My first time? Oh God, let's see. I was twelve, just twelve. It was early summer. Piano lessons.
I had been taking piano lessons since I was six. First from fat Mrs. Bessemer, but then, because everyone said I was getting so good, Mr. Trombley.
It was a drive to get to Mr. Trombley's. He and his wife lived in a big house clear on the other side of town, so my mom had to drive me over there. Every Thursday afternoon, four o'clock. One hour. My mom told me it wasn't that much of a hardship because she could grocery shop during that hour over at the discount grocery. Hi-Lo, I think it was called. Thursdays was double coupon day or something like that.
Mr. Trombley was a dreamboat, that's what the other kids in my class said after he'd given a recital at our school. He was somewhere in his thirties, I guess--tall with bushy brown hair and a soft voice and big hands. Supposedly he was mildly famous for something--second or third prize at some not quite important music festival, but now he only gave lessons, and mostly he only took older kids. His wife was much younger, a former student, probably, and that summer she was off giving concerts in Europe. Renee? Renee Trombley. Maybe you've heard of her? No? Well, anyway.
I'd been studying with Mr. Trombley since early spring. Now it was summer. School was just out. I liked the lessons. I liked playing piano. I liked playing piano for him. "Excellent," he'd say sometimes, when I did something especially right. "You're my prize pupil." I'd beam inside.
When I didn't do something especially right he'd be kind. "Stroke it firm and soft at once," he might say, "Like you're petting your little pet kitten. That's it. That's better! Nice. Very nice. Again. Again. Beautiful." Yes, I'd beam.
Or if I couldn't get the hang of something, sometimes he'd get off his chair at the side of the bench and sit next to me, take my hand in his and try to move it the way it should be moved. I'd simply melt. "Hold your wrist like so," he'd say, holding my wrist. "Now relax." I'd try to relax. Melting and relaxing are not the same thing.
"Here," he'd say. "Hold my wrist. Now feel? Do you feel how that goes?" I'd have my fingers around his wrist while he played. I'd feel the strength. The care. The music. "You see?" he'd say, and I'd nod and try to do better. At home I'd hold my own wrist. It wasn't the same thing, not the same thing at all.
This is good coffee, isn't it? Kind of a quiet coffee. Comforting. Not brash like too many coffees these days. Probably this is the kind of coffee Santa Claus would drink after he got home from delivering all those toys. Relaxing. God, it's nice to be here with you. I do feel relaxed. I'd take my shoes off except they already are. Lost someplace. I'm sure I'll never find them.
One day after the lesson I asked my mom if we could get a pet kitten. "No," she said. "Please," I said, "I'll take perfect care of it, and it'd be good for..." I was going to say it would be good for teaching me how to finger, but that didn't sound quite right. "It'd be good for me, Mom. Please?" "No," she said firmly, "It's enough trouble keeping the house clean as it is."
Even so, I was hoping I'd get a kitten for my birthday, my 12th. I really got my hopes up. But I didn't get one. I got the usual practical things. Sweaters and skirts, soap and jeans and underwear. I even got a training bra! In those days my breasts weren't big at all. I was so sure I'd be flat forever, even though I'd started my periods two months before. It wasn't that I was really all that eager to have real breasts. Some kids at school had them already, and the boys just made fun. And I knew next to nothing about sex. Next to nothing.
The only other girl from my school to take lessons from Mr. Trombley didn't have much in the way of breasts, either, but I guess that was understandable since she was a year younger than me and a grade behind. Her name was Beverly. She had the hour after mine, five to six. I'd see her briefly in the hallway outside of Mr. Trombley's music room, but my mom would be waiting for me out in the car, so Beverly and I never really talked, never exchanged more than a pair of "hi's" as she went on in for her lesson and I went on out for my ride home.
Beverly didn't live near us, so I didn't know much about her, except that she was supposed to be really smart and really shy. Sorta like me in those days. And she was really pretty. No breasts, as I've said, but big blue eyes and long blonde hair, soft and straight and fine, flowing more than halfway down her back. Sometimes I've wished I could have hair like that, not these tangly curls which seem to fray and frazzle and go all over the place no matter what I do.
