Piano Lessons

*Editors note: this is the third full draft of this story … that I wrote last night … I feel like I’m trying to convey something I haven’t quite got a grip on. It’s like my own little Jane Eyre moment and for now I feel like all I can do is word vomit, so bare with me, and maybe if you see my point in there somewhere could you be so kind as to let me know? Thanks.

I was driving to pick Kamel up late from work on Sunday night when I started thinking about my Piano teacher. It was dark, the music was perfect, the roads were clear, I could have driven forever. I felt like a super hero zooming through the night. And I was thinking about a woman I can’t quite remember the name of.

I took lessons until I was in 7th grade and then I just stopped. I was never going to be amazing and I hated to practice. It bored me and I had better things to do. Now, over ten years later I have to remember that I once played the piano, because sometimes I forget. I have, though, completely forgotten how to read music, I couldn’t tell you which note goes where or what they are supposed to sound like. And now, more than ever, it boggles my mind that I was in this woman’s house (whose name I have also forgotten) for 5 years, every week, and only knew a fraction of who she was. Yet two nights ago, on a dark road, listening to the radio, I realized I must have witnessed, at least peripherally, some major life events.

At first she was living close to my neighborhood, but then a while later she moved farther away, to a bigger house, and I followed her. I was only allowed into certain rooms – not because she told me so, just because I was never taken there.

We had a dog growing up, and when we moved into the house I mostly grew up in, we never took him past the stairs to the kitchen, so he never went any further.

To me her house was only three rooms big, because I was little and my world view was about the same size. But one day I remember there being a man. He was trying to keep out of the way, but for some reason was having difficulty with it. It was like I had been hit over the head. There was a man in my piano teacher’s house. There was another person living there. Had I just never noticed before? Suddenly I was aware there was a life for her outside of what I was allowed to see.

Did that boyfriend eventually move out? I think so. Did another move in? I feel like I remember that as well. Did she eventually get married? This is a possibility. Did she have another form of income? I have no idea.

There were other things, too. Like how I eventually carpooled with a classmate to her house. How her mother made me feel like a charity case by driving every other Monday. How much I hated having her there to watch my lessons half the time, how I felt she was looking to compare me to her daughter, trying to see that her daughter was better than I was, more talented, somehow seeking to justify the expense of the class through my mistakes.

I spent a lot of time as a kid confused, only understanding half of what was happening around me, only understanding the base of social nuance, but never the how or the why. And I don’t think it gets easier as an adult; navigating the space other people allow you to see, working within the confines of other people’s expectations of you. When I remember myself at seven or eight or nine I’m able to piece it all together so clearly; the jealousy, the resentment, the power struggle and politics even within the adults at my elementary school. Why I wasn’t invited here or there, why some houses were messier, why some families more disorganized. I see it play out in front of me and at the same time still feel that childhood bewilderment.

Driving in the dark on a Sunday night I still can only see those three rooms in my Piano Teacher’s house. As an adult I can now make guesses and draw parallels, but I’m still limited to a seven year old’s interpretation of a woman I don’t remember the name of.

15 thoughts on “Piano Lessons”

  1. I have odd snapshots of childhood memories too. I know if I could relive them as an adult, I’d understand a lot more of the politics, social interactions, and consequences better. But my memory is a foggy window. I can’t quite see through it and figure out what I’m looking at.

  2. I think I was in your brain or something. “And I don’t think it gets easier as an adult; navigating the space other people allow you to see, working within the confines of other people’s expectations of you.”
    I was just thinking yesterday about how so much of who we are as a person is influenced and created by the people around us. I kept trying to envision the type of person I would be if I had grown up alone, or would I even care. Would trying to define myself even be an issue? Anyway, I know that may not have been the point of your post, it’s just been something on my mind and it jumped out at me.

