August 25, 2006

Both Sides, Now

I have always loved piano music. Classical, Rock, Pop, Alternative, anything played on the piano has always mesmerized me. Well, not country music, I have a bad Pavlovian response to country music which I'll explain at another time. Anyway, when I was ten years old, I started piano lessons. I learned a lot my first year and thought my progress was good. My teacher was also my 5th-6th grade music teacher, and he made me play for my class. I guess that was his way of making sure I practiced, because he knew I wouldn't want to be embarrassed in front of my whole class. He knew what kind of music I enjoyed and let me learn to play that music. But life changes.

My father, serving in the military in Germany had become married and wanted his two sons to live with him. I moved to Germany. My relationship with his new wife was bad, she was a bitter emotionless woman who constantly insulted my Mother, Brother and myself. In this new household, it was stated almost constantly, children are to be seen and not heard. We were just bad pets. The dogs were treated better than the step-kids.

I wanted to continue my piano lessons, and my father was supportive up to a point. His wife didn't want to spend the money. They compromised. They bought a second-hand piano that was terribly out of tune, required much internal work, and hired a piano teacher that was hard for me to understand. He spoke only a few words of English, and I spoke "broken" German. He only taught classical music. Now, I like classical music, but it was very hard to learn, and it's not what I wanted to play at the time. I supplemented the music he wanted to play with my own selections, but he do not approve, thought it was bad influence. After a few months, we quit the piano lessons because the teacher said I didn't have the motivation to play. He was right, he had removed all my motivation to play the piano. The out-of-tune junk piano didn't help matters, some keys didn't even play.

Skip to sophomore year of High School, Northern Indiana. The high school offered a piano class. So it was for beginners, so I didn't have a practice piano, at least it would get me touching a piano again. The class was free-form, go at your own pace class. The teacher would give a lesson, we would practice it and she would go around giving us tips. We played what we wanted to play. Our grade was not based on how well we learned but our effort. At the end of the year, everyone had to play a piece at a recital. This was our motiviation to learn. It didn't matter how skilled we became or the difficulty of the music, we had to play something.

Now, I had to be honest. I didn't really have the talent to play the piano. Yes, I could learn music and with lots of practice, I could play it reasonably well, but I really didn't have the talent to play. I decided to play Joni Mitchell's Both Sides, Now. (Yes, it was the Judy Collins version that was popular, but Joni Mitchell wrote and sang the song first). It was simple and easy and I had always loved the lyrics. No, I wasn't going to sing it, I have even less talent in that area.

When the time came for the recital, my favorite relative, Aunt Mary, was going to be in town. When she heard of the recital, she insisted on going. Now my family wasn't planning to come, but Aunt Mary talked my "Step-Mother" into accompaning her to the recital. I was very glad my Aunt was going to be at the recital, I was beaming. When I was 5 or 6, Aunt Mary had taught me how to play a few simple nursery rhyme songs because she was tired of me just banging keys making annoying, irrating noise on her piano. The recital came, the teacher introduced us and explained that this was the first year and first recital for most of the students. There were a few of us that had more experience, but the teacher didn't go into detail. One girl played Mozart, another guy played Beer Barrel Polka, it was quite an eclectic selection of music. I played my song, it sounded perfect to me, I was quite proud of my performance.

Afterwards, people came up to me and congratulated me. I remember a few people had said they knew that song, and they loved my version of the music. My Aunt Mary came up to me, smiling, giving encouragement, then asked my "step-mom" if she liked it. She sneered and stated loudly, "He's been playing the piano for six years, it was about time he learned to play something." She then looked directly at me and publicly scolded me, "How could you lie about only playing for one year". I didn't answer. My Aunt saw embarrasment in my face. I was not embarrased of my playing, I was embarrased of this "step-mother's" reaction, and dissappointed. As always there was nothing I could do that was acceptable in her eyes.

I have never touched a piano since. To this day, I cannot forgive her attitude that day. And she probably doesn't even remember this irrelevent event.

