Sticks And Strings. Part 20

I first met Sarah Matheson halfway through tenth grade, an encounter I would come to regret over two years later.

Ultimate Guitar

The festivities wound down. Full of beer and thoughts, our little collective went their separate ways for the night; to regroup tomorrow for more of what Mitchell had called, good times. He'd gone off towards the row of dingy apartments while Adam and I headed for the local bus loop. Just enough time to catch the last bus bound for Clark Street. A long walk home on a booze-filled stomach didn't seem too appealing, especially with the infamous beer bladder beginning to build up. The revelations about QuikPawn triggered yet another vicious cycle of worried thought. I had to laugh at myself, a sort of bemused, self-loathing snort. Give a shrink an hour and I'm sure to end up with a prescription for some sort of happy pills. No thanks.

You really think it was her? Adam asked. Typical of me, couldn't keep myself to myself for long, despite my best attempts, just penny for your thoughts and out it came. Like the good guy he was, Adam didn't look at me funny or make wisecracks. Who knows? Maybe it was just coincidence, some disgruntled customer.

Coincidence, I repeated. Man, I wish. I don't see any other way about it. You said it yourself, remember. And the note - I hate you a-shole!' What of that? He had no answer. Believe me, I really want it to be some f--ked up coincidence, but can you see just some disgruntled customer heaving a rock through a storefront window, littering Molson cans everywhere?

In this city, anything's possible, Adam mused. He didn't say it, but we both knew it didn't add up, too many pieces to this puzzle. We looked both sides of the empty road before crossing. She's been a real thorn to you, huh? he asked when we stepped on the curb.

Oh buddy, I sighed, that's putting it far too mildly, remembering the old adage: If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times...


I first met Sarah Matheson halfway through tenth grade, an encounter I would come to regret over two years later. Before Cage Records began selling band shirts, the only place where Brentwood metalheads could find appropriate apparel, short of hunting down a mail order catalogue, was a little store called Fist, now long since closed. Don't you love those coyly named places? I had gone there one Saturday to browse, hoping to pick up something new. Contrary to a percentage of Brentwood's alternative' youths, pick up was not a euphemism I used to mean five finger discounts. I suppose some would consider it ironic, a rebellious teenager full of f--k you attitude, eager to stick it to the man', playing by the rules, but having a criminal record wasn't one of my life's aspirations. Let some other idiot risk being busted.

I hadn't been in the store five seconds when my eyes came across a cute girl standing behind a glass counter lined with patches and stickers, talking on the phone, scribbling something down on a piece of paper. I was drawn in by those bright green eyes, almost forgetting all about the shirts. She was different from the other girls. I didn't know how, she just was. Her dirty blonde hair was tied back in a ponytail, two small rings in her lip, a thin spike in her left eyebrow, chewing on a piece of gum and looking like she couldn't care less what the person on the other line was saying. Her eyes drifted skyward, over to the walls lined with rows upon rows of shirts, all black of course, and then met with mine. She looked away almost at once. I pretended to be too focused on finding the perfect shirt to notice her. It wasn't very convincing. I looked her way again. She'd hung up the phone now, leaning on the glass counter with arms crossed, watching me, her narrow jaw rising and falling in perfect rhythm.

Guitar? was the first thing she said, eyeing my ubiquitous case. I confirmed this. She said, Can you actually shred? Or are you just another wannabe poser with dreams of makin' it in the big city, like every other guy who comes in here? Indeed, different.

Oh no, I play, I said. I know that kind all too well, and I share your disgust. She said nothing, chewing on that gum a lot more than it needed to be chewed. Funny haircut, p-ssed-off-at-the-world attitude, elementary school guitar lessons and suddenly it's Look at me, I'm Kurt Cobain.'

She seemed impressed. Her walls began to lower, her lips curling in a tight smile. I know, right?

Let them dream, I say. Just between you and me, those are the kind of kids destined for careers where they have their names printed on their shirt.

