Friday, October 31, 2014

#18 Piano Practice

Tiny bubbles clung to the inside rim of the bowl in the sink. Caleb stared, fascinated by the way they crowded together, the rainbow swirls on their surface, their slight movement as he breathed on the water in the bowl. He could hear Mom calling his name, heard every word she said, but it was too hard to break through the wall, too hard to move. He was a statue. His brain wasn’t talking to his body right now, it was too absorbed in the bubbles in the bowl in the sink.

Mom touched his shoulder. “Caleb, time for music practice,” Mom said.

Caleb blinked. Images of the piano filled his head, memories of being at his teacher’s house, of playing songs, of touching the keys and making sounds fill the room. He loved the piano. He started to go.

Mom was putting dishes in the dishwasher. Afraid, Caleb stopped and watched her for a moment. Wasn’t she going to come?

“Go on,” Mom said. “You can get started without me.”

“No, Mom,” Caleb pleaded. “I need you. I’ll get distracted!”

Mom set another dish in the dishwasher, then without a word she led the way from the kitchen to the living room.

One of Caleb’s cars lay on the floor in the hall. Cars filled Caleb’s mind. All his toy cars, all the colors, thoughts of playing with them, of seeing them lined up in rows, of driving them down their plastic tracks and making them jump off ramps made with books. He sat down and picked up the car, then drove it in circles around the middle of the tile.

Again, he could hear Mom calling his name, but it was too hard to respond with his mind full of car.

“Caleb, get up! I thought you just said you were going to practice piano.”

Piano. That’s what he was doing. The car wasn’t finished with his race. The crowd was screaming in excitement, the wheels were howling, the car went round the tile, one more lap.

“Caleb, bring the car with you,” Mom said. She sounded mad. “Let’s go. One, two, three…”

Caleb growled and swept the car up of the ground. “I hate it when you count.”

“Focus,” Mom said. “Piano. Focus.”

Caleb set the car down on the piano where it could hear him practicing, and then hunched over on the bench, swinging his feet hard and staring at the keys. A song he knew burst into his head, and he sat up and put his hands on the keyboard. It came surging out, his hands and fingers moving without a thought from him, nothing but the excitement of the music. In the corner of his mind he was aware that Mom was setting sheet music out on the stand, he knew he wanted her to play his new song, not one of his old ones, but he couldn’t play the new song! It was too hard. He didn’t know it yet. This was easy, like walking down the hall.

“Very nice, Caleb,” Mom said. “But now let’s do your new song.”

Caleb started the old song again.

“Caleb, stop,” Mom said. “Stop, new song, focus.”

Caleb shouted, “I don’t like it when you get angry at me!”

“Do I sound angry?” Mom asked, “Now what’s this first note?”

Caleb stared at the page, where Mom pointed with her finger. The long lines of the staff made it hard for him to concentrate. That black spot meant nothing to him. It wasn’t a note, it was a little black face staring at him from inside a cage. He had to set it free somehow, but he didn’t know the combination. He groped in the dark of his mind, trying to find a key. He took a deep breath, and tried to count the lines. Mom didn’t like him counting lines, but he could do it fast, and it was the only way he knew to free that note.

“What is it?” Mom prompted.

“D!” Caleb snapped impatiently.

“Good, now start,” Mom said.

Still groping, straining, counting lines from one note to the next, Caleb struggled through the song, feeling his way by the sound of it and desperately trying to make sense of the spots and lines in front of him. When he got to the end, Mom closed the book.

And Caleb played the new song again. This time without even having to think about it.

“Amazing,” Mom smiled.


  1. You are amazing, Rebecca, to have given so much of yourself to understanding him and how he works. My Stephen is a litte like this. He gets distracted easily and has a one-track-mind. Thinking of this story will help me be more patient with him. Thank you.

  2. Thank you, Catherine! It is very much an ongoing process, but I am so grateful for the opportunity to get to understand a mind that works in its own unique way.