My Aunt Mary saw my dissappointment, she offered to let me take a vacation with her and one of my other cousins. My "step-Mom" said no, because her kids couldn't go and I don't deserve special treatment. First, there wasn't enough room in the camper, and second, they weren't even related except for this bad marriage. When I was much younger, spending summers with Aunt Mary was a routine occurance, and I was looking forward to it again. My Dad said yes, but
his wife said no. So the trip was off. It was then I decided when I graduated from High School, I would leave that family, and never return, which I did. Wow, I didn't know life could be this good. I now must thank this "step-parent" for making my teenage years so miserable, that any kind of life I had afterwards was going to easy and pleasant.

I have met a few people since with wretched attitudes and ethics, but I have learned to quickly put those people out of my life and ignore them, it's not worth the effort to argue and let them enrage me. I'm a very thin-skinned person, an Highly Sensitive Person. Insults do effect my morale, motiviation, and moods. I need to surround myself with people who are positive.

There are many irrelevent events from my past, just passing moments in time that otherwise would be forgotten, that I cannot erase from my mind. The more painful, the longer lasting the scar. Do these events shape my personality, or would I have become like I am now, regardless of the actions of the people around me. There are more positive experiences also, but I'm embarrassed to bring these up into the open, I don't want others to know how good my life has been, someone might work to cut me down, again.

I cannot be anyone that who I am. If you want me to change, or want me to be different, that is the same thing as rejecting me. This is me, and if you don't like it, please go away. Repulsive Literature Reference: Exodus 3:14.

"But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living every day
I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all"


BBC said...

I have a keyboard that I would love to learn to play, I just never seem to find the time to do it.

Cyndy Lu Who said...

I brought my son to a music shop the other day and he was playing with the pianos while I purchased myself a second-hand guitar. He had never touched one before and the most beautiful sounds were coming out of his fingers. The sales lady's name was melody. :)

niCk (Mem Beth) said...

Wow, cyndy, I'm always amazed at people who can play music without even trying. Your son sounds talented.

Minou said...

I always wanted to play the piano, but we didn't have the money when I was little, even the ballet lessons had to stop after a short while. I made sure that my daughter had all the opportunities that I had missed, so she not only plays the piano, but she also had the chance to learn violin, oboe as well as sing, dance and act. I always impressed on her that it was her choice to continue, all I wanted to do was provide the chance to try. She has now qualified as a medical doctor, but she has always been gifted as a performer. In my own humble way I got back into singing in a ladies barbershop group which was fun. Music is the "rhythm of life" and it appears that your "step-mother from Hell" was not in tune with it. You can't change people like that, it's more sensible to acknowledge that there's nothing you can ever do, and just move on - just like you did.

Anonymous said...

You step-mother sounds like a very miserable person to treat a child in such a way.... It's a good thing you got out of there as soon as you could.. I'm sure it would have been sooner if it were up to you!

It's great to have someone in our family who was good to us when everyone else had seemed to have forgotten....

I guess your dad didn't have the back bone to stand up to his wife.. are they still togehter??? I will never understand how people can put their spouses first, huh?


Please do suround yourself with positive people who accept you exactly the way you are... ;-) we all need that in our lives.. the rest can just stay the hell away!!!


Pam said...

I found myself judging your father much more harshly than anyone else in this story.

I would never allow anyone to treat my children this way. Action like that would kill any love I had for them to begin with.

Your step-mother sounds like a miserable, hateful person. I too wonder what she is doing today.

vintagecarole. said...

Just think about the children who have never been encourged. It makes me sad. You connected to my story and I see similarities in yours. All my life I wondered if I was really her daughter. Why would she be so critical? Maybe out of jealousy? A step-parent might be jealous of whoever the biological mother was. Maybe. Why why all these years later we all still beat ourselves up over it. I never recall unconditional love BUT I had an UNCLE just like you had an AUNT and it makes me want to mentor someone myself. Have you thought of making up for those crimes against you by doing something for an at-risk youth? Thanks for commenting to my post.

mad said...

Maybe you should start playing the piano again -- just to get even with the Evil Stepmother, if nothing else.