Facebook is so great with the reminders.Birthdays, events, videos I never knew I needed to watch right this second. It always tells me about the important things.
When a friend's birthday comes up and Facebook reminds me I've let my memory slip, it feels a little false — more than a little, actually — to come out of the woodwork like the other slimy Facebook denizens and write perfunctory, generalized well wall wishes. So at the very least, if that friends means anything much to me, I'll send a message. Or an e-mail. Even a text message. Anything that says, "At least I cared enough to think outside that box."
Today is my high school choir director's birthday. He always said he was born exactly one week before Jesus. How do you forget that? And yet. There I was, with the forgetting.
His name is Tracy Resseguie. He's 47 years old today, a year younger than the Knight. We won't go into how strange that makes me feel.
My freshman year of high school was also his first year, a brand new teacher coming in after the departure of another much-loved director. We all had a tough time adjusting. Our little concert choir was a ragtag group of freshman with a conductor who…hadn't quite found his footing yet. Still, I'd sang all through middle school and knew I wanted to keep on singing. And something about him, the way his face flushed to match the red of his facial hair and quickly receding hairline when he really got into a song, the way he'd yell, "I'm from Missouri!" when he wanted us to show him just a little more energy…he made me want to stick with it even more. I sat in the top row with the rest of the altos, on the cusp of the men's sections. It seems their voices had barely changed; their bass was really more of a baritone, and a lot of that baritone was more baritone-deaf. Especially my friend Kyle, who joined because I bribed him one day with a bag of warm cookies from the school cafeteria: He'd never sang before in his life. He was practically tone deaf. Today, he's in a band that's released several albums and tours regularly. I'd like to take the credit for that, but let's be real.
Throughout high school, I moved from concert choir to women's chorus then into Choraliers and Chamber Singers, the select groups for upperclassmen that everyone in school knew about. The groups that won state awards, got national recognition, toured internationally. (That's us up there, singing in Verona, Italy.) We were a big deal. We were talented kids, but he was the glue that held us together. Sometimes that much talent can shake apart with voices competing and every singer hoping to be a star in his or her own right. He made us his choir. Demonstrated how to form our vowels with a terrible Julia Child imitation, funneled through a tennis ball he'd cut across the middle to make a little mouth. He forced us to blend, made us want to get to know each other and trust each other when we sang. We turned to the side during warm-ups, gave one another backrubs and cracked imaginary eggs over one another's heads to loosen up before we started rehearsing. We sang in Latin. We sang in French. We sang in Swedish. We sang traditional hymns. We sang modern pieces with haunting chords based on the ninth. We sang Christmas songs. We, a bunch of upper-middle-class white kids, sang spirituals and songs the Mormon Tabernacle Choir could just hold together. And we sold them all, because he made us care.
I got to know my best friends in choir. I made my best memories in choir — of high school and maybe of my life — and found my musical escape in choir. When my parents divorced during my sophomore year, and I lost the father figure I may never have really had in the first place, Mr. Resseguie stepped in. He and my mother were always close, so he knew what was going on. I spent so much of my free time after school in sectionals, or organizing the robe closets, or in his office just chatting. He saw me cry and could always just suffocate the tears with one of his trademark bear hugs.
Chamber Singers was a group of 24. We straggled in from lunch and made our way through our second straight hour of singing for the day; we were the elites of the choral program. Eight sopranos, eight altos, eight tenors, eight basses. We didn't love each other all the time — and we didn't love Mr. Resseguie all the time, in fact, given the drama that overtook some of our rehearsals — but we all loved to sing. Still, it always felt like we were the favorites. We got an extra period with him. Sang twice the music. Went on field trips just to sing. Twice the memories. During our last concert every year, we picked a secret song to dedicate to him, gathered together at the front of the stage, in cahoots with the accompanist, and surprised him. We saw him cry, and we all sang out even more for it until our own tears choked out our final note.
I could…probably keep writing for the whole day about everything those four years of singing meant to me, everything Mr. Resseguie still means to me. But I have actual work to do today. And it would be sappy and probably make another five people cry (that was the tally on my sad-sack Christmas entry, by the way). Because I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. Going back through what I've just written, it reads in a way like a eulogy. And I guess I am sort of mourning that part of my life that I'll never be able to experience again. Not many people can say they miss high school as desperately as I do sometimes. I don't miss calculus, and I don't miss gym. But I miss singing so much that it makes me ache.
This morning, after I got my tiny, texty Facebook reminder, I sent Mr. Resseguie a tiny, texty birthday e-mail. The least I could do. Mr. Resseguie. I'll never be able to call you Tracy. You will always be the man up in front of me, in the middle of the stage before a darkened audience of rapt listeners, bobbing in time with the music. Tux tails swishing behind you.
I miss you and miss the beginning of the holiday season in choir, just before we started learning Christmas music, when you'd flip on the stereo and lip-synch to "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." I'm happy with where I am now but will always remember Choraliers and Chambers as one of the happiest times of my life. No one who didn't experience it could possibly understand.
Happy birthday to you, my wonderful friend, my second dad in some ways, and the warmest, most musical man I know.