“It was a good recital, not that it matters, not now. I remember that last note I struck, it was a C#, and the note hung in the air, the piece didn’t seem finished, and it wasn’t supposed to be.”
Keys — Life is Just a String of Keys
My fingers traced along the keys making a slow, soft melody. I don’t really remember what I was playing, something famous, maybe Swan Lake, but that wasn’t important. I remember the cool feeling as I touched the smooth keys. I was wearing a dress I think, something white, white and purple. The whole room smelled of lilacs and my music flowed out of the keys into the eager audience’s ears. It was a good recital, not that it matters, not now. I remember that last note I struck, it was a C#, and the note hung in the air, the piece didn’t seem finished, and it wasn’t supposed to be. There was a bang, a loud bang, but after that there was only silence. They took me to the hospital. I remember the flashing lights, they were red. I remember laying motionless, my hand bloodstream stopped for a moment, wanting to speak, and I could have, but I couldn’t find the courage. Hushed whispers in the hospital. The doctor and my parents talking. And now here. Trying to fall asleep in this plastic covered hospital bed. My hand laying motionless beside me, fingers limp, pale and lifeless. Never to be used again was what I heard the doctor say. Finally, I remembered the writhing pain when the piano cover slammed on my hand, the hand that was once a hand. As a bellybutton is worthless after you’ve been born, my hand is worthless after it’s been crushed.
The room smells of medicine, fake water, acids to put inside people, to help them. No natural cold water, nourishing to the touch. The wallpaper has teddybears on them, creepy teddy bears holding hearts. I don’t like it. There is no music, the place is dead, cold, silent. I’m going home tomorrow. They’ve done as much as they can, they say. They say. How different it will feel to be home, to see the piano I once played sitting there, reminding me on everything i’ve lost. Reminding me of that day, that fateful day.
I wake up to the nurse’s face hovering over mine, smiling and cooing as if I was a baby. I was awake most of last night, thinking. The nurse grabs a red plastic tray and puts it on my lap. I see a loaf of stale bread, pudding, and some sort of nectary, sticky juice. I push the tray away. The nurse pulls a clementine from behind her back. She speaks, but to me, she doesn’t say a word. I don’t care enough to listen. I just want to go home. I still take the clementine and peel it. It is juicy. I smile at her. I feel like a child who lost their voice.
My parents stayed in a hotel near the hospital. The airport was nearby. They sat on the edge of my bed and told me about how they heard planes whooshing by all night. It’s nice to know that i’m not the only one who barely slept last night. I knew they wanted me to speak, as they looked at me with anxious eyes brimming with hope. I felt so sick, even though I wasn’t. Not talking made everything seem so much worse. But I couldn’t bring myself to speak, I couldn’t.
They took me to the car. When I got up and took a step, it felt wobbly, almost like the legs I was standing on weren’t mine. As I exited the hospital and smelled the fresh air, it felt like I had woken up from a nightmare. It was a cloudy day. The sky was full of gray blotches. As I put one foot into the car, It began to rain. Cold, wet raindrops fell down to the ground, pouring themselves towards everything, like tiny cannonballs. The nurse and the doctor, crouched down trying to stop themselves from getting wet, they all beckoned for me to get into the car. I slowly drew my foot out, and looking up at the sky, I smiled. I smiled, I laughed. I laughed.
It stopped raining. They helped me into the backseat of the car. As we drove away, I rolled open the window and watched as the hospital waved goodbye. My parents didn’t talk for the whole time. I liked the silence. It made it seem less unnatural for me to not talk. As we rolled down Maple Street. Memories began to flood into my mind. Things that I could never do anymore. I could never ride my skateboard, the doctor said it was too much of a risk, no more Friday family bike rides, no more piano. I closed the window and looked straight at the gray seat in front of me. There was no point of looking at something I could never enjoy in the same way. The seat in front of me never changed. Sure, it can be shifted forwards and backwards, but it was something you could always count on to never take you by surprise when you looked at it. Maple Street was full of surprises.
