Have a think about this
Comments 15


On my tenth birthday, I stood impatiently by the screen door at the log cabin, waiting for my father to carry the big secret indoors. My parents had been tip toeing around for weeks regarding my birthday present. For two individuals who were no longer married, they had displayed an amount of teamwork that could only mean something big was coming, something special, something I had been eyeing for months. Whenever my mother would drag me out to go grocery shopping, I would accompany her only on the stipulation that we could stop into “Daddy’s Junky Music.”

I only asked for one thing for my tenth birthday.

My dad had even taken me into the music store to HYPOTHETICALLY pick out the one I wanted…IF I were lucky enough to be given one…Just in case….

Somehow, it was still a complete surprise when my father carried my first guitar by its neck up the porch steps and into the living room at the log cabin. I squealed, and darted toward the guitar, ripped off its bow and sat on the couch with it. I didn’t know how to play it, but  somehow we fit together perfectly, and running my inexperienced fingers over its strings created the most beautiful sound.

Guitar lessons were every Wednesday, and I always looked forward to spending that hour with Brian, my instructor. He and I would sit on the blue couch in my living room while my mom cooked dinner. It was mutually beneficial. I learned how to play guitar, while my mom had an hour to herself in the kitchen. I think if she had discovered this aspect to buying me a guitar earlier, she would have had me taking lessons as an infant.

Brian didn’t just teach me the parts of the guitar, and what notes each strings made. He taught me how to love my guitar. He taught me how necessary music was to my happiness and health. He taught me to find the sounds of my life within the six strings.

Brian was very sick, and after a few months, my mom explained to me that he wasn’t going to be able to give me lessons anymore. I was crushed, but I still continued to play on.

The summer after Brian stopped giving me guitar lessons, my father and I went on vacation to Utah. While we were away, my brother became very ill and passed away.

(For those of you who are new here, my brother passed away when I was ten. You can read a bit more about Josh’s story here and here.)

My father and I flew home to be with the rest of my family. I sat alone in my bed one night, thinking about my brother and all of the abrupt empty spaces in my life that were full only days prior. His bed was empty. His room was empty. His wheelchair was empty. My whole house felt empty. I felt empty.

From across the room, I could see my guitar tucked in a corner where I left before we journeyed off to Utah. That had been the last time I’d seen both my guitar and my brother. I climbed out of bed, and placed my guitar in its stiff charcoal case. I closed its latches, opened the heavy oak doors of my closet and stuck my guitar as far back as I could, behind all of my clothes and books.

I closed my closet doors and cried myself to sleep.
I stopped playing the guitar, but I never stopped loving music. In fact, it sort of consumed me.

Music became the basis for all of my accomplishments. If I had good grades, instead of money, I would ask to go pick out a new CD. If I ran a race and accomplished a new personal record, I would pick out a new CD. If Christmas was around the corner, I would make a long list of the CD’s that I wanted in hopes that the list would spread to enough of my family members that I’d end up with all of them.

Dashboard Confessional was the first CD I fell in love with. I mean, I really fell in love with. It came with me everywhere. I could assign every feeling to a Dashboard lyric. First came “The Swiss Army Romance,” followed by “The Places You’ve Come To Fear The Most.” Both albums, I was sure, had been written for me to discover. However, it was a song from the fameless in between EP, “So Impossible,” which mesmerized me.

“She fixes her lips they always look perfect.
Never a smudged line, never too much.
I try on my blue shirt, she told me she liked it, once.
She wonders what I’ll wear,
she knows just what she’ll wear.
She always wears blue.
So, sneakers or flip flops? I’m starting to panic.
Remember she asked you, remember to breathe,
And everything will be okay.”

That intro to that song, that captivating intro and those few repeating chords, with no other sound but fingers on steel had to be the most beautiful sounds I had ever heard. To this day, that intro still fills my heart and breaks it at the very same time.

At the age of 17, I hadn’t picked my guitar up in seven long years. I was out past my curfew at a friend’s house, sitting on the floor against a glass coffee table. The room was filled with good company, good music, and discussions about favorite words. A boy I had just met was sprawled out his back on the wooden floor, holding a guitar diagonally across his chest. He began strumming four familiar chords…

and I felt my heart fill and break, and the very same time.

“Remember To Breathe!” I shouted.
“You know the song?”
“It’s my favorite song in the world. Keep playing.”

That night, I returned home, endured the wrath of a father whose child had come home an hour after curfew, and went to my room. I picked up my guitar for the first time in seven years, and tuned it.

It would be five more years before I would actually reteach myself how to play, but that night, listening to the unfamiliar boy play the familiar song, a part of me healed.

I no longer speak with the unfamiliar boy who played the guitar. Sometimes people just lose touch with each other.

I’ve never lost touch with that song.

