There is a writer named Terry Castle. And it’s okay if you, here, are not familiar with her. It is, however, important for you to know this: the writer Terry Castle once borrowed a guitar from a woman she went on to have a relationship with, a woman who pretty much totally played her, who fucked her, and who—in a series of weird power-showering ego-tripping mind games—totally fucked her over. The relationship blew up, somewhere over a cold Wisconsin lake (where this all took place), and while Castle ejected at the last second and parachuted to the relative safety of academic literary criticism, the debris from this exploded relationship quickly sank to bottom of said lake, where the detritus remained—ensconced in the muck and murk—until Castle was finally able to recover something from the wreck, thirty years later. That is to say, she wrote about it, finally, in a book, The Professor, and it was in that book that I discovered I am not the only one to have once wished destruction on an ex-girlfriend’s guitar.
After wreaking heart-havoc, it seems, everybody wants their shit back, and Terry Castle fantasized about smashing her ex-lover’s guitar—a righteous channeling of one’s anger maybe—but in the end, she didn’t. Obedient, she handed it over, the instrument unknowing, unflinching, unscathed.
Once, in a similar position, I acted similarly. I don’t think we need all the details, but a quick rundown: I’m in Milwaukee. The girl in question moves to New York. She has this beautiful Martin-brand Dreadnought-style acoustic that she never uses. I sort of kind of dabble at playing the guitar, so she gives it to me. And ostensibly, we are still ‘a thing.’ Eventually she sleeps with another guy, and I break up with her. Later, after a bit of over-the-phone guilty-party role-reversing (accomplished by her pleading a potentially terminal case of ennui while wielding a tub of vodka and a palmful of pills), we get back together. Then, instead of returning home over the summer, she treks off to another country where she proceeds to sleep with two more guys, tells me all about it, and then comes home for a week before going back to New York, at which point she breaks up with me, and then—what the fuck?—she tells me she wants her guitar back, too. What would you do?
In truth, since she’d given it to me, I’d only really played this guitar once, in an attempt to perform Where Is my Mind in a duet with a guy who lived across the hall from me. Before long, my rhythm proved too delinquent and the experiment was aborted. I wasn’t big on playing in front of people anyway.
I never played in front of her either. (The year before, while visiting her in her big-city apartment, I’d attempted a rendition of the Chili Pepper’s I Could Have Lied on her roommate’s guitar, and I’d made it through a couple of—to my ear—more or less successful bars when, kind of harshly, I think, she told me I was playing it wrong. So I put the thing down and got drunk.) I realize now, I tended to only do things I did well when she was around: I did a lot of sit-ups, made conversation, cooked occasionally.
Looking back, on some level, it’s possible I wanted to smash the thing as much to cleanse myself of it as I wanted to smash it as a symbol of our relationship—a fuck-you to her, a fuck-you to being born without a smidge of musical talent. In any case, in the end, in the cage-match of Anger v. Labradorian Tendencies (Round 1), the Labradorian Tendencies totally won out, and when she called to tell me she was there I just walked downstairs and gave the thing back to her. Then she came up and we fucked once more, and then she left again.
Blatantly trying to mollify reality a bit by turning it into fiction, I once wrote a story about a woman leaving a man, literally, in the dust. Their yard was new and was still dirt, and their driveway was unpaved, and as they stood there—outside, midday—a breeze lifted the dry powder into the air, and swept it against them. She had her back to him, walking away, and he was holding a sharp metal object, a gardening hoe to be exact, and he wanted more than anything to beat out her brains until they were wet on the ground soaking up all that dust. I too wanted him to do this. But in the end he just watched her go, and then he went inside and got a drink of water, because really that’s just the kind of guy this character was.
A teacher of mine read this and I told her I was thinking of rewriting the ending and having him kill her there on the driveway. She was momentarily flummoxed. “Oh no, you can’t do that,” she said. “I don’t think he would do that.”
I knew she was right, of course. You can’t change your character.
So I didn’t smash the guitar, and in fact—after a couple of years had passed—we started hooking up every time we saw each other, and these trysts went on for years. It was different then: By then there was no cloying dependency; we were just friends who enjoyed our time together; things had become comfortable between us; we were tender with each other; there were no expectations, no demands, no sense of burden. The key to it all maybe, was that we only saw each other once a year anyway. Whatever it was, however it happened, it certainly wasn’t an entirely bad thing.
I once wrote a story about this, too, an altogether different story than the one with the hoe. This story featured different people, more complex characters.
Eventually she expatriated herself and we finally lost touch. And although she recently returned after six years abroad, it’s safe to say that whatever romance—or prurience—there was lingering between us has long since been left behind. We’re still friends, I’d say, if asked, but we’re certainly not friendly in the same way. The guitar incident is ten years in the past, and while that’s no thirty years, I know, it still feels like a real long time ago.
And now, thinking about it, I kind of do wish I’d smashed that fucking guitar, not for any vengeful reason really, but just to be able to think back and know I’d once wrenched some control into my own hands and done something righteously drastic with it. As much drama as we might make in life, I don’t think we get many opportunities quite like that. And of course, maybe if I had smashed the thing the world would have ended in a giant ball of flame, but speculation here is moot. I didn’t smash it, and as we can all see now, life, as it does, has (mostly) moved on.