The piano, I mean.
I had my first formal piano lesson when I was six; began tinkering with the ivory keys when I was two, I think. When I was growing up, hungry to impress the adults in my family, I almost convinced myself that I wanted to be a concert pianist. It was a goal that, obviously, got sidetracked by other things; but it was one that I sluggishly worked on until I was about to finish high school. I remember beginning many Saturday afternoons (when it was time to go to my piano teacher’s house for a lesson) hiding in my closet. I hoped with all my might that behind my dresses was a portal into a parallel universe where pianos and teachers didn’t exist.
There wasn’t. And the piano managed to stay in my life. Recitals were the worst. My first piano teacher – who put bottle caps on the back of my hands to train me to keep my wrists up – also taught at a big school. So whenever their recital season came up, I would always find my name on the program. There I would be backstage, itching in the stockings that my mother insisted I use, wondering how I got there. Most of the time, I managed to actually plunk out a piece. I even got applause (I think the loudest always came from my grandfather who, at each recital, sat in the wings, recording my playing in his dinosaur-era cassette recorder), and got into some “Best of the Best” recitals when I was older. But at recitals, there were always others who were in a league of their own. I remember being blown away by a blind boy who played Fur Elise perfectly. Now he had a goal.
Rebellion and the slow realization that becoming a concert pianist wasn’t really my thing took over in college and the piano lessons stopped. But I kept playing. Without the pressure of formal piano lessons, I found that I actually liked playing. Many times, I would play in the dark, when everyone else was asleep. I’d play until my heart sang with my fingers; until everything, but my piano and I, ceased to exist.
Many moves later and my piano is back in the province, where our intertwined lives started. Since it relocated, I’ve been on the lookout for a piano to play on. (I became a regular lunch guest at a Spanish restaurant that had a piano, back when I was slaving over my first job.)
Last week, meeting some friends for lunch, we chanced upon a baby grand piano on a platform, obviously to attract buyers. I ignored it – it was 10 years since I last played. I was rusty and didn’t want anyone to hear my fingers stumble over the keys. But then, later on, I went back. It felt different – the piano was perfectly tuned but it felt too new. Nevertheless, I did some scales and then a real piece. I got lost in it – a smattering of polite applause jetted me back to the present.
I thought I’d never stop.