“The Skies are not Cloudy all Day”

By: Kiki Arochas  |  March 27, 2024

By Kiki Arochas, Staff Writer

A couple weeks ago I was searching through the contacts on my phone; I honestly don’t remember what I was looking for. Whatever it was, it started with the letter ‘N.’ I glanced down the list of names that appeared. One name stopped me dead in my tracks. Natan. I met Natan last summer, back in camp. Though only with him for a couple weeks, we became fast friends. He was a good guy: blunt, down to earth, no nonsense.

He drowned three months later on a boating trip. 

I continued to look at my phone screen, absorbing the pain that felt fresh for the first time in months. My first intrusive thought was to call the number. Who knows? Maybe it was all a mistake, he’d pick up, and we’d laugh it all away. But I knew better. No call was going to change the fact that the contact represented what used to be. Your phone doesn’t realize your friend died; you do. Then I thought, maybe just a text. A simple message letting him know I was thinking of him. That I hadn’t forgotten him, even though we hadn’t known each other long. But again, I stopped myself. At best someone else owned this number now, and at worst his relatives had the number and it would just cause them pain. It occurred to me that I’d been staring at my screen for the last five minutes, motionless, all these thoughts running in my mind. I decided to reminisce on what had bonded Natan and I in the first place.

It was mostly, I think, piano. At the time, I was playing fairly frequently, and ran a piano workshop at camp for guys who wanted to learn. For beginners, I’d always begin with Mary Had a Little Lamb; it was a good way to break into using the pinky finger for songs, something beginners tend to struggle with. For intermediate level players, I went with Home on the Range. Its quick transitions from the C major chord to the F teaches intermediate musicians to play rhythmically. This taught the players how to fill the entire song with music, with no pauses. Natan was fascinated with it. Because the pianos were in the staff lounge, I’d often be running the workshop with campers while staff relaxed on couches in the back of the room. Seeing me play the song, Natan approached me afterwards, asking me to teach him. He had always wanted to play at least one song, he said, and loved how this one in particular sounded. We agreed to meet after the campers went to bed.

That night, we met in the lounge, closing the door so as not to disturb anyone sleeping. Then, we started. One chord, one note at a time. I played, then he played. C major. F. G7. Again. And again. He picked it up immediately; he was exceptionally quick for a guy who had never played before. To perfect his rhythm, I played on one end of the keyboard, while he played on the other simultaneously. By the end of the hour he had the whole song down, perfectly. It didn’t take long before he was correcting me on parts of the song I had taught. Once finished, he was visibly ecstatic. “I always wanted to learn a song on the piano,” he told me, smiling ear to ear, flushed with pride and excitement. “Really, thank you.” That’s the last clear memory I have. The rest are garbled scenes of seeing him around camp, and practicing the song some more. Then we parted ways, exchanged numbers. 

We’d stay in touch, of course. “Keep on practicing,” I said. “I’m going to show my family the song,” he said. I never sent him that text. I never saw him again. Three months later I’d see on our camp chats that he went missing after boating. I went to sleep with difficulty that night, dreaming of drowning, slowly, crawling up desperately for air… I woke up with a start, and got the news. They found his body. He was gone. 

I still play that song sometimes. When I’m in a room with a piano, showing off to friends, or by myself. And I always think of Natan, every time I play.

Oh, give me a home,

Where the buffalo roam,

And the deer, and the antelope play…

This is for you, Natan. A good man, a great friend.

Where seldom is heard

A discouraging word

And the skies are not cloudy all day…

Goodbye, Natan.