It was only three weeks, but he was absolutely in love. Love, however, doesn’t always flow both ways.
It had been a late April day when he was stopped after class by one of his professors and told he was needed as an emergency replacement to accompany a flutist at her upcoming senior recital. Her regular accompanist had broken a wrist. So, he showed up at practice room 141 at 5:00 that evening.
He recognized her as a girl who had been in his Advanced Music Theory class the year before, but who never spoke in class. They shook hands, and she said, “Hi. I’m Sarah.”
He introduced himself as well.
“I don’t know if they told you, but, you’re the third replacement accompanist I’ve auditioned in the last three days. The others didn’t really work out.”
I see, he said.
“Well, let’s get to it. Let’s try this,” she said, handing him sheet music. “This is what I’ll be opening with.”
The music was unfamiliar to him, it was a Sonatine by Walter Gieseking, who he knew as a great pianist of yesteryear, but who he didn’t realize had also been a composer. He looked through it, page by page, then turned back to the first page.
How fast? Or do you like to count in? he asked.
“Just watch me and follow,” she said, which was singularly unhelpful.
She picked up her flute and caught his eye, then nodded her head, and they started.
It’s hard to explain conservatory life to people who’ve never experienced it. You have young artists, burning with the desire to express their individuality, but doing so within the heavily constrained world of classical music, where individuality can be a matter of extreme subtlety. Envy is endemic, competition is fierce, and snark is served up with ever meal.
One way of standing out is to write your own music; unless you are Prokofiev, this is extremely hard to pull off. Another way is to perform little known repertoire, which helps you stand out. This was her way.
To him, their practice sessions were magical; they built cities out of music together. He loved the music first, but gradually realized that he loved her. She was completely devoted to her craft. She expressed herself through it. And he saw her, truly saw and heard her.
But to her, he was just some guy, a guy who would either accompany her perfectly or screw up her senior recital. She didn’t really see him — at all. Not once.
When the performance came, it was just like practice had been. They were one person when it came to performing, and he felt it. And the audience felt it. It was electric.
And, to him, it was even more.
But something can be everything, and the next moment, be nothing. She checked off the box of a successful senior recital, acknowledged the applause, performed the ritual of acknowledging her accompanist, smiled in the moment, then left the stage.
And just like that, she was gone, and she never gave him three seconds thought again.
He gathered up his sheet music as the house lights came up and to the sounds of the audience milling about. It was an oddly empty feeling.
That love can be unrequited is well known; that it is almost always unrequited is less known. That the person loved never even knows it happens all around us, everyday. There’s a fair chance it has happened to you, and you never noticed.
For one person’s everything is another person’s nothing.