Concerts opened up a whole new aspect to music. The first concert I attended was Def Leppard and Joan Jett and the Black Hearts. Yes, that’s right, “I Love Rock n’ Roll” and “Armageddon It” were among the first songs I heard live. Classy, right? But it didn’t stop there. My tastes DID mature…Sort of. I can also admit to attending a Kiss and Aerosmith concert, and I’ll shamelessly state that seeing Steven Tyler up there on stage, screeching over his scarf tied microphone is still a highlight in my concert career. Years down the tracks my father took me to see Bruce Springsteen live. I connected with something in Bruce Springsteen’s music. Maybe it was because I’d heard Cadillac ranch so many times that I was sure my father would actually buy me a Cadillac for my 16th birthday, or maybe it had something to do with the fact that he was wailing on his guitar while standing on top of a grand piano at Gillette Stadium. .

I have been fortunate to find my equal in the music loving world, as Blake and I have experienced numerous memorable concerts together. Our eyes watered as Mumford and Sons preformed their unplugged version of Timshel at The Olympia Theater in Dublin, and again when Sarah Bareilles preformed an acoustic piano version of Gravity at The State Theater in Portland. We fell asleep in New York City to “You’re The Reason I Come Home” by Ron Pope, and then stood feet from him performing it at The Middle East in Boston.

We stood side by side in December as Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional sang “Remember To Breathe” two rows in front of us at The Paradise Rock Club.

I felt my heart fill and break, at the very same time.

You see, I’m still learning.
That’s a phrase that goes far beyond my music abilities.
I’m still learning everything.
I’m still learning to heal, I’m still learning to love, and I’m still learning to forgive. Music has been an integral force in my life, reminding me that while many things will fall apart, I will also have the chance to mend them in one way or another. Everything eventually comes full circle. If I remember to breathe, everything WILL be okay.

As for the guitar?
Well, I’m learning that too.




  1. Erin says

    This is so well written Carley! You have a way of describing things that gets readers like me hooked! I grew up listening to DC also! I would love to see them live!!

    • Heyaaa thanks, Erin! I’m glad we both share a mutual love of Dashboard. I definitely listen to them when I feel like reconnecting with my youth 🙂 I’m glad you stopped by! xoxo

  2. Ooh. Also grew up listening to Dashboard. Music of my youth… man it takes me back. And, I play guitar. 2 of my sisters passed away 4 years ago and recently I’ve been writing music again for the first time since then. Loved this blog!

    • Thank you so much for stopping by! I’m so happy you were able to find something to connect to, and I am so sorry to hear about your sisters. Everything about writing and music is so wonderfully therapeutic, don’t give it up, ever! xoxo

  3. Awesome! I’ve often wondered how many times my dad regretted buying me a guitar, though probably not as much as our neighbors. LOL Ironically, I now play at church which is a far cry from the Friday night get drunk and play along with my Fleetwood Mac cd’s pretending I could play as well as Lindsey Buckingham.

    First & best concert was Bryan Adams & the Hooters. I had to skip lunch for 3 weeks to buy my ticket because my parents wouldn’t. Second best was Hank Williams, Jr. I refuse to admit any others…except for Van Hagar and that’s only because some stranger went up to my boyfriend (now husband) and asked him for a paper and I was like “Who brings a newspaper to a concert.” HAHA!!! I had a little naive. 😉

  4. Beautifully said, Carley. I always wanted guitar lessons as a kid. When I was 10 my parents agreed but said I had to find the instructor and organize it. I got as far as a name and phone number on a piece of paper. But that was it. I guess the task was too big for my age. Or maybe I didn’t want it badly enough.

    I saw DC at age 17. My then-boyfriend and I loved the music. It still makes me think of him. And of being an angsty teenager. So I kinda love it. Ha!

    • Thank you Hookey! I’ll be spending copious amounts of time in Australia in the future, so there’s still time! I absolutely LOVED your post yesterday, it was so touching. Thank you for reading! xo

      • I will have to throw myself in your path when you’re out here then!!
        And thank you, that means a lot more than you realise! xo

  5. I am sure I am much older than you, and my children were (and are) still Dashboard fans. I have seen Chris and his band at least 5 times. Remember to Breathe and Screaming Infidelities are still some of my favorites. As is the Mark/Mission CD and all of its songs. Since music is such a part of our home, we all sat donw and jammed Remember to Breathe with my son playing the guitar. That and Hands Down – since there is a best day of your life…. it keeps changing- but those captured moments are precious in the progression. Thanks so much!

  6. I still remember when I got my guitar(s). I think it’s sweet your parents got together to give you one, even though they were divorced. My parents are divorced, too, and one Christmas, my dad gave me a guitar. It was one of my favorite gifts ever. The next day, I celebrated Christmas with my mom and she gave me… a guitar. I was wracked with a combination of emotions. Guilt: If I had celebrated with my mom on Christmas, I would’ve gotten hers first! Reasoning: Well, now at least I have a guitar for both houses. And frustration: Why didn’t they communicate about this?! They both knew I wanted one. Oh well!

    I played for several years and finally stopped seeing improvement and became bored because of it. I haven’t picked it up in a few years, but I kind of regret it. So I think it’s good you’re relearning. Shows it’s never too late to pick it up again. 🙂

    • I’m so happy to have parents who were able to put their issues aside when it came to raising me. They did a pretty good job communicating most of the time.

      I am always seeing improvement, but I definitely have to put it down and walk away sometimes. I guess everything can be like that though! Even writing!

      Thanks for stopping by Cassie! xo

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