"Emerald green wool hats, Busch Gardens, rum raisin..."
Two years ago, when I attended a sweet 16 celebration, my classmate read severalphrases for each candle she lit, evoking memories of special experiences shared with her friends. I couldnot understand those phrases, and I envied my classmates who could relive laughter and tears with just afew words.
I had spent too much of my life working hard, practicing piano and planning to the pointof obsession. My time had been centered on my resume. Every activity was weighed for its worth on acollege application as I waded through meaningless clubs and competitions. Had I been poised over that cake,there would have been few candles lit.
I had always rejoiced in self-discipline. At physics camp,when I was 15, I planned every waking minute so that I could maintain my rigorous music practice regimen.Even seven hours of classes could not take time away from my piano. I shut myself away from myclassmates and rehearsed etudes, scherzos and concertos.
Although I wanted to become a concertpianist and worked in constant pursuit of this goal, I often peered out from behind the mildewed curtains ofthe stuffy practice room. I saw friends painting each other's faces for the carnival, contorting their bodiesin a game of Twister and messily enjoying barbecued ribs at the camp's cookout. But that could not matter. Ihad no time; I was in control. I was working toward my goal.
One year later, my controlunraveled. I could not plan, define or analyze emotions. Even the old bright-yellow blankie that settled myanxiety in the moments before a concert couldn't calm my perpetual state of dizzying shock, confusion andoverwhelming bliss. As my every emotion heightened beyond anything I had experienced, I lost mydiscipline and found love through music. I've never been happier.
At each rehearsal, I look at Peterwhen he begins. For 30 seconds, it is just him and me, alone in the practice room, singing and speaking,trading melodies. Each time I hear that deep vibrato reach high with that one exquisite octave jump, I thinkof all the bliss we have shared and all the songs he has sung to me.
When we first met, I sawulterior motives in his every action to protect myself from feeling, and from loving. He urged me to seeworth in myself. He confided in me, and told me of his own dark season, when his soul sank and 400 pillscoursed through him. I pressed his hand, afraid to break its flesh. I flinched for him; I flinched with him. Helaid his head against my shoulder, and lingered there. No one had given me the honor of such trust; no onehad known my voice or thoughts. I did not know what to say, but I cradled him, hoping I was worthy of histrust. I whispered, not words, but music into his ears, for that is how we always communicated. It stillsurprises me how much intimacy and inspiration music allows, much more than words. I sang our song,hoping I could bring him the same happiness and confidence he brought me when he comforted me.
Ihave long since stopped doubting him.
I once loved only music and feared human contact. I trembledat love's possibility. I smiled through my physics formulas and spoke confidently at presentations, but I wasblind and mute. I now laugh freely. I do not agonize over how strangers perceive me. No longer do I considerthe consequences of my smallest action.
Although I spent long hours at my piano bench, I could notfind music through rote practice. I had become too wary, too careful. I could not depend on discipline orprecision. Music is only as passionate as its performer, and black notes cannot be choreographed into aperformance for the audience. I could not play a Chopin ballade without imagining George Sand in dancingshoes. Perhaps I did not convey my emotions because I could not. I had not felt, touched or experienced; thatwas apparent in last year's technical showpieces. This year, I need not imagine George Sand; I have swungand danced to the clip-clop of horses drawing carriages around Central Park. I have rocked in the embraceof Peter's gentle voice.
I know now what I would say if it were my sweet 16: Rachmaninoff celloand piano sonata practice marathons, Bach, Dr. Pepper, Greenwich Music School, Burritoville, passionfruitlipgloss, Carnegie Hall, cystic fibrosis benefit, D-Day, diesel-powered LIRR, Henry O'Higgins and my girlKatie, the sun-bleached sandbox, chocolate cookies, sultry South Street Seaport, Cinnabuns, saltwatertaffy, billiards and mosquito bites, Penn Station, peppered omelets and our own Madam Butterfly. In theglow of all those candles, my eyes would sparkle with laughter and glance upon my friends not searchingly,but openly, with love.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.