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Not for them

One of the days that stands out most in my life happened when I was in high school. I didn't know it at the time, but I was madly in love with a girl named Corey. I didn't know I was in love with her because I didn't quite understand what love meant. I was 15 years old maybe 16, all I knew was there was a girl who I enjoyed spending time with more than any other person on the planet.

Corey was strange. Art was everything to her, and she loved to draw, write poetry, and just be quirky. I met her in the drama club. I went to an all-boys Catholic High School, but every night for drama rehearsals, girls would come from our sister schools. I can't remember what play we worked on together. I just remember that she was someone who I really clicked with. You see, all my life, I have felt like a misfit. Now, I live in Japan and use not being Japanese as an excuse for feeling like a misfit, but that's just camouflage. The truth is that's how I've always felt. This fact is important to the story because it colors pretty much all of my existence. There’s no way I could tell my own biographical story without referencing this particular character flaw. So, you'll probably see it again in future posts.

Anyway, Corey invited me out once to spend the day with her in downtown Cleveland. She asked me to bring my saxophone. I was playing alto saxophone in the high school marching band. My horn was a very old silver sax made by a company called King. It once belonged to the school, but somehow, I inherited it. It took that tarnished silver saxophone with me to meet my love. I carried it around downtown Cleveland as she, in her most quirky way, showed me a side of the city that I had never seen before. We went through back alleys and side streets. I saw colorful shops with handcrafts that I never knew existed. She took me to some corner of the Galleria, which was, until that day, a humdrum shopping mall. Somehow, she could make it magical. We ate some strange foods from foreign lands and watched people go by. Corey liked to make up stories about the people we saw. We laughed as we came up with the most ridiculous narratives. After lunch, we went to the Cleveland Public Library and climbed to the top floor and out an open window. We sat on the roof looking out over the city, talking and laughing. After we were tired of sitting on the roof, we climbed back into the library, went to the first floor, and out onto the street again.

After walking for about 5 minutes, Corey said, "Here, this is good." Then she asked me to take out my saxophone and play her song on the street corner. Here's where my misfit character, my introverted nature, comes into the story. You see, the very idea of playing my saxophone on a public street corner was absolutely frightful to me. There was no way I was going to do it, or so I thought. Cory looked at me and said, "Fine, I'll play." I opened the case, assembled the horn, and handed it to her. I didn't have a neck strap. Instead, I used a cyan shoestring, which I tied through the loop where the neck strap goes. She put the blue string around her neck and began to play. She made the most awful racket imaginable. It was a screeching, howling, fingernails on the chalkboard kind of sound. She didn't seem embarrassed about it at all.

After 2 minutes, I couldn't stand it anymore. I took the horn from Corey and said, "OK, I'll play." I began to improvise some notes that sounded like jazz; at least, it was my interpretation of jazz. As I got deeper into the music, something happened. Time slowed down. The world melted away, and all that was left were the sound of the music, Corey, and me. I had torn a hole in the fabric of the universe. Maybe it's better to say I some sort of opened a door. I don't know how long I was in that trancelike state, but when I snapped out of it, I noticed, for the first time, a family standing in front of me. They seemed hypnotized by my playing, and when I stopped, they were very disappointed. They wanted to hear more, but I couldn't play. I had reverted back to my bashful self. I tried, but it wasn't the same and sounded awful.

The family eventually walked off, and I was upset. I looked at Corey and said, "See what you made me do. It was terrible, and now I feel embarrassed." She placed her hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eyes, and said, "Marcellus, don't you know the true artist creates for himself." It was a simple statement, but it had a most profound effect on my entire life after that moment. I heard a choir of angels sing, and I felt a portal in the sky open up so that all the cosmic rays could pour down into me. What she meant by that statement was nothing matters but what we do. We do it for ourselves. Even when you're sharing what you have created with others, ultimately, the reason for the creation, or for doing anything at all, is for oneself. "Do it for you, not for them." It's hard to explain it any deeper without taking another 1000 words to do it. That statement has been at the center of my entire existence since I was 15 or 16 years old.

Unfortunately, I don't know where Corey is now. I lost touch with her after an argument we had on the phone. She told me never to call her again, and I never did. Although I haven't seen her for decades, she is still there with me on that street corner in Cleveland. I imagine she always will be.

The photo is a self-portrait of me and my current sax. (I never got good at playing it by the way.)


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