The miracle of the red guitar

 “Don’t betray your beliefs, we all deserve to be accepted. We cannot row against ourselves, that turns life into hell”.

Carpe Diem, Walt Whitman

I was going through the first years of adolescence, the time of existence awakening in which the first deep question usually appear, generally unanswered. The changes became evident physically, almost imperceptible emotionally. From one moment to the next, everything that made me happy in childhood lost meaning, became futile and annoying. A growing sense of dissatisfaction invaded me and tormented me to agony. The happy and careless child was lost in the twists and turns of the streets that silently watched me grow up.

The toy cars, my super hero magazines and the children’s black a white television shows on the weekends were put aside and a frantic search began for I don’t know what, I don’t know where, it was like an urge to make sense of everything that quietly took hold of me and governed even every act, every decision.

Today, seen from the distance that years allow, the matter appears anecdotal and somewhat hilarious, but at that time it was a major crisis with no apparent way out, impossible to understand, and to which no one seemed to have the solution, not even my parents, who only a few months ago knew everything; on the contrary, they seemed to be part of the problem.

The unresolved questions and the conviction that no one understood what I was feeling were the explosive that fired the first vestiges of nonconformity, of rebellion; I quickly made the pilgrimage on the forced and painful path that takes the infant out of the warm protection that paternal wings lavish and places him on the very threshold of life, where the disturbing uncertainty of a world that opens up infinite, mysterious is perceived.

I was overwhelmed by the rules and limits that authority imposed on me mercilessly and I felt subjugated to the real will of adults, which I found irritating, demanding and dictatorial. I couldn’t bear instructions about what to do, how to dress, when to talk, how much to eat, who to talk to and what time to go to bed.

Today, I know that my parent did their best to guide me on the path of good, but by then, I did not have the ability to understand it; instead, I began to see them as callous torturers, conspiring with the rest of humanity to make my life unbearable.

Unwillingly, I accepted the paternal admonitions, but the demands of other people who simply abrogated the right to raise their voices to me and harass me seemed insufferable and unleashed an anger I didn’t bother to hide and that earned me the reputation of rebel and misfit. I was in frank and open fight against the whole world. I think I came to consider the idea of leaving home and going to live in a mountain, getting away from the madding crowd of a small town that only had ten streets, growing my beard and playing protest songs on the guitar, wrapped in the moon light. The small detail was that I was still very young, I didn’t have a single hair on my face and I didn’t know how to play the guitar; besides, my fear to dark prevented me from even imagining being alone and in the mountains; I quickly gave up the idea of running away, but the desire to have a beard and play the guitar persisted.

I became a headache at home and school, no one could stand me or myself. Bold, I frequently defied the strict paternal rules and my satisfaction was huge every time I managed to irritate my teachers.

I had a kind of comfort when I found out that most of my friends were going through the same bitterness at home as I did at mine. I was sure it was a plot by all the dads on the block to prevent us from being happy; it was reasonable, they were old, tired and all what they wanted was to read lying in their beds and we, on the contrary, were overflowing with energy and the desire to know the world, shout and have fun.

The meetings at the corner stopped being a meeting of children with their toys and became a therapeutic circle with characteristics of a confessional where each of us went to unburden the pains of a suffered and misunderstood existence, it was the only place in the universe where no one questioned anyone and we accepted ourselves as we were. We became brothers of afflictions, monosyllable, circumspect, we listened to rock and roll and although we didn’t understand a word of the lyrics, we felt in our souls that this music identified with our agonies and expressed us. Oh, and every day, we inspected each other’s faces in search of the longed-for appearance of the beard, we celebrated with unusual euphoria the birth of every facial hair.

At home, my relationship with the other members of the family were at their worst, I lived in a self-imposed isolation that instinctively my father knew how to overcome, he allowed me some space and privacy, but never abdicated his authority or compromised the rules established for the family, such as going to church every Sunday as a family.

Those two hours seemed eternal but strangely entertaining. It was a meeting of simple people who always carried a black book in their hands, they treated each other like brothers and sang, out of tune and with a rare joyful expression on their faces, songs accompanied on the violin, also out of tune, by one of the most venerable elders of that community, deaf like Beethoven himself, but with a little less musical skills.

They smiled all the time and radiated serenity in their eyes, even boys my age. That was a bit disturbing, I expected that they, like most of my friends, were going through the same experiences that had us at war with the rest of the world, but no, they always smiled and despite my stern frown, they treated me with kindness and warmth, everyone did, especially the lady who gave classes to my age, everybody called her sister Ana. Her treatment was kind, courteous and the way she spoke to me seemed to be the only one who could understand me and at times sedate the storms that raged inside me. Her simple and sincere teachings have accompanied me throughout the years.

Whenever a meeting ended, I swore never to return, I didn’t like religion and that placid atmosphere made me uncomfortable. I preferred to wallow in the convulsion of confused thoughts that flooded me. So many happy people in one place was unbearable. In the end, the world wasn’t that wonderful, it was conflictive, tangled and unhappy, at least mine, but when Sunday came, I was the first one to be dressed for the family procession to that small neat place.

