Love Notes and Furious Outbursts
The nasal bell broadcast another dreaded lunch hour. The few people I knew had already left our school. Because we moved from Iran, I had to start my senior year in January. So, when everybody else graduated, I needed to stay back and complete the first semester with a fresh group of students. Senior year in a new school in an unfamiliar country hadn’t fared well the first time around. My ignorance stretched over both language and culture. Aside from an inability to communicate effectively, apparently I also stared at people. Once, sitting at lunch with the only group who had accepted me, the Christian students, I was listening as they spoke. In the middle of our conversation, well their conversation, someone from the table facing us came over, handed me a note, and left. Eagerly, I opened it. My heart sank when I read the words: “Don’t Fucking Stare!” I used to be popular in Iran. Everybody in high school knew me. Besides, in Iran we respected others. What was this? Did anyone else see it?
Frankly, I don’t remember staring. Then again, I could have been in one of those deep-thought-stare-into-space moments amidst all the incomprehensible gibberish floating around me. Nevertheless, the note stung.
When graduation came, I just wanted to be done with the profanity, the inadequacy, the inability to fit in, the feeling of drowning, pretending all was well at home, the dateless prom, and the rest of it. I just wanted to leave and forget those six months of my life ever existed. But the principal wouldn’t have it. Senior year meant one full year.
In an effort to avoid any more incidents with the incoming students, I quit spending time in the cafeteria. One day, as I wandered the halls to find a quiet corner and eat my cheese and crackers, distant groans of a trumpet stopped me. I followed the sound to discover what would never exist in any school in Iran, an area devoted to music. Amidst amateur iteration of musical notes, I heard my instrument, the piano. Like a starving creature encountering the aroma of food, and with the same intensity, I abandoned the trumpets to pursue the melodious raindrops emanating from three rooms. Quietly, I peered through one door’s pane.
There, my favorite instrument stood, upright, poised, with its elegant keys lying in disciplined rows. It didn’t matter that it had been played by unskilled hands year after year, that the white keys had lost their sheen. It was still gorgeous.
I had found my fortune behind door numbers one, two, and three.
I opened the door partway, but just then the bell rang.
That night at home, I packed a music binder containing the most important classical pieces I had learned in Iran. Lunch hour couldn’t come sooner. When the bell rang, my usual dawdle gave way to a sprint, binder in one hand, Lunchables in the other. The trumpet’s warm hum was still audible when I arrived. The room’s heavy door, decelerated by a hydraulic damper, opened as slowly as it closed.
There we were. Alone. Together. I hadn’t touched a piano in months. We lived on a limited budget in the States and couldn’t afford luxury items. Until that day, I’d been practicing on a hand-drawn piano at our house.
It felt like reuniting with a lost lover. My index finger depressed a C key, to me, the note Re. Yes! I adjusted the piano bench hurriedly, set up my sheet music, sat down, and started playing Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata. Oh God. How I had missed feeling the keys under my fingers.
Why I chose this particular piece to get reacquainted with the piano is not clear to me. Perhaps it was its degree of difficulty. Playing a complex piece properly would attest to not having lost the skill. Or it was how I felt. I needed to get the most sound out, to howl through my fingertips, to roam from one end of the keyboard to the other, to burst open.
Beethoven’s sonata let my, until now, hidden yet chaotic emotions course through me. From the first forte chord to the melodic question and answers to its surge of fury punctuated by long pauses, Pathetique allowed me to express anger, sadness, and confusion for not knowing enough English, for the isolation, for my inability to fix it, for not having my piano, for leaving our home, for missing my friends and family, for the goddamn government that ruined Iran so much it forced us to become foreigners. Note by note, my fingers liberated me as they detangled thoughts and emotions.
I could breathe again.
Then came the second movement. Its melody enfolded my troubled soul like a silk shawl, restoring a sense of tranquility lost long ago.
Only after I released those strayed feelings could I move to a more cheerful piece, Chopin’s Waltz No. 7. The compositions mirrored my mood: form grave to light, from nostalgic to jubilant, from subdued to playful. Now I could dance.
In the dance, memories surfaced. Memories of my best friend’s piano recital; of how I admired her talent; of waking up at 4 a.m. to stand in line at the concert hall with her, on those rare occasions when the government would allow a classical concert; of losing my high quality metronome the day after mom finally bought it, somewhere on the bus we took to get to the teacher’s house; of the pride I experienced when my piano teacher told me she could prepare me for the Vienna Conservatory; of how I made a point to know the opus number or scale of every piece I listened to.
For the rest of the semester, I spent every lunch hour in the piano room. Who needed humans, especially high school ones, when she could have the company of a perfectly functional piano?
The notes I received from the piano were far from the profane cafeteria ones. They were pleasure notes; love notes; “will you dance with me?” notes; “come back to me,” notes; and “I’ll always keep you company,” notes. The piano didn’t care about my country origin or language or religion. It also didn’t mind that I stared at it and every hand that plays it.
To this day, I feel uneasy about eating at a restaurant alone. When it comes to concerts, however, all my anxiety disappears. In fact, I prefer to attend those alone, so I can lose myself in the music. Although, nowadays I am far less concerned with the opus numbers than the sensation a composition imparts on me.
Bahar Anooshahr is an Iranian-American woman and recovering oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Her works have been published in The Austin Chronicle, Creative Nonfiction, In the Fray, and In the Night Count the Stars Anthology.