  3. I’m fascinated by this, not only by the fact that it resonates so much with you, but the image of your piano teacher. If I were her, I’d adore still being in your mind, even if just in the far reaches of it as a shadow.
    I’m also fascinated by the fact that you not being able to remember much about her has turned her into a figure of romance in my own mind… She might have been boring or uninteresting in real life, but just the fact that you chose to write about her makes her larger than life and someone who now lives in my mind too.
    That’s kinda amazing…

    1. I think that’s prettier than what I came up with Alyssa!! 🙂 I’m loving all of this insight. I hadn’t quite worked out what I wanted to say but the deadline was looming, so there it is. But I love all of these angles and thoughts.

      1. Don’t TELL me that, pretend it was your angle all along! 🙂

        Besides, that’s why we write, right? (HA! See what I did there?) To give birth to these little ideas and stories and images, and then to watch them run off and make little ideas and stories of their own…
        Honestly, I could see you turning this into something bigger. Your piano teacher represents all those hidden pockets of reality you were shielded from, and the ones people thought you were hidden from but discovered on your own.
        I could so see this as the beginning as one of those exploratory type novels, with the cover being “The Piano Teacher” and the picture of a misty figure behind a thick plate glass door…
        Look, I have you published and your cover art already!

        1. ahh hahaha. Yes. Part of why this blog exists is as a platform for me to work through some of my unformed images and ideas. But input from the outside world is VITAL and I greatly appreciate your mind. I may make a story board now with some foggy business happening.

          Also I need to reply to your email. Once I stop feverishly re-writing some things for work I am ON IT. 😉

        2. “Your piano teacher represents all those hidden pockets of reality you were shielded from, and the ones people thought you were hidden from but discovered on your own.”

          Yes! I was thinking this as well. Only it wasn’t coming out so pretty, so thank you. And to add to that, yeah, my feeling was that there is sadness in the realization of those realities that we are shielded from (like there was this whole world i didn’t know about because what I remember about this time is x, y, and z, which was so present in the 7 year old mind). Also, i thought it interesting that you thought of her at THIS particular time in your life. Like, why now? But maybe that’s the psychologist in me. I can’t hide from it!

      1. you know what part i cut out? her discussion with me about a painting she had that represented Macbeth. I couldn’t get it right, and it was totally disturbing as a 7 year old… but maybe I should have left it haha. I’ll add it for the book rendition 😉

        1. SEE?? What kind of awesome woman discusses art and Macbeth with a seven year old?!?

          I’m really excited about this piano teacher in your head. She’s amazing.

  4. Lauren, this is amazing.

    Sometimes when I can’t sleep at night I love to do this, to really look at a memory and see what I felt at that time, and then zoom out a bit and look at it with my more experienced self.

    It’s always incredible, and I always wonder what I will see when I do so to the memories I am forming now.

  5. I had a similar thought to Alyssa when I read this – how your teacher would probably love to read this story and know that you remember her. This is a thing I’m really fascinated by – the idea that people who had sort of “character roles” in our lives stay with us and live on through our imaginings. I like to think of the people who I’ve played that role for and know that every once in a while, they think of me too. Makes the world less impersonal.

  6. i go through this as well…i’ve played piano for 18 years and have had as many piano teachers and it’s odd how much my brain has blocked some of them…because i didn’t like a few…i didn’t feel comfortable with others…and when you’re a child, there’s hardly anything comforting about being in a strange adult’s house. with children, as jerry seinfeld says, it just takes being in close proximity to one another to become friends, “you’re my friend..” with adults, bridging the gap is much more difficult and some of my weirdest, out of the blue memories come from taking and giving lessons to strangers….the weird smells of that old lady’s house…how that one younger guy teacher used to flirt with my married mom (unbeknown to her)…were there york peppermint patties just growing on trees behind that one lady’s house?!

    i get where you’re coming from, in short, the memories that make their way to the surface, whether you actively remember them or not…

  7. So … I’ve done my reflecting, and I’m still not sure why this hits me so deep. That being said … it does.

    Reading about your memories gets me thinking about my own: how I got there, made it here, and who helped me. And in a time of questioning everything (what do I want?), it’s both comforting and unsettling to look back at everything and try to find the lines that are woven through … and see where they lead.

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