I mentioned in my last post that my experience with musical instruments has a strong resemblance to my love life.
I grew up in a half-Asian household. My dad’s friends all had kids who begrudgingly played the piano or the violin. We had no money, so my brother and I stayed in with our books and games. I don’t regret that, but I always was a bit jealous. I remember the first time I ever saw a real piano. We were in the house of a family friend (we called it “the Blue House” but I don’t remember its actual color), and they had a tall brown upright crammed into the corner and covered in knick-knacks. This snotty little girl was playing a fancified version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and despite my distaste for the girl I could not help but be enamored by the sound.
After she left to go to her Tae-Kwon-Do class, I made my way towards the piano. It was old and crusty and beautiful. I marveled in its presence. I thought of all the beautiful sounds it would make if only I could play it. I snuck in a note or two while the adults were being noisy, and my heart fluttered at the sound.
When I was 14 my parents saved up enough money to take us on a cruise to Mexico. I hated the idea and begged them not to make me go. I would rather have stayed at school. But they were my parents and I was forced into this family vacation. My brother and I were ushered into the “teen zone” which was meant for 15+ plus but at 14 I was not willing to stick to the children’s room. I was not the only 14-year-old to feel this way. A group of Canadian students on their class trip had made it in as well, and I quickly made friends while my brother quickly got a girlfriend. We painted the boat red and danced and sang and played harmless pranks on fellow travelers, but there was one boy who just didn’t fit in with the rest. He was a cool Californian guy with that side-swept brown hair that gave all the girls goosebumps. A real skate-boarding bad-boy, who probably skipped class and put gum under his desk. Not my type at all, really.
But one night I got stuck hanging out with him while all the Canadians were called in for a bonding exercise. My brother was off with his second girlfriend of the 7-day trip. And my parents were at some fancy dress party. The guy was a little weird, always wanting to break rules and play mean pranks. We went exploring around the ship and found a giant roped-off ballroom that was completely empty. The lights were dim and the cleanup crew had already been through, as it was nearing 1am. He pushed me under the rope and pranced into the room with a childish glee I hadn’t expected from his cool demeanor.
In the center of the dim ballroom there was a raised marble stage, with a beautiful white grand piano shining atop, reflecting the candlelight just like the moon does the sun. I was certain we were not supposed to be there. And I was certain there was nowhere else I would rather be.
My skaterboy friend plopped himself into the seat and serenaded me with the most beautiful song I had ever heard. All the bad things I had thought about him drifted away as he glided his hands across the keys, eyes closed as if willing himself into a trance. I didn’t know what to do with myself so I sat on the steps by the stage and just listened. I think we were so lost in the music that we fell asleep in the ballroom, and awoke to the sunlight beginning to fill the room. Everyone had been too tired to noticed that my bunk had been empty all night, and I don’t think my parents were too worried that something would happen to us on the little ship. But I never saw that boy again. And though I’ll never be able to name a single tune he played, I will always feel my heart beat a little faster when I think about that night in the ballroom.