The piano player (another survival story)


When I was in my early twenties, I was sexually assaulted (I can’t bring myself to say that other word) — not by some random stranger — but by someone I was close to: an ex-boyfriend (who claimed he “still wanted to be friends”). Others may have been told or assumed different versions of what happened, but they were not there in the room when this man assaulted me. This is not their story. This is my story, and I have finally decided to tell it, in the only way I feel that I can. 

Photo via  Unsplash .

Photo via Unsplash.

Once, a woman was given the gift of a piano. With it, she was given a simple invitation: to join a band. All she had to do was play in the band, and she could play the piano as much as she wanted. So, she agreed, and accepted her gift; she accepted the invitation. 

The band played beautiful music together and, when they did, people would listen. They played together and, to the woman, it felt safe. 

The band played together and the years passed until, one day, one of the band members hurt the woman. He hurt her in a way that felt familiar, but was also completely new. He hurt her and she felt shame. He hurt her and she felt anger. But, mostly, she was shocked and terrified. 

How could this person who felt safe hurt her in such a way? How could he wrong her? How could he betray her? The safety that she felt in the band had ruptured, and she was left feeling raw. Her shame and fear kept her from telling anyone what had happened. So, she kept her mouth shut, and the band played on. 

Time passed and the band members eventually went their separate ways, but the woman could not let go of her piano; she was stuck to it. She took it with her wherever she went, and the man who had hurt her was never far from it. She pulled the piano around by two thick leather straps that were attached to her shoulders, and she kept playing. She kept playing, because that was the agreement she had made. She found new band members and kept hammering away at the keys, fulfilling her contract. She played and the man still looked on.

One day, a helper appeared. The helper was curious enough to ask her about the piano. They asked her where it had come from and why she was playing it. They asked her why she was stuck to it. They asked her about the man who looked on. So she told them everything — about the band, the man who had hurt her, about the exchange she had made for the piano and why she kept carrying it around — and the helper listened. 

The helper listened but could not stay silent. They were outraged and went to look for the people that had given the woman the piano —surely, they could do something — but those people could not do anything. All they could do was listen and pray, listen and pray, listen and pray and share their opinions about the piano, its player, and the man who looked on. 

They questioned the piano player’s purity. This, they said, could have saved her. They suggested that the piano player forgive the man of his sins against her, as the man was very sorry. This, they said, would bring healing. They told the piano player to seek peace with her god, just as the man had done. This, they said, would bring closure. But, she didn’t feel peace or healing. She didn’t feel closure. And she didn’t feel like forgiving. 

Again, the piano player felt shame. Again, she felt anger. But, mostly, she was shocked and terrified. How could these people disappoint her in such a way? Where could she go that felt safe? 

So, she decided: enough was enough. She broke her contract, and gave the piano away. She gave away the gift she had been given; the gift that became more than she had bargained for; the gift that became her burden. She tore its straps from her shoulders, leaving open sores of flesh. No more would she put her fingers to its keys. No more would she play its notes while the man looked on. She hadn’t found the help she wanted but, at least, she was free. 

She was free, but the open sores from where she had torn off the piano’s straps took a long time to heal. Some days she missed the piano, some days she missed the people who had given it to her, and some days she missed the band. But, she realized that none of them offered her safety. None of them offered her protection. None of them had offered her change to the status quo. All she had been offered was a piano, and the request to play it. But, now, she didn’t have to play it anymore.

Healing didn’t come as expected. It wasn’t peaceful. It wasn’t some kind of reconciliation. It wasn’t a process of forgiveness. It came from years of wrestling with all of the hurt that the piano player had felt and, finally, facing it. Just as she had pried the piano’s straps from her shoulders, she pried hurt and shame and anger from her shoulders and unburdened herself. Through tears and pain, she found healing, but closure never came. 

Closure, she learned, only comes to those who are treated fairly; where justice is served. She wasn’t treated fairly. Justice was never served, and it never would be. Closure was a luxury she would never have. All she had was healing, and a chance to tell her story. This is all she had, and it would have to be enough. “Enough,” she said, “enough.”