The One Where I Buy a Piano

piano

Y’all.

I bought a piano.

My own real, live piano, with perfect keys that are heavy and smooth under my fingers.

I love it.

***

I’m not a talented musician (see my brother for that). I. But since I was nine, this instrument has been a refuge for me and whatever hurricane of feeling I’m dealing with at the moment – stress, anger, sadness, joy – it has room for all of them.

For someone who spends a lot of my life trying to find the right words, it’s an enormous relief to just sit down and emote without language. When I feel like the world is closing in around me, the piano bench is like this safe pocket of space, a kind of bunker where I can shelter for a while.

And for me, the piano is also about love.

I started taking piano lessons from Ms. Betty when I was nine and lived next door. I still remember tripping across the yard to her house that August evening, a shy and neurotic little 4th grader. She was completely sweet and enthusiastic and I liked her right away. 

I already loved music, but she taught me how to channel it. Not through all the theory exercises and classical pieces – though those were a part of it – but through her own passion for playing. One night when I was ten, she was trying to teach me to play a waltz– “it says legato, smoothly”–and it just wasn’t getting through to me. She finally said, “Anna, this is a waltz. The men are in top hats. The women are in lovely dresses. But the way you are playing it, they are also wearing lumberjack boots.” I thought this was hilarious. And suddenly I understood what it meant to not just play the notes, but to feel them.

Somewhere along the way, she became my second mother. I would run to her after a fight with my mom, and she would somehow manage to make me feel that she completely understood me, and not say anything bad about my parents. She came to see me in plays and cried with me when my cat died. For nine years, she was a weekly constant in my life, a safe place (even when I hadn’t practiced).
          She died my junior year of college. She was young, 52 maybe. I saw her twice that fall after the diagnosis, both times in the hospital. The first time, she was chatty, positive. The second time, she couldn’t speak for the pain.
          In our lessons, she used to say, “Anna, promise me you’ll never stop playing.” We both knew the promise wasn’t about talent–Jim was the one pounding out the Rachmaninoff pieces. But I hope, I think she saw that I loved playing like she did.
          And that’s why I bought a piano.

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