When I was 5 years old, I was forced to play the piano. I hated piano. One day it just appeared at our house like a thief in the night, never mind the fact that on the back it said “Property of Boston College.” I went to lessons twice a week and I had to practice an hour at home every day. I sat on the stool that creaked just enough to make the hairs on the back of my neck quiver. I placed my fingers over those colorless, dull keys and stared at the foreign language written with dots and lines in front of me. I did what I always did when I was forced to do something I didn’t want to do, I cried. I cried like the piano was a form of child abuse.
My mother sat on the bench next to me, hour after hour, day after day, scream after scream, with shoulders shrugged and her head bowed low. She would breathe in, breath out, and then leave briefly to smoke a cigarette. She had quit cigarettes before I was born then picked the habit up again after I started playing piano. Every day was a battle of pushing me down on that stool and to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for the 40th time. Then one day after an especially loud crying session and an empty pack of cigarettes, my mother proclaimed that I was done. No more piano. No more twinkling stars. Oh, it was music to my ears.
While I had quit playing, the piano stayed in the house for 15 more years, becoming a shelf of knick knacks. My mother would stare at it with her eyes squinted in hatred, her brow furrowed. The piano took up space, it was old, it was beaten up, it was definitely stolen, and it brought back memories of a war that she had lost.
Now 24, I joke about my piano days with her. “It was a nightmare” she tells me, eyes wide and head shaking, “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” She pours a glass of wine and walks out of the room before briefly glancing at the empty space where the piano once sat.
At age 22, my mother snapped. It was as if all the memories hit her at once: the hair pulling, the screaming, the kicking, the flailing, the pounding of the keys, the wrong note hit for the 40th consecutive time, and the amount of money wasted week after week on cigarettes. “I want it out, Richie, NOW!” my mother demanded. My father had put off getting rid of it for years saying the he might want to learn some day. “Bullshit!” My mother replied and cleared all of the knick knacks off the piano and rolled it towards the door. Twenty minutes later it was loaded on the back of my father’s truck and delivered to a family down the street that had a 5 year old daughter who was starting piano lessons.
We haven’t spoke to that family since.