comfort them and not be a lie. I wanted to say, Everything is going to be OK. But I knew it wasn't. And they knew it wasn't. A shift had happen and agony hung like a fog in the air.
"Annie's falling asleep," was the best I could come up with. I don't know how comforting it was, but it was honest.
Ange laughed from the other room. I could hear them blowing their noses. They were trying to pull it together. They had to come out and face me and the boys.
Their eyes were understandably red and the tears hadn't really stopped when they joined us in the living room. Doug immediately headed for more tissues in the kitchen.
"Annie's asleep," I said to Ange my face full of questions that I didn't dare to ask in front of their boys.
With my body sheilding Angela from view she mouthed to me, Doug's got cancer.
I'm so sorry, I mouthed back.
"What's going on?" Matthew wanted to know.
"Oh," Ange said casually despite the tears in her voice, "we're just having some Mommy and Daddy time." She gathered up Annie and headed to the basement to lay her down.
I headed to the couch to gather the piano books up.
"Is it the appliances?" Matthew asked Doug.
"No," Doug said, still sopping at his face.
"Money?" Matthew wasn't giving up. Something was the matter and he wanted to know what it was.
"No," Doug said realizing that unless he told Matthew that the questions would be relentless. "I'm sick."
I looked at Doug on my way out. "I'm so sorry," I said. Doug nodded.
Then Matthew asked the question that we all wanted to know, "Why?"
With his voice choking back a sob, Doug said, "I don't know."