Then the rain started. It hit the car like bullets. The lightning was like a dazzling sword striking the pavement ahead, and thunder claps began to bounce off the windshield like ping-pong balls. Suddenly, the road ahead was flooded with a threatening river. Water crept into my car. I must turn around, I thought. Before I knew it, my car was swept into a ditch on its side like a frightened lame horse, water madly gushing into it. I managed to get out just in time.
Some people were kind enough to pick me up on the road and they took me to their home nearby. After drying off, I called Iver and he came up from Des Moines right away. He didn't say anything, except that he was glad I wasn't hurt. He arranged to have my car towed, took care of my insurance to pay for damages. Some time later, when my father drove my repaired car back home from the shop, I said, "Iver, that was so awful!" "Well, maybe you learned a lesson from it," he replied. "Maybe you can help me some day."
I never forgot that.
A few years later I moved from Iowa to Baltimore to further my musical career. I frequently went home for visits, and one such occasion was a hot, humid summer day. Iver had just hosed down the flower beds. We sat in the living room drinking ice tea, the afternoon humming with birds and insects, and he told me how something had struck him in the back of the neck one night, something powerful, like a fish thrashing on a boat dock.
In later years Iver seemed to recover, coming home from work, patting the sides of his easy chair. I made the piano sing. Branches by the window were ancient hands applauding.
Some time later we found out what was weighing down Iver, a dreaded, ugly illness -- Alzheimer's. He became bedridden in a dingy nursing-home room in Des Moines where he and my mother resided. Often, when I visited them, I would give a piano recital, sitting at the piano, my stomach pumping butterflies. The clock wound into the past to the strains of "Clair de Lune" and "Liebestraum." The music's magic sent the people applauding, but I would always run down the hall to Iver's room, knowing that an awful disease kept him away.
Iver would be in his room, his eyes shut like seashells. Mother once said that at night he applauded in his sleep, remembering )) my piano recitals. In the day, the sun set afire through the window Iver's white nest of hair. Sometimes he asked for a ride in his wheelchair -- his new car -- and I wheeled him up and down the drab halls, he raising his arms, yelling, "Faster, faster, faster! . . ."
I was still crying in our old house, but my mind kept racing through the years. Back in the early '60s, we had an apartment along the shore in Laguna Beach, California. Iver and I were swimming in the ocean one summer day when I was on vacation from college. A huge dark, murky wave rolled over my head. After it had broken, pounding like a hammer on the shore, I found I could no longer touch bottom with my toes. The current began to pull me under, surrounding me like a dark veil. Then I felt Iver's arm around me, holding me up, coughing and choking, holding me up to the sky.
We walked back to our apartment, our feet making maps in the sand. At that age, forgetting how to swim was totally embarrassing to me. I made Iver promise he would never tell anyone what had happened, and he never did.
My mind drifted again. I remembered that time at dusk, 1970, when I had just finished giving a piano lesson. I stood at the top of the steps leading to the back porch. Iver sat in his chair, dozing off. His newspaper had dropped with the last cry of a black bird. I longed to tell him something, to sit across the table from him over a cup of coffee, the clock ticking through an early summer evening. I stared at him, wanting to shake his shoulder like rain from a tree.
But the possibility of sharing conversation was long gone, and now, with Iver gone too, I only had grief. Alone in the house, still crying rivers, Iver was talking to me, comforting me, dusk reigning from his white hair. The setting sun cast memories on the papered walls. He was telling me not to grieve for him, not to cry, but to play the piano once more.
I remembered when I played "Amazing Grace" for Iver in the nursing home, how he had held out his hand to me, a dreaming look in his eyes. This could be the beginning of a piece in memory of Iver. I sat down at the piano and began to play.