Would you like another cup? I think I'm going to have maybe half. These are cute mugs. Purple love birds so plump and fat, kissing, and these hearts all over the place, some of them upside down. Isn't it neat the way an upside down heart looks like... well, it could be a woman's bottom, or her breasts, or a man's balls?
One Thursday afternoon on the ride to Mr. Trombley's my mom told me that she'd be a little late picking me up, she had some extra errands to run. "Ok, I'll just wait outside," I said.
"Not with it this rainy," my mom told me. "You'll get too soaked. Just tell Mr. Trombley you have to wait inside. I shouldn't be more than twenty... thirty minutes late."
"He doesn't like us to wait inside," I said.
"Nonsense," my mom said, "He just doesn't want the parents there. You tell him that you have to wait. I'm sure it'll be all right."
Did I say that I was shy? I was very shy. The idea of asking Mr. Trombley about waiting in his hallway after the lesson threw me into a catatonic panic. I couldn't do it. I tried. But I couldn't. What if he said no? What would I do then? Boy was I stupid, right? I mean, how hard should it be to blurt out something like, "My mom's going to be late picking me up, so can I wait out in your hall after the lesson?"
Instead of concentrating on my lesson, I spent the whole time worrying... that and praying that the weather would clear up, that the rain would stop and I could just wait outside until my mother got there. Strangely, my playing wasn't any worse than usual. Maybe it was better. Mr. Trombley seemed to think so. "You're really on today," he said. "You've finally mastered that skittery passage." When he said this he put his hand lightly on my shoulder, and I barely noticed. "My prize pupil," he said, squeezing my shoulder lightly. Then there was a crack of lightning, and I shivered. "Some storm," Mr. Trombley said, and he stroked my shoulder. "Let's hear that skittery part one more time. Make it skip. Make it dance. Make it sing. Yes. That's it! Yes."
His enthusiasm should have made me feel wonderful. Triumphant. Excited. Sublime. But all I felt was miserable. I was going to let him down. I opened my mouth one last time to ask him, but nothing came out. I felt brittle as a soft little bird about to be eaten by a cat.
Mr. Trombley noticed. "You're shivering, child," he said, his hands still on my shoulders. "What's wrong?" I couldn't face him. He'd notice my tears. He noticed them anyway. His fingers touched my cheek, my tears. "Yes," he said, misunderstanding completely. "You played so well today. My prize pupil. You're so good. So good. I'm so proud of you. Now work on that Prokoffiev for next time, okay? See you then. Off you go." He ruffled the top of my head, and I got up from the bench, gathered together my books, and slipped into the hallway, where Beverly, with a wan smile and a soft hi, passed me on the way in to her lesson.
If only it had been sunny out.
If only it had been mere gloom.
If only my mom had somehow got her errands done early and been out there, waiting at the curb, windshield wipers wagging. But the rain was so wild and fierce I could barely see to the curb. No car there, and no way I'd be able to wait outside without getting thoroughly soaked in less than seconds. I might not have minded that, but I didn't want to risk the music getting ruined. My little pouch, from years of overstuffing, wouldn't stand up in that gale. Not for a minute. Staring out the tiny square door-window, I considered whether I could put the pouch under my skirt. Hold it dry between my legs until my mother showed up. Something like that. Meanwhile the little window fogged up, and I couldn't see anything, and Beverly had started her playing.
The noise of it startled me. I'd never heard her play before. She was good. Did I say good? Did I say noise? She was ferociously good. Ferociously noisy. Right way I could tell she was better than me, much much better. She crashed into something jangly and dissonant and upsettingly brilliant. How could she do those things, make those miraculous wrenching sounds? It was like nothing I'd ever heard before.
I sat down on the little bench in the hall. No way could I leave now--I'd disturb them. But besides that, the music held me. It felt like, oh I don't know... like I was in the middle of a hugely busy street, with cars and trucks and busses whizzing by me on all sides, dangerously close. I couldn't take an inch of a step without getting obliterated. I could barely breathe.
So I sat there as quietly as I could, listening, and staring at Beverly's little yellow raincoat, and the rather large puddle underneath it. And when there was a pause, I wondered how I'd know when my mom was here, and how I'd be able to sneak out without disturbing them... without Mr. Trombley knowing.
This is a long story, huh? You're sure you don't want some more coffee?
.... There is more of this story ...