My parents let me house-sit for them for two months while they went on a cruise of the mediterranean to see what it feels like being unhappy somewhere warm. I got the run of the house, in a way I hadn’t had when I was growing up, because I’d been the middle of five children, which means I was surrounded, like South Dakota. It was nice except that in the history of my family, my parents went from Spartan to Libertine and then re-Spartanized just before I moved back in, meaning we’d lived without cable when I was at home, gotten dish-network TV when I left, and now that I was back, my parents had discontinued it again. The dinner plate dish was still pinned up like a button on the house, but dead. Which I said was fine, except that a night or two a week NBC and HBO seemed to be suddenly excellent. I was alone in the house except for Drake, the dog.
I had a stroke when I was 24. The best part about having a stroke is all the ice-cream you get during your recuperation period. But the whole piano thing was over. I was ascendant in the art music world and then retired in the time it takes a blood clot to move all of about 6 inches. Before I gained my feet again, I started playing, but one finger at a time, MISSISSIPPI hotdog, MISSISSIPPI hotdog, and even that gave me an old frustrated feeling I used to have while developing pathways in my brain back when I was 4, and the frustration went right to my bladder and I had to get up to urinate 4 times a lesson. I don’t know if this is common, but frustration makes me urinate. Except from my position in bed, a little MIDI keyboard on my lap, I didn’t even have to get up. The glory of catheters.
I was allowed to live in the house while my parents were gone, but they weren’t inviting me back on a permanent basis. I didn’t want to go back, but I wanted to be invited. When you do the math on my situation, disabled guy in his mid-twenties, once promising, maybe permanently convalescing, from bright and rising star to night-light, I’m not in a hurry to add “lives with his parents” to the equation.
My other siblings have all left. They all have a company together. Very successful. They make high-end wheel chairs for paralytics. Quadriplegic, paraplegic, any plegic. They all have advanced engineering degrees.
If a prophet of any size were to arrive and move from mat to mat saying “rise and walk” etc., my siblings would probably hunch their shoulders and look on with generic eyes, maybe run through a few choice words. But just in their heads, for practice. When they see a paralytic in the street, pushed by a parent or whatever, they see a loose conglomeration of high-dollar bills arranged in the shape of a problem they know the answer for, and that parent is practically thrusting the problem-shaped person towards them. When they see the “DON’T WALK” sign illuminate at a crossing they feel whiskey-warm and nod.
The first few days in the house I circle the piano and my nerves grind and I can’t sit down. The third day I’m there, at night, Theresa comes over. Drake goes a little nuts and Theresa kicks him. That surprises me. I’ve wanted to kick Drake—forgive me, Father—he’s got that idiot dog brain. But I know him. Theresa plants a high-heel in his chest and that sends him off to the girls’ room, probably to desecrate their rug. The rug they made by weaving all those loops. They started with hot pot holders and decided to make the ugliest rug a dog has ever urinated on. Theresa has never kicked me, but as Drake whines away I know what he means.
Theresa makes sausage and bacon the next morning and I get ready for the camera crew. I look like TV me. Theresa wraps the bacon around the sausage and calls it a sausage McMuffin. I am kempt. I tuck in my shirt, which billows at the sides, because I’ve lost weight. Theresa eats the sausage McMuffin without thinking, like she’s singing in the shower.
The cameras do not float in and just capture me and my life. It’s a waste of my time to explain the artifice of any documentary when everyone knows already. But this time every month they check in with me. I’m the subject of the most depressing film I can imagine. It’s one in which nothing will ultimately happen. I won’t make my way back to my former glory. But in the editing they will show me really make a good try at it, and I will be a triumph of the human spirit, just for learning to play through the first several Alfred’s Piano Books again, never touching Bach, but the triumph will only be for the viewer. Because they plug in and watch the easy thing happen, and me slopping through The Malaguena from Book 2 will warm hearts, but I still have to live with me and everything still has to be ditches and holes at the bottom of ditches. And Theresa will look supportive, even though she’s only here for the cameras. And of course, I don’t care because at least she’s here.
While the crew does endless takes of me practicing 18th Century Dance I feel the thing happen where the pulse in the music becomes easy, and I’m no longer wrestling the individual dolphins of my fingers. They’re as obedient as Flipper. This is an alien feeling, and I feel a light go on in my face. I play and don’t think. I lose myself in this song, which is called 18th Century Dance, a generic name, and a song that has never imported feeling and probably can’t evoke feeling. But I play it so well. I don’t mind saying that I play it better than anyone else in the world has ever played it. I play it and the sweat drips off my face. I’m dripping sweat and playing 18th Century Dance so well. I look up and the camera is turned away from me, focused on Theresa whose focus is out the window. And I watch this part of the movie in my head where Theresa is listening to the saddest thing, me playing this naive, idiot song. It’s like watching a eunuch dance. And you can tell at this point in the movie, that she’s just waiting to leave. The scene isn’t about me having this moment where I break through. In the scene as I watch it, unlike the scene as I live it, this is the scene where I play the inane song, again and again, and no one can believe Theresa’s bad luck.
I used to play Ravel and Theresa would cry every time. I’d have her so happy and then I’d play Le Gibet and she’d cry. I did it during a fight once. She had a thing or two right about me, and I made her cry with Ravel and it made me feel like I was kicking a dog.
And right then I suddenly feel surrounded, by the camera and sound guys, the producer and Theresa. The pressure in my bladder increases. I break off in the middle of 18th Century Dance and walk to the bathroom—cameras now snapping back to me, following, covering me from different angles, producers amazed that I’m giving them such a gift. They’re hoping I’m on my way to stand in front of my own window, look out the window, roll some tears down my cheeks. Then they can cut back and forth between doomed figures, both looking out windows.
They don’t know that I am directing my rage in all four cardinal directions, in a million compass between between. That I am stuck between every component piece of my life and on my way to my sisters’ room to urinate on the rug. For the cameras.