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The Song of My Soul
He is strong and confident as his appearance gives away. His eyes are wide and hard, as if he's afraid but refuses to let it show. He sits there, as if daring someone to enter his home and hurt him again. Though his gaze is meant to repel, he only seems to draw me in. As I approach him, his arms tense and his mouth tightens. He will not admit to fear though-to do so would be to lose all. I wish I could touch his face, console him, take away the pain that so obviously overcame his whole existence...but I do not. These things take more time than an embrace could ever accomplish.
Just before he's within arms reach, he pushes himself off of the porch steps where he sat before and runs. He sped off and disappeared around the corner. Had I not caught a glimpse of his white tee-shirt, I would have lost him for sure. The warm air was molded by a cool breeze traveling through the playful Nashville atmosphere. I hugged myself tightly, a chill running up my spine as the ghost of the wind surrounded me in a whirlwind of emotion.
I followed his direction until I reached a swinging porch door and a lingering air of the lost child. My friend, Brooke, promptly opened the door and greeted me with a warm smile and a hug. She invited me into her plush home and I stared a bit enviously at all the luxuries she was spoiled with. I sat gingerly on her neatly decorated sofa, not wanting to ruin the perfection with the likes of me. My 5'1 self seemed to be nothing compared to her 5'9 and intimidation welled up inside of me. My clothes now seemed even rattier and my hair even messier than before. I hadn't had the money to think about my appearance for almost eight months.
"Please! Make yourself at home, Melissa! I want you to feel comfortable here. You look as though you're sitting upon glass!"
Her relaxed tone put me at ease a bit and she proceeded to make small talk about the weather, my health, how much wasted time had passed without contact...anything to avoid the topic of importance. Suddenly though, we could no longer avert our eyes from the situation at hand.
The built little boy walked in, defiance filling his every step. He glared at both of us with a stare that burned into my memory. I had never seen such anger before, how could one harness such a passionate hatred?
Brooke gave me a look, a silent apology, as he said not a word in greeting. Instead, he sat down as gingerly as I had on an armchair, on the very edge as if preparing to leap out. A guitar sat alone in the corner, asking to be played, drawing the boys attention from his adopted mother's desperate attempts to reach him. She once said that you can't live in Tennessee without developing a strong love for the music, but now I believe that she bit back her words of encouragement.
I asked if he had ever played or ever pictured himself wanting to learn, but he did not respond. I studied his face and saw more than just a longing to learn for his fingers to fly across the frets. It was a cry for self-expression, it was a cry for freedom, it was a cry for salvation. The guitar called to us from across the room, beckoning with fresh chances, honey gold opportunities, and a dark shadow of remorse. The music was too much.
A loud cough broke the drawn-out, awkward silence and all attention turned towards him. He still sat on the edge of his chair, but I noticed that the corners of his eyes had been red and weary, as was his body. He refused to give in though and continued his coughing fit as Brooke got up and ran to the kitchen, frenzied with panic. Her overprotective nature had gotten the best of her and the boys care had all her attention. She returned in seconds before I could even get a word in edgewise to the ill child. In her left hand she held a bag of cough drops-cherry flavored.
The bag of small red capsules struck a crazy look in the boy's eyes-a mixture of pain and pure distrust. Brooke opened the bag and handed one to the him.
"Kamau! You mustn't refuse to eat this time! This medicine will cause that scratchy feeling to go away if only you will eat!"
Seeing the desperation etched across Brooke's face, Kamau slowly opened the drop and placed it cautiously on his tongue. The sweet scent wafted to my nose, causing my nightmare to reemerge...
My coughing was insistent, spreading throughout the room. I had just opened the bag of cough drops when the phone rang. I had no patience for distractions and almost didn't pick up...but somehow I felt like I had to...like this one call could change my life forever. There was a stern voice on the other end of the line...saying something about a wreck. I couldn't understand what he was talking about due to my loud strained coughs though. I moistened my mouth with the sweet juices of the medicine to silence the pain. I raced to my room to pick up the phone. That's when I could finally hear the mysterious voice.
