How a Cello Healed My Heart

I met my childhood best friend on an Autumn day under falling leaves. Her mother was on their patch of lawn calling her name into the apartment complex parking lot. Her name was my name. This was cause for concern.

My older sister sprang into action, confronting the girl’s mother. “Why are you calling my sister?” she said.

The other Shawna was tucked behind her mother’s skirts, already contemplating how to befriend my sister. But my sister wasn’t interested. I was.


Our parents practically threw us at each other. We played Barbies and cards, but most of what we did was lean into the radio, making up plays to go with every song and performing them for our captive, parental audience.

The other Shawna, Shawna One because she was older, was the daughter of two music instructors. Her father is a jazz musician who still teaches and performs in Denton, Texas. Shawna grew into a cellist, recovering from a broken back to return to her instrument. She has a brother who drums and plays the trumpet. Her sister is a visual artist who first explained to me that Vanilla Ice was a hack, playing the David Bowie song the original percussive riff for “Ice, Ice Baby” came from. 

There was always an instrument in practice in their home. I imagined I could be a musician too. After all, music moved me. I tried piano but was too anxious to demonstrate my skill. I sang to myself, but never in public. I begged my mother to play guitar any chance she could, but was too nervous to persist with my fingers against the strings when she tried to teach me. Music was in me, but I never learned to express it with sound.

Shawna, though; you could hand her any instrument and she would learn to produce a beautiful sound. I used to sit with her as she practiced the cello, completing my own homework to the melody of her beautiful mistakes and corrections. I admired her passion and dedication. She was and is a woman of intellect and action. 

Shawna moved, then I moved; then I moved again. We were two states away from each other for a time. I visited her twice, staying in her home for a week the second time. But the visit was polluted by my certainty that I was sent to her as a punishment. 

Prior to being shipped from Arkansas to Texas, my life slipped from orderly to a series of sour notes. I was very nearly lost to gang violence, and that is what I imagined I was being punished for. My family had no idea.

So I sat on Shawna’s bedroom floor, listening as she practiced her cello and admitting in snatches the way a full grown man had groomed me and begun his assault. I thought he had the right, so I told it like it was my fault. Like I wanted it. Like I had lured him in with a siren song. The other girls spoke of kisses and cuddles. Theirs were songs of becoming, told with a sensual beauty I wished mine shared. Shawna’s cello was the backdrop to their tales.  


I never visited Shawna again. I returned home buried by my own judgment. Shawna had tried to reach me several times, had woken to me crying from the floor next to her bed. She asked what was wrong, if she could help. She played the music our foundation was built on. That was when I first felt myself closing down. I couldn’t hear that she loved me. I did not love myself.


Those wounds lay unhealed a long time. Then my son began playing cello, discovering it through a teacher who recognized that sometimes a child needs a voice outside their body. He took to the instrument with a calm we had rarely seen, its song reaching beyond the echoing chaos of daily living with intense anxiety. 

I watched him play, sometimes touching the instrument to allow its hum to stroke my heart. I remembered the wonderful days of musical discovery Shawna and I had shared and the way that legacy was passed from friendship to friendship, solidifying mutual love. I had stopped singing by that point. Almost always, I kept the radio silent. Music chafed and I couldn’t figure out why. 

Then I remembered the assault.

Adulthood offered me a new perspective. I saw the event transpire for what it was. As I listened to my son practice, I began letting it go, watching the pain I had muted and carried ride out of the place where it darkened my heart. Every stroke of the cello was a new wind to carry it away.

I’d forgotten how healing sound can be. 

Shawna Ayoub Ainslie (Shawna Two) is a writing coach whose work has appeared in The Manifest-Station, Huffington Post, [wherever], Role Reboot, Stigma Fighters and Medium’s The Archipelago. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, facilitating #LinkYourLife or writing at her online home, The Honeyed Quill, where you are more than welcome to join her as you survive your story.


10 thoughts on “How a Cello Healed My Heart

  1. Beautiful work as always, Shawna. You are gifted at capturing the adolescent female voice, which is so often ignored. You make us listen and care. Music is a powerful balm, but it also has the ability to transport us across time, to our previous selves. Love to you.

    Liked by 1 person

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