In Perfect Tune
I was thirteen years old when problems with my family escalated and I was forced into a shell only music could pull me out of. Every time my mother raised a hand to me, I raced back to let my violin release the notes that I wished I could say to her. Not even when she hovered over me, her hand clutching a knife and her voice demanding me to kill myself did I worry. In the back of my mind, a melody was singing softly to me, whispering that soon, I would be okay. It sang of paradise- wildflowers and fields of tall grass surrounding a stream of water and large, beautiful trees casting shadows in the light. When that melody sang to me, all I heard was that paradise.
* * *
My left had violently fingered the E string as my right hand glided back and forth at the base. As my fingers moved, a melody that started in my heart released from the string and into the air. My fingers moved from the G to the A, then to the E string as my eyes shut out the light around me.
I was in a room all by myself with no doors, windows, or lights. My fingers flew rapidly on the neck of the violin as my closed eyes traced outlines of the notes forming around the room. My heartbeat chased the melody as the blood in my veins pulsed to create a harmony perfect for the song my body was singing.
As soon as the last note escaped from the violin, my eyes opened and, to my surprise, I wasn’t in a dark room with no doors or windows. Instead, I was in my well-lit bedroom and the only things floating in the air were particles of dust that fell from my fan. Those dust particles neither looked like the notes that filled my ears just two seconds ago, nor did they play a gentle melody as they fell to the floor. I was in my room, in my house, but without that music, I wasn’t home.
I grew up with a piano in my house, and naturally, that became the first instrument I learned. I was intrigued with the different sounds the black and white keys made and the different effects that the foot pedals at the bottom of the piano created. In the fourth grade, we were taught how to play the recorder, and the following year, I picked up the flute. These instruments became the gateway into a world that would eventually save me.
In the sixth grade, I left the flute behind and was able to pick up the one instrument I had been dying to get my hands on since I learned what music was: the violin. The four strings that stretched across the wooden instrument all seemed to glow a special silver as they begged me to touch them, begged me to help them create the melody that they were capable of. The horse-hair bow seemed to be pleading with me to pick it up and draw it across the strings, and that’s exactly what I did. The next few years, I tried my hand at a variety of different instruments, but I never fell in love with another instrument the way I fell in love with the violin.
In the eighth grade, my mother married a man who was crude and abusive, constantly threatening myself and my family. I stashed ten to fifteen knives around the house, one of them directly beneath my pillow. I never felt safe and my violin remained in my closet, forgotten. One day, my stepfather brought home a man who offered me drugs and alcohol and pushed me towards my bedroom. I didn’t accept his offer, and as I hid, locked in my closet, my body started singing to me the same melody that would calm me down for years to come.
Eventually, my stepfather was thrown in jail. The charges didn’t matter- he would be in and out of jail for as long as I knew him (and remains there, to this day). Unfortunately, his absence didn’t make things better. Instead, things took a turn for the worse. My mother was still upset that I refused to kill myself when she demanded it of me. At thirteen, I was diagnosed with depression. My mother filled the prescribed anti-depressant pills twice before deciding she no longer wished to pay the extra expenses. Soon after she stopped filling them, my mother, an aunt, and an uncle took turns holding me down and beating me. I was bruised everywhere that my clothing covered. That was when my mother pushed it again.
“Go ahead, kill yourself, I’ll give you a knife,” were her exact words, words that remain etched in my memory and are not likely to fade. Though she had given me a knife and asked me to end my life before, something in both her voice and her eyes made me realize that this was real. The longer I stared into her eyes, the faster that melody I needed faded.
Shortly after, I was admitted into a mental health facility and put on “suicide watch.” I was locked away without instruments, without music, and although I never wascrazy, being there could certainly driveme crazy. Despite the fact that the rooms in the hospital were never locked, the bars on the windows and the guards at the end of each hallway made the facility resemble a prison.
My mother visited me once, the first day I was admitted, to tell me that neither she nor the rest of my family cared about what happened to me. I sat there silent, listening to her threats and verbal abuse until I could take it no longer. I ran from the room in tears.
I found myself wishing I could have somehow smuggled my violin in and ended up writing sheet music on napkins and humming to myself. Quickly, I found a way to use my vocal chords that would make my current singing coach proud. Without the aid of any other instrument, my voice led me into the same melody that sang to me so many times before. I was discharged within a week.
By my senior year of high school I was enrolled in both band and orchestra, and my band director caught onto the fact that something wasn’t right. Each week, he would bring me into his office and had me assure him that I was staying away from drugs and alcohol, and as a result, I left high school free from both. We watched as my friends ended up in the hospital or in jail, and he made me feel proud that I didn’t become a product of my environment.
I moved away from my mother and her husband and moved in with an aunt. She regarded me the same way that the rest of my family did, but still, she let me stay under her roof free of charge. Around this time, my band director helped me to understand that just because my family didn’t want me, didn’t mean that nobody else did. He let me play with any instrument that I wanted to and made sure that my love for music never dimmed.
I didn’t see my mother my entire senior year, and steadily, music was engulfing every aspect of my life. My instruments were my support system and as long as I had them, nothing else mattered. I was in a happy place, but my violin remained untouched in the garage. Instead, in marching band I played a brass instrument and in orchestra I tried my hand at the stand-up bass.
Neither of those two instruments, however, gave me the same melody that my violin offered. They instead sang for me a harmony so unfamiliar that I never felt comfortable when I picked them up. My violin was stolen by mother’s husband and sold, and as a result, after high school, I didn’t play an instrument for another few years.
Finally, three years into college, I told myself I couldn’t take it- that I needed to feel the pressure of the strings beneath my fingers and the hardness of the violin underneath my chin. At the music store, my eyes fell on the most glorious, glittering white violin I had ever seen. Though I had always told myself that the next violin I bought would be electric, I still felt compelled to hold this acoustic one in my hands. As soon as I touched it, it sang for me a song in tune with the song my body once sang years ago. I purchased it on the spot and took it home.
This violin played for me both a harmony and melody just like the ones my previous instruments had. This time, though, a whole different picture was painted: a girl with long, black hair sat in a field of grass, wearing a smile. She clutched a sparkling white violin to her chest as birds sang in the distance. A gust of wind blew wildflowers up and around her as she laughed, kicking her feet higher into the air. Notes swirled around her and swayed with the grass as the branches on a nearby tree danced in the wind. There was nothing else here, no pain, abuse, or sadness. All that was here was simple: a melody playing, in perfect tune with a harmony that sang loudly from her heart.
Lorraine Biteranta loves to write but hates to write bios. She has poetry and non fiction published as well as a chapbook, and her work is featured in the anthology "Redshift." That being said, you would think she'd be better at writing biographies. She isn't. Her biggest accomplishment is her cat sitting through her reading an entire essay to him and not falling asleep or scratching her for silence.