"Melissa Rutherford? Are you there? Can you hear me?"
"Yes, yes now I can. Who is this?" I replied
"This is Sgt. Adams down at the station. I've just gotten a report from Interstate 440. There's really no easy way to say this..."
I waited in tense anticipation, having really no sense of what was to come.
"There was a head-on collision over the median today-a drunk driving incident involving three teenagers....and your husband. I regret to inform you that there were no survivors. My deepest sympathies to you and your family. I'm going to need you to come down town and sign a few papers-just to take care of a few things. When's the soonest you can be here?"
I sunk down to the floor against my bed as the coughing reemerged-a perfect soundtrack to the sick news that had just penetrated my soul.
As I flashed back to reality, I was met with looks of concern, as I must have been making a terrible face. Well, one look of concern anyway. The boy was just studying me, taking me in, melting me with his entrancing eyes. Brooke gave me an empathetic nod, but something in her eyes told me that she didn't really care or understand.
"I've been thinking and I've come up with a perfect idea. Why don't I set you up with my neighbor, Roberto? You look as though you could use a night-out being pampered."
I was shocked into silence. Not only was I horribly offended by the insensitivity of the comment, but I also couldn't believe that she, one of my own friends, would be the one to say that to me.
"You know...it's only been eight months..." I replied softly, trying not to care.
"Exactly! You've gone eight months with hardly any social contract other than myself at all! Oh, and an added bonus to the man next door is that his father is a minister. You could get married in his church for a great price!" Brooke exclaimed with an excited face that could only come from a great ambition.
I could feel the world growing larger as I shrunk down to an insignificant speck, everything too overwhelming and huge to take in. How could she expect so much of me so soon? Had she no idea at all how it must feel...?
Not able to speak, I just stared blankly into her eyes and I could tell she was getting uncomfortable.
"Well then, um, shall I go get us drinks?" She shifted uncomfortably, getting up and walking to the kitchen to avoid further awkwardness, seeing that she obviously made the wrong decision in sharing her opinions.
It was the first time I had ever been alone with the boy and I almost just didn't know what to say. I wanted to get to know him though-there was intrigue in his eyes.
"So, your name is Kamau is that correct?" I questioned.
"Yes." He answered shortly, looking away.
"That's an interesting name." I complimented.
"It means the Quiet Warrior." he answered again. I was surprised at his detailed answer.
"That's a wonderful meaning. Mine means bee." I replied sheepishly. Small and destined to be swatted at some point, I thought bitterly to myself.
"Tiny but fierce, a powerful creature. Helpful to everyone-you make the world sweet with honey."
I couldn't help but be surprised. I had never thought if that way before. In addition, he seemed to be opening up to me a bit, such a relieving sight.
"I've never thought of it that way before...thats an incredible way to think about it!" I blabbered, trying to keep my excitement under control at this sign of hope. I thought I saw a smile lurking in the corner of his mouth, but when I blinked, the traces of happiness were gone.
"How old are you Kamau?"
"I'm eleven years old."
"What do you like to do?" I explored.
"Nothing." he answered to my anguish.
"Where are you from?" I tried.
"Hell." He said with utter confidence. This boy would never cease to amaze me. How could he say such intriguing and abstract things? What would drive him to be so inspiring in his misery? I wanted to ask so badly-to find out what kept him up at night crying, to find out what had really happened that fateful night he lost his family...but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I would rather have died than had to relive his nightmare and force him to recreate it for himself. Failure claimed me as I bid my goodbyes without any real answers and I left without saying another word-at a lost for an alternative.
The night filled my mind with creeping dreams-haunting my mind and decoding my every insecurity. I was whisked away to the scene of the accident-floating above as an observing angel. I could see my husband's car speeding down the road, but it was not him behind the wheel...it was Kamau. I cried out warnings to him-but he did not show any signs of noticing my presence. I could not reach him. As he collided with the oncoming traffic, I cried out frantically for him to just hold on-to not leave me. The silence was imminent though he didn't respond-couldn't respond. A cold sweat coated the night in tears.
