Have I told you about the piano yet? I say that all the time now. The piano is the story I want to tell people. Every few years I end up with a story like this. Have I told you about the boy with two broken arms? Have I told you about the lobster? Have I told you about the man who stole my shoes, and how I chased him down? Have I told you about the bus that was on fire, the train to Mongolia, the boat that almost capsized?
I should just tell you about the piano directly without all the preface; yet I ask you first because I tend to repeat these stories. I repeat them because I think, I hope, that these stories say something about me. That they depict me as brave and true and wild and weird. These are the stories that make me think, while they are still happening, oh, good, another story. I'm still alive.
The piano surprised me, showing up as it did on my facebook feed a day or two after Greg asked me to marry him. Free piano to anyone who can come and get it today! By the time I finished that sentence, I knew the piano was mine. It was my destiny, just like the little desk I bought from a French man in a parking lot in New York that I had to stuff into a cab, which now sits in my apartment covered in parking tickets and pens. Just like the siamese cat that is, at this moment, running in circles around a hand-carved table that I also became instantly attached to. I try not to be materialistic-- my clothes are downright tattered and my shoes all stink-- but when I think about certain materials, like wood and paper and paint, I realize that as computers overtake my brain, I still covet objects. Real objects you can hold in your hand and make a noise with. Like pianos.
I immediately claimed it. It was mine! It was mine, even though I had no way to go get it. Don't even have a car. It was mine, even though I was currently at work. It was mine, even though I didn't know how to play it. None of that mattered, because what I knew the second I saw it was that it was Greg's engagement gift. He got me a ring, and I would get him a piano. I asked around for a truck to put it in with limited success. Then I realized-- since this piano was going to float to my apartment one way or another-- I should find someone currently at the piano location and have them bring it to me. So I did.
Two teachers brought it from a school and tipped it onto a dolly. The elevated it up eight stories, wheeled it into my place, and set its 500 pounds next to the kitchen counter in my studio apartment. I was all gratitude.
Greg came home and I said, "you'll never guess what's in here!" and he couldn't. I think he was in shock. It was in beautiful shape and terrible tune. He immediately started to play it.
Bad sounds wafted in the air. Neither of us can play, but from a lifetime of performing, both of us have good ears. We know what music should sound like. It was salvageable but sour.
"I'll tune it," Greg said, and I immediately said, "I don't know if you can!" Piano tuning is notoriously hard. Piano tuners are notoriously weird. For weeks, I told people I'd taken this the piano, and Greg told people he was going to tune it. Every time the person would tell him that he probably couldn't tune the piano all on its own.
Greg ordered the tuning tools in the mail. He took the top off the back, revealing the harp inside. A piano's just a harp surrounded by wood, a hundred and eighty-eight drums smacking down on hundreds of little strings of steel. And he began to tune it.
It took forever. It took days and nights of waking up and falling asleep to a one-note dong-dong-dong-dongdongdongongononononggggg as he tuned it. There were over two hundred strings in all, and each one had to be tuned. It sounds just about perfect now, although he occasionally goes in there and adjusts a string.
But all that was a while ago. Now he plays whole songs, although they take him far too long. He refuses to play anything but difficult songs. They each take him six or seven minutes to play instead of three. Chords are suspended in slow-motion in the apartment as I fall asleep, or when he gets home from work. This morning he was at the piano even before his eyes were fully open.
Does it drive you crazy? people ask me when I tell them about the piano. Not at all, I say. It's like living in a lullabye. It makes things slow and quiet. There's music in my home now. I've gone over and touched the keys a few times, trying to remember how to play, trying to start over. Sometimes when Greg's not here I sit down and do scales. But I know my part of the story. I'm the magician who makes a piano appear, to sidestep all of the reasons it was impossible to get one. I'm the one the piano happened to.
But Greg's the one who will see the mechanics and fix it up. He's the one who will tune it. He's the one who will make the music sound right.