When I was a baby, someone (I don’t remember who) gave me a half-sized Spanish guitar as a gift. In my earliest years, I was immune to its spell. It sat there, next to the more immediately satisfying thrills of TIE Fighter, Doom and whatever other early 90s MS-DOS games dad had put on the PC.
We moved to the suburbs in 1994 and the guitar came with us. I started to feel the itch. I went to a guitar lesson as a first grader. An hour later, I was just as incompetent. The teacher said I had to practice. That wasn’t going to happen.
At eleven, I seriously invaded my parents’ record collection. Music was a common hobby, and there was often something playing in the house. I delved deep, picking albums by their cover art. “Wish You Were Here” had a dude on fire. I spun that. Couldn’t get through the first 3 minutes. “Time Out” had a cool painting on it. I listened and waited for some words. There weren’t any.
I came across what looked like a class photo. A lot of famous people were in it – most of them paper cutouts. I recognized Marilyn Monroe and Edgar Allen Poe. I recognized the wax statues of The Beatles in the front row. The name sounded cool – “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. I set it on the table and dropped the needle.
Over the next 18 months, I learned a few chords. I started to outgrow the toy guitar, and was ready for a full-sized one. I finished elementary school in 2000. My parents and I agreed a properly sized guitar would be an appropriate gift. We looked for something under $200. I wasn’t a flighty kid, but I didn’t yet understand how to take care of things.
Summer progressed and I was pleasantly occupied with tennis lessons and the Mets’ thrilling summer. I was still enjoying the toy guitar. I was exceptionally carefree. One morning, I woke up to a commotion. I thought it was my parents arguing over something dumb, a common event in my home. Then I heard sirens, the door open, and the rattling of metal casters on pavement. I don’t remember the ensuing events. My memory resumes in St. Francis Hospital’s ER. My dad was on a bed, anguished and convinced that he’s reached the end. My mother and I were convinced. He told us; “goodbye”.
He was wrong. Somehow, he survived an aneurysm and a stroke in rapid succession. The neurologists were amazed. My mother and I were amazed. Family and friends came in from all over. My mom slept in the hospital every night – I stayed with friends for a week, and they did everything they could to keep me from dwelling on what was happening. I still visited every day, as my dad floated through induced comas and drugged semi-consciousness. On one of those days, a cousin from Boston mentioned that I had been promised a guitar and that he was going to take care of it because my parents were euphemistically “busy”.
I got that guitar, a big Fender dreadnaught. I played it all the time. I learned classics, like Dylan and Cat Stevens. I learned the obligatory acoustic pop songs, like “Wonderwall” and “Good Riddance”. I tried to play lead, but wasn’t up to it at the time. I learned songs my parents liked and played for them. I took a knife and carved the date my dad was discharged from the hospital. It was a talisman. I promised myself that I would never stop playing. I was going to set a standard for the rest of my life – that something great would come out of something terrifying.
One of my closest friends says that I view everything as a joke. That’s not entirely true. I do try to find humor in everything that happens to me – but really I have learned to channel. Picking up a guitar is the best thing I’ve ever done and my most difficult experience bore my commitment to it. Because of it I’ve forgotten how to be despondent. I’ve learned to value myself and understand that my appraisal is the only important one.