Author's Note: My sincerest apologies for the tardiness in posting the next part of Sticks And Strings, I've been battling a bad illness for the last month and have barely had the strength to look at a computer, but I'm happy to say I'm well on the road to recovery. Look forward to more regular Sticks And Strings in the future. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this update.
Dammit, I said no and I mean no! There's nothing to hide! Just leave me alone!
You're not going anywhere until you tell meRichard! Richard Jay Demin, get your butt back here before I
Captain Bob wouldn't be able to get in another word before the bedroom door slammed shut, sending the shock-waves ricocheting throughout the house like an explosion. It was loud enough to leave my ears ringing for a few slow seconds while I stood pacing across the floor, waiting for the inevitable storming down the hall followed by a shouting match that would leave half the Demin household with ringing ears of their own; a suitable cap to a less than stellar Saturday. The fact it was easy to correctly predict the outcomes like clockwork would have made an outside observer blink with surprise but to us, it was just another sad, unfortunate truth about life. The Demin's were a family that did not subscribe to the schools of calm, rational discussions. Words were the weapons of choice, volume the reinforcements. I held my breath and waited while white hot fury continued to burn inside.
True to his nature, Captain Bob's reaction to my new look' had been far from supportive or sympathetic. Climbing up the creaky stairs to the living room, I heard the soft rustling of newspaper and a firm clearing of the throat. One brown eye peered from behind the sports section of the daily local, tracking my ascent. Soon as my head appeared, the paper went skyward and the ex-naval captain was in front of me before I could blink, not out of surprise though. Reactions like these were fairly typical, along with the inevitable two-part question, which came barreling towards me with the faintest scent of nacho cheese and beer in tow.
And just what happened to you, boy? Been in a fight? No hello. No, My God son, are you alright? On second thought, if that had been the first thing out of his mouth, I might have wondered if Captain Bob was suffering from a fever.
No, Dad, I said, trying to step around the fleshy boulder that stood between me and my room. No luck. Refusing to budge, he stared at me with a suspiciously raised eyebrow, making a show of putting both hands on his wide hips. His elbow connected with the age-stained crown molding on the corner wall, effectively blocking my only means of retreat.
No? Well how did you get those scratches on your face?
I just said that Dad, yes. Now please move.
The arm remained in place while he waved a finger in my face, a gesture that sent a spike of anger-laced adrenalin through my heart. You be watching that mouth, young man or else
Or else what, Dad, you'll hit me? I dared to say, no longer just teasing the lion in the cage but poking it with a stick. God, you're so predictable.
I beg your pardon! He sounded appalled.
Dad please justnot now, I need to be alone.
You're not going anywhere until you tell me what happened to your face.
Dad, seriouslyplease move. I tried to push his arm out of the way, a small part of me knowing deep down that I would have better luck chopping down a tree with a table knife before my father would concede any strength. The Demin stubborn streak was about the only evident fact of our relation.
Sure enough, the heavy stampeding of feet down the hall was close behind; the tiny beam of light coming through the crack at the bottom of the door flickered and went dark while the sound of heavy, angry snorts of air escaped from my father's nostrils. I stood facing the door, arms crossed in a stubborn act of final defiance. If privacy wasn't a right in my father's book, I would not make it easy on him to drag the truth out of me. After a while, the angry snorting subsided and a sighnot one of frustration but rather resignationcame out instead of the quick-tongued barking we were used to, followed by the sound of footsteps retreating from my door, restoring the thin beam of light. To my surprise, this only poured more gasoline on the already smoldering inferno. It felt more infuriating than anything else. Pacing around inside the room like a rat in a maze, my hands balled into tight fists that turned my knuckles white and my fingertips blood red, the same warm, pulsating red color that my face felt like. After years of grilling my chops like a Spanish inquisitor, Dad's withdrawal was the last reaction I expected, or wanted.
Now what was I going to do to vent? Arguing was always a good release valve. What would be the point in arguing with myself? I did enough of that throughout the week. At last I could take no more. My hands grabbed the first thing I sawmy pillowand buried my face inside its feathery confines, letting out a scream; deep and throaty, the kind you heard in any B-list horror movie while the hero navigated the dank catacombs of an abandoned mansion.
For the next few minutes, I just sat on my bed, face down in the pillow letting out one muted roar after another. The longer I screamed, the better I began to feel mentally. Physically however, the rational part of me knew I would be hurting later. Here was another unfortunate truth about life: When in a fit of rage, you'd hurt later, but at that particular moment, pain was the last thing on your mind, just get it out before it swallowed you whole.
