I clenched my hands in and out, flexing the tiny joints and muscles that lay within. As I lowered my palms down onto the piano keys, I felt the familiar cold of the white ivory jolt through my fingertips. As my fingers took in the geometry of the intricate keys, I glanced down, mesmerized by the scars running across my hands. I warmed up, getting a feel for that gorgeous, rich sound; the tune of salvation, but also, my darkest demons. As my hands flew around the keys, faster, and more precise, the sensory overload overtook my brain. The smell of the spruce, the feel of the ebony and ivory against my fingers, and the sound of my collective soul banging around the acoustic ceiling came crashing down on me. As my hands continued to craft musical masterpieces, my mind transported me back in time. Back to where I discovered my gift. Back to where it all started.
I opened my eyes, and I was 8 years old again. The fireplace in my log cabin home I shared with my parents and older sister off the coast of rural Maine, crackled. The snow fell softly in the night sky, piling on the limbs of the pine trees that surrounded my yard. Suddenly, blue lights flashed in the backdrop, coming closer and closer. A police cruiser, robins egg blue, with the state insignia on it, pulled up. A Trooper emerged, his black brimmed hat collecting the snowflakes as he walked up to my door. He knocked. I answered. His voice was soft and unwavering as he delivered the news. My parents had been in an automobile accident. They did not survive.
A lady emerged from behind the Trooper. Her name was Shelly. She came in and supervised while my sister and I packed a bag. One bag to remember my parents, that was it. I wanted to run. Just disappear into the cold darkness. Looking back now I wish I would have. It would have been easier. We gathered what we could, some clothes, a few toys, and then crammed into the back of the troopers car. We arrived at the group home late that night. We were separated, girls and boys. That was the last time I ever saw my sister. I had heard she ran away, but no one ever knew for sure. She just disappeared that night, along with the rest of my life.
I was adopted shortly after. My new family moved me to Philadelphia. How I loathe that city. After a few months of me acting out, they decided they couldn’t handle me, and I was put into St. Agatha's Catholic boarding school. It was there my musical gift was discovered.
I never really fit in anywhere. I just didn’t see the world like the other kids. I was isolated, awkward, and always sad. There was a torrent of emotions coursing through my veins, but I could never find a way to properly express them, to release the pressure. I sought out quiet places to hide, places where I could just be alone with my thoughts, and my memories. Places where I felt safe, and warm. Just after my 10th birthday I slipped in to the music room. I’m not sure what it was that drew me to the piano, but I went to it, and I sat down. The moment my fingers hit the keys I felt this electricity. It was easy, natural, like my hands were on autopilot. As the melody filled the room, I felt a part of me go with the sound-waves. Every note represented a thought, a feeling, a mindset that I’d never been able to express before. Now, here it was, out in the open, like a message hidden in a melody. Sister Angela heard the music and came to investigate. She was the first to discover me. She listened to me play for almost an hour before making me stop. She told the rest of the nuns, and they decided they could use me.
The next 8 years of my life were absolute Hell. The sisters used me as a conduit to raise money. Concerts, church events, talent shows, I was center stage in all of them. Every single dollar I raised or won went directly to the schools pockets. They made me practice endlessly. When I refused, they would beat my hands and knuckles with rulers, lock me in closets for days with little food and water, and deprive me of sleep. I was their puppet. The joy and passion I had found on the piano had all been wiped away. At night I would lie in the closet, starving, with cuts and bruises on my hands begging God for mercy, but none came.
Finally, I turned 18. Kicked out into the world. I had no idea what I was going to do, but at least I was free. Free to pursue my own path, make my own choices. It started out grand, I ate what I wanted, got my own apartment, even managed to get a decent job in construction. By most normal standards I was actually doing well. What nobody knew however, was that the terrible darkness from the wounds of my past were always carried with me. They would keep me awake late at night. I would walk by a piano, or hear a melody on the radio, and my mind would go back to that place. I was free, but I was still trapped in a hellish prison.
I got by for a few years on my own. By eventually the demons that manifested themselves within my soul, grew voices that screamed into my brain at every moment. In order to silence them I turned to drugs, and alcohol. Getting high became a nightly ritual, and soon, I was a full blown addict. I got fired from my job, kicked out of my apartment, and tossed to the streets. Somehow I survived the crucible. The crippling addiction and the brutal winter didn’t kill me, although if I’m being honest, death would have been welcomed. Fentanyl laced heroin hit the streets soon after, and within a week of it’s arrival I overdosed. An elderly couple found me seizing on the streets, and called the paramedics. I ended up at county hospital. That’s where I met her.
Her name was Rebecca. She was a nurse. She saved my life. Somehow, when she looked at me, she didn’t see some useless junkie. She saw a broken man, and she saw who I could be, if someone would take the time to put me together again. She stayed with me, and we started dating soon after. She cleaned me up, got me into therapy, and gave me hope. I wish I could have given it back to her. I played the piano for her for the first time in years. She wept because she claimed she ”could feel the sadness of my soul in the music.” That piano brought her closer to me, but also further away from myself.
That brings me to why I’m here, now. Playing the Piano for this room full of people that I don’t know. Apartments are expensive. Life is expensive. With my history it made finding gainful employment difficult. Rebecca convinced me to start taking musical gigs, so here I was. Now that my mind was back in the present moment I began to feel the voices creep up, consuming my thoughts. It was such a strange dichotomy, that the thing that I loved, the one thing I was good at, that once upon a time brought me such great joy, was also the thing that signaled my demise. These people saw a genius. They heard beautiful music, but they had no idea what a broken, ugly soul it came from. As my fingers moved faster and faster on the keys, so did the demons, bringing me to a point of no return. As I reached the climax of the song, I took one hand off the piano. The crowd cheered, as if I was showing off, or performing a parlor trick. My free hand reached inside my jacket, smoothly pulling out the revolver I had bought not three days ago. My hands didn’t skip a beat as I put the barrel of that gun in my mouth, growing familiar with the oily, metallic taste. “This will be the last song my demons ever dance to” I thought. As the room began to erupt in panic, I put my finger on the trigger, and squeezed...
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I loved how it began. Some of the things you wrote were detailed beautifully. The ending, though I would have personally, made happier, with how I learned to shut the demons up - with prayer, reading God's Word, and praising Him for my talent!
Hi Eric, Reedsy suggested your story to me as part of a critique circle, so I thought I'd read it and give you my thoughts. What I've written is purely my opinion as a reader and you will know from experience, what people say about your work varies from the sublime to the ridiculous, and occasionally bears no resemblance to what you thought your story was about. Here goes... I liked: the structure. Clear protagonist, I think his flaw was his emotional instability that was probably triggered by the death of his parents, his need was to end h...
Very interesting suggestions. Well thought out. Thank you very much for taking the time to provide feedback. It is invaluable.