I even slept with my prized guitar in my hands.
How much I loved it.
Ate breakfast while practicing pentatonic or mixolydian scales at the table, dipping down to my plate like I was at a pie eating contest.
But while I was in the shower Dan Riccard snuck in my room and took my guitar—so I pursued across town, thinking he’d be on his porch playing it, but he was not.
Roommate said, “Gone to Chicago.”
I wrote down the address and got on a bus but when I knocked on that Chicago door, a tall woman in a purple hat handed me a note.
Note said: ‘Tell all wimpy little punk pursuant parties I’m bye bye … shadow-style slipped into blooming dusk, everywhere and nowhere, me + this sweet six string.’
“To where?” I asked the tall woman.
She studied the note. “Hmmm, is Bye Bye a town in Tennessee?”
Turns out he’d joined the Army. Taken my guitar to the jungle!
I journeyed backwards to Louisville.
Where my girl the sweetest singer you ever heard said, “Forget the guitar. Get another guitar.”
Shook my head, “Need that one.”
“How we gonna make music?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but just shook my head.
She said to me as the screen door slapped shut, “Nothing belongs to nobody, and I’m slipping through your hands.”
That night I shaved my head and in the morning when the sun was popping over the corn, I went and joined the army too. Not to kill. Or to prove a point for God and country.
Just to find my guitar.
Day one at training:
“Anybody seen a big eyed Kentucky boy pass through here with a maple body acoustic …”
Day two at training: “He’s an ugly guy, big goofy strawberry for a nose, hateful eyes.”
Day thirty at training: “He couldn’t pick guitar for anything, you’d know who I’m looking for, bad picker, torture listening to him.”
Day Sixty on the boat over in crashing tempest of a storm: “He’s got a dent on his forehead from where we crashed when he was riding on my handlebars when we was kids.”
No luck. No one knew his whereabouts.
So I sunk deeper into death. And in just a week of horror bush kill life, I was all like: “LOOK AT ME BIG BADASS SOLDIER!” I screamed into tiger wet drip drop rain-all-the-time jungle.
And while on patrol, machine gun slung low, I thought about the C chord.
I thought about D minor, tossing grenades over the roof, no big deal. D minor, how the fingers went.
Burned a village down and visualized F#.
In all foxhole and caves I yelled for Dan Riccard.
At all the depots with money for leave I asked for Dan Riccard at whore houses and in the bars with rotted floors.
My stars and stripes superiors had never heard of him. Staff sergeant had not heard of him.
I drew Dan Riccard’s face at Da Nang, beach called My Khe, with a fossilized palm fronz. Waves pummeling the surface of my eroded earth.
I dreamt of the B major, hovering in a ping pong waterfall.
And one night being woken by someone strumming. I climbed up from my bed in the palm fronds and crawled through big thick mud, to peer out at our own enemy sitting in the middle of a downpour, playing a song.
I raised my rifle.
But could not fire.
The song was too sweet. Though I do not know its name.
It doesn’t matter it wasn’t my guitar anyway. I could see my guitar in my minds eye. My grandfather carved it himself from a tree that his grandfather had planted. It got struck by lightning every time it rained but did not fall.
The next morning there were explosions all around. And planes that dropped fire bombs on us wrongly. Our own damn planes.
I leapt into a river and the rapids took me away farther still from my life on the farm.
I too became a shadow on the edge of the villages. I hid. I did not travel in day light. I stowed away on a ship leaving the war, fleeing completely. Feeling no remorse.
I was in a Dutch motel having lost all trace of Dan Riccard except confirmation from a call to his momma that he too had ducked out of the war. And I had nowhere to go next when a note was slipped under the door.
“I’ve taken your guitar to the top of Mt. Everest, it’s always been a dream of mine.”
I ran out into the hallway, I ran out into the parking lot. There were no cars. There were no people. All I had was my emptiness.
The Sherpas tried to talk me out of the climb. They said I did not have the proper training. They said the air would be thin and that I needed $20,000 to pay them to help me get up. All air bottles would be abandoned. They said, “Get another guitar.”
I said, “I don’t care.”
I handed over my life savings. Which included the deed to my share of the farm and one Wednesday morning we began to climb.
Thursday I began felt ice vein and ice heart and chatter teeth.
Friday my hand crystallized. Saturday it froze some more. Sunday it was black. On Monday morning I woke up with my hand gone and a fever spread over me. A Sherpa passed me my hand. He’d cut it off to save my life.
Still we kept climbing.
Some of them turned back. I kept going. Most of them turned back I climbed higher. One-handed but still going.
When I got to the top of the mountain, wouldn’t you know, Dan Riccard had left me a drawing in the snow. Two circles.
One with a smile. One with a frown.
I guess I was supposed to choose.
I journeyed down the mountain. And then the harder journey … home.
The farm seemed quiet then. To my surprise no one came and took it away from me even though it didn’t belong to me any longer.
I cut down crop circles for thirteen years.
She came to visit me once and said, “Do you play anymore?”
I help up my stump.
A black car came the next spring. The driver had a beard and a black hat and didn’t look like he was from around here. Who is anymore?
he stepped out of the car and asked my name and I said yessir and he said, “I’m sorry, boy. Dan Riccard has left the earth.”
“So he’s taken my guitar to Mars? That what you’re saying?”
“No. He’s passed away.”
“Now I feel bad. We were fighting. He was my best friend. We came up together.”
“Why were you fighting?”
“I don’t remember.”
The driver opened up the trunk and there was my guitar.
I looked down at it in the trunk.
We were quiet for a while.
Contemplating life. And contemplating death. A song bird sang sorrowfully in a tree on the other side of the property. The driver sighed and said, “It’s such a pretty guitar.”
Well don’t you know, I picked it up.
I smashed the guitar against a tree.
The driver jumped. Looked at me. Got in his car and drove away.
But there was a photo inside it that fell down into the mud. A faded polaroid. The photo lay there in the splintered wood and the wet slop.
And I picked it up with my aching fingers. And brushed all the crud off it and looked hard.
Me and my friend.
I looked at my missing hand and could feel it make a G chord.
I could feel it moving on the demolished neck.
I could feel it switch to A7.