As we pulled into the driveway and my mom accounted that we were home in a bright, cheery voice. I wasn’t as excited as I thought I would be. When I swung open the chestnut wood door and looked inside, everything looked different. I had known before that living at home would never be the same, but looking at the things I had always appreciated in life made me have almost no feeling towards them. I ran into the living room looking for the big black piano that once stood there, but it was gone. A lead weight dropped to the bottom of my stomach and I turned to my parents for explanation. They looked guiltily at each other and told me that they got rid of it. The said that they didn’t want me to see it and be upset about what I had lost. They said that I couldn’t play anymore. They said there was no point.
I remembered. I was 2. It was Christmas. Under the tree was a keyboard- a baby keyboard in a big red ribbon. The first time I ever struck a note was that day. It was a C#. By the time I turned 4, I had memorized the whole keyboard. I could name any note and play it. I played simple songs until I was 5. Symphonies came between 6 and 7. That was when I got a grand piano. Recitals came at 8. Awards. Ribbons. First place. Second. Practicing everyday at age 9. Then one more recital. Still 9. No more piano.
I should have ran upstairs and slammed the door to my room in my parent’s faces, but I only had one hand. So, I slowly walked, step by step up the staircase and into my room. My room had always been painted light purple. I had always told my parents how much I wanted red walls, red, my favorite color. Right now, I couldn’t care in the least what color my walls were. But when I stepped into my room, the walls were painted bright firetruck red. The color of the paint sample I showed my parents every time we went into a hardware store. They had always said, maybe someday. I looked around my red, blushing room and into the white mirror on the wall. I smiled. My room looked like me. I saw in the mirror my red bushy hair, my blue eyes, my freckles, and I saw this beautiful red, and I smiled. Red was the color of love, of life, of fireworks, red sparks flashing in the sky, deep red was the color of everything mixed together to make a murky, lazy mixture of beauty and blood. I was red.
I took a nap. I don’t know how long I slept, I didn’t know what time I fell asleep, but I woke up to a dark window, my arm pulsing in pain under the bandage. On the foot of my bed was a typed note and my old baby keyboard. The note said-
We’re sorry honey
Found this in the garage
Love, Mom and Dad
I felt the keys with my one hand, and the pain stopped in the other. I began to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with one hand. It sounded like an elephant stepping on my keyboard, all the right notes, sounding wrong. The song felt incomplete without the harmony. The melody needs something else. The melody needed the other hand. I wanted to get out of bed and slam the keyboard to the ground, but I couldn’t, not with one hand. I lay back, closed my eyes and they filled with tears. I wanted to wipe them away but I didn’t have enough hands. I fell asleep with dried tears on my face.
When I opened my eyes, my mom was sitting on the right side on the bed, and my dad on the left. They were both looking worried, but relief flashed through their faces when I sat up in bed. I could tell right away what my mom was thinking, thank god she’s not dead. How weak did they think I was! Then I remembered, I was so weak, I couldn’t even pull up the feathery covers from my bed. Helping me out of bed was the hard part, as they could only hold one of my hands. The hospital gave us some chair that can be raised up so I can just scoot into it to get off my bed. As I hopped down to the floor, I smelled eggs and bacon cooking in a pan downstairs. As I sniffed, I glanced at my parents and saw them mouthing to each other. When they noticed me looking at them, they helped me downstairs muttering something to me in muffled voices.
My parents sat me down in a chair and started feeding me. I tried to pull their hands full of spoons away from me, I didn’t want to have to be fed. I can’t be this helpless. I tried to tell them to stop, but I didn’t speak or say a word. They shoved more and more food into my mouth, stuffing me like a turkey. I started pushing with my one hand more violently, they were feeding me too fast. They didn’t get the message. I tried to get up from my chair but they still didn’t understand. It was… it was scary. Scary knowing that my parents could accidentally hurt me. Finally, they understood. I was helped up and I slowly walked into the downstairs bathroom, crying. I felt like a stupid baby. I had to be fed, and cared for, and everyone had to always watch me. I just wanted my life back. So there I sat, in the bathroom crying, making everything feel more babyish than it did already.
