Monday, April 15, 2013

A Life Redeemed

In this short story, eighth-grader Jessica R. introduces us to a man who has become discouraged and disillusioned.  What will motivate him to engage in the world again?

Artwork by David D.

The Key to All Happiness

These days aren’t easy like they had been once before; days go by and time just seems to crumble as I grow older with each inert day. My memories of childhood seem to just vanish, and even my memories of just a few days ago seem to slip through my fingers like sand, lost amongst the billions of other grains that have fallen down onto the soft beach of lost memories and sadness. Sand is quite easy to pick up, but it will eventually fall through your fingers once again as time passes. I feel like each time the clock ticks a small bit of energy is sucked out of me and it won’t stop until I am completely gone. I guess there is nothing to look forward to about growing up after all.

Well, I suppose now is a good time to introduce myself. My name is Tristan. I have lived alone since the day everything became a bland inconvenience to me: nearly my entire adulthood. You see, when you’re a child, you have your whole life to look forward to. But when you’re a crippled old man like I, you might as well just crawl in a hole of gloom and despair because you have nothing more to live for. I have not accomplished most of the things that I wanted to and I never will. Times of opportunity and happiness are gone for me; they disappeared in a single wave on the beach of lost memories. As each wave hits, more sand is taken out with it and will forever be lost at the bottom of the dark blue churning sea, unable to be found again.


 I remember the days when I was new to my job. Oh, how much I enjoyed it. Those times were the best times of my life; many years ago, I remember the first day I went to my job. It was excellent, until every memory and day of excitement at work has been shredded into nothing but small pieces of torn paper. Once a paper is ripped, it’s able to be put back together, but it will never once again be perfect. My enthusiasm, happiness, and effort are now all bolted inside an iron vault and forever will be unless I find the key to unlock it again; it will be very hard to try to relocate my long lost key since it has been missing for so long. I suppose now is about the time I should consider retiring. 

I lost my key many years back. I used to be in a small band that many people enjoyed. It consisted of a few of my close friends. We used to go out every week and play jazz music on the busy streets of New York. After work had become a burden, my band was the sunshine in my gloomy life. Playing music was what made myself me. I remember that one day my band and I had decided to perform once again on the streets. I didn’t know that that would be my last time ever preforming a piece of music as a band. I remember that there were many people watching us on that musty day. But there was one man that stood out to me most. The man’s eyes seemed to emerge from its darkness as I played the relaxing jazz with my partners. The man told us that our band was stellar. This was what encouraged me to move forward with my band. But unfortunately, as time went on, we had to break up; as a result of our jobs getting in the way, our band had only become a lost memory. Well, it’s not like we had a chance anyways. We weren’t good enough. Our dreams had become a smashed memory that no longer brought joy but only hurt and terrible feelings. Often now, I don’t listen to music. It brings back a wave of sad memories that I don’t want to remember. It seems that the things that I remember most are the things that I don’t want to remember. It’s funny how it works out that way. Thinking about my past often makes me grow drowsy with mourning. Perhaps I shouldn’t think of it anymore.

My eyes suddenly sprung open from darkness. Where was I? I immediately realized that I was in my dimly lit apartment: it was another day. I slowly but surely deserted my bed and I staggered into the bathroom. I looked horrifying as I stared into the sad eyes of my reflection in the mirror. I tried to sculpt something out of my hair to make it look the slightest bit presentable. I rummaged through my closet to find a business suit that didn’t have a stain on it. Boy, did I need to go to the cleaners. Adjusting my tie slightly, I clustered my papers into one distorted pile and smashed them into my suitcase. I sighed deeply and looked at the clock. It was almost eight o’ clock. I closed both locks below my windows and closed both blinds and turned away. I wallowed over to the door and then twirled around to face my empty, dark house. Oh, how lonely it looked…

I opened the door and I walked down the never ending hallway that leads to the lobby. I opened the front door of the hotel and squinted as light flooded into the room. The day was damp and cloudy after the pelting rain last night. Oh, how I despise days like these. The ominous clouds embraced the world in grey. The noises, smells, and sights in the city were absolutely grotesque; it was like a metal jungle of smells and sirens. There was never a moment of dead silence. Cars gunned past me and taxis zigzagged in and out of traffic and honked their horns for no particular reason whatsoever. No matter what time of day, morning, noon, or night, the air always reeked of gasoline and hamburgers. And every so often, if you’re lucky, you’d find a tree. Yes, a real tree if you can believe it in the middle of this metal, technological jungle.  And finally, the ringleader of the show: the lights. There are so many lights, that the energy they use could power my home for years. It gives me a headache to look at all the screaming neon signs in my face whatever way I turn. Oh, how I hate the city…

I meandered down the street a little longer as inconsiderate business people shoved past me, and with a sigh, I decided that I should move out of the way until the people began to slow down and leave. I turned down a small, more nonchalant road that was occupied with a few small shops simply trying to escape the noise. As I sat on a small, rusted bench next to a coffee shop, I rolled my eyes. What on Earth was I thinking? This is the city. There is no way to escape the chaos. I suddenly jolted to my senses after a brief moment of day dreaming and I realized that I had seen that coffee shop before somewhere…perhaps I was merely experiencing déjà vu.

