The man came home to find that a water leak has soaked many of his things. He got that jolting feeling one gets when you think you’ve walked into a nightmare but instantly realize it’s all for real.
He then saw that most of his vinyl albums were seriously damaged and the covers, many of them signed by the artists themselves, were as much history as the memories.
Inside him the young boy that had excitedly bought these recordings, cried. But the old man standing here now looking at the damage stifled the urge to flinch. Instead he swallowed the pain like he’d swallowed most everything else in his life that he’d lost. Maybe the swallowing of pain explained his cracked voice. Perhaps it was the audible sound of a broken spirit.
Others were good at hiding the breakage. He wasn’t. He’d been stripped bare.
He knelt and went through the records one by one, assessing the loss. Each cover brought back old times and he tried to feel as dispassionate as he could; like that of a surgeon; or a lawyer. That’s right, take all emotion out of things until there is nothing to feel, that’s the secret, otherwise God will punish you for caring too passionately about such things. Isn’t it a commandment not to replace Him with false Gods?
Many of these recordings had inspired the man to become a part of the music industry. Some other damaged ones he’d later on even produced or written songs for. He’d always been proud of his name being on them. He used to, when he was young and naïve, excitedly point it out to people – until he realized some resented such success and the rest didn’t really care. Now he tried to join the latter throng in not caring.
He couldn’t help suspecting God had done this to him, and had many times in the past, to teach him the lesson that such things are not important. You come into this life with nothing and you leave with the same. The rest of the journey is preparing you for that reality.
What did it matter what was achieved? Pride was one of the seven deadly sins was it not?
Still, it would’ve been nice to have left some of these things to his son to prove that his father had done something. Anything. Proof of an existence.
He had lost people too, along the way. First his own dad, then his mother, then, for other reasons, his sisters. Then life took his son away to teach him the lesson that it is alright to love something, but you are damned if you love that thing too much.
He joked that he had no family anymore other than the family of man. But it was no joke. It was his way of saying something important without crying. Maybe that’s why his voice broke. It wasn’t his voice that the break was in, it ran much deeper than that.
Ah, there was the album the great Del Shannon had signed for him. Oh, how he loved Del. Some months after he’d signed it, Del killed himself just as he was about to make a huge comeback. Why? Was the pressure too great and Del felt things too deeply too? He didn’t know. He continued flicking his way through the records and the damaged memories.
A lot of people had stolen things from him. So much so that he was now too scared to show love for anything in case it was taken away. He felt parts of him were closing down in some weird kind of self-preservation. First his voice, now his heart.
Recently someone who’d professed to being his friend had stolen a framed program that Paul McCartney has signed. Paul had even personalized it by signing it “To….” for him. The ex-Beatle knew how much he’d meant to the recipient. Now it was gone. Why would anyone want something with someone else’s name on it? Even if Sir Paul McCartney did sign it? Perhaps the theft was intended to hurt. An act of envy. Or spite. Or bitterness.
Again, what did it matter? Everything goes, sooner or later. Then you go.
Quite a few women had gone too. He’d liked to say that they’d gone for various reasons but truth was, once the money ran out – so did they. The lesson, he thought, was make sure you fall in love when you’re both poor, at least then you’ll know it’s for real.
Oh, and if you find someone genuine out there, hang onto them with everything you have, they’re sure hard to find.
Some eventually give up looking. Even the most romantic amongst us learn to be still, sit tight, and watch the parade pass by.
He’d loved the circus as a child. One school holidays he’d gone to the circus with his mother and was so captivated, he found a way of sneaking back every day and seeing it all over again. Sometimes two shows a day. If you were small and walked in with everyone else it was possible to get in without paying and for a desperate boy on a zero budget, it was bliss. He loved the animals, especially the elephants, the trapeze artists gave him chills (and nightmares), and he laughed, along with everyone else, at the clowns. Even though they had painted upside down smiles on their faces, they gave everyone such joy with their foolish antics. Maybe that’s where he learnt to keep ’em laughing and you’d be loved.
He wondered how such a little amount of water could’ve done so much damage. The irony was not lost on him that water cleanses and washes away. And perhaps that is what happened. The past was slowly being taken away, drip by drip, from him and replaced with the here and now. So many things had been lost in the flood over the years it was too painful to contemplate.
It made you tough. Strong. Clean. And in a strange way, liberated.
Water also baptizes you and taketh away the sins of the world. Or so we’re indoctrinated.
All he knew was, there were no more records anymore. Symbolically, his record was clean. So he was free now to begin again.
Suddenly he felt like hearing the Beach Boys. Yeah, wouldn’t it nice?
(c) Frank Howson 2014