Saralee belonged to the music the moment her fingers touched the strings. I should know. I was the one who paid the price for it in the first place.
You have to understand: I don’t know anything about music. It’s pretty enough, and I get along just fine with a radio. But when it comes to the ins and outs of instruments, I’m as clueless as a cubicle worker trying to sort out a plumbing problem.
But Saralee — she was something special. Someone special, I should say. My words never seem to come out right when I’m talking about her. My grandmother thought the world of her — thought Saralee was the one for me, I mean. Maybe we were headed down that road. Maybe not. We never really talked about it.
I bought her a guitar one day in late spring. With the summer coming up, she’d be spending a lot of time indoors. The heat gets unbearable in July, especially around midday, and Saralee’d been saying she wanted to get more into music.
But if you asked me to draw a line in our relationship, when things took a turn for the worse, I’d have to say it was that Monday night after work when I handed her that acoustic guitar and told her that I loved her.
I did love her, and she loved me too. We’d never said it to one another, but that’s not the kind of thing that should make much difference when two people feel the same way. But Saralee had that instrument out of the box before I could even steal a kiss. She flashed a bright smile — it reminded me of starlight — and strummed her fingers along the strings, tightened them, tried it again.
That was the moment that I felt our world begin to unravel.
I wish I could tell you why, but in that moment, I knew she was after something in her life that was bigger than me — than us. She didn’t say anything at first, and neither did I. I mean, nobody wants their perfect relationship to fall apart.
Instead, I watched it happen over weeks and months, like a train wreck in slow motion.
It started with our differences in music. The days where we just listened to the radio were over. Saralee scraped together what cash she could and bought a music book so that she could learn all the notes.
I listened, supported her, even encouraged her when I got up the nerve to act like I knew what I was talking about. Saralee never thought she was any good, despite my words to the contrary, but what did I know?
She’d only had the guitar three months when she told me she met someone else, another guitarist, like her. His name was Jason, and they’d been spending time together for a few weeks while he taught her what he’d learned. He was putting a band together, he said. Want them to be street performers.
Saralee took him up on the offer.
I didn’t think much of Jason, at first. My suspicion must have shown through, though, because Saralee picked up on it. She assured me that they were just practicing, and I made a choice to believe her. And believe me, it was a choice, not a natural instinct. Even with no evidence to the contrary, something just didn’t feel right.
I saw them perform at their very first show, on the streets of the Lakeshore Shopping Center in South Oak Plaza. It was a Saturday, and they played from open to close for tips.
Much to Saralee’s surprise, they more than earned their keep. Jason split the profits evenly across the four of them and scheduled their next practice for Tuesday night.
Within a week, he had another gig lined up. Then another. And another. I watched Saralee get busier and busier. Most nights, she was away at practice. I didn’t see or hear from her until she climbed into bed beside me. We were living a life apart — mine full of ten-hour shifts and quiet days off, hers a full 40-hour workweek and a slew of late night and weekend performances.
The way I tell it, you’d think that Saralee left me for Jason, or that she broke up with me because she was too busy for anything else.
The truth of it is: I was the one who cut her lose. As much as I hated myself for it, seven months after I brought that guitar home from the store, I realized that I’d spend the rest of my life like this.
So I let her go.
When I tell friends this story, they tell me that we should’ve talked about it more. That we should’ve hashed out our differences and found a way to make it work. We were good together, they tell me, and I don’t correct them. I know it was the truth.
Saralee still plays in a band, but not with Jason and not anywhere around here. Last I heard, she was making her way in Nashville, Tennessee.
Some nights, I wonder if she thinks of me and of everything she left behind when we fell apart. I like to believe that our end was the beginning of her future, but I can never know for certain.
One thing I do know: If I’m ever out in Nashville, I plan to look her up. Not to win her back or tell her that I love her (still do, and that’s a fact). I just want to see how she’s doing.
I don’t suppose I’ll have to look very far. Saralee always shined a little brighter than the rest when I caught a glimpse of her smile.