Each night, around 8pm we’d hear the beautiful music from a piano being played next door. The music was beautiful and soothing. I was eleven years old.
We’d spend a few weeks every summer for the couple of years we owned a condo in Miami Beach there, as well as Christmas and Easter break. The piano man had to have been well in his seventies. He and his wife had introduced themselves to my mother and I one day as we passed them in our mutual hallway. They lived next door. He smiled at me with what felt like kindness, but as a young girl who was always eager for any attention paid to me, I didn’t know what was behind his smile.
My siblings and me spent many fun days at the swimming pool on those dog day afternoons of hot Florida sun. We’d swim for hours, splashing away and jumping off the diving board without a care in the world. Many days I’d see the piano man lounging at the pool. It was hard to miss him because I could almost feel him peering right through me as his gaze always seemed intently focused on me. When my eyes would catch his, he’d offer a smile so bright it was difficult not to smile back.
As the days passed, the piano man wasn’t always around, but when he was, I couldn’t help but feel he was a lonely man as he’d sit by himself and never talk with anyone. I’d look at him sometimes from the corner of my eye just to see if he was still around, but something within me warned me to keep my distance from him, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.
The fact that I thought I’d seen his penis hanging out from his bathing suit one day as he lay on a sunbed with his legs sprawled apart taking in the sun didn’t alarm me because, quite frankly, I’d seen a few of those mishaps a few times when some older men were sitting awkwardly in a chair. Besides, I knew nothing about sex or desire at that age.
I was the carer of my siblings by that age, even on vacation our mother was busy socializing, out with her then boyfriend on some lazy afternoons when she thought she wouldn’t be missed. We spent most afternoons at the pool there during those summer holidays while my dad was back home in Toronto working. I’d learned years later that my mother’s boyfriend was indeed a family friend who coincidentally also had a condo with his family in our same building in Florida. Convenient.
Nobody seemed to pay any mind to that piano man, not even my mother.
One day when I’d had enough swimming and wanted to head upstairs for some lunch, I found myself sharing an elevator with the piano man. I supposed he’d had enough sun too and was going back to his condo. He never spoke, just smiled at me the whole time in the elevator then he followed closely behind me as I exited the elevator. His door was next to ours so I thought nothing of the coincidence, as a naive girl of eleven.
While I stood at my door fiddling with my keys, he’d caught up to me. I felt him push his body up against me as I was opening the door. In that exact moment as I flung open the door, and wondering what he was trying to do, my mother appeared in the front hall doorway. The piano man said hi to her and made a beeline for his condo.
My mother never suspected anything other than perhaps he’d been walking me to the door. I was confused at the man’s actions but never mentioned any of my concerns to my mother or anyone else. After all, what did I know in 1970 about pedophiles?
That story could have had a much worse ending, and it’s a story I’ve never forgotten. I never had any growing up lessons from my mother. I knew nothing about the birds and the bees, only about never having courage to ask my mother about anything personal, especially about anything regarding my private parts, my fears, hopes or otherwise.
Many children share some of the same fears I had as a child because their parents don’t give them a platform to discuss their personal selves or don’t allow them to feel comfortable doing so. Particularly in the world we live in now, parents must talk with their children, not scare them, but make them understand that when strangers approach them, invading their private space, or trying to lure them away with offers of treats or fantastic adventures, they must understand the boundaries of safety. They must talk to their children and make them feel comfortable about coming to their parents with any concerns.
Had I felt a comfort talking with my mother, I would have told her about the man who kept staring at me whenever he was around, his penis hanging out of his bathing suit, and him pushing himself on me. I knew instinctively that he was trying to get into the condo with me, not merely walking me to the door. I was scared of that man after that day. I didn’t tell my mother I was scared, but I never again went in that elevator or into my condo alone without asking one of my brothers to come with me. I learned from my own instincts and gratefully, it wasn’t too late. By the grace of God I wasn’t raped.