I criticized everything, I didn’t keep a comment: that they all dressed the same, that the songs were old and strange, that the sermons were boring…, but deep down something attracted me to that place, although I never showed it.

In some conversation, one of those that we used to have during family lunches on Sundays, my father asked my opinion about Sunday meetings: “ugly and boring”, I answered emphatically without abandoning the expression of a rebel without a cause, which I even felt it didn’t go with me, “that is a mess, they seem crazy shouting and the man in the violin making noises” I added mocking and sarcastic. And, ¿why -instead of criticizing- don’t you learn to play an instrument and help the songs to be heard better?

We didn’t talk about it anymore, but that afternoon my father sowed a concern that would direct the attention until that moment dispersed in the hazy horizon of pre-adolescence and would end up becoming a purpose, the first great purpose of my life.

I didn’t really want to be a musician, but I fantasized, like many children, of playing the guitar in big concerts packed with people applauding hysterical for my musical skills, but the fact was that I had never seen a guitar in my life, except on television.

Growing up in a small town had many advantages, but also the drawbacks typical of provinces far from large shopping and cultural centers. In the whole town, there wasn’t a single instruments store or musical academies, and although Fonseca was the cradle of a very important number of minstrels, composers and musicians, it wasn’t common to find a guitar, the few ones who had one, took great care of it.

The first guitar I had in my hand, I got it in the trash; it was broken, practically useless, it had ended up on someone’s head during one of those parties, so characteristic of my region, because of a disagreement between friends, fueled by the artisanal alcohol they consumed non-stop.

In the two carpentry shop where I took what was left of that guitar, the diagnosis was the same: irreparable, but the illusion didn’t wane. I had decided to play the guitar and I was going to do it, even if it were with the splinters in my hand, so I wrapped it with sticky tape, tightened the two strings that survived and spent hours in the backyard of my house trying, without results, to get some sound that would be harmonious, at least. Frustration took hold of me, I began to think that the thing of playing the guitar I would never get to do it.

Some months later, back from a business trip, my father came carrying a red guitar in his right hand, it wasn’t new, he told me sometime later that he bought it from an employee of the hotel where he was staying for two hundred pesos, a very cheap price even those days. The color was a bit strange, all the ones I had seen were wood color, but this was mine, I could not believe it, I had my own guitar!, I was so happy that I forgot that age allowed me to be rebellious and bitter. That guitar marked the beginning of a new and better season in my life.

By that time, I had already strengthened friendship ties with some members of the small local church, who celebrated as if it were their own the arrival of the red guitar, so much so that two of them, José de Jesús and Jairo, whom I still have the privilege of counting among my friends, supported me by paying for my first guitar lessons; the teacher was the church violinist.

Brother Nicolás, as he was known, was a self-taught, brilliant and disciplined musician. He read the pentagram and owned a vast culture. He lost his hearing almost completely as a result of the saw motor in his cabinetmaker’s workshop, even so, he masterfully played the flute, guitar and violin, although due to his deafness they were rarely in tune.

I excitedly attended my first classes with brother Nicolas. He was methodical in teaching and proposed to generously transmit his musical knowledge to me. The first week he taught me the name and value of musical notes; the second one, the pentagram; the third one, the treble clef. After the first month, we hadn’t put a finger on my red guitar and I was inpatient to get music out of that device, I decided not to attend his classes anymore.

I communicated my decision to him with the utmost respect and the day I did so, I could see in his bookshelf a method of teaching guitar. I still don’t know how he agreed to lend it to me only for a weekend. It was written in English and contained the diagrams of over two hundred guitar chords. As carnival festival was celebrated that weekend, it was not possible to find a place to photocopy the book, so I locked myself in my bedroom and learned each chord one by one, in a day almost without rest. The following Tuesday, very early in the morning, Don Nicolas visited my house in search of his beloved book, but a large part of its content remained in my head.

The following days I devoted myself carefully to practicing each chord, each harmonic circle, exploring and learning about my red guitar. It was a special time, I was learning something I wanted to know, and I didn’t have time for anything else. All my attention and the force that galloped inside me, all my energies were turned on my guitar. The rage, the nonconformity and the senseless rebellion disappeared, they were dissipating to the sound of the melodies that distilled the strings of my wonderful instrument.

That guitar channeled the fury of the early years and helped me understand myself, discover the talents and gifts that God in his goodness had given me. I don’t know if my old man was aware of what he was doing when he gave it to me, but in any case, intentionally or not, that instrument exorcised the ghosts that disturbed my forced passage into puberty; point for the old man.

With my guitar, I serenaded my mother, I was part of the school choir, I entertained the meetings with my friends, I turned my poetry into songs and any Sunday I ended up being the musician of the small town church, after brother Nicolas didn’t play his violin anymore, a memory that I still honor today.

As time went by, the guitar deteriorated and remained forever hanging from the nail on the wall of my bedroom in front of my bed, from where I contemplated it so many nights before I fell asleep. I replaced it over and over again and to this day a guitar always adorns my bedroom. I no longer play it with the same frequency, but from time to time I take it and between chords and arpeggios, between melodies and songs, the miracle happens again: I find myself floating between the sweet notes of its six wonderful strings and smile happily.

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