Oliver's Ballad

It had been two years since I first laid eyes on him. I remember the moment like it was yesterday. That was the first time I realized that I’d seen perfection.

Those two years came and went. Countless hours spent together, day in and day out. We were always together. Two years. And while I still felt happiness in his presence, something just wasn’t the same anymore. His strings had only been replaced once, his tuning pegs were beginning to rust, and he had become prone to gathering dust. Oliver wasn’t the same, and neither was I. Time had changed us.

Christmas rolled around and my family gathered near the tree. When we finally had reached the bottom of the present piles, we realized there were two large hidden boxes. My brother and I knew exactly what they were. Brock was ecstatic, and I recognized the look on his face. It was the same look that had been painted across mine the day I had met Oliver. I opened my case,and I felt that same excitement I had felt years before. It was a bittersweet meeting. A fresh start. But it reminded me all too much of my first moments with Oliver.

With each chord I played, he reassured me that all of my doubt and fear could not hurt me.

I hurried upstairs, trying my best to hide my enthusiasm. I moved Oliver from his spot, and put Dakota in his place. Oliver was relocated to a new area. Underneath my bed. I can only imagine his envy as he heard us from the break of day into the late evening. A witness to the moments of heartbreak and confusion I shared with Dakota. Hearing the echoes resonating from Dakota’s new strings, feeling his own deteriorating. Before I knew it, I had completely pushed Oliver into the shadows of my mind.

***

In Hawaii, we would catch the bus to the other side of the island and meet our friends. Laie, a Mormon neighborhood, was still as the night. Silence followed us on our adventures. We skated, gliding up and down the roads of Brigham-Young-University as the moon lit our way. The night called out to us but we didn’t listen. Or at least I didn’t. I only listened for him.

Rain or shine, we would go to the beach. In the winter we were the only souls in sight. He was there to keep me company as the waves pushed up and tried to steal me away from the shoreline. Sometimes I would’ve willingly given myself up to the sea, but he was there to keep me tied to the ground. In the summer we were hushed by the overwhelming noise of hundreds. When the ocean appeared as a second sky. We exchanged ideas, and contemplated whether it was the water that was doing the mimicking, or if it were the other way around. The foam taking the shapes of clouds. Or maybe it was the wind mocking the movement of the slow tides. We made our own silence when there was none present and played our own soundtracks when the silence was deafening. I never felt alone.

Those nights never seemed to end, and the mornings never began. The days blended together, and he and I were caught somewhere in between.

***

My brother always wanted to come upstairs and jam with me, but he never liked bringing his guitar up with him. I never knew why. I think it was just because he didn’t want to carry her, but I could be wrong. He always made fun of Dakota. Said he was ugly. But I could tell that he was lying. He loved Dakota. I could see the way he’d shoot glances at him. The way he’d take care when holding him. Like he’d been made of glass. He played Dakota whenever he had the chance, leaving me with a short moment to have Oliver. With each riff and each lick that he played, it gave Oliver a chance to speak out. To call out to me again. To try and win me back. One more chance, just one more chance. I felt the struggle each time I walked into my room. I’d reach for Dakota, but I’d see Oliver out of the corner of my eye. Alone. In the darkness. And I’d give him that chance. We would play for a couple of hours, but soon enough I’d banish him and find Dakota in my grasp. Almost as if he was an extension of my arm, helping me unconsciously point a finger of shame. Always aimed at Oliver.

***

Months passed. My brother’s room slowly emptied. His dresser was gone. Bed. Gone. Guitar. Gone. The opportunity came once again for Oliver to show what he could do. What he could enable me to do.

The last time I played music with Brock was different. I didn’t allow myself to think. My mind was too preoccupied with his leaving, with college, with saying goodbye.

I opened myself to Oliver, and he did the thinking for me. He had been where I now was. He remembered when I cast him aside, and he used his experience to help me. He moved my fingers to the frets and strings he chose. He used that void in my mind to speak to me. Thousands of minutes apart undone within seconds. With each chord I played, he reassured me that all of my doubt and fear could not hurt me. That only by over analyzing and focusing on the numerous possibilities, I was the only one who could hurt myself. There was a silent promise. He’d be there no matter what. No matter how long I had left him by himself, he would never leave me. And even though I wasn’t focused or listening, I heard him. He always told me the truth in the exact way I needed to hear it. And in an instant back to normal.

***

After seeing my brother leave, I panicked. It was my turn. I had to pack my life into one single suitcase. While eating dinner with my family a few nights before my flight, my dad asked if I was planning on bringing a guitar. I hadn’t given any thought to it, but I realized I was. I wanted to bring Dakota, but I felt like I needed Oliver.

I chose Oliver. He had been there through so much. I couldn’t imagine starting off on a new journey without him.

***

It’s been about a month since I last laid eyes on him. I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I woke up that morning at 4:30. We left our house at five even though our plane took off at nine (Italian airports can be ridiculous if you don’t show up at least three hours early). I walked into my room for the last time. Breathing the air that had kept me up so many nights with allergies. Feeling the cool wood underneath my feet, the cracks that provided me guidance through the night when my eyes were too tired to search for vague traces of light. Memorizing each detail, in hopes that I wouldn’t forget. In hopes that if I lingered in the doorway, that time would freeze. Maybe my family would accidentally leave without me.

But as I expected, time did not stop for me. Yells rushed through the halls and ran right through me. It was time to be on my way. Time to start the rest of my life. And as I went at that last second to bring Oliver with me, I couldn’t. He didn’t want me to take him. He convinced me I didn’t need him, and that this next part of my journey was up to me.

He said he’d wait for me. He always has.

Oliver (guitar)
Oliver
Photo credit: Rowena Kalnasy

Dakota (guitar)
Dakota
Photo credit: Rowena Kalnasy


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