The music reaches me in the next room, and I step away from my desk. Quietly, I creep down the hall in my bare feet and poke my head around the corner. Unseen, I watch my five year old daughter as she strums and plucks a too-large guitar. Draped across her lap, she curls her body around it, embracing the instrument like an old friend.
Her love of music comes as no surprise to me, she’s been alternately soothed and energized by music since the blurry newborn days. What does surprise me is the rush of emotions that flood me as I watch her play her first guitar. An instrument she’d requested on her own. Joy and sorrow wage a war inside me. Joy, because I too, have embraced a guitar like an old friend. Sorrow, because the one who gave me my first guitar, who taught me my first lessons, is no longer around to share in this moment.
I was older than her when I first learned to play, but like her, I felt drawn to the guitar. The heft of the body snugged up against mine was comfortable and safe. The guitar was a shelter in the storm of my teenage years in a way that the piano hadn’t been in those years. My music gave me a space to be free, to feel at peace, and I want that for her too.
But this moment doesn’t come free. Because laid across the vision of my daughter playing guitar, is another living room, another guitarist. A guitarist who shared his love of the instrument with me. Who breezed into my life in a flurry of stocking feet and guitar riffs. He shared his instruments and his love of the guitar with me. Someone who believed in my talents as a musician, when no one else – not even I – believed I could or would stick with it. His faith in me gave me the strength and courage to push past my need for perfection. And when he abruptly left my life, the music, the guitar he gave me, was the thing that pulled me through the darkest days of my teens and early 20s.
I pull out my phone and record a short video of my daughter. She never notices me standing there. I slip the phone back in my pocket and return to my desk, the emails in front of me abandoned as I stare with glassy eyes at the cursor blinking on the screen. I think of the theory of the multiverse. In another reality, I’ve opened WhatsApp and sent that video to Eric, perhaps with a cute message about her love of the guitar starting young. Or a note about how excited we are to see him on our next visit to the US.
In this universe, the only one I’ll occupy, I feel the waves of loss sweep through me. I feel an ache in my heart that never goes away. I feel the ache of missing someone coupled with the joy of knowing that they’re never far away from me, because I know he’s always been right there, in the strum of the guitar.
My reverie is broken when the music stops and little feet pound down the hall, my daughter skidding to a stop next to my desk. She beams up at me. “Did you hear me mama? I played so good!”
I swallow the lump in my throat and smile at her. “Every note, baby girl. You played so well, and I loved hearing it.” I slip my arms around her shoulders, and give her a hug. Someday soon, I’ll teach her to play. And someday later, I’ll tell her about Eric, and how he taught me to play. And he’ll live on in my heart and in the music that ties us all together.
I wrote this months ago, and it’s been languishing in my drafts. I dashed it off in the moments after this event occurred, and over the months, I’ve thought about expanding it or submitting it to a publication, but I don’t think I’m brave enough to submit it. So here’s a little piece of my heart, and I hope that, if you too find that your sorrow is mixed with joy, you know you’re not alone. xo, E.