I Never Learned to Play Guitar
I never learned to play guitar because my dad’s body aches. Most of his life has been spent working in hot warehouses.
He worked for Walgreens lifting boxes upon boxes of Halloween, Christmas and Easter candy into 18-wheelers. He worked for Home Depot hoisting bathroom and kitchen fixtures into trucks headed for neighborhood construction sites. Now he works for a company that ships oil rig machine parts. His joints are very stiff. He limps around the house.
At twelve, he taught himself to play the guitar after his father bought him one for Christmas out of guilt for beating him more than the rest of his brothers and sisters.
I remember being five and going to band practice with him, dancing non-stop until I’d fall on the ground, exhausted. At school, I told everyone he was a musician because I didn’t know anything about forklifts or distribution warehouses.
When I was twelve, I wanted him to teach me to play. I’d sit in my room and rehearse a speech about how I thought he had to be a smart person to teach himself to play guitar and how I thought he was good at it and I wanted him to teach me, but when I came into his room and saw him sitting there, alone, playing the songs he’d written on his golden Les Paul, I’d forget everything I wanted to say.
Then I found out about all the beatings. At seventeen, I’d walk in on my dad playing guitar and see this image of him as a child, sitting on the edge of the bathtub with his hands covering his face: His father beats on the bathroom door because he hates working in some shitty factory and he hates supporting five children and he has to take his rage out on somebody. He breaks the door open, grabs my dad by one of his skinny child’s arms. He hits him all over his body while his mother stands in the doorway with a white dishcloth in her hand. She says a silent prayer to the Virgin Mary so she won’t be held accountable.
The next Christmas there’s a cheap white guitar under the tree. My dad’s hazel eyes light up as he holds it in his lap and runs his fingers over the strings. My grandfather sits in his recliner with his slicked-back hair and his marine tattoo and watches on silently.
It’s been years since he’s played in a band. He searches the musician ads online, gets a few email addresses, but never writes to them. He sits in his room and plays for an hour every night. When he’s done, he wipes the guitar with a clean rag, places it carefully on the fuchsia colored velvet of the guitar case, locks it and slides it under the bed. Then he crawls under the sheets and rests.