The Day My Music Died


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Some memories never fade. Tucked away in the accordion file of our minds, some memories live forever. Some memories walk hand in hand with us to our six-foot retirement homes. And though it is true that some are great blessings, some memories scar the hopes, some memories mar our dreams.

In my heart I will always have a passion for music. The rhythm of the beat is the blood in my veins. I can close my eyes and hear the notes, tasting the sweet sound they leave on the top of my tongue. The sound of my soul, that reverberates inside the corridors of my heart. I feel empty without its presence, naked without the silken cloth of sound. This is my life; this is my true love.

But love does not pay the bills, my father would say to me, loosening his tie and kicking off his leather shoes, those tight leather shoes. I like my sandals, I thought to myself, as I had so many times before. After all, thinking seems to be the only thing to do. I couldn't speak; I couldn't put that replenishing sound into his heart. Hell, thinking was the only cure. It sure beat hearing another lecture on the myopia of my dreams. Really, I was tired of it all. Every time I tried to tell my father about the passion, the sheer energy that music provided for me, my words fell on deaf ears. Listening, he would cross his arms and nod his head in that patronizing way. Soon, I could no longer distinguish the true meaning of any of my father's gestures. In our home, a nod no longer meant yes; a smile no longer meant happiness. As soon as my father realized that I was serious about being a musician, his world and mine collided head on.

Father always believed in the importance of politics. He lived his life based on the philosophy that it isn't what you do, but who you know that really matters in the world. I still cringe at the thought of such an idea. I was never the one to go after people. I wasn't the type of person who you would interview when composing a "How to Win Friends and Influence People" book. If for some reason I didn't feel like grinning like a birthday boy upon making the acquaintance of a friend of my fathers, then that was that.

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In my mind I wasn't being rude, I was just being myself. I was never one to sugarcoat other people's perception of myself. Father, though, fed the bullshit like he was born doing it. Instead of the usual wait, I can almost see my father making small talk with the obstetrician, nonchalantly inquiring about the weather while tugging softly at the remaining stub of his umbilical chord. We are different. We see things in different shades of life. Although I knew it was inevitable that our personalities would dictate the proximity of our relationship, I never realized that such conflicts in philosophies would build a wall around my own life.

As I grew, I began to see a change take place between my father and me. I was older and I was ready to begin my quest for that great marble stone of manhood. I could no longer hide behind the aegis of my immaturity with my father. I could no longer use my youth to defend my actions or my desires. Where as before, my dreams were passed off as cute and childlike, now my father saw them as whimsical and impractical. The fact that the strength of my dream had grown tirelessly over the course of my life received little attention from my father. Now, he said, it was time to plan for the future, time to plan a realistic life for myself. But this is what I love, I would plea, clenching onto some hope that I could maybe shine the light of my dream into his eyes. My efforts, however, produced not even a faint glimmer of understanding in his mind. I still wonder about the existence of his dreams. Did he grow up with some distant dream in his eyes? Did he dream of playing with a major league baseball team? I can't help but to think that his own failed dream influenced his insight into my own personal dreams. Perhaps he is simply looking out for me in a world of fallen stars and unattainable heroism. Still, I must say that it is not his decision to choose the path of my life. Let him show me the routes but let me walk down my own lane. But, Father, unrelentingly points me to his own path. A path lines with office buildings and cubicles, littered with stocks and bonds. A path that ends at the feet of the great green god where all those white shirts kneel and pay their respects and pray that the Dow Jones won't leave them out in the cold. I looked down this path, but I saw nothing there for me.

The tension continued to grow as I made my journey through high school. During those days, the only pleasure I ever got was when I was playing music. I joined the band and I finally found the people that I could connect with. As we would perform in concerts or at football games, I could feel the great sphere of energy that surrounded us. When we played, it was like all of us shared the same soul, like we were all connected with the harmony. I loved those days. I loved the excitement of the music that flowed from our veins out into the crowds. It didn't take long for me to realize that the stage was my home, the players my family. When we performed, the sound that bound us together was thicker than any blood. I felt the warmth of the surrounding horns, and the rich tone of the woodwinds came sweeping to fill the empty valley of my life. It was truly ecstasy.

Father would also come to those concerts. He would walk in the back entrance then sit in the back row. I would see him sitting back there with that solemn look on his face. I know he didn't understand, I could see it in that blank stare, a stare that only looked up at me out of obligation. There was no joy in his face; the corners of his mouth never once wrinkled. I would look out at him and pray that he would, just this one time, smile at the music. I wanted to scream out at him, look, this is what I am, but I couldn't speak and he couldn't listen. There was simply no way around it. I would spend hours thinking of the things that I could do to help him understand, something that was musically common between us. This wasn't going to happen. He hardly listened to music at all, and when he did, it did nothing for him at all. I remember riding in the car with him when I was young, and, wanting to listen to some music, I would turn on the radio. Well, it took no loner than a few minutes for him to switch the knob to A.M. so that he could find a local sports game. It would never work. The bond that we had should be the deepest ever, yet I felt nothing between us. If his name wasn't on the birth certificate, then I don't think I would even believe that he was my father. We were so close, yet so distant. I hated the situation. Unfortunately, things only got worse.

