Write On!

Divisive Improvisation

In Uncategorized on November 3, 2011 at 4:14 pm

by Tara Wiley

Strawberries swimming in freshly whipped cream, drizzled with a succulent balsamic glaze… I let the flavors linger on my tongue before sipping the perfect cappuccino, a glorious confection of foam and deep espresso without a single hint of bitterness.  Light danced across the silverware from candles flickering atop old Chianti bottles – kitchy, I knew, but oh so right for this little Italian dreamscape. I reached into my purse for my tiny notebook where I kept notes (books to read, movies to see… recipes to try at home) and carefully, meticulously wrote strawberries with balsamic glaze in small caps.

The only thing I hated about dessert was that it signaled the end of a marvelous meal with my best friend.

“Do we have to go back to reality?” Anne mourned, putting voice to my own thoughts. “If I just sit here a little longer, my children will turn into perfect angels who happened to clean the entire house while we were here…. I just know it.”

“And Prince Charming will have arrived at my doorstep,” I commiserated. My eyes wandered around the restaurant – looking, I confess, for possible princes. We were managing to close the place down; nearly every other diner had left, and a lovely young woman was quietly bussing tables. We were close enough to the hostess station to read the local event advertisements taped to the hostess’ podium: a local band, a small community play, a benefit… I wasn’t ready for it. I couldn’t stop the visible jolt of recognition. The Light House. My observant friend noticed not only the jolt, but the line of my vision that brought it on.

“Oh, a benefit for The Light House! I think I’ve heard of that place. What do they do there, do you know?” Did she know what a minefield she was drawing us into? Suddenly the dessert and coffee were repulsive to me. I pushed them away. Deep breaths. Anne was a good enough friend. It was time she knew.

Below the sign for the benefit dinner was an announcement of an improv/open mic night at a local coffee shop. Closing my eyes, I was there again, living an improvisation.


Improvisation: the flight of the soul set against a cage of chords.

It is a freedom that divides. Some musicians insist that creating a melody while playing or singing is the height of ability; others refuse even to term it ‘music’ let alone ‘musical ability.’

My past was a divisive improvisation.

I followed the flight of love along a flurry of progressions: Chase, Len, Peter… Peter.

Peter was all poetry and magic. His thick auburn hair was the envy of every woman he knew and wooed, long billowing waves, always perfect. I admired him across the hall in Introduction to Anthropology, let my chosen seat casually draw closer to his consistent position against the west wall as the days went by.

I accidentally discovered Peter was a musician when I went to a local coffee shop for open mike night. Beat poets, really good ones, mingled with really awful cat ladies who fiddled with glasses on chains and read their words from crumpled napkins. He wasn’t there to read. He walked up to the mike, walked past it, sat behind it. A cello appeared from nowhere and he cradled it… That sound, there are no words. He sang my heart with that instrument. Some poet-friend of his was using him as a backdrop, but for me, he was all spotlight.

After, my coffee was cold, and there seemed no reason to be there anymore. I turned to leave and walked right into his lean chest.

“Oh -” I stumbled and searched for words that would not come. Flame-red stretched up lilywhite neck and across my face.

“I know you,” he spoke slowly. Liquid voice. “I watch you watching me in Anthropology.” Was it possible to blush any further? My mouth dropped open, shut. He laughed and placed a finger on my lips. “No worries. I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been watching you myself.”

And so our flurry of passion against the cage of university life began, six weeks of insanity. The first division: my class attendance, divided in half. The fatal division: a case of multiplication. Two lines on a pregnancy test. The end of our relationship in a furious argument over the sanctity of life. My college experience divided, before Baby Girl, after Baby Girl.

I tried running home to my parents, but they didn’t see the music in the improvisation. They only saw lack of discipline resulting in disaster. Their well-laid plans were destroyed, and now what would their friends think? They sided with Peter, a dividing line of them versus Baby Girl and me.

Sometimes music takes you places you never wished to go.

Light House. In the recesses of my memory, I had heard of this place near downtown Kansas City. An old monastery or something, converted into a home for girls who…. Girls like me. They took me in, loved me unconditionally, taught me life skills that the university had failed to offer.

The months were agonizingly long and a blink of an eye. Baby Girl and I spent long nights singing our song of nausea over toilets before she finally gave me a break and turned instead to a percussive beat-beat-beat of tiny feet against my mashed insides. I made it all the way to the third trimester in some kind of daze. I couldn’t face the end of the song. Now it was nearly upon me, and what would I do? I had fallen in love again, this time with a face I’d never seen. I was a college freshman from a coddled home. I had no idea how to be a single parent, how to provide for this child. And I couldn’t imagine Baby Girl growing up without a daddy, a family. I went to the birthmom counselor and started the process.

My water broke on the 31st of December. Baby Girl was one of the first babes of the New Year, 1994, at St. Luke’s Hospital…


A crash slammed me out of that delivery room, racing forward 17 years to the restaurant. The gal bussing tables behind us had dropped an entire tray of used plates. I heard her gasp a sob, and turned to watch her run towards the kitchen. Someone else came out shortly after, to pick up the pieces.

“Poor thing,” I murmured as I wiped the tears from my own eyes. Truth be told, I was relieved for the distraction during the most painful part of my story. Anne’s hand reached over and covered my trembling one.

“Poor you. I can’t believe I… I can’t believe…” This was one of the reasons I didn’t tell this story. No one knew how to respond. Anne was smart enough to just stop trying.

The waiter rescued us from our silence.

“Here’s your bill, ladies,” he remarked, but his eyes were directly on me as he purposefully slid the bill face down towards me. Some note was attached to it, meticulously written in nearly microscopic lettering, all caps. He let his finger rest on it. “From the gal who was bussing the tables.” It was nearly a whisper, so I couldn’t be sure, but I think that was what he said.

Thank you for choosing life, and a family for Baby Girl.

Her life’s been blessed.

Suzanne Grace, a Light House baby

born Jan. 1, 1994


The Light House is a real organization for pregnant teens in Kansas City. Please learn more about this amazing ministry and adoption agency at http://www.LightHouseKc.org.

  1. This is a beautiful story! I am a birth-mom, and am touched beyond words. I resonate with the emotions so well depicted here! Thank you for sharing it!

    • That makes me so very happy. I am an adoptive mom, so very humbled and grateful for birthmoms who show such unbelievable, sacrificial love for their children. Blessings!

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