Okay. So I had touched the guitar a couple of times, but only to like get a note for vocal exercises and maybe once or twice to hit a chord to practice the hymn. I had not “played,” for what I considered playing.
I was nervous to really play. Which sounds stupid, but I was.
What might sound stupider is that I was nervous enough that I didn’t want to attempt it while Ziggy was home. I’ll try to explain why but I don’t think I understand it better now than I did then.
I didn’t want to have to deal with his sympathy if it didn’t sound right. Well, maybe it was more like I didn’t want him to have to lie and say it sounded fine if it didn’t. I didn’t want to force a confrontation.
I also didn’t know if I could take him being brutally honest–which he also had the capacity to do. I was just way too vulnerable about the whole thing.
So I figured I’d wait for him to leave the house. But it seemed like he only did that when I did. When I went to a PT appointment or that sort of thing. Understand, until then I had been fine with us being attached at the hip. This wasn’t me being an introvert and needed “alone time.” If that was all it was, I’d have just said so. But it was me being super fragile. Superfragilistic. Too fragile to ask.
Which led us to a conversation one afternoon when we’d slept in, and I woke up with the itch to find out just how bad my playing was. We were in the kitchen tag-teaming the coffee machine. Ziggy had taken to drinking his black except for a spoonful of rose-flavored syrup he had bought in an ethnic grocery of some kind. I was back to having it with cream and sugar and considering it a meal.
We were standing in the kitchen. Through the little window above the sink I could hear a garbage truck making its way down the alley. As the caffeine began to soak into my brainmeat I remembered something I’d been kind of meaning to ask. “Isn’t your therapist here in Boston?”
“My psychiatrist, you mean? Dr. Franks?”
“Yeah. I mean, are you still seeing her?”
“Not lately, not since I got off anti-depressants.” He breathed in the steam coming off his coffee. “I kind of wonder if I should quit caffeine again, too.”
“Maybe we both should.” I took a gulp of mine, which was not very hot because I’d put so much cream in it. “I mean, the theory is to not have artificial ups and downs, right?”
“You mean in quitting caffeine or in getting off anti-depressants?”
“Uh, you tell me?”
He chuckled wryly. “The meds kind of even everything out, supposedly. So the highs won’t be too high and the lows won’t be too low. But some of them just made me feel kind of low, and some of them I just didn’t feel like myself.” He took a sip and sighed. “I can go back to her if I feel like I need to. But right now I’m coasting on autopilot.”
So much for the idea he might go out for an appointment of his own.
He gave me a rose-scented kiss. “You seem worried.”
“No, um, I’m sure you’re fine. Right? You’re fine?”
“I’m fine. A little anxious about upcoming career moves and shit like that, and maybe a little stir crazy, but I’m going out for a dance workout in a while so that should tire me out.”
“Oh, good.” That maybe came out sounding a little weirdly eager. “I mean, that’s good. For you. You know what I mean.” I gulped down the rest of the coffee, hoping that hadn’t sounded too weird, or maybe that it could be blamed on me still being half awake.
Ziggy laughed but not in a bad way.
He went out about an hour later, and got out my old Yamaha classical guitar. It had been living in Allston and I’d brought it over here a while ago, but I hadn’t used it. I’d debated which guitar to try first. Part of me said I should start with the Fender because it was the easiest to play, but once I thought about it a little I realized what made the Fender easy was all easy on the left hand–low action and a slim neck–whereas if I wanted to try to get my right hand in shape the wider strings of the classical were going to be better.
The strings were loosened, so the first thing I had to do was tighten them up by a lot to tune them. I started with the lowest string, E, bwung bwang bwing as I plucked at it while turning the tuning peg around and around. As tension in the strings rose, my palms began to sweat.
Then the B string broke. Dammit. I looked through the case, though, and there was a spare set of strings–or at least a partial set. It was missing the high E and B, which were probably what I had broken most recently. High E, being the string that is the thinnest and gets the most, work breaks the most often.
It took a while the restring the B, and then so much winding. I didn’t have a peg winder here so I had to just crank the machine between my fingers over and over and over.
Both hands were shaking by the time I sat down on the piano bench with it fully tuned, ready to play. I didn’t have a foot stand here, so I propped my left leg up by hitching my heel up against the leg of the bench, which wasn’t ideal, but my plan was to play for twenty minutes, tops.
I held a pick in my fingers for starters. Okay. Let’s step through some of those old exercises. I strummed through E, A, D, E. Then I picked my way through a couple of scales, up and down. Okay. Then I set the pick down and did it again, this time with my fingers.
So far so good. I know not every fingerstyle guitarist uses all five fingers. Some use only thumb, first, and middle fingers. But some of the flamenco styles really required all five, and there were some kinds of arpeggios that were better done with all five or I’d have to re-train myself entirely.
I took a couple of deep breaths. Retraining myself from scratch to use different fingers would be horrible. And I might never get the same dexterity I’d previously had…
Stop thinking about that. If I let my anxiety get any higher, I was going to be nauseous. Just fucking play.
I went back to one of the old classical recital pieces I’d learned in fifth grade. I didn’t have the sheet music with me, but it was one of those things that was so ingrained that I could usually pull it off while warming up.
I didn’t make it out of the fourth measure before I stumbled. Middle, ring, and pinky fingers were all moving differently than I expected. It was like putting on new shoes and immediately tripping over them. I slowed to half speed and picked my way through, but at half-speed I couldn’t quite remember the piece right. Since I mostly remembered it by muscle memory, when those muscles were doing something different, I couldn’t remember it. Note to self: pick up my old music books at the Allston house.