Once I lowered the sound of my crying, I heard my parents talking in the kitchen, saying something about how it’s not safe for me to not want to talk, something about taking me to therapy. I took a deep breath, and stepped out of the bathroom. Looking my parents right in the eye, I sat down, and using my one working hand, I spooned the hot eggs into my mouth. My parents stared at me in awe, and I finished up my plate and slowly walked my way upstairs into my room.
My parents barely said anything to me after that all day. I think they were embarrassed for thinking that I was so helpless. I found a way to feed my cat, Barley one-handed. I guess for everything now, I have to find a way. Some things though, are better off left alone. I’m trying to not think about this, but deep inside, I don’t think it’s bad that my parents got rid of my piano. I have to learn to cope without it. Maybe, well maybe. I don’t know. Maybe if I can eat one-handed, I can play one-handed. Really, I know this is not possible. It’s better off left alone.
After my parents said goodnight, I didn’t really go to sleep. I clumsily tried to take a box from under my bed. It took me a minute, but once I pulled it out, I found a way to slide it open and take out my scrapbook. I slid onto the chair and put my foot on the “raise” pedal. After laying in bed comfortably, or semi-comfortably, I used my one hand to turn the first page of the book. There were pictures of the first time I rode my skateboard, when I fell off and broke my leg. There was a picture of me in the hospital, surrounded by flowers and friends, with a laughing smile on my face. There was a picture of everyone signing my cast. I closed the book. Maybe that’s what I needed. I looked so happy in that picture, yet I was injured. Yes, it wasn’t as serious as this, and yes, I was only 6, but I could at least try, try to be happy.
I woke up the next morning with the scrapbook open on my lap, no covers on me. My parents weren’t there. I looked at the alarm clock and saw that the time was 9:00 AM. Something wasn’t right. My parents told me they would wake me up every morning. I crept out of my room and saw my mom sleeping peacefully in their bed, but my dad was gone. I shivered and crept down the staircase slowly, but stopped as I noticed my dad in a red robe standing by the window. I crouched to the ground and watched as my dad turned around. He was smoking a cigarette with a black tip. He dropped it to the ground and grounded it with his foot. He walked over to the computer and hesitantly began to type an email. Closing the computer, he headed towards the staircase. I tried to crouch lower so he wouldn’t see me, but it was too late. He gave me a look that had no definite expression, and saying nothing, he picked me up and carried me back into my room.
I’ve never seen my dad smoke before. I don’t really know what to think. What if…? No, I tell myself, pushing the thought away. I knew I needed something to distract me from life itself. Things were getting way too complicated. My mom slowly walks into my room and sits down next to me on my bed. She is silent and so am I. Then she wraps her arms around me and gives me a tight squeeze for no reason, or for every reason. She holds on tight, and when it seems like she will never let go, she does. She looks at me with a small smile and brushes my red hair away from my eyes. I watch as my mom walks over to my drawer and takes out a red sequined shirt and gold shorts. After helping me put them on, she leaves the room, still smiling in a strange way. She seems to be hinting for me to follow her, so I do. I follow her to the staircase, but then she steps aside allowing me to see… Lulu. Lulu. Lulu the angel. Lulu the perfect doll. Lulu, the girl with the long blonde hair. Lulu the perfect. Lulu the gentle. Lulu the sensitive. Lulu the sincere. Lulu, my best friend. I race down the stairs, while my mom looks at me in horror, worried I will trip and fall. Lulu runs to the bottom of the staircase to meet me, and we awkwardly hug, or at least try.
