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  • Writer's pictureLuella Schmidt

The Piano Teacher

Updated: Oct 1, 2021

Photo by p6foto

Bex was twelve when the accident happened. Growing up on the Mississippi, you’re used to this kind of thing. People being careless, weather causing chaos, you just grew up hearing stories of people being injured and killed on the water.

But this one made the national news and Bex stayed up late for days afterward, scouring social media for more details, morbidly hoping to see her small town of Myers, Minnesota mentioned again. Of course, the news moved on to another tragedy.

Bex lived with her dad. And her dad’s best friend Stan was one of the four killed that summer. Stan’s boat was just entering the channel and heading home after enjoying a full day on the water, when another boat collided with them, going right over the top of them, and capsizing both vessels. There was a search and rescue operation, but it was too late.

Stan’s boat was called For Reels and Dad and Stan spent a lot of time on it. They mostly fished, but they also enjoyed cruising around with friends. But that day, Dad was at work so he was safe. Since Mom died, Dad had spent a lot of time with friends and neighbors. He was so sad at first, but leaning on others seemed to help. He tried to get Bex to do the same, but it took longer for her.

Bex’s full name is Beccah and her mom was the only one who called her that. She’d been only Bex now for three whole years. It was hard to live in a house full of sadness again after finally seeing some light, but it was Dad that worried her the most. Other friends called to check on them, but Dad told them all they were fine, when Bex knew they weren’t. He started drinking too much and sleeping on the couch a lot. They would still go to neighborhood events and he could fake his way through, but Bex saw it all.

Then he started hanging out down at Harold’s Bar until late. He would come in, sometimes singing, sometimes sobbing, and stumble onto his bed fully clothed. Eventually he lost his job and Bex knew they were in trouble. Bex didn’t know a lot about money yet, but she knew enough to know they didn’t have a lot of it.

Bex’s piano teacher, Linda, knew they were in trouble too. Linda had been coming to Bex’s house once a week to teach her piano since Bex was five. Bex sometimes played piano in church on Sundays, while Linda played the organ.

“Bex, we’re going to have to do something for your dad,” Linda said one bright Saturday morning. Dad was outside mowing the lawn, which was overdue by at least three weeks.

“Like what?” Bex asked. Bex hadn’t considered that something could be done. There had been so much suffering in her life so far, she didn’t realize that you could do anything to change it. You just had to endure it.

“Let me think about it,” Linda said, and Bex was confused. She knew that there were therapists for people with troubles, but she didn’t think her dad would ever do something like that. She’d heard Dad and Stan making fun of someone who went to one.

“Meanwhile,” Linda continued, “what about you? You must miss Stan a lot.”

Bex nodded and felt embarrassed when she cried a little.

Linda hugged her and asked, “Would you go for a walk with me?”

It was late September and the leaves were starting to change, but today was hot as July. Linda and Bex walked to a small man-made pond a block over and they sat on the grass just off the city sidewalk.

“Now,” Linda began. “I want you to pay close attention. Do you feel the cool green grass on the back of your legs? Look at the water on the pond, how on the left side, the water ripples a little and how on the right side, it’s smooth. Look at the fountain in the middle, how the water that falls back down makes a shape like a big flower, with the petals always moving, never the same for a second. Isn't it beautiful?”

Bex found the patterns on the pond mesmerizing.

“Next,” Linda continued, “do you hear the birds?”

They listened for a minute and they could hear a few different birds, but Bex only knew the robin’s song.

“Look at all the butterflies and other insects flying around the tall rushes and reeds around the pond. An entire universe right here.” Linda’s arm made an arc, as if she was presenting the pond like Vanna White presents a vowel.

Bex felt amazed. She lived only a block from this pond, but she never visited it. She thought the huge apartment building next to it was ugly and the interstate on the other side of the hill was too loud. She realized she could tune those things out if she chose to though, and just be with the prettiness of the pond.

“Never forget the power you have, Bex,” Linda said. “There will always be things that happen to us that are hard and painful. And it’s important to feel those things, to honor even the hard things because they turn us into who we are. But it’s just as important to see the magic. You have that power in you, every minute of every day. You can choose to notice the pretty leaf on the way to the bus, to notice when a kid is kind to someone else at school, to notice when someone holds a door open for a stranger. If you pay attention, you start to notice that there is much more magic than darkness.”

Bex and Linda sat in silence for a while, enjoying the beautiful late summer breeze and the warmth on their arms, savoring it all before another Minnesota winter was upon them.

“I learned in health class about habits,” Bex said. “If I notice something nice every day for three months, do you think I can make it a habit?”

“I think what you’ll notice,” Linda said, “is that practicing it every day will make it stronger.”

Not too many days later, the friends began to arrive. At first, It seemed like a few random visitors, but Bex realized pretty quickly that this was Linda’s doing. It was never more than two or three days before another friend or group of friends would stop by to spend time with them. Maybe it was a shopping trip, a dinner at a restaurant, or just watching a baseball game together on TV at home. They were never alone for long, and every friend brought their happy and sad stories, and laughter and light slowly came back to their house.

Bex’s dad got another job but things were never quite the same again. Bex saw at least a little magic every day from then on, and she taught her dad to see it too. And they lived.

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