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Marisa Mata


I’ve been playing the piano.

I’m trying to relearn the song I played for our school recital when I was seventeen. Some days at the piano are worse than others. Sometimes I have to look at the same measure over and over because the notes I’m playing don’t sound like they go together. On days like this, the problem often isn’t that I’m reading the notes wrong but that my fingers are in the wrong position. I can’t help but laugh a little bit, easing the tension in my shoulders.

I was in kindergarten when I first saw someone play the piano. My teacher played songs for the class while we sat on the carpet around her. Mrs Helen always looked so happy creating music, her hands dancing across the keys. I wanted to do the same. I asked my parents for a keyboard and lessons but it wasn’t until I got to high school that I learned how to play. I wasn’t exceptional at piano, my teacher made that clear. Sometimes, on the days I repeatedly mess up, I remember the annoyance in her voice as she said, Too slow. Too fast. Too staccato!

Other days are better. There have even been a handful of days where I don’t need the sheet music much at all. My muscle memory takes over, guides my fingers to the right keys. My hands stretch and jump easily between octaves and I feel a certain kind of weightlessness.

I haven’t been able to practice as much as I’d like to since I’ve been back home. I haven’t been reading or writing much either. I knew it would be difficult to come back and be my full self, but I didn’t expect my return from school to be this hard. I’m the only writer in my family. The only Broadway fan. The only one who likes music and movies from the sixties. The only one who likes to watch the sunrise. I don’t fit in here, and my family constantly reminds me. I see all of the eye rolls, hear all of their sighs.

There’s so much tension in this tiny space, especially between my dad and me. I still don’t think he understands how important writing is to me, why I had to get my MFA, why I had to leave. Some days, I feel myself hiding away, shrinking back into the person I was in high school, so hopeless and afraid. In a lot of ways, it’s like I’m back in high school—waiting for the house to quiet so I can practice piano. Waiting until I’m alone to write, watch a movie, listen to music without my headphones. Waiting to get out of the house. Waiting for the moment I can be myself. But the waiting is different now.

I’ve had a taste of freedom. I’ve practiced piano freely. Gotten tipsy and danced around my dorm room in the middle of the afternoon. Sat to write uninterrupted for hours at a time. Woken up and walked into the kitchen with show tunes and Barbra Streisand pouring from the speaker in my bedroom. I know what my life could be like, what it will one day feel like again. Sometimes this helps.

For now, I think it’s time for me to get to the piano.

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All images other than author photos and artist artwork ©Matthew Batt 2020