As I sat in silence absorbing all the commotion going on down the main road next to me, I noticed that a couple of young men with large bags and papers parked themselves right in front of the coffee shop. They put all of their belongings down and began shuffling papers around and looked like complete fools. What were they doing organizing their stuff here in the middle of the city? I then realized what they were actually doing. One of the men accidentally dropped his papers on the ground in front of me and I saw music notes dancing across the page. My eyes widened and my heart started pounding. Music…Oh, how long it had been since I had seen actual music on a page…

The man hunched over in front of me and frantically picked up his countless papers. “Oh my, I’m sorry sir. Uh, I’ll be out of your way in one minute.” His eyes met mine, and I realized that he was strangely familiar. Had I seen this man somewhere? His eyes were full of light and they shone into mine.

“Please, don’t worry about it,” I sympathized with a chuckle. “I used to be in my own band, believe it or not. It’s been so long since I’ve seen music.” The man paused and looked up at me.

 “Really?” he questioned. I smiled a little bit at him.

My heart missed a beat, and I lowered my head down, trying to avoid eye contact with the young man. “Yes, of course. Sadly, I had to disband my band many years ago. I haven’t read music since then.”

The man quickly raised his eyes to meet mine. They didn’t look quite as joyous as they had seemed before. His happiness was replaced with a different emotion that I quite often experienced. “It would truly be a shame if something was to happen to my band. Honestly, music is my life. Despite my job that I have just started, I keep it a part of me.” He pushed away the sadness in his eyes and tried to replace it with jovialness. “If you would like, could you listen to my band play? It’s been a while since we’ve been able to play together and I hope we still are ok. It would be great if we could have someone with experience tell us how good we are,” he described. “It would help us get better!” Butterflies suddenly began to flutter in my stomach. I was going to listen to true music again…this was actually happening. I glanced over at the other members of the band. They had their instruments out and were ready to play. One embraced a large cello, and another held a guitar. The shortest man held a gleaming trumpet, and the man that I had been talking to glided over to his chair and sat down, his saxophone lying in his lap. They all shuffled around nervously and then were positioned and ready to play. They all had an eager look on their faces and grinned at me. “So, will you do it for us?” the man with the saxophone said, bubbling with excitement. Well, what could I say?

“Of course, but I’ll warn you, I give harsh advice!” I laughed truly for the first time in quite a while. “I wasn’t that bad of a music performer back in my day.” The men smiled at me and they counted each other off and then it began. At first, I didn’t know what to expect. I was overwhelmed by the thought of being able to hear music again. The toots of the trumpet and the saxophone were perfect. The strums of the guitar and cello were exactly on time and in tune. I recognized that song from somewhere, but I’m not quite sure where…I felt myself slowly tapping my foot in sync with the strums of the cello and I found myself humming the tune of the song. The sound was beautiful…they could’ve been almost as good as my band had been… At first, they made it hard to smile because they made it hard to breathe. My eyes began to sparkle with excitement and my mouth began to curve up into a wide grin. It was hard for me to believe that it was still able to do that. People from the main road had heard the mellifluous sounds of the band and a huge crowd had gathered to watch. I stood there in front of the bench tapping my foot and began to laugh. That was the most fun I had in a while.

The song sadly came to a closing after a very short few minutes. The smile still lingered on my face and the butterflies stayed trapped in my stomach. The crowd clapped and cheered and threw spare change into the suitcase that conveniently sat openly on the ground. After the people had begun to disappear and flow back into the main stream of people on the busy street, the group began to prepare another song. The song that they played had repeatedly blared over and over in my head like a stuck record for a long while. The man that had talked to me earlier quickly bounded towards me.

“So, what did you think?” His eyes were brighter than the sun, and he seemed very eager to her my advice.  

“My rating for you is beyond words: that was stellar. I cannot tell you how much joy your band has brought me. Don’t give up, no matter what. A band as good as you has a great chance at becoming a truly amazing hit! Please, don’t give up music like I did. Don’t let your job take over your life, take some time to do something that you enjoy,” I complimented.

“I will try to keep music in my life, no matter what it takes…” The man looked around to see if anyone was watching, and leaned in closer to my face and began to whisper in my ear. “I have been extremely low on money lately which is why I tried to pursue a better job at a big office building. Hopefully, this will be what I have been looking for.” He stood back upright again. “Thank you so much for your advice, I will try to make my band even better than it is now.”

