I am not a strong person.
Correction: I am a strong person with comically weak arms. Always have been, always will be. While many other women boast strong shoulders and toned biceps, my long-limbed slenderness only passes for physical fitness until I’m asked to carry more than twenty pounds for any great distance, and then the illusion is shattered. My noodly limbs were so pronounced at such a young age that by two years old, I’d earned the affectionate moniker of “Grover Arms.”
For this reason, aside from an abysmal lack of gross motor skills, I fell away from athletic pursuits at an early age and instead landed on a piano bench. Although my inconsistent practicing might suggest otherwise, it was love at first note. Something I could do with my body that didn’t require swinging rackets or shooting baskets: huzzah! I reveled in my new, non-athletic talent. Moreover, as months turned into years and Alfred’s Level One turned into Mendelssohn, something exciting and strange happened. Through years of stretching, pressing, and tapping, my hands achieved what the rest of my upper body notably lacked: dexterity and strength.
Capable hands might seem a silly source of pride, but they posed an encouraging counterpoint to my other physical incompetencies. Aside from making music at will, I became a whiz at opening jars and giving strong handshakes—in other words, I was quite the Renaissance woman.
But seriously, while I don’t play piano much anymore, my hands are still my favorite part of my body. They’re not exceptionally pretty, but stories live in the creases of my knuckles. My fingertips sport guitar-string callouses and mostly healed papercuts, and there’s a permanent raised bit on my right middle finger from twenty years of unconventional pen grips. Where there’s strength there is also knowledge, expertise, memory.
My hands know things. They remember Debussy’s First Arabesque, a Schubert Impromptu, and a Haydn Presto, though my brain has long since lost the notes. They remember being scrubbed against concrete to break infinite clumsy falls. They know the relief of a cold, sweaty pint glass on a sweltering Saturday and the comfort of steaming tea mugs in winter. They know their favorite pen and pair of mittens.
My hands are teachers. Curve your fingers on the keys like this, like you’re holding an invisible tennis ball. Good. If you hold the steaming pitcher at this angle, you’ll get better milk texture. If you pour your beer from this height, it won’t get too foamy: see? Move your hand down just a smidge, no, too far, almost—ah, perfect.
My hands are social. They rejoice at familiar touch and are quick to offer solace. They will say “I love you” before my mouth is ready. They treasure their dearest friends: fleece blankets, fluffy dogs, fountain pens, the hands of loved ones. They just made a new friend, actually, and enjoyed his fresh haircut, his smooth shoulder blades, his confident spine. A few nights ago, he laced his fingers through mine and marveled.
“Wow, piano hands.”
I grinned and knit our fingers together tighter still. “Yeah, my hands aren’t fucking around.”
My hands do not trust his yet, but they’re curious.
Caitlin Gent (’15) graduated with a writing major. She lives in Milwaukee and works in fundraising & development. When she’s not working, Caitlin is usually walking with a friend or singing in the kitchen. She likes to wax poetic about Wisconsin to anyone who will listen.