Piano

Warning of abuse trigger.

*****************

I used to be obsessed with learning how to play piano.  I would go to the music room at school during class time, and try to figure it out, and my music teacher would coach me a long as much as she could without exactly giving me a lesson, as she had her own duties to attend to, as well.  In high school, I had lunch right after orchestra class, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to pluck out chords and melodies well into lunch period.  My church held an auction, and was getting rid of an old, very out-of-tune piano.  I was going to use a $50-dollar savings bond that I had won in a competition to pay for my bid for the piano–never mind the fact that there was no room in my family’s apartment for a piano, that the piano was in desperate need of repair, and that I still wouldn’t be able to take lessons.  I ended up placing the second-highest of three bids.  Undaunted, I went to the church in my spare time, just to try to teach myself how to play the piano and write music.

Last night, I realised why I was so obsessed with playing the piano.

My mother’s only chance to escape my father’s abuse, and to treat her own failing health due to starvation and beatings, was to go to a hospital whilst my father was on the job as a long-distance truck driver.  He had forbidden us to go to the doctor, or to really carry out any business, in our own county, as a means of hiding the abuse.  It also helped him, in that he had often established local social contacts such that he had prejudiced their opinions against my mother before she had a chance to speak with doctors, psychologists, and such in our own town.  So, if my mom was going to get help, it was going to be one county over, a half-hour drive south of where we lived.  She checked herself into the emergency room, and they kept her.  She weighed barely 100 pounds, and had suffered extensive internal organ damage from beatings.

But, there were four children, ages five through eight, with an incapacitated, barely-alive mother, and a father working hundreds of miles away.  We were not in our own county, and there was no-one we could stay with.  (Another way my father kept us socially isolated was by making it known he kept a loaded gun, and threatening to use it on us or our neighbours if we made any social contact.  He acted so unstable that neighbours who wanted to help us out of our situation worried that if they did, we or they might end up murdered.)  So we were placed in emergency foster care.

That night, as they pulled my screaming five-year-old brother off my mother, we headed off to our new residence.  We had no idea who these people were, or how long we’d be living with them, nor did they.  It was a father and mother, with three children of their own, daughters age 9, 7, and 1.

I had never been happier in my life.  It was the first evidence that I had that a man, not only did not have to yell, scream, and threaten to murder his wife and her family, but that he could treat her with love, respect, and decency.  The children were bright and well-adjusted, and we had fun having other kids to play with.  (We were not allowed to associate with other children outside of school.)  And the nine-year-old took piano lessons.

The piano was in the kids’ playroom.  It had stickers on the keys, brightly coloured little monsters labelled “C”, “C#”, etc.  The daughter would play bits of her lessons for me.  And I fell in love.  From that moment on, I wanted to play piano more than anything in the world.

My mother, still in the hospital, regained enough strength to file divorce papers.  My father returned from the road, and he was to receive temporary custody, because he had a job–even though that job kept him away from us kids for weeks on end.  We left the foster family.  I did not want to leave them.

Curiously, when I started college, as a music major, I was required to take piano lessons, but I had none of the passion I had when I was younger.  Granted, there were many intervening psychological, social, and medical reasons to not want to practise the five hours a week required to earn an A, but there was still no more fire to learn the piano.  Perhaps it was because it went from being an internal desire to an external requirement.  Perhaps it was just a childhood fantasy I shuffled off upon becoming an adult.  Or, perhaps, the piano symbolised a place of peace, of love, of hope, and that symbolism was more important than actually learning to play.

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About Whittier Strong

Whittier Strong is an MFA student in creative writing at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, with a focus in nonfiction. He graduated from Metropolitan State University with a BA in creative writing. He has special interests in sociology and philosophy.

Posted on 27 October, 2011, in Narrative and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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