She laughed hard, gripping the countertop as if it was the only thing keeping her from falling to the floor. Her eyes seemed to sparkle. Instant attraction; I knew she was keen on me, or she wouldn't have continued watching me wander the store, her amused smirk showed she knew I'd lost interest in finding a shirt. I didn't leave the store empty-handed, however. She gave me her number before the manager's unimpressed glare convinced her to get back to work.

We talked that night, the next night, and soon began seeing a lot more of each other. There were always parties or all-ages local shows going on in Brentwood's metal community, nine times out of ten I was there. Partying never interested me, I went for the music. Then again, there's always the temptation of beer, usually bought by the caseload by those of legal age. More often than not, Sarah could be found at those parties. She wasn't as big a metalhead as me, but she liked having a good time, and when the headbanging startedlook out! She could out windmill even the most veteran of dudes. Someone was sure to make a comment about that blonde chick going nuts and I could say with a smile, yeah, I know her. There was never a courting period with us. We just sort of happened. One day we didn't know each other, the next day we were moshing, thrashing and chasing beers like old timers. There was a time when she didn't even know the name Richard Demin, now we were making out like we'd been together for years. We loved it. And we loved each other. At least it appeared that way.

That was before things started going bad.

When Sarah drank, it wasn't just Oh, I think I'll have another with her. I could put away more than my fair share of Molson's, or whatever the beer of the week was, but it was far from a habit. Sarah on the other hand downed six and twelve-packs regularly. In public, you'd chalk it up to just having a good time. The reality behind closed doors was something else. She lived alone, in a small flat in the East Vancouver suburbs of Mount Pleasant, right on the cusp of downtown; busy, dense, yet still keeping a quaint neighborhood feeling about it. Quaint that is, until she got drunk. If we started out cuddling, by the end of it, we'd be screaming bloody f--king murder at each other, slinging drunken insults, making empty threats that neither followed through with. I'd be lying if I said I never fought back, but unlike her, words were my weapons of choice. If my commanding vocabulary outdid her repetitious slurs of F-bombs and little else, she'd get violent and start slapping or punching me. That was one avenue I wasn't about to go down. I'd defend myself, but I would never hit her back. That wasn't me, would never be me.

The first time she slapped me should have been a clue, but she felt so bad about it, she spent the next day crying over the phone, telling me how sorry she was and that it would never happen again, I believed her, and we were okay for a little while. Then it would happen again, and the vicious cycle would repeat itself. It became a weekly occurrence: Hang out, be tender and loving with each other, go party, drink, headbang, drink, go to her place, fight, go home and wait for things to work out. Amazing we were able to get away with it for so long without one of the neighbors getting pissed off and calling the cops, it was hard enough keeping a secret from Captain Bob and the family, if the police became involved, I would be dead. Sometimes I wanted to end it all on the spot, but part of me was seriously in love with her, and couldn't imagine life without her. Denial can sometimes be one's closest friend, especially when you're navigating troubled waters. We had lots of good times together in our almost eleven-month relationship, if one could call it that. Liquor aside, we were inseparable, talking every day, seeing as much as we could of each other. Unfortunately at the end of the day, bad often outweighed good when it came to our relationship, a trait typical of most tumultuous ones. Contemplating our future together, arguing the good and bad with myself often left me more depressed than trying to numb the stinging after one of Sarah's meltdowns.

Hindsight, besides being twenty-twenty, is also a real bitch.

The beginning of the end came during one of these meltdowns, when both of us got drunker than usual. She saw me talking with a couple of girls from Arthur Compton and jumped the gun, deciding I was cheating, which of course, I wasn't. Apparently in her mind, I wasn't allowed to shoot the shit with any other female than her. The fight we got into that night was the worst one yet. At the height, she implied that if I really did love her, I had to prove it.

How else do you want me to prove it? I remember shouting, walking around her living room, trying to force my head to clear. I tell you I love you all the time! The sparkle in her eyes I'd come to love was dead and gone, replaced by a drunken glaze and piercing stare. She fell back against the wall, gripping it with flat hands, her tongue playing with her lip rings. I waited for an answer. To say I was caught off guard when she came up with one would be an understatement, writ large.

F--k me, she said.


