Play It Again, Charlie

Charlie awoke and lay in bed without opening his eyes for a few moments, trying to retain the dream as it slipped away, carrying his happiness with it. He brought his hand up and rested it on the bed beside him. His hands traced the empty space on the blankets. He could almost imagine she was there, her dark hair sprawled out as she peacefully slept next to him.

His roommate dropped a pan in the kitchen with a crash, and Charlie groaned inwardly as his eyes flew open and the almost tangible memory of her dissipated. Boxes were piled around his room in varying stages of packing. Sheets of music were stacked haphazardly with scribbles of his writing below and above ledger lines. Clothes were piled on the floor. He had to finish all of his laundry today, at some point in between the packing and the lessons and the show tonight. There was never enough time.

He threw on an old comfortable tee shirt as he swung his legs out of bed. He tossed his long blonde hair back, shaking it out of his eyes before running his hands through it to smooth it slightly. He didn’t have a mirror in his room but he didn’t need one to know how he looked: tired. The past three months had been a marathon of events that left him stressed and even more excited that today was his last full day in the town he had lived in his entire life.

He had to leave. The music scene was stagnant here, and while the musicians were great, it felt like everyone knew each other and were running the same old songs gig after gig. Everyone with true promise had left for greener pastures in the last few years. If he didn’t get out now, he knew he would sink into the same schedule as the old men and women working the halls for years without a real break. Their lives weren’t judged by him, but he knew he could be more, and so he was leaving.

He rubbed his eyes viciously for a few minutes while he sat on the edge on the bed. Music floated through his head as he woke fully, and he immediately snatched up his guitar and played a few bars of what had come to him. He scribbled occasionally between playing. His bare foot tapped to keep time, right heel working up and down. An hour passed before he realized it, and he scrambled to write down his last thoughts before he grabbed his laundry and walked to the hallway and tossed a load in the washer.

His roommate had left during his morning musical musings so the house was empty as he headed to take a shower. He didn’t sing in the shower this morning. He hadn’t sang outside of a gig or a rehearsal in a few months, which was unlike him. He didn’t feel like singing since Daisy had her accident.

The accident itself was sudden and unremarkable. The effects of the accident were anything but unremarkable. There was bleeding around her brain. The blood pooled and affected her ability to communicate coherently. Because of who he was to her, he had to wait for her texts instead of running to her while she was hospitalized. Her sudden absence from his life after three years had shocked him into realizing how helpless he was to help her as she recovered from the surgery.

The water streamed down his face as he remembered how adamant she had been about him staying away from the hospital while she recovered. Some might argue that shame humiliates a man the most; it weakens his drive in life as it is revealed to everyone how incapable he has been to adhere to social or cultural norms. But Charlie would argue that helplessness is worse than any shame. His helplessness in this situation had humiliated him more than any shame. Perhaps his helplessness would evolve into shame and even more humiliation, but his helplessness stayed between Daisy and him. There was no public shame that he wasn’t there for her, but it was glaringly evident to him that this situation had taken away his ability to be a man. A man is a protector, someone who will fight the rest of the world to defend his home and loved ones. What does a man do when he is forbidden to show the rest of the world that he loves and is willing to protect someone? If a man can’t protect and defend, is he even a man?

Charlie had spent days trying to find a way to get to the hospital without Daisy’s husband finding out. The ideas were harebrained and irrational and never came to fruition. Daisy had to recover without him. What happens when a woman realizes that the man she loves is unable to protect her fully? It doesn’t matter to a woman that he might be trying to protect her from ruin. Women want complete and utter proof of protection for their love. If a woman suffers and isn’t protected, a part of her will always remember that he wasn’t there. The love will crumble, at least hers will; his love will suffer from the knowledge that he was helpless. No one wins. How can such an unremarkable accident tear apart a love that was so…good? Even if she recovered fully, their relationship wouldn’t.

He turned off the water and let the last drops leave tracks of slippery wet down his chest. Toweling off, he looked at the time with alarm, threw on some pants, and quickly head into work to teach his students.

He was late. Par for the course with these poor students. Charlie was ever the creative artist who didn’t like being tied down by a schedule. The world didn’t work like that though, so he had tried to adjust his inattention to time over the years. On days like today, when his head is in his music and on Daisy, it was easy for him to lose sight of the time and hard for him to care.

He went through the day in a funk, telling each student at the end of their lesson that he wouldn’t be teaching them anymore. Each upset face only fueled his mood, and he was glad when the last student dejectedly walked out of the studio. He had promised that he would try to make it to their recitals as he wasn’t moving too terribly far away, but the students knew, and he knew, that it was an empty promise. Creative humans are terrible at keeping commitments.

He rushed home to grab his equipment for the gig he was playing that night. It would be his last performance in the town for the unforeseeable future. When he walked in the door of the house, he remembered his laundry and quickly threw it in the dryer. Luckily it hadn’t mildewed.

He played that night to an amazing crowd of energetic people who swayed and danced and sang along. His mind stopped worrying about his future, about Daisy, about how he would scrap up enough gigs in the coming months to pay rent…. He felt each note travel through his mind and out of his hands and he let himself go. Everything would be okay if he had his music. Every emotion that he felt could be manifested into his music. He could play the feelings and get lost without getting lost in them. Music was good like that. You could lose yourself but only for as long as the song was playing. Once the song is over, the crowd wants a different tune. There are no repeats during a live performance.

So he played.

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