Mrs. Thayer had big frizzy hair and too much blush. Her butt was so big it spilled over either side of the piano bench. We had to drive 30 miles to get to her house and then I had to sit in her dank basement doing homework while Teresa went into the piano studio for her lesson. A toddler Erin would run around the room and my mom would balance her checkbook while tapping her snow boots. Then it was my turn. I hated being alone in there with her. I hated those basement windows that were way at the top of the wall and when you looked out all you'd see was the dirt in the window well and the bottom of the neighbor's house. The glass of water with its disgusting lipstick prints stood beside the metronome atop the piano. They stood there together looking down on me, mocking me as my fingers slipped off sharps and stumbled too quickly through the tougher measures. Then Mrs. Thayer would make me do them over, telling me to focus on the time signature this time and listen to the ticking metronome. She would lean in squinting, crowding my space, invading my bubble so that I could smell each particle of her potent old lady perfume. Begonias and Lilacs. Or whatever flower it is that old ladies like so much... She would shove her swollen hand with all its rings into my middle C position and show me how it was to be done. There was no clock in there so I never knew how much time was left. Sometimes as she was blabbing away about ritardendo or decrecendo, her hand would rise like a maestro and I would strain with all my might to catch a glimpse of the hands on her tiny gold wristwatch. It was just my luck that the thing didn't have any numbers, so if I ever did get a look at the hands I never got an actual time. Just a vague idea that left me more frustrated than anything.
One day Mrs. Thayer left the room for a moment. I don't remember why. Maybe it was to answer a phone call. Maybe to refill her lipstick-smeared water glass. Maybe to take a pee. I really don't remember. All I know is that I, a daring nine year old, was briefly left alone in the piano studio and an urge so strong I couldn't resist came over me. Risk slithered down my spine as I made the decision to do it. My cartwheel.
I did a cartwheel in Mrs. Thayer's piano studio. As soon as I completed my covert little stunt, I scurried back to the piano bench and resumed my studious piano-playing demeanor. No sooner had I smoothed my hair back down and straightened my blouse then Mrs. Thayer opened the door. “Are you ready to try again?” she asked. With adrenaline still rushing through my body, charging to my fingertips, I played a perfect “Allouette” . I finished my lesson with a tiny smirk in my soul. I left Mrs. Thayer's that day with a smug satisfaction. The same smug satisfaction I still feel when I get away with something. Since that cartwheel, there have been few things that I've actually gotten away with. I didn't get away with drinking beer on campus. I didn't get away with driving with expired tags on the Air Force Academy. I didn't get away with parking too close to a fire hydrant in Denver. I didn't get away with unprotected premarital sex.
I do occasionally get away with a free bag of kitty litter because it's on the bottom of the shopping cart. Right now I'm getting away with not having a full-time job. I hope to get away with the payments I've missed on my student loans. But if not, I'll just do another cartwheel when no one's looking. And that will be just as good.