You heard me. You swear you love me, nothing else going on? Then f--k me, right here, right now. Come on.

I thought about it. We had never taken that step before. And I did love her. But I'd never had sex before, she knew it too. She claimed virginity too. I believed her. No way to prove it for certain, but I believed her.

Well? Whatcha standing there for? she slurred, moving towards me, one of her hands reaching behind the head, the other one for the zipper on my jeans. I desperately wanted to believe I was seeing the sparkle in her eyes again, that it wasn't really a drunken, lustful stare looking up at me, I'd been imagining the whole thing. Her fingers pinched the thin metal tab and pulled. The tugging sensation jostled me from my own daze, and things seemed to get a lot clearer.

I can't do this. It's a bad idea, I heard my voice say. You're smashed, hell I'm smashed, it's not right. The suppressed gentleman inside me was pleased. The same couldn't be said for Sarah, whose hands immediately let go of me, a dark shadow passing over her face. Not the response she was excepting.

What?.. What? Her face went from confused, to hurt, to furious. Are you serious?

Come on, Sarah...

No! Are you f--king serious right now? Her arms bent at the elbow, fingers curling into fists.

I'm just saying. You go from screaming me stupid to wanting to get me in bed? It doesn't make sense. And I told you, I'm not doing this drunk. It's not right.

A few minutes later I was fleeing her complex with a bloody nose and sore face, heading for the nearest bus stop, unconcerned whether it went to Brentwood or not. It was a long time before we spoke again. She didn't call. I wanted to call, but at the same time, I didn't. After all, how was I in the wrong? Hadn't I done the noble thing, not taking advantage of a drunken girl? I didn't know what to believe anymore. The next time I saw her was at an all-ages show at the Brentwood Youth Center sponsored by one of the local radio stations. The lineup was decent at best, local two-bit talents I'd never heard of before or seen since. I was in the far back of the hall, watching the halfhearted moshpit as the next gathering took the stage, while others sat at the few tables set out around the canteen, chatting amongst each other, ignoring the stage entirely.

She was sitting at a table off in the corner. Her hair was shorter, cut in a sideswept fringe with dark blue streaks running through it like veins and she had on tight jeans and a revealing tank top. Watching her, those familiar lovesick feelings returned, and I wanted to go up and talk to her, to see if there was even the faintest hope in which we could talk, maybe sort things out. The kind of hopes where for a split second, you feel like nothing in life is impossible; no dream too big, no mountain too high... until I noticed the guy sitting across from her, the guy whose folds of fat looked ready to explode from the too-small white tee he had onthe guy who leaned forward and locked lips with her, and she didn't resist or fight him off. If anything, she leaned into him first. Then she noticed me, and broke away from him at once. Color drained from her face, her lips mouthed my name.

The random guy looked over his shoulder at me, dark skinned - Polynesian, Hawaiian perhaps - with a buzz cut and a fat, stupid face studded with zits and shaggy whiskers. He looked down at the ground, shrinking into his chair as though expecting me, a guy who looked scrawny in comparison, to walk up and strangle him with my bare hands an act prevented solely by the knowledge, infuriating just the same, that the chain of consequences more than outweighed any temporary satisfaction I might have gained. Sarah shrank in her chair, too.

Everything seemed to shatter before my eyes like a brick through a window. I walked out without a word and would have continued, probably for miles without point or purpose. What else can you do when your dream world, rose-colored though it may be, comes crashing down around you? I was a good distance away from the youth hall when she caught up to me, screaming my name like a banshee all the way. Tugging at my arm, trying to get a word out of me, she begged me to say something, do something: Yell, hit her - call her a whore, even, anything; just talk to me, please. Whatever she wanted to say, whatever bullshit explanation she had for me, I was having none of it.

Let go of me, I said in a voice laced with acid. I know what I saw.

I know, but Richard... babe... Her hand graced my shoulder.

Don't! I jerked my arm away, making her stumble. Staring deep into her watery eyes, I spat, Don't you babe' me. I don't wanna hear it. I see you've made your decision.

You don't understand...