I wish I was ready, ready to talk, to tell Lulu everything, about my life, my problems, everything I’ve cried about and laughed about since I last saw her. Last saw her… My face changes from daylight to darkness. When I last saw her. At my piano recital. She hands me her rose bouquet, not understanding my change in mood. Red roses. My favorite. I throw them to the ground with my one hand, and run back upstairs. I don’t know what excuses my mom gave for my “rude behavior” to Lulu and her parents. I don’t know what time Lulu left, and I don’t know if she cried- but knowing Lulu, she probably did. I felt guilty right after it. I ran downstairs and clumsily picked up the roses. She had just been trying to be a good friend. I felt like my heart shattered like a stained glass window. I had been so rude… rude to my best friend. A little light bulb popped into my head. I ran into the kitchen where my mom was sitting. She got up right when I ran into the room. I stood and pointed to the fridge, so she opened it for me. I took out butter, flour, apricots, eggs, and milk, and then took grandma’s apricot pie recipe from the recipe box. I think my mom got the point from that. My mom started mixing the pie crust batter. I sighed. There was no way I could help after my accident. Suddenly, my mom handed me a wooden mixing spoon and told me to mix the batter. I looked at her confused. How could I use this with only one hand? My mom looked at me meaningfully and told me to try. I held onto the spoon with my hand and began to swirl the mixture in the bowl. A spark inside my soul lit up as the struggle to mix became easier. Maybe everything would be alright. If I could do this, who knows what else I could do.
Once the pie was done, the whole room smelled of sweet, hot apricots and crispy crust. I took it all in and cracked a hidden smile. My mom said that she would give the pie to Lulu’s mom the next day. The phone ring and my mom answered it. She handed the phone to me. It was Beatriz. Beatriz was my other best friend. She didn’t know about what had happened to me. I now know that Beatriz didn’t know that what she said would hurt me. I wish I could have realized it then. As I answered the phone, I pictured Beatriz sweeping her long black hair behind her shoulders and holding the phone, her nails painted bubblegum pink. Beatriz’s biggest fault had always been not knowing the difference between funny and mean. This wasn’t this time. This time, she would have understood why I hung up, if she had only known. When she started her sentence I knew it would result in disaster. Right after she said in a squealing excited voice that she got into the Juilliard young people’s orchestra. Beatriz was a great piano player too. She applied to the Juilliard young people’s orchestra as the piano player. She didn’t know that I applied too. After she said it, all my anger bubbled up to the top of my stomach and I slammed the phone down. Right after she said the words that took the smile off my face.
I stormed upstairs, my mom looking up at me confused after not hearing what I heard on the phone. So I guess I’m not good enough. I wouldn’t have even gotten in if I could play the piano. Beatriz would have been the piano player in any situation. I locked myself in my room not listening to my parents knocking on the door loudly asking me if I was ok. I was not ok. I began sobbing. I kicked my baby keyboard to the floor stepping on it, crying tears of red lava. All the keys fell out all over the floor, a tangle of white and black rectangles. That’s all they are, just stupid rectangles. Life is just a string of stupid keys. I ripped my piano posters from the walls, sent my trophies crashing to the ground, and threw all my ribbons away.
And then I smiled. All my piano worries and thoughts seemed to whisk away from my head. Not quickly, but slowly. Each thought taking its own time. I had nothing left anymore to remind me of what I used to love. I didn’t need piano anymore, I need something that I could use. I had to stop pretending as if my hand injury had never happened. I knew it more than ever now. I could never play the piano again. And what surprised me about this was how happy I was. I felt like a burden, a weight came off my shoulders. I realized that I just need to find a way, just like I was for everything else. I had to find something else I could do, there had to be something that did not involve using my hand.
I raced out of my room and down the stairs.
“C#,” I said laughing.
I passed my parents looking at me wide-eyed as I ran by. I’m not really sure if they followed me, I wasn’t looking behind me. All I knew was that I had to try that pie. It was important that I did, after all I can’t bake if I’m bad at it. Something about that moment when my mom handed me the spoon and when I realized that I really could do things with my hand felt really magical. Maybe that’s what I’m looking for, a little magic. I didn’t know if I could be good at baking, if I could ever have a chance, but if I had never tried piano who knows where I would be now? Who knows if I would have realized that life is just a string of keys? There are high notes and low notes, but the most important thing is what you take them as. I’m not perfect, but I’m sure glad. I’m not saying that I wish I had my hand injury in the first place, but it’s the little moments, looking at my scrapbook, seeing my friends happy about things that I wanted, finding secrets I didn’t know about people in my family that really make life up. This is my story, what’s yours?