I’d spent almost an entire year scrimping and saving, stashing tiny bits of money away whenever I could. I sacrificed, but isn’t that what parents do? Single motherhood is hard. There’s a constant nagging feeling that you’re just not doing good enough. You have to do everything and be everything, and as the years go by you steadily burnout.
I remember the day I bought it. It’s one of the few times in my life I remember actually feeling triumphant, a sense of accomplishment of a goal far beyond my reach. I was proud of myself and for a blink of a moment the nagging feeling ceased.
A $600 Yamaha acoustic guitar she would soon name Clouse.
I remember specifically not thinking it was odd she wanted a guitar for her eleventh birthday having never played before. She grew up around musical instruments. Her grandfather has guitars, drums and didgeridoos.
From that day on the intensity of her passion would become the background music of my life for decades.
I was sitting on the floor in the hallway folding her brother’s ‘now too small’ baby clothes and packing them away. The radio was playing in the background. She and Clouse sat down next to me and at first I hadn’t noticed. The radio faded out as she faded in. She was strumming perfectly in tune with the commercial coming in over the sound-waves.
How did she do that? She can’t read music.
She couldn’t read music when she was accepted into the New School of the Arts graduating class of 2013.
She couldn’t read music when she received a scholarship to attend The Center for Performing Arts in college. For her audition she played a song on piano and guitar. The director of the program told me that most anyone who can’t read music and plays by ear plays in the key of C but she played in the key of E, winning him over instantly.
She would go on to perform piano solos during recitals throughout the next two years.
On her 19th birthday she lost her cellphone. This is cause for immediate crisis for someone who grew up in the digital age. I was incapable of understanding her distress and suggested she go do something constructive with her time. She became angry with me and went to her room.
Two hours later she emerged, excited to show me she taught herself how to play We Used to Vacation by Cold War Kids. She had wanted to learn to play it, she said but her hands weren’t big enough to reach all the cords. So she taught herself to play it with her mouth.
She and Clouse would spend over a decade the best of friends, growing up together through middle school, high school, college and into adulthood. Through break ups, hard times, trials and tribulations her guitar has always been her go to. It’s how she processes her feelings, thoughts and ideas.
On Mother’s Day weekend this past year when her dearest life long friend died from an overdose she handled it the only way she knows how. By writing and performing a song in his honor in hopes of releasing her pain.
Clouse has traveled across county with us being played around campfires and leading sing-a-longs as we crossed over state lines. He’s been the life of the party and the one who has filled the void during lonely times.
She discovered street performances as a quick cash side hustle when she’s needed money, her voice melting into the tone of his chords.
She’s never considered her ability to play or create music without the knowledge of how to read or write music a gift. Music has always been more of a friend to her in her eyes than a talent.
She’s never wanted to be famous or even almost famous. She gives herself little credit inside of what most people consider a gift. For her it’s a personality trait, a companion through life’s experiences, something so ingrained in her it’s normality. As if anyone could pick up a guitar and just decide to play anything at any moment.
As if we all can create original music simply because we want to.
Time would prove to wear Clouse down. He’s been repaired, rigged and repaired again. For her birthday this year I bought her an Ibanez Acoustic, now her every day guitar although no guitar could ever replace Clouse or the lifetime of memories our family has with him.
She and I have both grown since her eleventh birthday when Clouse first came into our lives. I no longer needed to scrimp and save and she’s far surpassed the need for a beginner’s guitar.
Clouse is now a relic that stands propped in our living room where he is still very much a part of our family. He’s a symbol of years filled with music that has bonded us. As for my daughter, the saccharine sound of her voice and the strum of her new guitar are playing in the background as I type this.
All music and video credit goes to Amberleigh Storms. If you’d like to watch the video clip of her playing Cold War Kids with her mouth you can do so here.