In and Out of Tune

I can hear the floor boards above me creaking, dust floats down in and out of the golden streams of sunlight beaming through cracks in the rotting wooden ceiling. Someone has pulled the door open and is walking down the stairs. I can’t help but feel a tinge of hope, it’s been so long since I’ve felt the warmth of full sunlight. How does a musical instrument pass the time when it’s not being played? Does he sit idle and dream of striking chords and harmonizing with his owner, or does he reminisce on the songs of his past? My, my…I’ve been stowed so long that my very own answer to that question has changed many times. Dust has settled into the smooth curve of my waist, humid air has begun to warp my neck so that it curves inward towards the wall I’ve rested on for so long. Age is etched into my delicate frame, but my strings, although they hang loose from years of going in and out of tune, appear fresh, almost un-plucked. They look like a streak of brilliant silver hair in the dusty, dark brown of this brunette basement.
I am not a good guitar. I was meant to send off my notes, gracefully drifting through the air to mingle with each other, twirling like the delicate fringe of a dancer’s dress. But my notes dart off in all directions, crashing into each other at rough angles, reverberating off of walls with great force and coming to rest in injured heaps of sour sound. I often wonder if I was meant to be something else, that in the process of being created, maybe there was an error. My pliant wooden body should have been the delicate earthy details to a great mantle above roaring winter fires, or perhaps the soft under belly of a formal dining room table. I can picture children lying on their backs under this table, staring up at me like I’m an ornate ceiling in their tiny castle, lightly gracing my unfinished surface with the pads of their small fingers pausing only to scratch their initials lightly into my skin, leaving slight scars that say I am theirs.
But even in error there is some purpose. I once, just once, sang beautifully with another soul. His callused fingers were hardened from age and the kind of grit you can get only from hard work. When he first touched my frame, I could feel the acquired ridges of his grip running over me, contrasting starkly with my sleek finish. His hands slid over my sides without any cling, rolling off my curves smooth as ice skates, leaving a brief impression that only I could feel. It lingered, like the soft hum of the prelude to a great sonata. He and I made music before ever striking a single note. And when he finally did strum my young strings, I sang out joyfully and my notes danced like they were always meant to.
I only ever sang once. Those hands never did return to me, though I did dance with many other pairs. They never held me as gently, and when they plucked at my strings it was angry, as if they were already filled with vengeance for the music they would never be able to make with me. So I was laid down long ago, to wait for the next pair of hands that would take hold of me and make me sing again. I couldn’t make music, but I have always been able to keep time. Common time, four-four time, five-eight time, whatever signature matched my stagnant tempo as I found myself sitting idle for years. My only company was the brief time I spent as a gift, given away by the man who could make me sing to a young girl.
I sat in the corner of her bedroom for many years before I was cast to the basement. I watched her grow, listening to her was like hearing a song play too softly in the distance, beautiful but with a longing to hear each note crisply and clearly. I overheard her talking about true love, she spoke of it as if it belonged only to humans, as if they created it. But I wonder if humans ever truly feel love, or if they only feel the urgency not to be alone. I am an instrument, a tool that is meant to be used and manipulated, warped into a purpose seen fit by my creator. Humans cannot enter into such a form of devotion, they cannot give up everything they are to the will of another. And isn’t that love? Maybe I won’t ever know what love is, but I’m certain I have heard it and felt it, if only once, so long ago.
A soft hand wraps around my neck, pinning my strings to my body so that they won’t scream out in an unmelodious outburst, and I’m carried, finally, into bright light once more.

I was never meant to be what I am, and now I’m the only unclaimed piece of garbage left from a garage sale of dejected toys. So now I’m useless as what I am, but maybe not in what I am composed of. So take apart what you find, pull it into its separate pieces, watch it fall apart to see how it once came together. Make something new with the junk that you see, make music, make art. Use these materials and build for yourself a kingdom of belongings. We are materialistic but we are so with a purpose, what comes from us comes from nature just as we do. It is natural to build and to create but even more so to break down. As much as we love to carve away at wood, sand it down and curve it to precise angles that will let vibrations turn to song, we also love to destroy. To unwind steel strings from their coils so that a gentle twang wafts as a non-melody through the air, to rip at wooden seams so that they fall like dense banana tree leaves, keeping their shape but losing their color as they detach. Destroy this failed, glorified music box and make something better. Make the music we’re all afraid to hear, the songs of endings and new beginnings. Take me apart, piece by piece so I can sing again.

