On Saturday, I bought myself a piano.
I don't know how to explain what this is like -- living with a piano, suddenly -- except to compare it to righting a chemical imbalance. I didn't know that all this time I could feel it gone.
I have experienced a lot of loss. Which is a dramatic thing to say, but sometimes life is dramatic. If I put it into stark perspective, without emotional exposition, it's quite plain to see:
My parents lost the house I grew up in. After an 18-year stretch in the same house, after wild financial comings and goings, the bank foreclosed on our home. The house itself was warm and comforting and always, always full of laughter and music.
The house had served as our familial glue, whatever upset rattled its walls. And then the glue dissipated.
We'd...our family's response to the foreclosure mimicked that of a family whose just lost one of its members. My parents couldn't stay in the area for all the memories. So they left.
They moved to a falling-apart farmhouse in New Hampshire -- a sorry replacement that never quite lived up to its designation as "home." And while the house was large enough to store all our stuff from before, all the accumulations of my parents and me and my sisters lives, much just stayed in boxes. Material possessions, evidence that we had lived well together for two decades, was relegated to boxes and closets and a basement I never once set foot in.
There is much more to be said about this shift in my family's life, but I'm trying to hurry up and get to the point.
I saw a therapist for a while when I first moved to San Francisco. I tried to explain to her how the house had come to mean so much to us, to my parents and my mom in particular. It was nearly her fourth child, I said.
"That must have been a devastating loss for her," my therapist said.
"It was," I said.
"How did she ever get over it?" my therapist asked, knowing full well the answer. The answer that hadn't ever occurred to me in such a light.
"She -- didn't."
Not three years after the move, my mother fell ill and died of cancer.
A year after that, my father decided to downsize. (No need to be in that house, the Our House From Connecticut Redux that never really was.) And then we, without my mom, were left to the task of going through all of the stuff. Newer stuff unfit for my dad's even newer place, old stuff still packed from the move a few years before.
We kept what we could, but much had been ruined. Everything that had been set in the basement was molded and dusty and wet and gone. The things we could salvage went then into storage, but not enough. We lost baby clothes. We lost prom dresses. We lost souvenirs. We lost piano music.
We may very well have given all of that stuff away at some point. We just never had the choice.
Again, to put it plainly: we lost our livelihood and we lost our house and we lost our mother and we lost our stuff.
When my father was then settled in his new place, the stuff that did remain had been divided. Dad had enough to make his a home. Much of the rest was fit only for a dumpster. A few remaining pieces went to Healy -- she was the only one of us living in a house. And Sam and I took trinkets.
Dad had the piano in his new place. But like everything else we'd owned, it had been sorely neglected. It is one thing to tend to the upkeep of a house and home you want and love. It is quite another to expend effort maintaining something you resent to your core. It wasn't the house in New Hampshire's fault that everything fell away there. Sometimes we'd play the piano in the new-old livingroom, but it didn't fill the house with the same kind of music it had before when we were happy. And then after mom died, we hardly played it at all.
By the time the piano got to my father's place, it was so out of tune and warped as to be un-fixable. Still sometimes, just because, my dad would play. He had such an unexpected talent at it -- he played with so much passion and ridiculously over-the-top flourishes that you couldn't help but be delighted.
Oh, but the out-of-tune-ness was nothing short of heartbreaking.
And then he got sick, too. And we lost him, too.
It was over. The relics from our first home, and second, and Dad's third were distributed. Some were gotten rid of completely. And when all that remained from our once-life was cleared out for good, the defunct piano was destroyed, and most of the piano music was gone.
* * * * * * * * *
My mother -- whose father and uncle were professional musicians -- insisted on a musical household. I took piano lessons for over nine years. I also played the clarinet and still sing. My sisters both took piano, both sing, and for a while there, Healy also played the cello and trumpet while Samantha played the viola and guitar.
Many nights were spent in our living room, playing piano and singing with family and friends. At Christmastimes, the house nearly burst at the seams from endless, heartfelt, and booming caroling.
And right. It is a cliche and it is also the truth: when we lost so much, the music just stopped.
When I moved into my own house with my then-husband, we had the good fortune to be given a piano by Hakuna (my best friend's mom). I loved, loved, loved to have it. But I hardly played it. I was living in that house while my mother's health failed, and then when she was dying. And I didn't want to play.
Couldn't bring myself to, if you want to know the truth.
I was steeped in my family's losses, and then in my own. My marriage crumbled, just like that, and I lost my own house, too, just like that.
So I did the only thing I could think of to do: I went somewhere new, somewhere I had nothing, somewhere I'd have nothing that could be taken from me.
I moved to San Francisco with clothes and trinkets. I left my furniture for my husband, and my piano for my sister.
* * * * * * *
We have all been rebuilding.
We play the piano at Healy's at Christmastime now, and it's joyous.
Healy is teaching musical theatre to children.
Samantha is marrying a musician, and they have recorded at least one for-family-only CD.
I started an a cappella group years ago as a way to slowly and informally bring music back into my life.
But going out and getting a piano? That is quite something.
It seems that, when I wasn't paying attention, my insides changed. Somewhere along the way I stopped thinking of the piano as something else I'd lost, and started thinking of it as something I was missing. I missed having a piano, I missed playing, I missed the music. I don't need a therapist to tell me that this is a good thing.
So finally, with a little bit of money I'd set aside, with the right apartment and space and emotional grounding, I did it. I stopped being afraid to own a possession that might be taken away. (In fact, that wasn't even a fear of mine, though a few years ago it would have been.) I don't care that I may never be able to play as well as I did when I was 17 -- I don't really care if I never play it well at all. That isn't the point; I have done enough grieving.
I went out in search of the piano on Saturday morning, and by late Saturday afternoon it was in my livingroom. (The fates may have been smiling.) It isn't by any means fancy, but it is by every means a welcome addition to my home.
That last statement would have served to be a fine ending to this post, but there's more.
To bring this all full circle, to bring my history and my past and my life here in SF all together, there is more I should say.
I hate that we lost so much of our sheet music. I was going to say it's stupid, but it's not. It's the difference between reading Shakespeare from a new, slick-coated paperback with images of current movie stars on the cover versus reading Hamlet from the book your grandmother used in college, yellowed with time and smelling the way only old books can. I can buy "Learn to Play" books in my local music store, but they aren't the same and I hate them and their modernity.
I had resigned myself to the notion that it was all lost, our old sheet music. We'd lost the books I learned to play from, like the bright orange Leila Fletcher learner I both loathed and adored. We'd lost those binders my father had collected his sheet music in -- his collection of sappy love songs from the 70s and 80s that I never played or liked or knew, but that filled so much of our livingroom shelves, waiting for the time he'd feel like playing one for her.
But on Saturday, just after I'd gotten the piano, I realized most glorious thing. I can't have those very things back, but I can come really close.
Life and times have changed and now we blog and now there's eBay and wouldn't you know it? There are people selling entire collections of crazy sheet music from the 70s and old-timey favorites from the 40s and Leila Fletcher(!) and fake books and pretty much everything else.
So I bought those, too. I went online, because it is 2008, and even though I spent almost nothing, I'm going to have plenty of the things I used to have. The things we used to have. It won't be the same in many senses, but in the only sense that matters, I will have an abundance of sheet music. I will have a collection of songs I might learn to play someday. I will, again, not only have music right in front of me, but I will have music all around me, waiting for me to indulge.
I again have music, past, present and future, right here in my apartment.
Right here in my home.