Tears in Montpellier Railway Station

By Emma Pearson

July 16, 2024

16 June 2024

Photo by Andrik Langfield on Unsplash

I am in Montpellier St Roch railway station. As in many French train stations, there’s a piano for travellers to while away their wait, and play on a while. I never know whether it’s the pianist or listeners who most benefit. I love it. I’ve never dared to sit down and play myself – though this morning, as I walked through the first station of my journey, Bellegarde, I set an intention that one day – one day in the not too distant future – I will do so. Just sit down and play. Even if I need to put up a music score, for that is the only way I know how to play. Even Julia, who’d never had a piano lesson in her life but, like Megan, was self-taught using online apps, sat and played at Bellegarde station. Just days, I think, before she died.

I’ve just gone down a massive grief spiral looking for a photo and video clip that I know I have of her that mum took when she came to visit. I can’t find it for now, and instead found and watched a devastatingly beautiful video-music collage created by Julia’s bestie M. And just like that, I am right back there, in those times. The beauty of the friendships she nurtured. The mark she left. The pain we all carry. Still. Coming up now on five years since Julia as we knew and loved her disappeared.

Back to the here and now, Montpellier station. The person playing – man? woman? I can hear them but not see them despite craning to see – has played non-stop since I sat down between my trains. Elton John’s lyric-less Song for Guy, Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know, Elvis Costello’s She, Diana Krall’s Feels Like Home… and more that I recognise but cannot name.

All songs I used to play, often in stolen moments amid the incessant busyness of a large household. Mike would sometimes sneak into the music room while I was playing. Perhaps he was making dinner, or cajoling kids with homework or bathtime. He’d ask me to play a specific piece. I’d get it out, start playing, and he’d sing along joyously in his amazingly “in-tune-until-it-suddenly-wasn’t voice”. He truly could sing well – beautifully even – warmly, full-throatedly – and then he’d suddenly be off-key. Just like that. Without realising. I’d turn to look at him, furrowed eyebrows, confusion/ irritation/ incomprehension evident on my face – and that was how he’d realise he was off-key. We’d go back a few bars, start over, and he’d be on top form again. I never did know how he didn’t know. I can sing in-tune, and then I am suddenly not in-tune. And by golly I hear it.

I miss those times.
I miss that noisy, full, vibrant, chaotic household.
I love the calm that I have now, where the noisiest thing that happens is Black the dog barking.
Or my fire alarm screaming because I left the eggs boiling so long the water evaporated and the eggs burst. That happened a couple of days ago. It might be a(nother) moment I later look back on as a sign of a slip into dementia. Time will tell.

It’s taken an age for me to come to terms with the quiet, but I love it now.
And I miss the noise.
I miss the music.
I miss the voices.
I miss the instruments.
I miss all the playing.
I miss one child’s flute practice vying with another’s oboe practice, over (or rather, under) yet another’s trumpet.

What a cacophony it was.
Utterly awful and teeth-grating.
Utterly gorgeous and life-giving.

And so I sit here, and listen, in Montpellier station, grateful that music triggers so many memories for me. Even when they are hard. Sorrow and joy all mushed up together.

Grateful to the pianist who seems to know something of my life and loves. Perhaps Mike has sent him a playlist to perform for me. The thought does occur to me and won’t leave my mind.

If it’s you, Mike, thank you Sweet Mystery.

Memories of each of the kiddies as they engaged with their instrument(s).
Memories of stolen, almost illicit, moments of “us-ness” with Mike amid the busyness of family life.
A steady flow of talent, love, life, music and more.
The beautifully messy chaos of what is – what was – family life.

These memories are still so hard. I am sure they always will be.
Even if I am better able to wrap the pain in love.
I remain so grateful for the bittersweetness of it all.

Tears now free-falling down my face.

Julia playing piano in Bellegarde station while reading off her phone.
20 June 2019. Ten days before she died.

Postscript: Some hours after writing then posting this blogpost, I arrived at my Writing Retreat hotel – an exquisitely gorgeous place in the Catalan mountains… posher than I am used to, even when treating myself. On arriving in my bedroom, what was there waiting for me? A piano! Red, no less. I’ve just played some simple Einaudi music – including a piece called “Julia”. It feels like I have come a full circle today, arriving at Bellegarde station early this morning, thinking of Julia at that piano, hearing a pianist playing Mike and Emma songs in Montpellier, crying while I went down a few memory lanes between trains, and later arriving my hotel and finally sitting down to play myself for a while.

Proof! My red piano. At La Garriga de Castelladral in the Catalan Mountains – inland between Girona and Barcelona. The most massive bed I have ever slept in. Could comfortably sleep five young kids or three adults!

About Emma Pearson

2 thoughts on “Tears in Montpellier Railway Station

  1. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
    It is sooo hard and you are so very skilled at describing it all, the beauty and brutality of it, all rolled into one.
    Enjoy your writing course and playing tunes and pieces, both joyful and tearful, on that red piano. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

  2. Beautifully written, Emma. And tears down my face too. Thank you for sharing these memories of yours. Their are so heart touching. Sending you a lot of love! ❤️

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