Beat by Unlikely Beat

By Kalyanii

I arrived for the drum circle at Kenosha’s Harbor Market with plenty of time to spare. Having stayed with a friend in Lake Geneva the night before, the drive was short; and, after struggling mightily for months in my attempt to accept that the second half of my life had begun with or without my consent, I found myself at peace as I took a seat by the fountain and waited for Jamie, a woman who I had met at a Native American flute circle the weekend before.

When she showed up right at nine o’clock with instruments in tow, it soon grew apparent that the event would not be starting quite on time, so we wandered the farmers’ market, stocking up on raw honey and quarts upon quarts of the sweetest Michigan blueberries. As we perused the other side of the aisle after making an initial pass, I found myself enraptured by the bounty of beets, beans, zucchini and the like until Jamie inquired, “Have you not eaten?” When I responded that my running culinary commentary emerged out of appreciation rather than hunger, she promptly cut me off, interjecting, “Oh, I hear drumming.”

Bustling to take our seats within the circle, Jamie unpacked the darbuka she had brought while I laid claim on the conga that I had been eyeballing from the time of my initial arrival. The center of the circle was littered with all manner of makeshift instruments, typical household items that, we were told, served their percussive purpose well.

I was just getting into my groove when I was startled by the ringtone emanating from my jacket pocket. Although I ordinarily would have been more than happy to unplug, I had kept the phone with me in hopes that Hunter, four weeks into basic training, might have the opportunity to make one of his rare yet treasured phone calls home; and, peering discretely at the number, I discovered that was exactly who was calling.

I jumped from the circle and paced the nearby sidewalks as my son explained that he had been placed on medical hold. Apparently, he had inherited my weak knees and was likely destined for discharge, his hopes of pursuing a career in the special forces dashed. As desperately as I yearned for connection after weeks without hearing his voice, there were so many questions to be answered:  Was he in a lot of pain? What did this mean for his future? When did he expect to fly home? Would he have any medical benefits post-discharge? How about a job? Did he plan to crash on the couch of my newly rented one-bedroom apartment in the city? Never would I have dreamed that my son would have to re-evaluate his life’s purpose at eighteen years of age.

After saying our goodbyes, I returned to the circle a bit out of sorts though eager to reclaim the moment; yet, the hour was nearly up. As the instruments were packed away, I asked Heather, the facilitator, if she had any drums with her for purchase. She informed me that she had brought a couple but that her shop was a mere two blocks away. If her friend would be willing to walk me down while she stayed to staff the tent, I could take a look and we’d make a deal on whatever I might be interested in taking home with me.

Browsing the offerings at the Drum Hut, I spotted a djembe that seemed to speak to me, so I picked it up and held it close, allowing my palms to make contact with its well-loved skin. The sound was every bit as deep and rich as I hoped it would be.

“How much?’ I asked Ron, the friend who had accompanied me.

“That’s one of the drums Heather travels with. She has a new one over there that’s similar,” he said, motioning toward a piece with which I experienced no palpable connection.

“I really feel this one,” I admitted.

“She might sell it to you,” he said with a shrug. “It’s pretty worn so maybe she’s ready to pass it on.”

Together, we walked back to the market with the drum nestled under my right arm in spite of its heft. Ron graciously offered to carry it but respected my desire to keep it close.

When we arrived at the tent, Heather hesitated not a single moment. “That one’s not for sale,” she told me, offering utterly no room for haggling.

Ron attempted to advocate on my behalf, but all Heather would say was “I’m sorry.”

I drove home, deflated from Hunter’s news and the thwarted attempt at purchasing my first drum; and, as the afternoon darkened toward evening, I found my spirits sinking.

If only I could have had the drum, I thought, I would be able to process some of these emotions.

Then, I remembered the circle littered with unlikely instruments and recalled the way in which Heather made music with everything from an empty water jug to a dented bundt pan among the multitude of other items.

It occurred to me then that, if what my spirit needed was to find expression, it was up to me to make that happen. I would be doing myself a disservice by denying it a voice. Thus, making my way toward the kitchen, I rifled through the cabinets, fridge and countertops until I had pulled an array of items with which I thought I might find a bit of emotive release; and, upon the living room coffee table, I arranged a saucepan, mixing bowl, bottle of Line 39 cabernet, a half-full carton of soy milk, a knife block and can of coffee.

With two wooden spoons in hand, I set a basic rhythm and, little by little, let myself go until the cats had fled to more peaceful quarters and a smile began to emerge upon my face. If truth be told, the music I made didn’t sound half bad; but, more importantly, I discovered within myself the means to self-expression. It may sound like a small feat, but after half a lifetime of swallowing it all, I’d finally given myself permission to let it all spill out, beat by unlikely beat.

A graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in literature, Kalyanii is the author of a collection of poetry, two stage plays, dozens of short stories and hundreds of articles. She currently works as a counselor and meditation instructor and enjoys wiling away her free time manifesting her culinary inspirations and reveling amid the magnificence of nature.

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About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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