Soon, my voice seemed to just quit on me and there were no more screams, just a few feeble, exhausted wheezes. I pulled my head from the pillow, my face matted with sweat, multiple strands of hair stuck to my cheeks and forehead like glue. It felt like there was a pool full of lava in my stomach, and a joy buzzer stuck in my throat. The flaming cotton swab returned too, skewering not just my left eardrum, but my right one this time too. The pain was brilliant but I paid it no attention. The fire had been quite subdued, but not completely extinguished yet. Rather than scream, I now had an urge to start throwing things about the room and punching walls and I very likely would have given into the temptationuntil my eyes caught the dog-eared corner of my notebook peeking out from inside my open backpack. It almost seemed to beckon to me. Come, old friend. I'm here for you. Let me bear the brunt of your wrath.
I sat, watched it, and thought
By the time I fell asleep early into the next morning, I had two things: A headache that throbbed like a bass drum, and a new song idea, sitting in my notebook, surrounded by at least a dozen torn, crumpled or otherwise damaged papers.
Wow... Adam said in a whisper. It was the only word spoken by anyone else in the garage since I'd begun to speak almost ten minutes ago. Two pairs of awestruck eyes looked at me while I downed a bottle of water in record speed and chased it with another half bottle before my stomach began to feel like a balloon blown up to bursting point. You actually told your father off?
I bet he wasn't too thrilled with you.
Sunday he barely acknowledged my existence. Enough said.
Damn. You think you'd show just a little more concern for your son's well being after a skateboard accident. Adam didn't sound totally convinced by my explanation for why my face looked like a cat used my left cheek for a scratching post.
You're kidding, of course, I said with a snort. Look who we're talking about. Adam looked a little foolish having stated the bloody obvious. No biggie, I just shrugged it off. It was all old hat now. A bitter image flashed across my mind while I pondered the title of a chapter in my future autobiography, Chapter 3: The Monster of Maple Crescent.' Well, maybe not.
Well even with all that shit, I guess the day was salvageable huh? Adam gestured to my notebook which was now in Jason's hands. He'd arrived just before my impromptu soliloquy and hadn't gotten so much as a hello in before being drawn into my audience; he too shared in the glassy-eyed gaze, though instead of focusing on me, his nose was buried in my notebook, reading over my newest creation, which had been passed around the guys like a doobie at a Phish concert. The only one not sharing the look was Kayla, who but for a few semi-interested glances, continued to sit cross-legged on the couch, randomly plucking strings looking like she couldn't have been more bored. It didn't surprise me.
Given the looks on their faces, whether the guys liked the lyrics that much or were so engrossed in the story of my Saturday was difficult to determine. The small, needy part inside of me didn't care what the attention was for, it was just glad to be front and center. I put a hand out to take back my book but Jason, now clutching it like one would a newspaper in a windstorm, refused to surrender, giving me a dismissive be gone! wave.
Jason, uh, could I have my book...?
Shush. It was short and blunt. He didn't even look up from the page. I looked to Adam as if to ask if I'd just heard him correctly. Three quick blinks all the confirmation I needed. Adam tried to speak but Jason continued to grasp the book with one hand, paying no attention to any of us, while his other tapped away on his knee, slow at first but then building in tempo.
Mitchell was the first one to get up off the garage floor. Eh, what is so fascinating about a notebook? he asked, brushing the seat of his pants with a flat palm. The tapping noise grew louder, now it sounded like a muted knocking. Jason shushed him too. I caught the faintest snort coming from the couch as Kayla attempted to bury the smirk creeping across her face by gnawing on the corner of her lip and doing a very poor job of it too I thought but didn't say anything.
Mitchell seemed to find Jason's sudden obsession with my book as peculiar as I did. We exchanged brief, puzzled glances, all he could do was shrug his shoulders and go to the cooler for a water bottle, asking if anyone else wanted anything. Adam took a bottle of his own, remaining in his spot. I declined. Kayla opened her mouth to speak but was cut off by a sudden cry of excitement from Jason. All attention focused on him at once, the unanimous, spontaneous reaction was almost comical. Nobody was laughing though.
Jason closed the book with a quick snap of his fingers and casually tossed it to me. The pages fluttered in midair as I reached out and reclaimed it before it hit the floor, sandwiching it between my two hands. Yes, Jason said, nodding and pumping his fist, it just might work.
What? Our voices stacked on top of one another while Jason got up, went to his bass, slipped the strap over his shoulder, tapping the strings for a quick tuning check. He appeared satisfied. I wish he would just speak up already, I thought to myself. As if on cue, he did.
Those lyrics, he pointed at notebook still sandwiched flat between my hands. How did you write them? I found the question more than a little weird, how the hell did he think I wrote them, with telekinesis? I guess he must have seen my confused expression, because he quickly added, I mean, when you came up with that, did you have like a certain speed, or melody, in mind?