No, you're right, I said. I don't understand what you were thinking. I don't understand why you didn't try and talk to me - and I really don't understand why I couldn't see it earlier. You're poison

Richard... Her face broke, the waterworks mere seconds away from flooding the alley. Running a hand through her dyed hair, she shook her head, my name coming out in a strangled squeak.

You're poison, Sarah. I'm not doing this anymore. I'm not listening to anymore of your sob story excuses. My own throat began to lump and harden, welling building up behind my own eyes. I refuse, I told myself. I f--king refuse. Not in front of her. She's not worth the satisfaction. Don't follow me, I gulped, walking away once more.

We're done, Sarah. I never want to see you again.

And I didn't, for a long time, until that fateful band meeting almost an eternity later. Screams echoed in the night skies later that evening. Not for the sake of music. For the first time in my life, no music was able to comfort. Not that time...


It doesn't get any easier. We like to think that time heals all wounds the farther you walk along the path of this journey called life. The sad truth is your first broken heart is one of those forever things in life. The pain never truly heals; it just becomes a lot less stinging - a natural desensitization, the scars of which we carry inside us, exposing them to a little fresh air once in a blue moon. Being able to relive my tragic excuse for a love life with Adam without feeling the urge to scream, cry or break something was a sign I was in a different place at last. Not a better one, necessarily, but different. One good thing about reliving the horrors of your life when you're among friends, it makes time pass by a lot quicker than if you remained silent the whole time. I looked around, stunned to find us sitting in the far back of the 112 bus, pulling out of the Brentwood Transit Exchange, even though everyone colloquially referred to it as the bus loop.

Sh-t, said Adam, trying to lean back in the hard metal seat best as he could. It was the first word he got in edgewise since my tirade began pouring from me like water from a faucet. Sh-t. He seemed at a loss for other things to say.

Sorry, I said.

What on Earth for?

I dunno, I said, gnawing at my lip. Talking for so long? Kinda ironic, isn't it? I'm already the band frontman; I don't need to hog any more of the spotlight.

Ridiculous, he said. Everyone needs to vent now and then.

Well that's just it. My problem seems to be too much now, not enough then.

Hey! Adam straightened up against the steel back of the row of seats we occupied, looking at me with all seriousness. Don't you f--king dare beat yourself down because of some cheating harpy who proved herself unworthy to even change the strings on your guitar! People like that get theirs in the end. You just wait and see. Wow. Harsh words from him. That was normally my job.

Yeah, I guess you're right.

Guess, nothing, I am right. You rock, Richard. And if that nutcase shows her face around The Garage once more, we'll both tell her where to go and how to get there. God, he's not treading lightly tonight, I thought. Wonderful! Even if it was alcohol-fueled, I loved it. We let things grow quiet for a few minutes until Adam asked, You thinking maybe tip the police off?

What, about QuikPawn? Man, I dunno. Maybe it is all coincidence. False accusations could stir up shit like no tomorrow.

You seemed so sure earlier.

I know. I still have my concerns. We'll see what happens. I let out a halfhearted chuckle. Who knows? Maybe someday it might be possible to forgive her forwell, for all of it. You know?

Sure. Forgive and forget. You never know. That sounded more like the rational, fair-minded Adam Merritt we all knew. He was half-right. Nobody ever knows for sure what the future holds. Maybe, in time, it would be possible to forgive Sarah - but forget? No, never. You can never forget your scars, internal or otherwise. Things were quiet for the remainder of our ride back to Adam's place.

(Is that why you won't go after Kayla? You still can't forgive? Or you won't?)

Like I said - you can never forget.

7 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Just read all of these in two days time. I love them, keep up the great work.
    Two days? I'm impressed, that's a lot quicker than I've written most of the chapters. Glad you enjoy the story!
    Now that we've got the backstory, can we lose the teenage angst relationship BS and move forward? I've followed this since day 1, but you're losing me here...
    Thanks for your honesty. I understand your point, chapters like these are a point of contention even with me. It took a lot of debating whether to include it, but I felt a bit of backstory is required to tie this off and continue, otherwise we're left with holes down the road. Part 21's the last to do with it, I promise.