The day after meeting Kamau, I couldn't stop thinking about him. He had seemed so uncomfortable in my friends home-like it was haunted. He'd seemed unable to wait to leave the room, though he had seemed to open up to me a bit, and I couldn't help but wonder what was eating him up inside. What had happened to his parents? For some reason, this child intrigued me more than it probably should have. I couldn't get him out of my mind. He was like a puzzle that I couldn't figure out...and I needed guidance to get myself on my way to solving it.
I had drawn inspiration from my family ever since I was a small child. They were my support system, my comfort zone, and everything in between. An only child, my parents were my best friends and playmates through life; I hated to disappoint them. In fact, my perfectionistic ways led to my mom's installment of my favorite piece of advice.
My parents had gotten me a shiny new acoustic guitar for Christmas-bright new tight strings, smooth chocolate body, and a full gorgeous sound that filled the world with joy. I instantly was drawn to the precious possession and would sit for hours, struggling to interpret the mysteries within the frets. Unfortunately, all of those mysteries were inexplicable to me and my songs were flat and undistinguishable. They were too long and repetitive-they had no meaning. I could never find the words I wanted to say and spent many sleepless nights, frustrated and teary-eyed, searching for meaning.
One night, at the peak of my anguish, my mother came to listen to one of my pieces. I struggled with the frets and my fingers flew aimlessly until I just broke down. Dropping my guitar, I buried my head in my hands, discouraged not only because of my failed song-writing attempts, but because of the bigger issues at hand. What if I never found something I could call my own talent? What if I was doomed to wander the earth, an average girl unable to express herself and escape the normality of an ordinary life?
My mother seemed to understand that my problem had more depth than just a missed note and hugged me close, saying:
"Never give up. The road is long and tough if we let ourselves get upset and stop over every speed bump and traffic jam we come to. You've just got to keep going...put yourself out there, don't be afraid of what lies ahead."
These words struck something inside of me and have stuck with me ever since, always taking me back to that moment whenever I have a problem. I'll never give in. I decided right then and there that I had to go see Kamau again today. I was determined to reach out to him and in return, perhaps see some sign of responsive development from himself.
I strode up the sidewalk towards her house with confidence, holding myself up high, my prized guitar in one hand. As her house came into view though, I felt the familiar shrinking feeling dawning upon me again. I tried to force the intimidation to the back of my mind, but it was evident that it was there to stay. Feeling about two inches small and with footsteps to match, I slowly made my way up the stairs to her front door. I knocked, silently praying that they had gone out for the day.
Of course my luck failed me again and Brooke answered the door almost before I had summoned her.
"Melissa! What a wonderful surprise! Come on in! Make yourself right at home. I was actually just about to invite the neighbor over for tea, would you care to join us? Just one taste of my crumpets will break the ice between you and your new fiancé in no time! Oh, not to brag of course though." She blabbered. I was horrified. I had to get out.
"Oh no, thank you, I wouldn't want to be a burden. I had just come on Kamau's behalf, to invite him on a walk with me. Would that be alright?"
She stared curiously at me.
"The boy talks to no one you know," she started. "He won't open up to me about anything! All of the information that I know about him is that which I received from the adoption agency! Of course, I understand his suffering quiet state, it's an awful thing to have your entire life burned away from existence." Those last words caught my attention.
"Wait, you said 'burned away'?" I inquired.
"Why yes. His families house burned down. A shame really, there was nothing they could do about it. They died trying to save his younger sister. A ring of fire enclosed them and their fate was sealed. Can you even imagine? And no living relatives left willing to take him in. It's just a crying shame. It brings tears to my eyes to even think about it...oh my, oh my."
She took out a handkerchief to dab at the corners of her eyes as I sat astounded, contemplating the news. The urge to comfort him swelled up in my heart even larger than before and my height increased to twice it's normal size.
"Please. Let me take him out. I want to help him." I said quietly. She looked at me almost disbelievingly, but nodded and proceeded to call him to the room. He came in, eyes sunken and a sullen look etched into his face. He seemed a bit uneasy to see me standing there.
