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I pounded my wall again, with the hand that wasn’t trying to write a history essay worth twenty five percent of my grade. “DEREK!”
He wouldn’t stop playing that stupid guitar. It was the same routine, every day. He came home from school, devoured whatever snacks were in the fridge, then ran upstairs to his room, and wouldn’t come downstairs until Mom forced him to the dinner table.
He spent all of those wasted hours in his room, creating a meaningless cacophony with off-key chord progressions and strings he was too lazy to tune. The notes were messy and didn’t work together. Sometimes, it sounded like two melodies fighting each other, but eventually one would win and that horrid noise would be his new “song.”
Songwriting had become one of the new hobbies that Derek experimented with. It sounded a whole lot less dangerous than his last venture—skateboarding (which did not help his terrible coordination, whatsoever) or the one before that, the horrid camping phase with his friend, Joey, which had only earned him two bottles of calamine lotion’s worth of mosquito bites and nasty memories. Unlike his other phases, though, this one (unfortunately) had been sticking around for a month or so.
I was the one who taught him to play the damn thing and this is how he repays his big sister. Bleeding my ears until I muster up whatever energy I have left that day and drive to the library to study in peace and quiet. Don’t get me wrong—I love him to death—but there’s only so much you can take! I was the only one into music in my family, so I was the only one particularly bothered by it. The rest of my family could tune it out (not easily, but eventually), but there was just so much wrong that I couldn’t stand it. The muddled distortion of his Fender and unintelligible moaning I assumed was his singing (that still had the occasional cracks of puberty) just didn’t seem acceptable, and no matter how many he times it sounded like he tried, it never seemed fixed.
“Derek! Why can’t you just SHUT UP!” I yelled at the wall that separated my bedroom from his. I heard silence from the other end and let out a sigh of relief.
Then, vibrating the walls like the rumble of thunder, his electric guitar yelled back at me twice as loud as it had been before.
“Unbelievable,” I grumbled, slamming my “America in the 20th Century” textbook close.
This was the last thing I needed. I had been at soccer practice since school was over and just got home to a pile worth of homework, this dumb essay due tomorrow, and my parents yelling at each other again in the kitchen.
It was the usual. Mom makes a sarcastic remark and Dad just fires back at her with something that completely stumps whatever she says. Then, to pull herself back up, she just says something like, “I can’t take it anymore,” or “I’m done with you.” And even though it’s routine, Dad apologizes for what he said even though she won’t. “Apologies aren’t enough. This is all your fault.” “All my fault?! My fault?!” “Yes, David! You refuse to listen to anything I have to say!” They continue like this while I go into the kitchen, oblivious to me picking up an apple from the counter and muttering, “How was your day? Mine was great, thanks. I’ll be upstairs.”
Then it ended like it always did. One of them, whoever had won the fight, took the car. We heard the grumble of our fussy engine as they back up out of the driveway down the street amid some cursing, thinking they left whoever lost the fight feeling like an idiot just sitting there at home. Derek and I never bothered figuring out who left right after or how long they’d be gone. Sometimes, it was an hour. Sometimes, it was a few days or even just a night. No matter how long it was, we tried our best never having to mention it.
They had been this way a lot lately. We never bothered to figure out why, and I figured it was just because we didn’t want to. To know that there was something worse than this—coming home to the screaming and the fighting and the driving away and the empty seat at dinner—something under it all, that had caused it, seemed a little scary.
I sat on my bed, putting on my ear buds to try to drown out Derek’s “music" and trying to jot down more points for my essay. It still seemed weak, even after the two painful hours I had spent rereading and reworking it the night before.
But slowly, his noise just weaseled its way back into my ears until I wasn’t even paying attention to my music anymore. I ripped out my headphones and stomped out of my room to his. I would rip the chords out of his amp and throw them out the window if I had to.
It still blasted out of his room as I tried to open the door. It was locked, but the old lock was easy to turn simply with my long fingernail. In our house, locks were just another way of saying, “I’m doing something. Don’t bother me.”
“Derek, I am trying to—“
I stopped when I looked at him. He kept playing, just picking the strings in what seemed like a random way, with tears rolling down his face. I hadn’t seen him cry since he was six years old—a whole nine years.
“What happened to you?” I asked, slowly walking over to him.
He stopped playing. “Just…Just get out, Anna.”
“Ooh, your oh-so-powerful-verbal commands. That’s effective.” I sit next to him on the bed. “What’s going on?” I put my arm around him and rested my hand on his shoulder, and surprisingly enough, he didn’t smack me or pull away of anything. If anything, it seemed like he relaxed.
He was quiet, for what seemed like forever in the unusual silence until he mumbled, almost incoherently, “I stop hearing them.”
“Why I can’t…”shut up”… I stop hearing Mom and Dad when I play. I know it isn’t all that good…but it’s the best I can do. I forget about them and I don’t care as much anymore. It’s kind of nice.”
“If it’s so nice, why are you crying?”
He gave me a grimace. “I don’t cry all the time.”
“But…you do cry.” I whispered.
He nods. “Occasionally,” he said so quietly I almost couldn’t hear him.
I laid my head on his shoulder and gave him a little squeeze. “We’ll be okay,” I murmured.
“I’m sorry…for annoying you and all…” he said after a few more moments of silence.
I gave him a small smile, trying to show forgiveness in my face. “Don’t worry about it.”
It was hard to ignore it in the beginning, but after a while, strangely enough, it became comforting. Hearing him play let me know he was somewhere else. He wasn’t where I was, a house where everything was being torn apart by malicious words and stubbornness. He was in his music, a safe place. Where he could get lost in notes and chords and vibrations of the strings until someone opened his bedroom door. Sometimes, I even brought my acoustic and attempted to play along with him. After a couple of basic tips, he honestly didn’t sound as bad. But the quality of his music didn’t matter much to me anymore.
I stopped banging the wall and shouting his name. I stopped complaining and whining and digging my temples with my fingers whenever I heard him because it felt wrong. There had to be something wrong about disturbing someone’s one place—where they felt free and safe and expressed the feelings that came from beyond that place.
There was something wrong about stopping Derek’s song.