A long, long time ago
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile
The guitar came from a thrift store in Queens. It had a long, deep scratch on the body and I liked to imagine that some cowboy with a silver ring had done it intentionally, as a notch for the prettiest girl he'd ever seen. Like he'd cheered a jager-shot to a beauty in the back of the bar and drawled into the microphone in a slow surfer speak: you're so groovy, baby.
Anyway, that scratch helped me barter the sales guy down another forty-two dollars, which left me just enough in my pocket for a bus ticket and a questionable tuna sandwich from a gas station.
It was garbage. The guitar. Old and beaten up like an abused mistress. It stunk too. Like beer and sweat and bad decisions. Like maybe that 'pretty girl' wasn't so pretty in the cheating light of morning.
I cleaned it with steel wool. I really leaned into it, stripping it down to the original raw wood until it was all naked and apologetic—like it didn't know who it was anymore. I sat with it on the stained tiles of my kitchen floor (which was also my bedroom floor and my living floor) in my tiny studio apartment over the strip club in Brooklyn, with the bass pulsing through my body from below, churning in my gut with the same intrusive sickness it had stuck on me the day I moved in, trying to reinvent it with my attentions. I'd already been told I wasn't getting my deposit back. As if the water-stains caused by the leaking bathtub in the apartment above were my fault. As if everything was my fault. As if I was a pariah and I deserved to leave with nothing.
No. Not nothing.
Some people want to rescue animals. I'm aiming to rescue the heart of rock and roll. And to do that, I need to rewind and re-find myself.
I fell in love with that ugly second-hand (third-hand? fourth-hand?) guitar. I rubbed olive oil into its raw surfaces and then I rubbed in my tears, too. I lay back on the floor and hugged that beaten instrument to my chest, and together we felt the music beat through us. We fit against each other like two pieces of a puzzle and we became one in that rocky, intimate space. It understood me. It felt like home.
And it birthed a strength within me that began to swell.
Music can save a mortal soul. I know it. Don McLean knew it too, I just think he was afraid to be conclusive. A question mark feels so much safer than a period.
On my thirteenth birthday, my mother gave me a beautiful Epiphone acoustic with a warm, rich, woody tone. She paid for lessens from Roger Sprites who used to tour with Neil Young when he was actually young and I Bryan Adam-ed myself to the point of bloody fingers. Those were the best three years of my life. But then my mother met Nathan and Nathan used my magnificent guitar to break her cheekbone before emptying her savings account and skipping town.
I was never able to play that guitar again. Every chord broke my heart like it broke her face. We sold it on Craig's List. Mom bought me another one from the Sears catalogue, but its cheap twang destroyed my spirit, so I planted a bonsai tree in the sound hole and I named it Charlotte's Web because that book broke my heart, too. Mom made me throw it out when the wood started to rot and that nearly killed me.
"Suck it up, Charlotte," she said to me, her face a little less pretty since The Incident, the left side just a bit sunken and lower—like a doll left in the sun long enough that her plastic cheek started to melt—her eyes a little harder even though she really wanted to be okay. "You did this to yourself. A tree in a guitar? Honestly."
I'd cried then. Not a gentle kind of cry. No, this was a torrential downpour of adolescent angst that included slamming doors and piercing my ears with a sewing needle just to show her I made good decisions all the time. It feels good to lose it sometimes. Isn't that when we're the most human? When we're raw and vulnerable? Just try and tell me that Eric Clapton wasn't completely shattered while he wrote Tears In Heaven—snot running, face blotchy, voice hitching. That's real. Real real. Life and death real.
I tested my fingers along the frets like I was playing the piano. There were no strings. Not anymore. The strings that came on it were dead, so old they had rusted where they curled around the tuning pegs. I'd taken them off and turned them into a wrap bracelet as a humble nod to the history of my new best friend. It circled my wrist like a ghost of something I couldn't quite remember and it smelled like metal—the acidic irony blood-like smell that clings to the shiny things people stop loving—and I decided I wouldn't take it off until I knew who I really was.
Should I stay or should I go?
No. Scratch that.
I will go.
Get rid of question marks. No hesitation. Hell, let's get rid of the periods, too.
I will go!
I lay the guitar in its case like I was putting a baby down to sleep in a crib and I stood in front of the fridge. An advertisement was held there by an 'Eat Lombardi's Pizza' magnet. I read it again for the hundredth time.
OPEN AUDITIONS: TOWN TROUBADOUR
Seeking one highly motivated singer/musician with:
- eclectic (non-controversial) taste in music
- willingness to contribute to small-town charm without showboating
- humility and virtue (thou shalt not sing Madonna)
Offering flexible hours, affordable housing, community integration, complimentary WiFi, and one complimentary milkshake/week.
Please report to Taylor Doose at Taylor Doose's Old-Fashioned Soda Shoppe in Stars Hollow, Connecticut, on Sunday, June 3. Line up at 8:30 am. Auditions to commence promptly at 9:00 am.
I smiled to myself and it didn't hurt me. I pulled the bus ticket from my pocket and used the same magnet to stick it up with the advertisement.
I will go!
YOU ARE READING
The Charcoal TroubadourFanfiction
It is 2012 and Charlotte (Charcoal) Flynn is looking for a fresh start. Life in New York City hasn't been easy. She has a crummy apartment, a needy mother, and a humble dream: to be happy by the time she turns thirty. A lifelong lover of music, Char...