I answered with semi-honesty. Not in the slightest. I just wrote, didn't ask anything of it, they just came to me. Except it wasn't quite that simple; after all I'd hardly been sitting under the tree and had the apple just suddenly fall and hit me on the head, no sudden Eureka! Out loud, I asked Why?
Well if you take a closer look at it, there are parts in the first verse that have short bursts that would really pair with a rapid backing. You follow me? I nodded, pretending I actually understood what the fk was talking about. Musically gifted as he was, Jason sometimes lacked sufficient vocabulary when trying to make a point. Okay, so over the weekend I was fooling around and I came up with this line that I think might go really well with it.
I was intrigued. Oh yeah?
Yeah, try this on for size. He reached out and flicked the power switch on his amp, the little red light popped on. Jump in anytime, he invited me, and then began to play. Not being a pick player, the speed at which Jason hammered out the thundering panoply of notes left me speechless. It was impossible to tell which strings he was striking or which frets he held down, his hands moved that fast. I looked over at the other guys and saw Mitchell's mouth form the words holy shit. Our eyes met and he mouthed it again before setting the bottle in his hands on the workbench and moving towards his guitar which sat teetering on top of his amp. I could only assume it was the rumbling from Jason's amp that was risking it sliding off to the concrete floor.
I got a sudden urge to start headbanging as Mitchell picked up his axe and checked the connections, so I did just that, swinging my neck in wide circles, my hair flying in the air, tangling and slapping against my cheeks. I wasn't always the biggest fan of the windmilling technique, but when the desire hits you, you don't stand there and question it, Well, maybe I'll whipno perhaps I'll just nod a little, but then againhmm You do what feels right. Windmilling it was.
Mitchell joined the impromptu jam session with a groove-inspired chord pattern that formed a perfect harmony with Jason's pattern. One could tell he'd been listening to more Pantera over the weekend while writing. Mitchell's writing style was always heavily influenced by whatever band of the week was receiving the most airplay on his stereo back home. I didn't see Adam sit down at his kit as my eyes were tight shut, headbanging with my eyes open always made me dizzy. The sudden interjection of a 4/4 timed snare and tom-tom medley, spliced in with angry crash cymbal lashings took me by surprise and I almost fell into the drums. Luckily, I avoided making a bigger fool of myself by grabbing the corner of the spare guitar amp and steadying myself. I opened my eyes once the world stopped spinning and saw Jason trying his best to suppress an amused grin while he kept playing. I appreciated the effort.
The lyrics soon began to pour from me. Still short of breath, attempting a scream would not have been the wisest idea. Instead, the words came out in a toneless slur:
"Hating why I'm feeling like this Twisted stomach, teeth are bared Emotion overwhelming inside Why must life be this damn hard? I'm telling you, get out of my face Before I snap and lose my mind These words and obvious pain fall on Ears of deaf and eyes of blind"
After pausing a moment, I summoned enough strength to shout the next part. It sounded like an angry call and response argument with myself.
"Emotion (Confusion) Combustion (Anger) Blinding (Raging) Pull me out of this hell
Life messed up so substantially I need to find a quick resolve But twisted feelings still remain, and I need to release this blinding rage Running around like some kind of Caged animal trapped inside If you won't help, then fuck you - get lost This feeling's gonna send me out of my mind
Emotion (Confusion) Combustion (Anger) Blinding (Raging) Pull me out of this hell"
Feeling more confident in my abilities, I swallowed a large gulp of air and attempted to draw out another scream, though it came out as more of a guttural wail.
"I can't put up this fight! Please show me release I beg of you, please Before I lose it all and just freak out
Staring at me like I'm a fool, refusing to lend a hand..."
Kayla continued to sit sullenly on the couch, refusing to share in the birth of this new song. Her eyes locked onto me for a split second while I drew in another lung bursting breath. They looked at me, cold, distant and unimpressed; her true colors seeping through the passionate metal-girl persona like a red wine stain through a white tablecloth. It was like she was silently saying So you can scream, whoop-de-do, you think that makes you special? Well if that's how she was going to be, I would show her.
When my lungs could take no more air, out it came sounding almost like a deranged wolf howl.
"I can't put up this fight! Please show me release I beg of you, please Before I lose it all and just freak out!"
Mitchell then did something I'd never seen him do in any other practice. He stopped dead in his tracks, letting the last chord continue to resonate throughout the garage in a buzzing, static laced wail, and gawked at me. Dude, we seriously ave to get you a fking microphone, he said as the chord faded into the distance. Seriously, that was sick! Adam and Jason looked like they concurred; both shared the same mouth open, dumbstruck expression.
That sounded like it hurt, Adam said, running the heel of his hand across his forehead, shaking off a few stray sweat drops. My throat was in fact tingling quite a bit, no pain or soreness however. I shrugged, shook my head, told Adam I was made of stronger stuff, looked at Jason to ask what he thought, but his mind appeared to be on something else.
