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Rated: 13+ · Non-fiction · Biographical · #1429174
A short piece for 'The Moment that Changed My Life' contest.

I was too young to understand the most ironic thing about being an outcast. All around you, in anonymous houses, offices, schools and street corners, there are people who feel just as rejected by their surroundings. At nine years old, however, I was unaware of this. I was just an awkward kid who spoke in a perpetual whine, and I had the taste of pea gravel in my mouth from the day's schoolyard altercation.

Like many a shut-in child, I had taken up piano three years before, staying after school to sit through classical training. I had developed a penchant for taking the most simple, traditional pieces that every young music student must learn, and re-writing them, changing chords, adding a different melody, whatever suited me in the spur of the moment. Over time my teacher realized that I wasn't doing this because I couldn't play the sheet music properly, but because I didn't want to. Maybe, even then, I thought learning by digging deeper was better than learning by stale repetition. Maybe I was just stubborn. Whatever the case was, after three years, my teacher finally informed me that she couldn't teach me anymore. Not with any animosity on her part, or with any disappointment in me, but simply because I needed something else, something I didn't quite understand.

She told me to see a man named Paul Harris.

I went to his house with no idea what to expect. My background was what one would expect from the straight-edge, upper middle class home from which I'd come. Following direction to the letter was deemed the safest and therefore the best way through life, and a smile didn't have to be genuine as long as it looked the part.

Someone was calling me down to the basement. At the bottom of those stairs was something as alien to me as if I'd stepped into someone else's body. I took in the posters of jazz greats I had never heard of, and stacks of records in the corners, the lime green shag carpet and the stale haze of cigarette smoke in the air like an archeologist uncovering a lost cilvilization. The man at the piano looked exhausted, shadows under his eyes a five day muzzle, but he smiled and ushered me onto the bench. It was an upright piano, an ashtray preached on the top and burns on several keys. There was no sheet music on the stand.

Not knowing what to do, I looked up at this man, who smiled again and told me this:

"I'm going to teach you how to play jazz music."

Those lessons lasted about a year, before Paul Harris left. I'd like to think he's still teaching, settling in places just long enough do help other kids out the way he helped me. That may be overly-romanticizing things, but that doesn't matter. I'd found my music, I'd found my own ability to create, and most importantly, I'd found my way of fighting back. Whatever the world might throw at me, now as much as then, I hold something indestructible.

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