My Piano

When I was seven years old, my father bought me a brand new piano. It was an amazing gift for a child so young. I loved every key of it. I loved the discipline and stubbornness required for its mastery. I loved the powerful simplicity of its technique. I loved the way my emotions flowed freely through my fingers when I played, voicing my feelings in ways that could be heard and remembered. I loved my piano.After my family broke up, somehow, amazingly, my piano found its way back to me. It was the most ostentatious element of the many humble places we lived. My mother recognized the importance of my piano in my life. Somehow, though we couldn’t afford lessons, we managed to keep it properly tuned. We closely monitored the humidity and lovingly polished its shining wood finish. During this period we moved more often than once a year, but my piano always moved with us. It was a symbol to me of the real family I once had. It was a future piece of the real family I would one day build again.When I was sixteen I left home for good. Mom made it clear to me that my piano could not stay. School rules prohibited me from taking it with me to the dorm. My piano needed a home, so I turned to my aunt for help. She had an older piano which she was dissatisfied with. She loved to play; she had taught me several songs. She would take care of it for me. She knew what it meant to me.I could not come back for it for a few years. When I finally had a real home, I returned for my piano. My aunt ran out to meet me and said, “Lisa, you’re going to be so angry when you see what the boys did to your piano!” She led me to a basement room where the shell of my old friend stood, smashed to pieces as if with hammers. It was damaged beyond repair.As an adult, I found it easier to hide my anger than before. Listening to my aunt’s rambling explanation, I was astonished by her lack of remorse and personal responsibility. “You have no idea how hard it is for me to live with them,” she said of her own sons. “They are horrible!” As a child, my aunt had seemed larger than life to me. To my grown-up eyes, she was small and weak. I had mistakenly believed that because there was no violence there, her house was whole. Now I realized that the circle of my aunt’s world was small and growing ever smaller. Her insanity, though less apparent than my mom’s was just as insidious. Finally, my anger hung limp at my side like a broken arm. With whom could I be angry?Could I be angry with my cousins? What about her oldest son? He was much closer than a cousin to me. He was like a much younger brother. In some ways he was like the son I would never have. I was already thirteen when my cousin was born. My aunt’s pregnancy was the first one I was able to watch up close. We spent many hours talking about what life would be like for her when the baby came. She showed me pictures of fetal development, explaining what was happening at every stage. I looked forward to his birth like Christmas, counting down the days! When my aunt and uncle finally brought home their precious bundle from the hospital, I thought my heart would burst open with joy and pride. I slept on their couch for two weeks, helping. I woke through the night to bring him to her for feedings, diapered him, rocked him, sang him silly, made-up songs full of his own name, and generally marveled at his perfection.My cousin was a second chance for me. I felt already badly damaged, bent and unable to be straightened again. My cousin was fresh and whole, smart and alive. He was someone like me, from my neighboring gene pool, with a shot at a real life. Surely growing up in a home with two parents, a home without violence, my cousin could make it. He was my do-over. I couldn’t be mad at my cousin any more than I could be mad at myself.In the years that followed, I grew away from my family. For several years I wandered the planet; literally and figuratively traveling half-way around the world. It was as if I thought physical distance could remove me from the stinging pain of the childhood abuse I had suffered. No matter where I wandered, the pain wandered with me. It grew duller but deeper as the years passed and I grew expert at ignoring it.Eventually I started my own family and put down roots. I wanted stability, wholeness and sanity for my children. Now, I have lived in my house almost three times longer than I have ever lived in one place in my life. Sometimes, the roots I have always longed for pull me down too deeply. I think wistfully about running, packing up with my family and taking off to somewhere new, where the bad feelings and memories will be temporarily unable to find me. But my love for my daughters pulls me back. I want better for them, like I wanted for my cousin.About three years ago I got an unexpected call from my sister. Early that morning they had found my cousin’s body. He had gotten up before daylight and downloaded instructions on the internet for tying a noose. He had gone out back to the woods we had once loved so much, and hanged himself from a tree blind. When she found him, my aunt vainly pushed up on his legs while her new husband tried to loosen the rope from my cousin’s neck. She yelled, screamed and cried at him, ordering him to live. But it was too late. His brain was damaged beyond repair.Even as I write these words, my feelings elude me. I feel nothing. I feel empty. I hope one day my heart will heal enough to feel sad about my cousin. I hope one day to find a sense of meaning in his selfish act. The injustice overwhelms me. With what cosmic agency can I lodge my complaint? With whom can I be angry?To resent means to feel again. I want the opposite. I want to relieve, not to relive. Having individually released and forgiven each person who hurt me, the burden of my pain remains. I’m stuck in a way I don’t understand. My pain stands as a barrier between my God and me, preventing me from fully feeling and accepting His Love. Who is left for me to blame? At whom can I point my angry finger?


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