Below is the essay I will be getting published. So very excited to get something published in Caesura (IWU’s Literary magazine) as a freshman. Originally, I wrote this as an in-class essay. My prof liked it, I liked it, so I fixed it up and submitted it to Caesura. Yippee. If you care to read, here it is:
I love those quiet moments at the piano, when I can hear the swell and fall of my lungs inside my chest and feel the tickle in my ears from the buzzing lights above me. I come alive, finally and fully, as I hover over the glowing keys, dry the sweat from my clammy palms, and place my knowing fingers wherever they must go. I breathe deeply, so deeply that inside of me, something roars awake. That’s when the questions begin. Am I ready? I turn my head, searching for rescue, and when she nods at me, I know I am ready to leap again. I’ve seen that glow in her eyes before. She believes more than I do—she knows. I smile. Swallow. Breathe again. Where is the air? And then the notes come dripping from my fingers. I can breathe again. I am flying.
I could tell many stories about times when I stood on the edge, looking down at the distance I could fall and shakily turning back. I’ve been a coward many times, but not with music. I was trained to jump. There would always be someone to catch me. For many years of my life, that ‘someone’ was Mrs. Matthews. I remember my little white socks bouncing step by step on her squishy green carpet on the way to her big black piano. I remember how her warm hands would rest on mine, prompting me to surrender, to let her move for me. In this way, I learned how to draw a bow across a violin string. I learned how to “tickle” the piano keys instead of sputtering out of control in the way my arrogant little hands had done so many times. I remember how her gentle voice would lead me away from the keys, only to watch those same keys that I couldn’t tame stay close at her side, like a dog on a leash. I watched her sway like a flower in the wind when the music struck her hard. I watched her jump. And before long, I felt her push me off that cliff of mediocrity into an endless pit of excellence. She taught me as I fell, and before long, wings budded from my stiff shoulders, and I learned to fly.
There was one thing a person never did with Mrs. Matthews, and that was give up. Her eyes got fiery and sparks went sputtering out and singed me each of the many times I used the phrase, “I can’t!” And when she placed Debussy’s Arabesque in front of me and bid me, “Read it.”, I was finally convinced that I’d found proof that she had gone mad—clearly she had fabricated the idea of even the faintest ability within me to play a piece which demanded such nuance and technique. Even so, we started off slowly. I would try, fail, try, fail, get sassy with her, complain, fail, and then…I was playing it! Instead of kicking and screaming all the way to the piano, I would go there willingly to look down at my pale hands and rub the purple scars from the shackles that were once there—bitter reminders of the insecurity and fear of failure which had always been my demons. Somewhere in the midst of the beastly chords on page three of the piece, I realized that this felt so good. With each terrifying trip to the piano, and with every “NOPE. Play that again!”, those scars began to fade, and musical muscle grew around them. I was ready for the State Competition.
Remember how I said I like quiet moments? Well, I had one of those in the middle of March, 2008 at the piano in a competition room in Indianapolis. Mrs. Matthews wasn’t there this time. It was just me and my wings. I walked in wobbly—the whole time trying to dry the cold sweat on my sleek black dress pants. After I did that enough times, I found myself at the piano. There it was, staring at me daringly. I think I heard it say, “Are you going to jump?”, but it’s hard to be sure because the bass drum in my chest was echoing wildly in my ears. My pulse had to have been like a raging river inside me, but I turned ghostly white anyway. Many of the details of the room escape me. Maybe it’s because I rejected them as unnecessary. Maybe it’s because I have a bad memory, but I think the better reason is that all I saw in that room was another cliff to jump from. So when the judge told me to warm up, I turned into a robot and played the same scale Mrs. Matthews had made me play much more often than I had wanted to. Despite all the times I had protested ignorantly, I finally learned in that little room in March as the scale fell effortlessly from my fingers, that she had been right. I think the judge agreed because she smiled all too knowingly at me. Maybe she had made students do the same thing. Or, maybe she saw my wings and remembered being in my place. Either way, the room began to feel very empty. The judge seemed further away, and the piano grew, as if under a magnifying glass. If there had been anyone else in that room at that moment, they would have heard a rustle, and watched my hair go wooshing forward as my wings came out and I began to play. I surrendered to the many notes I had memorized months earlier. I offered my hands to them, and they helped me dance. And there I was, sitting there in all of my eighth grade awkwardness swirling and twirling from octave to octave. Breathing had never been easier as I leaned forward into arpeggios and drew back with the sweetness of musical nuances. When I stopped playing, it was ever so reluctantly. Was it over? I folded my wings back where they’d been, and walked from that class room knowing that if I’d fallen from that cliff of mediocrity, it had been gracefully.
Every now and then, we discover that the scariest things are the most beautiful ones. The impossibilities that once kept us in chains become the birds outside our windows chirping loudly at dawn, beckoning us to jump out of bed and fall into excellence. At the piano that day in March, I may have been ignorant about many things—even things about myself—but I also realized how badly I wanted my wings. I learned that my heart had been beating all along for a chance to soar. That was the day my hands stopped sweating and latched on to the keys. I haven’t let go ever since.