Palouse by vwl
Provenance – May 1987
A Few Days Later
Betty decided to return from staying at her sister’s for Robert’s last full day before he set off for Pennsylvania – with that odious man, Sam. She was reluctant to return home, but Robert was her first son, so she wanted to prepare one last home-cooked meal for him despite his repugnant lifestyle choice. She convinced herself that she would simply have to bear it for only a few hours. Maybe he and Sam would break up; she’d heard that homosexuals were promiscuous, and that might lead to a breakup, which would solve her problem.
Robert slipped into the kitchen in mid-afternoon and sat at the kitchen table observing his mother until she had time to sit down. He truly appreciated the sacrifice she was making by being there, but he knew he could only be happy living his own life, and he didn’t want to argue with her about it. Sam had discreetly stayed upstairs, reading. Robert had something else to discuss with her.
Betty sat down, a cup of tea in her hand. Robert went to the coffee pot and refilled his mug and returned to the kitchen table. They looked at each other with an almost-uneasy silence.
“Mom, I need to talk to you before I go. A friend of my friend Jake – her name is Marcia Vilas – is interested in working with Micah,” Robert said. “With his violin.”
“I don’t know anything about her, and I don’t want to mess up Micah’s instruction.”
“She’s really exceptional.”
“Marcia Vilas, you say. Let me call Rudy Schmidt, Micah’s violin teacher, to see what he recommends.” She couldn’t get over the feeling that somehow this offer must be tainted by her son’s lifestyle.
She went to the kitchen phone and dialed. “Rudy, this is Betty Kingman.”
“Hello, Betty. How are things with you?”
“What can I do for you?”
“My son’s friends in Seattle have offered to pay for a violin teacher named…I have it written here…Marcia Vilas to give Micah violin lessons.”
“You’re not serious!”
“I knew it was too good to be anything important.”
There was a long pause. “Hold on, Betty. My comment wasn’t because I hadn’t heard of her. Every violin instructor has heard of her. Marcia Vilas is considered one of the finest violin teachers in the world; she has an international reputation. She takes only one new student a year, and she follows that student through his or her entire career. Joshua Bell is her student. Vadim Rapin was her student. Isaac Stern even asked her to help him with some fingering technique as he got older and less nimble.
“Betty, I know Micah is talented, but I can’t judge how far he really could go. Marcia Vilas can. If she accepts him as a student, he is a lucky boy. Besides, I’m getting close to the limit of what I can teach him, so turning over Micah to her would be more than a pleasure. For me, it would be an honor. Go for it.”
“Thanks, Rudy, and good-bye.” Betty hung up the phone and then sat back down across from Robert. She was quiet for a moment, then sighed.
“Rudy was impressed that what he called the best violin teacher in the country by far wanted to work with Micah. He said she instructed Joshua Bell and that she even worked with Isaac Stern as he was getting older. She takes only one new student a year, and the waiting line is very long. It’s an incredible offer, but Robert, there’s no way we can afford Marcia Vilas, even if she lived in Colfax or Spokane where I could drive Micah to her lesson,” Betty said.
“My friends Jake and Robbie have offered to pay everything, including transportation. Jake was my best friend in Jakarta, and I would trust him with my life, so you have nothing to worry about with him.” Robert wondered if he might better have omitted Robbie’s name.
“Why would he do that?”
“Jake is a big supporter of the arts, and he buys the best. He was my best friend for 10 years before he became rich and famous. After Marcia Vilas heard Micah play, she wanted to work with him, and Jake was willing to support them. Mom, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Truly. You might have to take him to Spokane so that he could meet with her, or Micah might have to fly to Seattle from time to time. It will all be paid for by Jake and Robbie, and they said Micah can stay with them when he’s there. They have a huge house on Queen Anne Hill.”
Betty paused. “I’ll think about it – about accepting Jake’s charity,” Betty said. The sad thing about being away so long, Robert thought, was that he could no longer read in his mother’s face what she really felt – whether the hesitancy was due to “Jake’s charity” or a reaction to his own relationship with Sam or the suspicion of some relationship with Jake.
“This is the same Jake that roomed with you in Jakarta?” Betty asked.
“Yes, we were roommates for 10 years,” Robert replied, “and Robbie is his…Robbie and he share a house.” It was almost a serious slip. “After Jake returned to the States, Sam moved into Jake’s room at our house in Jakarta, and we became close.” Maybe that would be enough to divert his mother’s thoughts. He saw the short-lived grimace on his mother’s face, and he thought he might have deflected a problem with Jake’s and Robbie’s relationship.
“Robert, I will think about it, like I said.”
“Mom, from what I saw of Marcia Vilas, I think you and she will make a great team for Micah’s development.”
Just then, the sounds of Micah practicing the violin filled the room, like some deus ex machina. The pause in Betty’s movements and the faraway look on her face – warm like a winter’ s fireplace – told Robert what the answer was going to be.
* * * * *
A sweaty Robert sat across from Betty later that evening, a glass of ice water in front of him. He and Micah had played Sam and Greg at a few games of pickup basketball. It was a last chance to get to know his brothers better before showering and packing for the trip to Spokane, where they would catch a plane to Sam’s hometown in Pennsylvania and then back to Jakarta.
“Robert, we’ll do it,” Betty said as she sipped tea from a cup in front of her. “Rudy Schmidt, his teacher in Colfax, thinks the world of Marcia Vilas. I don’t know how we will be able to thank your friend Jake enough, but Marcia Vilas seems to be what will be the best for Micah.”
“Jake will be pleased that he could help out. He’s got great contacts in the arts world.”
* * * * *
Over the next year, Betty would take Micah to Spokane and either put him on a plane or take him to a studio that Marcia had rented there. If he went to Seattle, she would return to Endicott and then come back at the end of the weekend to pick Micah up; if the lessons were in Spokane, she would leave Micah off and go to a hotel room that Jake and Robbie had rented for her. She wished that she could be with Micah at his lesson – something that Marcia Vilas, like Rudy Schmidt before her, did not permit.
Betty was uneasy about Micah’s trips to Seattle. She was leery about sharing control of his career, but deep down she knew those lessons with Marcia Vilas were the best thing for her son’s career. She could see Micah’s ability growing with each lesson.
For Micah, the trips to Seattle were an adventure. He had flown before, on his way from Arizona to Spokane, but this was something different. On that first time, the uncertainty of not knowing what his new family would be like prevented him from enjoying much about the airplane trip, except he liked playing games with that boy – David Stirling. The first time flying to Seattle as a solo traveler, while frightening in a way, was exciting. He looked out the airplane window to see the wheat fields stretched below, then the mountains, and finally the shadows of the tall buildings of a city. He knew that when he got off the plane that Jake or Robbie would be waiting for him; he had no doubts.
Over the next few years, the trips to Seattle became more and more a relief, a vacation from the pressures in Endicott – and the inexorable demands of the schedule.