"Kamau, will you come walk with me? I have something to show you." I shifted the guitar around in my hand and his eyes traveled to the instrument.
"Yes." he responded and walked towards me, dragging his feet with every step. I bid my goodbyes to Brooke and we walked out the door onto the open road.
For a while we just walked silently, listening to the sounds of the lone cars driving by and the winds making the trees sing the song of the breeze.
"Do you hear that Kamau? All the sounds of nature?" I asked softly. He didn't respond and stared holes through his shoes. I persisted.
"Whenever I come outside, I think about how lucky I am to be alive." I continued.
He looked at me with disbelieving eyes that I would use such insensitivity around him.
"What good is being alive when all you've ever known and loved is dead? This isn't living-this is a nightmare...it's just an endless state of suffering." He suddenly burst out. I had finally gotten him excited about a topic-he was beginning to speak.
"Your family wouldn't want you to think that way, nor would my husband. You know, I lost the love of my life as well. I know your pain." He had nothing more to say to that statement.
"They watch over us you know-every one of the angels from our past. They guide our every move with the sounds we hear, the tastes we experience, the smells which entrance us. If we bottle up our emotions and our senses, we bottle up their ability to remain with us."
He looked up from the ground and looked into my eyes with his gripping pupils, agony overflowing and spilling out in little tear drops escaping from his eyes.
"It took me so long to figure that out. I thought that no one could ever understand my pain. Meeting you made me realize how much worse it can really be. You lost your whole past, while I just lost my all too predictable future. You've inspired me Kamau, to change. My life will no longer be run by my fear of flying."
I stopped. We had reached our destination. A musky forest and a bubbling creek greeted us as I sat down on the soft, emerald moss. The boy's tears were flowing steadily now and he stumbled into doing the same, unable to see clearly. We just sat there for a moment, drinking in the beauty of the solitude and the ruby chirping of a bird as it flew above, free to fly away to a better place. Then, my guitar took hold of me and began to play. I played my simple song-choppy and awkward. It was the sound of fear and I couldn't escape that rut. Kamau watched me curiously, still flowing tears, but memorizing the patterns which I traced. After a few minutes of the ear-shattering melody, I stopped.
"You said you've never played before, correct?" I said, breaking the silence.
"I lied." he said shortly. "I've played once or twice. My father used to always play. I'd watch him as he mesmerized us all."
With that, I handed the guitar to him.
"Let's see what you've got."
He started out slowly, finding his place on the notes, and then began to play a funny tune. One that sounded as old as time itself and I could tell it was a mere memorized piece. After he was satisfied that he was a complete failure, he handed the instrument back, the tears returning.
"Please don't cry. Self-expression doesn't just happen through your first song. You have to experiment." I proceeded to play again.
A feeling of accomplishment washed over me as I saw the child watch my fingers glide across the strings. He was watching intently through his tears and seemed intrigued by the sad, melodic tone. He was the first person to whom I had ever played my song. However, Kamau now seemed to understand that I was reaching out to him and could feel my personal expression, my whole life story into one piece. When I had finished, there was a loud silence. He didn't say anything-he didn't have to. His eyes said it all.
"You're the first to ever hear my pain." I said quietly. He nodded, a symbol that he was appreciative. We both sat for a while before I extended the guitar to the boy once more.
"What's your story?"
He took the instrument and after a moment began to play the most beautiful song in the world. It was filled with sorrow, confusion, intimidation, and so many other emotions I could not even begin to describe. I could see his parents laying dead on the floor of his home. I could see the tears rolling down his soft face as he realized he was lost. I could see the misplacement he felt of still being alive...still being here now. After what seemed like a timeless moment, his song faded away and it was just us, sitting by the creek in our silence once more. Kamau looked at me, filling my eyes with his, and not showing a shred of embarrassment of pouring his soul out to me any longer. The comfort of the echoing music and the calm shade of the overpowering trees inspired me and, taking the guitar back, I mapped out my life. I had to just let my burdens go and express myself through the only method I could-not rushing my destiny and healing. I had to live to the tune of my own song, not that of another. I began to play.
Arlington Heights, Illinois
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