If Only, by Ellen Drebin
In no time, I went from bowing to applause in a tuxedo... to prison, where I now
wear an orange jumpsuit. Turns out, lives can turn on a dime.
Why do we question so little of the world that is given to us as fact when we are kids?
When I look back, the life I had just before it all fell apart seems awesome. I
was one of the few from my old neighborhood who knew where I was going and
had a decent shot at getting there. Life was so different for me then than it had
been when I lived at home. I never had much of a chance to be a kid ... no little
league or hockey, no birthday parties because I really didn’t have any friends. It
was just practice, practice, practice. My father insisted on it ... said he was going
to make me a prodigy. He was a stern, solemn, old fashioned, domineering kind
of guy. I never had the guts to rebel and it looked like he might succeed.
It wasn’t until I was a was a grad student in cello at a top music school that
I had my first serious girlfriend. Lisa was beautiful, talented, funny and warm. She
played the viola and we could talk to each other like I had never been able to talk
to anyone before. We were about to team up with two violinists we had met at
school and tour the world as a quartet. Even my father seemed pleased.
Lisa was very open. She absolutely never made unreasonable demands.
And she was totally unlike my parents. She drew me out and encouraged me to
explore my own feelings and desires for the first time in my life. It was a
wonderful time for me because we were very much in love.
One night when we were cuddled up together on the couch in her dorm,
she took my hand in hers and kissed it:
“Would you do something with me?”
“Let’s send our DNA samples to Ancestors, find out how similar or
different we are.”
“How do you do it?”
“Just spit into a test tube and send it off. We’ll do it together.”
So, I ask you, “How could I refuse?”
But I need to back up here for more background on my family. My Dad, an
immigrant from Vienna where music was intrinsic to the culture, had struggled to
make a living in textiles. But he was bitter that he had had to give up music to
survive and support his family. So, from as far back as I can remember, he had
pushed me hard to fulfill the dream that he had been denied.
To say that he was strict about forcing me to practice understates it. He felt I owed him complete obedience. Having no other option, I practiced till I was blue in the face and got
to be good. I never really questioned his right to do it.
So, imagine my shock when my chart from Ancestors arrived. It showed that I
had absolutely no roots in Vienna or anywhere near there. Mostly, I was Irish and
Scotch. Thinking about all I had sacrificed growing up, I immediately confronted
my ‘father’ and demanded to know how he had dared inflict his dream on me.
Calling me an ingrate who didn’t appreciate the wonderful career I had ahead of
me, he made a stink the likes of which I had never imagined possible.
My mother started to shake when he came after her and demanded the
truth. He seemed stunned at the situation and, when she stayed silent, he turned
As all this unfolded, I saw him for the first time as a bully, rather than the
idol he had seemed when I was young. And for the first time in my life, I felt like a
man ... not the cowed, submissive son I had been.
It was all kamikaze from there as I gave him a karate chop to the kidneys
and kissed my future good-bye. I didn’t know what my mother’s life had been
like ... or who my father might have been. All I knew was that I had to protect her
from her husband’s rage. Who else would?
I guess maybe my resentment, so long repressed, erupted out of control.
The last thing I remember about it was the sirens. That’s how I ended up here.
Now I play my music in an orange jumpsuit.
If only I had never sent in my spit.