I smiled. It felt good to do something good for someone else. I hoped that that band would stay together and maybe even become famous one day. They were too good to crumble. “No problem.” The man walked back towards his position, readied his saxophone at his lips, and began to play another smooth-flowing jazz piece. I walked away in silence, the butterflies still flying in my stomach. After I was long gone and far from the band, I found myself humming the song they had played. The saxophone that played reminded me of myself. Ah, those were the good times…I remembered that since I was in my late fifties, I had tried to play a specific song on my saxophone: The Joy of Life, by Kenny G, a famous saxophone player. I remember I used to question my own sanity when I tried to play this because of the skill level that it takes. It had been many years after my band had broken up, and it was the little thing that I did in my spare time to keep me happy, but now it was just a terrible memory. I am now 70, and it has been so long since I have actually played my saxophone. I wonder if I still can play…

I continued walking down the crowded streets until I noticed something peculiar happen. I heard a strange beeping noise inside of my head, and I couldn’t quite tell what on Earth it was. I tried to block it out, but it didn’t stop. My vision started to suddenly blur, and everything suddenly went black.

My eyes suddenly sprung open from darkness. Where was I? I immediately realized that I was in my dimly lit apartment: it was another day. I buried my head under my pillow, annoyed by the blaring noise my alarm clock was shrieking at me. Why can’t I just go back to sleep… I threw the pillow off of my face, and looked at the clock. It was 6 o’ clock. I jabbed the snooze button in frustration, and I rotated out of bed. I don’t remember anything. I wonder what I dreamt about…suddenly, I remembered: the band. Maybe they were there today…maybe they would play for me again, too!  The butterflies soon reawakened and began to flutter uncontrollably. I flung myself out of bed and I hurried to get ready. I can’t miss them! I was just about to throw my front door open, and it suddenly hit me like a tidal wave that emotionally knocked me down fiercely. I began to shake and tears brimmed in my eyes. It was all a dream…a silly dream….The second wave suddenly hit. I saw it all clearly. The coffee shop, the young man, the pieces of music…what I had just experienced was a flashback. I had become the old man on that day to watch my own band play when I was just a young man…tears tugged at my eyes. And oh, how good that band had been…maybe we weren’t so bad after all…I brushed tears out of my eyes and dropped my suitcase to the floor. I was blind the entire time. We were a truly amazing band…

I sprinted into my bedroom and flung my closet door open. As the cloud of dust settled, I found the string attached to the light bulb that I had wired to the ceiling. After a few weak flickers, it shone on. I stood on my toes and looked on the very tallest top shelf of my closet and I smiled in relief. It was still there where it had been for all of these years. I slowly lowered the large black case down onto the floor, and I stuck my hand up on the shelf searching for a folder. After the dust caked onto my hands, I found it. I picked the folder up, and the dust once again exploded into a huge cloud and I wheezed. Slowly, I bent over and picked up the heavy case and folder and ran out into my bedroom without shutting the light out.

Click. Click. I slowly lifted the lid of the case on its hinge to reveal the precious key that was lost inside for so many years. This is the very case that changed my life. And this will be the very case to change my life in the future. A shimmer of brass greeted me. The clouds in my eyes had been blown away and my enthusiasm, happiness, and energy all came back to me in a single sweep. Welcome back, old me.  I haven’t been expecting you, but I am sure glad that you are here. I lifted the heavy brass saxophone out of its soft case and laid it gently on the bed. I picked up the folder, and I fingered through the papers that were inside. The left hand side was completely jammed full of papers. The two papers on top were ones that I recognized instantly: The last pieces of music that I have ever played for other people with my band…the music I had heard in my dream…I quickly looked to the right pocket of my folder, and I realized that there was nothing there. Now, isn’t that strange…I peeked slowly into the pocket and I saw a folded up paper. The butterflies in my stomach were pounding to be free. I slowly unfolded the paper and I saw the bold, black text at the very top that read something very familiar to me:


The straight mouth that had been painted onto my expressionless face instantly curled up into a wide grin. I took a quick glance around my room and  spotted a very dusty music stand in the corner. I dusted it off and I placed the piece of music onto the stand gently, and positioned myself in front of it, saxophone in hand. It’s never too late to pursue your dreams, no matter how old you are. It’s never too late to change. I walked a lonely road, the only road that I have ever really known. My shallow heart was the only thing that was beating, and my shadow was the only one that stood beside me on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. But that is soon about to change because I’m about to turn off of this road onto a new one.

And right then, I played my first note for the first time in years. And from there, I never stopped playing. I played my saxophone for the next 15 years after that day and I pleased the lives of hundreds. I began to question myself once again when I realized that I was able to play more saxophone solos that were just as good as the ones that Kenny G had played. There is just as much to be happy about as a kid when you’re an adult. There are plenty of opportunities for everyone, no matter what age or status you live at. I am currently in my 80’s, and I fear that my day is coming soon. I see that many years ago I said that there was nothing to live for when you grow older, but I realized that I was wrong. I lived the best years of my life, by far, in the past 15 years. When I thought that I couldn’t accomplish anything and when I thought my life was over, I managed to make many people happy and I managed to do things that I never thought I would be able to accomplish. And for that, I give myself a pat on the back. I promise that I will never once again lose everything I love. But to do that, I need to never lose my key to all happiness: music.

by Jessica R., eighth grade

1 comment:

  1. AnonymousMay 09, 2013

    That was such a wonderful story about never giving up !