The piano stool

A journey back in time on New Year's Eve.

It’s the last day of the year. Another last day of another year. I am walking around my apartment, tidying up. I unclutter, I organise. Not so much because my place needs uncluttering, but because the first of each year comes with promises for new starts. It’s a feeble symbol, for sure, for I have made my new start and named a different day – an August day – my new year, in this year that is now ready to pass.

As I stand in the living room, with my gaze brushing the space, my eyes stop and get fixed on the piano stool. It’s a beautiful stool. Simple but nice. The bottom of its legs now a bit discoloured. I remember Marianna mopping around it with such fervour that the detergent was splashing the curved wood. Sometimes I wonder how she is. She left a few years ago, went back home, returned to the people she loves. I enjoyed her coming once every week at my parents’ house. When she would take a break, we’d sit at the kitchen table – her, my mother and I – and talk about life, and sometimes love.

Now the piano stool – and the piano – are not at my parents’ house. Marianna has left. And I have left, too. Although I am still going back once every week. At least. Sometimes I manage to go more.

But the piano stool… it stayed with me.

I don’t know why suddenly the stool gained greater importance than the piano itself. Or, maybe, I do. I remember when the stool (and the piano) were delivered at our house. I was eight, a year less a year more I cannot tell. But I can tell that when I first sat at that stool my feet could not reach the pedals, neither the floor. I spent hours and hours playing that piano. I was getting taller. My feet reached the pedals, my feet reached the ground, the stool started moving further and further away from the piano, until it reached the perfect distance – the perfect distance between the piano and me. I was eighteen, I think, when I reached the height I have today. 1,69 and something – almost 1,70. It’s been a while. I left for ten years, lived in two different countries, reconnecting with the stool and the piano during holiday times. Still, our relationship always close.

And then I moved to my own home. The piano came with me, the piano stool came with it, the same distance needed to play. Different room, different life, different me.

I grew up on that stool. A teenager dreaming of becoming a pianist, a young adult deciding differently. More mature now, having experienced aspects of the life that would have come with it – albeit from a different perspective – I realise that, indeed, that kind of life, would not be for me. I also realise this: I might have betrayed my teenage dream but I never betrayed that stool, or my piano. I can say that now more than ever, I am fully for them and they are for me. Now, more than ever, our connection is honest and open. Now more than ever it’s a matter of love, and not of technique.

I did betray, however, that little girl who would sit at the piano, with her hopes and her feet that could not reach the ground, with the pure heart and the dreams for the future to be. To her, I have been unfair. I often left her at corners to cry, I accepted behaviours that she did not deserve, I allowed her to be put on the side, put down and walked over, be taken for granted and advantaged of, be lied to, cheated on, and deceived. I asked her to not speak up, for fear of being impolite. I made her, even when she was broke and drained, still find something to give.

I had to face that girl last August. I found her curled in a corner. She was in pain, she begged me to let her breathe. It was either this, or the game would be over. The game is on and we are both breathing now.

I keep looking at the piano stool. I remember the room it was first put in. I remember exactly where it was placed. I remember that day, a distant festive season, when some other children came carolling. I remember my mother allowing me to invite them in. I sat at the piano and we all sang together. It was a joyful day. We did not know each other, we just sang and laughed and they left. I never wondered about them. Until today, when the memory came as I am standing still, looking at the piano stool.

Somewhere in a different house, little hands making big noise on the keys, little legs stretching, trying to reach. My eyes well up. I am not nostalgic. I have had my new year, a few months back. Now I just wrap it up. I am grateful for the lessons, all the people I met, all the pain and exhilaration that has come. I am grateful for all the love, and the good times, and my friends and my family and all the exciting places of my journey so far.

I wink at the little girl. Never again accepting the pain, my love. Never again not allowing you to speak up. Speak up for you, for us, for the ones who need support and protection. Speak up against all the negative comments and insults. Against all the racist remarks, against all the wars that stain the world and stall children’s futures. Against injustice, entitlement, and all the “behind closed doors” that translate in the misery of this world.

You can keep playing, little girl. It is now 2024. And I am keeping my promise.

* cover photo by Geert Pieters on Unsplash