I switched to just working on arpeggios and scales. They were less even than they should have been, but I told myself not to panic. This is what I expected. It was going to take a while to get everything working again. I had to recalibrate my brain as much as my muscles.
I told myself that but I was kind of terrified inside anyway.
The phone rang and I laid the guitar down on the couch while I went to answer it. As I picked up the handset I realized my right pinky was tingling. I tucked the phone onto my shoulder–“Yellow”–and rubbed my pinky and ring finger in my other hand. They were both much colder than they should be.
Panic. But I had to set it aside when I heard who it was.
Remo. “Heya. Been trying to reach you.”
“So I heard! Sorry I’ve been kind of all over the place. Licking my wounds and all.”
“You doing all right?” He tried really hard not to sound like he was scolding me, but I could hear that little edge in his voice. “I’ve been hearing through the grapevine but you know, hearing it from you is better.”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry. I just…had a lot to deal with.” I sat down on the kitchen floor with my back to the oven. “I kind of went off the deep end. I didn’t realize that was really a thing and not just something that happens in movies.”
“What do you mean?”
“I guess until it happened I didn’t realize it was possible to actually lose my grip on reality. But I dug myself a hole bit by bit until I was in so deep I couldn’t pull myself out.”
I could hear him breathing; he might’ve cursed a little under his breath.
“It was ugly. I was paranoid and convinced every bad thing I could think of was true. But I kept telling myself it wasn’t that bad because I was still making it through the shows.”
“Maybe that’s half the problem. I always told the guys I didn’t care how much they drank or what they did overnight as long as they could play when the time came. But maybe that was–I dunno–too low a standard.”
“Or just the wrong standard,” I said. “It’s okay, Reem. My head’s in a much better place now. I found a shrink who’s told me some really helpful stuff. And my physical stuff, well.” I trailed off, trying to find a way to tell him about my fingers without outright lying.
“About that. I–I must’ve been out of my mind to expect you to–”
“No no no, none of that. He’s my godchild, right? I’d put a lot more than my hand at risk for him.”
“I didn’t mean I shouldn’t have expected you to try to protect him. I meant I was out of my mind to expect you to play after that.”
I thought about that. Was my warped view of how much I could do after the injury coming from trying to meet Remo’s expectations? I didn’t think so. Maybe I got my work ethic from him but this was a whole ’nother category. “Okay, first of all, no one’s putting higher expectations on me than me, so you can just get in line with the self-flagellation. None of this is your fault, Reem.”
“I mean that.”
“But I feel responsible for you.”
“Because you feel responsible for me all the time. And I appreciate that, even if I didn’t really properly appreciate it for a couple of years there.” I rubbed my pinky. It was warming up. I flexed my hand, making a fist and opening it again quickly, like I was pumping up a blood pressure cuff. “But you have a real kid to be responsible for now.”
“Okay, you know what? We’ve been around the bush on this one a couple of times and I guess I have to say it again. You are not being replaced by Ford in my… my… paternal care slot. Okay? It’s not like the only reason I’ve treated you like an adopted son all these years is because I didn’t have a kid of my own.”
My anxiety spiked and my throat closed. I don’t think it was what he said that made me react that way. I think I was already freaking out about my fingers and trying to have a heavy emotional conversation on top of that was too much. This is why I was avoiding calling you, I thought.
“I love you, kiddo.”
“Yeah, love you, too, old man,” I managed to croak. “Is that what you called to say?”
“Yeah, well, if something happened to you I didn’t want to carry around the guilt that maybe I hadn’t said it. You know?”
“That makes perfect sense.” It did. And it showed how worried he was. I remembered him telling me about the girlfriend who’d tried to commit suicide. I wondered how often he told her he loved her. Not that it was any of my business. “So, how is the kid? And his mom?”
“They’re okay. They’re in Georgia again for a while.”
“You doing a tour of folk festivals or something?”
There was a beat of silence a bit too long. “No.”
Another beat while my heart stuck in my throat again. I didn’t even know what he was going to say, but something about the tone of his voice made me dread it.
“I’m still in Tennessee.”
Uh-huh. So what.
“I’m visiting your mother.”
Oh shit. There couldn’t be a good reason for that. “Melissa’s okay with that?”
“Remo! You can’t be ser–”
“Shut up and listen a minute. Just…be quiet and listen, okay? She didn’t want you to know.”
“That you’re getting back togeth–”
“That she’s sick.” He had to repeat it because maybe I hadn’t heard it over my own objection. “She’s sick, Daron. And she’s scared.”
Those were nice simple words. I should have been able to understand them. Sick and scared. I knew both those things intimately. But I still didn’t grasp what was going on.
And then Ziggy came in and took one look at me sitting on the floor, and I wanted to tell him not to panic, that there was no reason for it, that I was perfectly okay.
Except I obviously wasn’t. Dammit.
DGC News: Hey, are any of you near Reno, Nevada? I’m autographing on Saturday at the RT Booklovers “Giant Book Fair” at the Peppermill Resort from 11am to 2pm! Come say hi and I’ll have some special DGC swag for you if you mention Daron to me! 🙂 You don’t have to register for the whole convention to just come to the book fair which is open to the public! You can also just buy a day pass for Saturday if you want to go to the other things happening on Saturday, including some awesome book parties and things. Me? After the signing is over I will probably stake out a spot by the pool!