Parade and Piano
Pasadena, California. The 1963 Parade of Roses. We were staying with distant relatives in their Craftsman-style home, two blocks from Colorado Boulevard. The adults–old and older, had set up chairs in the middle of the night and were on the street hours before the parade started. That was the year I had sworn off dolls, dresses, anything girlish. Blech! All I’d wanted for Christmas was cowboy boots. I was wearing them.
I discovered magic in that house. An old upright piano was tucked into a dark corner. (All rooms seemed dark to me back then.) As the one child amid the old and older, they left me alone (as always). Oh, but the piano. I plunked out the most beautiful melodies (I thought), never having had the chance to touch one before. After that, I could talk about nothing else–except my daily plea for a horse. A horse was a reasonable request. There was room in the barn and an abundant supply of hay and grain. A piano? Excessive.
Somehow, my mother found a piano for sale on Swap Shop. Swap Shop was the daily radio program after lunch; sellers would call in, describe their wares, and give their phone numbers. Mom called. It was a 10-party line, and one of our neighbors was rubbering. There was no such thing as privacy. Dad hauled it from town with the farm pickup, and the spinet, somehow, squeezed into the living room of our minuscule house.
That piano became my friend and companion. It filled the silence, gave voice to my thoughts, and measured the minutes, hours, and days until I got my driver’s license and freedom.
My smallish (5′) baby grand is lovely–well broken-in and much admired by my piano tuner–but about seven years ago, I stopped playing. I couldn’t really say why at the time. Still, my instincts knew.
Discovery, diagnosis, the music died
Seven years ago, I had hit a wall when my therapist referred me to the team’s psychologist. I was diagnosed with ADHD–the inattentive kind. I had been famous for falling asleep at crazy times: in church, standing up, basketball games–even driving was dicey, but I had somehow avoided accidents. Nothing made sense back then, but the medication helped.
Helped was an understatement. I was finally able to follow a conversation and stay engaged. I didn’t fear taking the highway home after work any more. No longer was I losing my place in the music when I was singing in choir. I could stick with a task until I was finished. But, I had stopped playing.
This is what I know:
Playing silenced the noise of my memories.
The medication connected my thinking processes and closed the gaps through which the memories used to slip.
There are now strong correlations between ADHD and the childhood trauma/emotional neglect. Abuse and neglect both rewire the developing brain. Adaptations in genetic expression occur to help a child stay on high alert; these adaptations are geared for survival. During my years as a classroom teacher, my observations continually confirmed those connections–although there hadn’t been a significant amount of empirical evidence–yet.
Childhood trauma and emotional neglect suppress oxytocin receptors. Oxytocin calms children and allows them to form loving bonds with their parents. The body resists bonding when it senses danger. The body also doesn’t program for pleasure and enjoyment–it is too busy just trying to survive. It doesn’t recognize or trust the good– what we used to call warm fuzzies.
I don’t play for enjoyment–never have. I have played to silence my mind. Creative–that is how I’ve always been known. There is a link between mental health and the arts.
The music returns
I have been healing.
I am enjoying life more.
Yesterday, the soloist in church sang, God Loves the Simple Things. I knew the song–one of the many I had learned during all of my years of lessons.
Last night, I had a few quiet moments to myself. My husband had volunteered for the grocery-store run.
I rummaged through my files and found it. I sat. I played. I sang.
One more tiny victory.
All my love,
*I am not a licensed therapist and will never claim to be such. I am just a new retiree from the world of education, with the benefit of a lifetime of experience and a spaghetti-brain full of interconnected information (and a laptop!). Most importantly, I care.