When I was in seventh grade, my grandfather bought my family a piano.
None of us played the piano. None of us had indicated any interest in learning how to play the piano. My grandparents had a grand piano in their living room, but in my entire life, I’d only seen it played when my cousins and I would tap out “Chopsticks” or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
Still, my grandfather bought us a piano and had it delivered to our house. My sisters and I took three, maybe four years of lessons, but none of us was very good–probably because we didn’t have much interest in learning to play. We rarely even practiced. I tried to be a good pianist because I thought it would make my grandfather happy, but now I know I could’ve gone to Juilliard and still not have been good enough to win his unconditional love.
I told A that story in therapy this morning. We were talking about my family, particularly my grandfather, in terms of them cutting me off at the end of the year. I talked about my grandfather’s pride in being uncompromising and his certainty he knows what’s best for everyone in the family, and I felt like I was being unfair, only talking about his meanness. I said he could sometimes be kind, or tried to be, but it’s like he’s so used to being mean that he doesn’t quite know how to be nice.
“It’s like he’s got all this money, and he’s trying to be nice, so he buys you something–but it’s not something you want or like, but you don’t want to tell him that. So then you have this piano that’s just there, and you don’t know what to do with that,” I told her. “But usually the piano is only metaphorical.”
I talked about how my family sees me as this manipulative person who fakes mental illness so she doesn’t have to be self-sufficient and threatens suicide when she doesn’t get what she wants. They really think that I’m a bad person. I don’t see myself that way anymore–at least, not most of the time. But it hurts to know that’s who my family sees when they look at me. Physical pain like a knife stabbing into my sternum. That’s not me they’re seeing. I’m not a bad person, and I don’t play the piano.
Now, after that, I’m feeling sad. I used to think I had this close, loving family, because that’s what they told me we were. Even now that I know better, know how toxic it was, I still catch myself idealizing the family I used to have. I want so badly to have a family that loves me, and it feels unbearable to realize that I never will. But I finally believe (most of the time) that I’m worthy enough not to go back to my family for the scraps of love I might get along with the emotional abuse.
I just wish it didn’t hurt so much.