Hey Kayla, what'cha doing sitting over there for?
As expected, all attention shifted to her. She watched us with an almost frightened deer in the headlights look. Her mouth moved and seemed to form words but no sound came out at first. I, uh, oh, I was just listening...yeah, we just started so suddenly, I wanted to just sit back and take it all in, know what I mean?
Take it all in, yeah right, I thought. Who are you fooling? My question was answered right on cue, much to my shock, by Jason nodding and actually smiling at her. Oh, right on, I gotcha. As if that wasn't surprising enough, the next words that came out of his mouth left me speechless. What do you reckon, like what you hear? Now Jason was not only tolerating her presence, but actually asking her input on something she had no hand in creating? Now I didn't know what to think.
Kayla's demeanor changed almost at once. She jumped to her feet as though the couch had given her a shock, holding her guitar close to her chest much like a priest clutching his rosary in mid prayer. I'm sure I could try my hand at it, she said, brushing past me, her elbow clipping my ribcage. I was more annoyed than hurt; my accusing stare went ignored as she plugged in her guitar and tuned up. Well boys, she said daringly, shall we play?
We practiced for another hour, during which time chord patterns were polished, tunings were tweaked and a name was given to our first official song as a complete band Rage. Everyone shared in the adrenaline rush the knowledge that we finally had a song provided and likely would have played long into the night had time not been an issue, so we called it a day around quarter to 6. Having to work a rare night shift, Mitchell was the first to leave, promising me that after the vocal offerings' I'd shown today, he would track a mike down for me no matter what, a gesture I appreciated. Jason left a few minutes later, saying he had family plans.' I noticed he refused to go into detail about it, referring to it as plans.' And then there were three.
Rage, Adam mused through a mouthful of apple he had taken from the cooler, I like it, man. Little dots of spit covered apple flew from his mouth as he chewed. With practice, we could turn this into something really fking cool! The sound of a ringing phone through the open door prevented me from voicing agreement. Adam cursed, swallowed the half-chewed bite, wiped away drool from the corner of his mouth and excused himself, going into the house. The door swung closed behind him, leaving me and Kayla alone in the garage, which began filling up with heavy tension.
Well then, I said, not really intending to start any idle chitchat but rather avoidingor was that delaying?the awkward silence that seemed to follow me everywhere I went like a needy puppy.
Well then, Kayla said as well. For a few moments we didn't say anything, and then Kayla went to her case and put her guitar away. Nice lyrics, she said with her back to me. I would've said thank you if there hadn't been a stinging backhanded sarcastic note in her voice. It's interesting.
The way you wrote those lyrics, it's just interesting.
I'm not following you.
The latches on her hardcover case snapped shut with a pair of loud clicks, she stood and turned to face me with a bemused smirk. I'm telling you, get out of my face before I snap and lose my mind? Is that your way of getting back at me for that? She pointed at the scratches on my face.
I thought Kayla had a lot of nerve suggesting my lyrics were nothing more than an ulterior fk you' to her, or anyone else. Granted I'd been in the midst of a fury when writing, but so what? I didn't write to keep myself in any particular mood, or to change it, at least that was never my intention. Writing came and left like a raincloud, sometimes a few drips here and there, other times I couldn't move my pen fast enough. Not at all, I said. It just came to me, much like the rest of the songs I've come up with.
Sure you did.
Hey if you say so, Rich, I'm just sayin'
Richard! I snapped. Dammit! Why are you acting like this, Kayla? She turned her back to me again, reaching for her windbreaker on the arm of the couch. It made a rustling noise as she slipped her left arm into the sleeve, then her right, pulling it across her shoulders and zipping it up. Now I could tell she was just trying to egg me on. I sighed. Kayla, come on, and reached out to touch her shoulder.
My hand didn't have a chance to make it to her shoulder. It wasn't even within touching distance when she swung around, her own hand coming up and smacking my hand back hard. Pins and needles shot up to my shoulder as my arm went back in a swooping arc, the muscles in my shoulder straining. What did I tell you about touching me? she said, almost shrieking, giving me a death stare. I told you! Don't ever fking touch me, didn't I? Didn't I? I realized her eyes were shimmering and bouncing back and forth, having a hard time focusing on me. I couldn't tell whether it was out of anger, upset or something else.
Ow! Kayla, goddammit, what the My face burned with embarrassment. Kayla stormed out of the garage without another word, her guitar case bouncing against her thigh as she walked with the speed of a marching soldier. As I stood there watching her practically run across the street, round the corner and disappear from view, I heard something that doubled my heartbeat in the space of two seconds:
Richard? What the hell was that about?
Adam stood on the top step, arms folded. The look on his face was a dark mix of shock and anger.
Well? he asked, I'm waiting.
Waiting for an explanation I didn't have.