“Strum the guitar!
Strum the guitar!
Strum the guitar
With no beginning, with no ending
Take down the guitar and strum the guitar!
Strum the guitar if you’re afraid
And I’m afraid and everyone’s afraid and everyone knows it
But we don’t have to be afraid anymore”
— mewithoutYou, Torches Together
Outside the kid’s room, I listen to his shaky guitar chords and stop in my tracks. I’m holding the bathroom hamper full of everyone’s dirty clothes. Milla’s socks. Charlie’s shorts. Piper and Violet’s different size t-shirts/ ice cream stains all dried on the chest like Moose Tracks New Zealand on some old map.
Arle’s jeans. I touch the ass of them. I feel the naughty welling up inside of me as I move my fingers across the black denim and imagine her inside of them and I didn’t know her and it’s the first time again/ don’t cancel me, babe. Let me at you. Let me in, I’m bound by honor.
I’m in the upstairs hall though and so I give up the funky afternoon sex possibilities, let them drift, listen through the door at Henry’s new cleaner tone. Gone is the puke-y distortion that comes with the amp. In its place are little companies of rounder notes, struggling to makes sense of themselves as they bash into the next one/ eat the rising dust of the ones that came before.
The song is Nirvana/Rape Me. I make it out pretty quickly and I stand there with Arle’s tight black jeans in my grip, the rest of the laundry down at my feet now, and I sense the welling pride and love and wonder at this whole thing: at my flesh-n-blood boy playing the guitar, learning the guitar, putting time into the guitar instead of the cell phone or the PS4 or whatever. It’s majestic, I guess, this sneaky Dad, out in the hall, secretly listening to his kid play Rape Me in his bedroom. There’s this, like, I don’t know: like some sort of easy-to-tap Norman Rockwell-ness about the scene if I leave it here like I’m giving it to you now.
I could walk away at this point. Proud Dad. You feeling it maybe/ warmth/ reflection/ sun shining down on a cold mean field. I could walk out on this whole thing right now and cash in my Lame-O chips as a good man. A flawed but loving papa.
He cared, they might say.
He loved them so much, they might whisper.
Punk ass bitches whispering nice things that they don’t even believe at my funeral in the parking lot of Walmart over by where the Penn State football idiots park their RVs when they come here to celebrate their brand/ over by where my big funeral pig on a spit is spinning and roasting near the kegs of IPA as the jazz trio warms up over under the tarp tent held down by sandbags because the wind is blowing the autumn leaves across this fucking glorious modern American prairie all because I am dead as fuck and the world is changed and I will be forgotten.
In the hallway in the Rape Me there is an awkwardness to the feeling that I feel. More than simple Dad glory, I must admit, I feel other things too. Bigger things. Old Testament bolts firing down off the woody ridges like batteries laying siege to this whole damn town.
Out beyond pure pleasure, that long wide field where the sheep all live, I wander on further into the briars and picker-bushes of a stranger place.
Henry punches at his electric guitar and I shift from this consciousness to some different one. It isn’t that hard. I move swiftly outside my bones, a heat-seeking ether soul drifting down into the fields of fog. Down into the selfish self.
I feel lost.
I feel sad.
I know that his whole life is ahead of him and I understand the satisfaction I feel from that. And yet: his youth/ his growing strength/ his shifting moods and his electrifying independence away from me/ away from needing me or even seeing me much/ it makes me wild with desperation.
It is almost as if my own son is zapping what might have been mine once upon a time and laying it on his skin like butter. Or cream. Letting it melt down into his pores and enrich his own burgeoning self with new additions of experience and curiosity. My old hands pounding on the walls of his factory ribs/ hollering up out of his chest cavity/ Yo/ YO/ YOOO!/ I am down here, right??!/ You know I am down here, man, RIGHT?!
But he doesn’t know. Not yet. Not now in the utter midsts of all this captivation. Fascinated by Kurt Cobain and Michael Jordan/ probably texting girls I don’t know about/ looking at videos I don’t know about/ growing up so fast in this fast, fast lane we find ourselves living in/ and I am older now/ a child of a bygone era in which almost everything I knew and still know is archaic.
What am I saying?
What am I trying to say?
Why is everything so hard sometimes?
To just admit that my sun is setting and theirs is rising. His is rising. Ascending into the clear sharp morning. I haven’t played the guitar since I walked off the stage on my 50th birthday last December. Haven’t even picked it up at all.
I don’t even know the chords to Rape Me.
I don’t even know the fucking chords to anything anymore, man.
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Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattlling around his noggin. Once in a blue Muskie Moon, he backs away from the computer, straps on a guitar and plays some rock ’n’ roll with his brother Dave and their bandmates in Marah.