Our concert and practice schedule had me pretty tied down most of the time. I was constantly going to rehearsals and auditions and performances. Really, I don't ever remember being as happy as I was then. But, it started to wear on me. I was also taking a pretty tough course load in school, and I started to see that something would have to give. Father also realized this with each month's report card. My grades were really starting to slip; I knew I was in academic trouble. As the grades dropped, Father would threaten me, saying that there was to be no more music and that I was to focus on my grades in school instead of wasting my time in rehearsals. I would make promises, promises I could not keep. As hard as I tried, I could not bring myself to let up on the music. I knew what I wanted my future to be, and I knew that I could do it. I wasn't interested in Math and Science, I simply wanted to study music, to play music, to intertwine myself in strings and reeds and sticks. I would start to study on of my other courses, but the drums that shimmered in the corner of my room called to me like Calypso inside her musty cave. And I would come crawling into the arms of the beat once again, forgetting about my obligations to my schoolwork, to my father. As I played, I could hear not only the sound of the snare and the metallic splash of the cymbals, but also the pounding of feet coming up the stairs. My father would hear me and bound up the flight. He would bang incessantly at my locked door until finally I gained control of my body once more and put the drums to sleep. He would then proceed to give me the largest piece of his mind that he had to offer. I would listen without saying a word then quietly go lay down on my bed, looking at the maple finished snare like it was a smoking lover.

The days of struggle carried on, with the stress of grades riding piggyback with its hands over my eyes. But, I was getting by. I wasn't coming out on top of the class, but I was passing everything. However, I knew that the real test would be the final exams coming up in the spring. I knew that I could get by if I only studied, but the final concert of the season was the weekend after exams, and I would have to prepare for it all week, leaving little time to study. I was at an impasse. I could forget about the concert, pleasing my dad and teachers by making good grades, or I could focus on the concert and run the risk of failing. I didn't know quite what to do. Actually, I knew what I wanted to do; I was just too scared to come to terms with my choice. I knew that if I failed, Father would behave drastically, the effects of which I could only imagine. As the weekend was fast approaching, my decision would have to be soon. I had to prepare for something. I couldn't let everything fall through the cracks. Looking back, I am still proud of my decision, I am still glad about what I did. The rehearsals started that night. I would not be late.

We practiced for the weeks to come and, in the end, we produced a concert that would please the crowd on Mount Olympus. I was proud of what we had done. The sound filled the concert hall like the sweet hymn of angels. I remember the absolute awe I felt when we shook the frame of the building with gentle melody. It was the finest moment in my life.

Father, of course, did not attend the concert. Instead he sat at home, waiting. He waited all day until the postman brought the letter from school. I can just see him violently ripping into the envelope like it contained the secrets of Dean Wittier himself. I can see him reading the numbers down the page, focusing most on those below 70. I can almost see the burning anger in his eyes as he slammed the paper down on the coffee table, shattering it into tiny glass pieces. I can just see him running up the stairs and smashing my beautiful drum set into oblivion, leaving shipwreck were treasure once stood. I can feel the floor shake as the cymbals crashed down on my floor, as the hi-hat tipped over, spilling its precious flavor. I see all of this in my mind and I cry. Of course, I really saw nothing, at least not until I got home later that night.

I walked in the back door and saw my father sitting on the couch with a broken drumstick in his hand. He held it out towards me like a cat offering the dead rat to its owner. Puzzled, I took the drumstick and looked down at the ruins of the glass coffee table. I asked him what had happened, but he only pointed down at the letter that rested in the heap of glass on the floor. I knew what it was, I didn't have to look, but I did anyway. I wanted to see what had done me in. What was it? Math, Biology, what? I scanned the grades that sneered out at me from the page. Within minutes, I saw where I had failed. I failed the Economics final and nothing else. I peered slowly at my father, who simply pointed to my room.

I walked into my room, not knowing what to expect. I climbed the stairs slowly, hoping that whatever sat waiting for me in my room would have time to leave before I got there. I felt like the monsters that, in my youth, had lurked behind every corner where now huddled together in my room, waiting to devour my flesh. When I opened the door, I realized that it was much worse. I didn't cry. I didn't scream. In fact, I don't think that I did anything but sit on the floor for a while, looking into the remains of my love. Never had I felt such grief and anger; I had never lost a loved one before. I gathered the pieces together in a heap and then placed them into garbage bags. Carrying the bags, I walked slowly past my father, my head up high. I then walked out into the woods behind our house and sprinkled the contents onto the soft natural carpet. I finished up and went inside. Father said nothing to me that night, but I understood his message. It was over. Every dream I had built with that maple wood had been shattered. I saw no joy, no love in my future. I felt encased in a coffin of misery. My father had won, there was nothing left for me to do. The final concert was indeed played that terrible night. Amidst the joy that the music in my soul had created, I felt empty and cold inside. I had lost my life.

Now things are different indeed, yet the misery still stands looking me in the eyes every single day. I no longer sing in my head to the tunes of life and love. Now my soul is stagnant in the pit of this office hell. Yes, I grew up, but my heart has not grown since that final concert day. I work now with my father, his office door faces my cubicle. He says that someday I will take over things in the office, that I will be successful. I don't think about it too much. Now, we talk over lunch about the business world and abut the stock market. Sometimes I lose myself and tap lightly on the table with my fork and knife, Quickly, I stop.


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