The jarring guitar chords echoed off the basement walls as his father grabbed the guitar out of his hands, swinging it fast and hard at his head, knocking him unconscious. This is a true story. My grandfather stood over my father, looking at the guitar fragments, breathing heavy with anger. And when my father came to, the pieces of his instrument were scattered around him.
What upset my grandpa still evades me to this day. I had to listen keenly, in the background, unnoticed, for years to even gather this much of what I call the “guitar incident.” Many years of stealing the stories that flow around late night tables covered in empty liquor bottles. The long nights when parents reminisced with friends and family clumsily spilling my truth. When I was younger, I didn’t understand my place in these stories. When I asked, “why was Poppy so mad?” every adult gave me the hush stare. I learned to find comfort on the outskirts of those conversations, lingering and listening. Many years later I questioned my father again, but his response was stiff and calculated, “My dad was a great dad.”
The battle between my father and grandfather happened long before I was born, in the teenage chasm where the discord between fathers and sons can prove treacherous. So many missing words from the story, but this I know, somewhere in these culminating moments between my father and grandfather is where I was fashioned. I was formed in these places. Not by birth obviously, but by the resonating anger that flowed into my structure. I am the collective memory of the unrelenting abuse my father endured, as his father before him, the bitterness absorbed when living in that perpetual anger, and the self-esteem devoured in its place. I once believed my father hated me. I’ve come to understand through the years that my father hated himself, a tune I am scarcely avoiding, and only by sheer resolve. This revelation did not come easy. No, these phrases that molded me took time to find their way into the world. The phrases of me are the words I hum to the song I don’t know. I know words belong there, important words, but I don’t know what they are. There are stories that are me. They are subtle and elusive part of my foundation, but I don’t know the words, I just know I exist because of the song. It’s the harmony in my family’s dissonance.