I am complete but I do not feel whole. I picture myself as an series of broken images, brought together to roughly resemble the instrument I’m meant to be. In many ways, this should be beautiful. That so many warped pieces could still become something at all. But that does not change my brokenness. Even in the best light, in the most beautiful setting, I am still nothing but a fractured version of what I should be. And so I don’t fear my own breakdown, I welcome it. But when it comes time to be disposed, I am not destroyed. Instead I start out on a sojourn of rejection.

I dream as I sit waiting to be claimed by something, whether the elements or the garbage man, I thought of what else I could have been. All of us consider the alternative possibilities that could have been, but when lacking in true purpose these fantasies are addicting without having to be exotic or exciting. I can dream up an existence where I am simple part of a somehow even simpler wooden bench, and I will yearn for it to become reality. It may not be romantic or desirable but in that world I serve a purpose, I have a function. But there are times, too, when I dream of the unrealistic. If I can’t make music, perhaps I would have moved to it better. I imagine myself twirling with abandon, rhythm driving me forward as if these movements were pulled out of me rather than created by me. But I always dance alone in these dreams. Dancing alone seems as purposeless as a guitar that can’t carry a tune. The dream often devolves into a nightmare in which my wooden frame is stripped to become the soles of tap shoes.

My rejection never ends. It always takes me to new places but it always feels the same. Whether the sun is shining on steamy summer days or the earth is cold and still in winter, the mood of rejection never falters. It is a feeling of pain but without sting or surprise. Rejection is always foreshadowed, it can be predicted but we deny what we sense. So when it hits us, what we experience is not pain but catharsis. We are letting go of the emotions we held hostage within our denial. We only say that rejection hurts because nothing else we have ever experienced in life resembles this feeling. Its like falling, but it’s so much slower. You can feel yourself slipping towards the earth but you don’t worry about the impact because at least you know what it feels like to be hit hard. You can only worry about what you’ve lost, what you fell from. It’s a lamenting fall where time unfolds as lazily as crumpled paper, forcing you to be fully present in this moment.
I have fallen like this so many times, it is always the same. As I sit here, I imagine the world in different lights, with colors dripping in saturation and brand new hues peaking through the distance but it all feels just the same. It felt the same in my last place of repudiation and it will be this way in the next. I have been chosen and discarded again and again and I have felt nothing new. The only change comes in the form of diminishing hope, each time I am picked up again I feel only a tinge of optimism. Just like all the others, these new hands will be unable to make me sing and they will eventually give up on me.

I have drifted from so many places; some beautiful, some otherwise. But when I came to rest in view of the lake and the mountains, I imagined myself as a piece of driftwood. In a way, I’ve always been driftwood. I’ve always floated passively, bobbing up and down on waves of meaningless time, swept away by random currents taking me to the next place where I will serve no purpose. So to drift along this ice cold, crystal clear lake would feel no different but the scenery at least would be nice.
As I sit, imagining the ebb and flow of the tiny waves, a brand new pair of hands grasps my neck and picks me up. I feel absolutely no excitement, once again I am in the hands of someone who will leave me. I feel angry, that someone would still try to make me sing, after all that I have been through. So when he carries me to the end of the dock and his callased fingers run over my frets, I begin to resist. He twists and turns the tuners of my strings but I fight back, I don’t want to sing for him, or anyone. I don’t want to sing at all, I can’t remember what those songs sounded like anyway.
But he is incessant and pulls my strings taught. I fight him, feeling the full strain of my resistance in each of my delicate strings. He never gets frustrated, he isn’t even perplexed as to why I refuse to be tuned. He continues to gently pluck, leaning in close to hear my reserved sound. I want to keep fighting him, giving in will only result in the same sour sounds and eventual rejection that it always has. He’ll abandon me like all the others have, and I’ll go without my song once again. My strings are pulling tighter and tighter, I can feel the tension extending from my strings to the frame of my body, threatening to rip me apart, useless once more. I can picture the end to my story, a single string hanging loosely from my body, uncoiled and limp in defeat. Surely then he would abandon me, surely then I would be finished.

But my string doesn’t break. He gives my tuner a final twist, and seems satisfied. He pauses for a moment and I release my anger, the tension that had mounted within me recoils slightly, but my strings remain taught. Delicately, he places weathers fingers along my frets, his hands contorted unnaturally in a pose to press down on my strings. He takes one soft breath and begins to strum. What comes from us is simple, but melodious. I am singing, a song that isn’t quite sad but is lamenting and hollow. I would not believe that this music comes from me, but I can feel my frame shiver with the vibrating waves of sound as they emanate from my body out towards the setting sun, undulating with the waves. I am singing in the arms of someone once more. I want to sing out to everyone, indiscriminately bringing music back into the world. But in this moment, my song is soft, the waves of the lake over power it and the only one to hear my notes is the one who helped me create them. So we sing together, utterly alone.

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