The Girl Who Escaped in the Middle of the Night

By Laura Edwards

My piano teacher of many years, Dzidra Reimanis, called me today. I sent her a note yesterday to check in on her and also share the news that I now have a grand piano and plan on playing regularly again. This afternoon, not 36 hours after I put the envelope in my mailbox, my cell phone rang. I was shocked to learn that Dzidra is 83 years old (but still teaching full-time).

I started taking lessons from Dzidra before my feet reached the floor.

Dzidra was always ageless in my eyes. The day my mother, a piano teacher herself, took me to Dzidra’s house for my first-ever piano lesson, I was 4 years old and still learning to read – so I guess you could say I learned my ABCs, treble clef and bass clef all at the same time. Over the 14-odd years that I went to that house, growing and changing constantly and in the later years still wearing soccer shorts and shin guards from practice and driving my own car, she was always the same Dzidra.

Dzidra left Latvia, a tiny country on the Baltic Sea in northern Europe, in the middle of the night as a young girl. I discovered her origins one day when I asked about the meaning of the letters ‘RIGA,’ which adorned her car license plate. Dzidra explained that Riga is the capital of Latvia. I was always fascinated with Dzidra’s story after that day. I was proud of the fact that I was one of the only students who always spelled her name correctly on competition entry forms. And as much as I hated practicing the piano at home, I was in awe of Dzidra’s love for the art of playing it and teaching it. And it is an art. When you walk in Dzidra’s back door, you enter an open room with a couch, coffee table, shelf, and two Steinway grands standing back to back – one for students, and one for Dzidra.

I have been back in my hometown since the day I graduated from UNC. I live 10 minutes away from Dzidra and work two minutes away from her. And yet I haven’t been to see her at all in the past six years. After talking to her for a few fleeting minutes this afternoon, I wondered why. That’s why I’m going to see her first thing in the morning on my way to the office.

Think about the people who’ve touched you in some way. Do you get to see them every day? How often do you talk to them? Maybe you live under the same roof and drink coffee at the same table every morning or go to sleep in the same bed every night. If you’re like me, you can easily rattle off the names of people who have had a profound impact on your life, and yet for half of them, you can’t remember the last time you saw each other or even talked on the phone. If you’re anything like me in this regard, I hope you’ll make this one promise to yourself and the special people in your life, either past or present: call them. Send them a letter or a card. Show up on their doorstep. Schedule time to catch up. And though it’s awfully convenient, Facebook doesn’t count. I take the easy way out sometimes, too. But it just isn’t the same.

I haven’t tried hard enough with Dzidra or anyone else for that matter – other teachers; my grandparents; parents; friends; cousins I suddenly stopped treating like cousins when the marriage broke up; my sister, whose beautiful life slips away more and more with each passing year. I care so much about all of them, but then I get busy and tell myself that tomorrow’s another day. It took a series of tragic events in my life over the past four years – each and every one of which deeply affects someone I love – to understand this, and still, I forget. But then I come across an old photo, or the phone rings, and I remember.