I stared at my mother blankly.
“You are not bringing that into this house.” She stood with her arms crossed at the top of the stairs. Her eyes reflected disappointment. My nerves became steel. I’d heard it before.
‘It’s just an instrument.” I moved my shoulder in order to adjust the position of the case. “I don’t see what the big deal is.” My mother’s arms dropped to her sides. She looked defeated. My face flushed with anger. Was I not a grown woman who earned her own full-time salary?
“I don’t know why you’re so intent upon junking up the house,” I heard my mom mutter as she walked back upstairs to the kitchen.
I knew where she was coming from, but her attitude still hurt. Didn’t I deserve happiness? Didn’t I deserve to find my passion? To find something worth devoting my all to? So many others seemed to find it and yet, my passion eluded me. I did not know anyone in real life who played the shamisen. I spent time listening to music featuring the instrument and researching technique and the cost of an instrument. I purchased the premium Spotify membership for the sole purpose of listening to the Yoshida Brothers on command. This could be my ticket to success.
In my room, the only space I could call my own, I moved around notebooks half filled with poetry and a myriad of colored pencils and unused sketch pads to find the best place for my newest addition. The poetry I read through on occasion, typically with the intent of disposing of some of the notebooks, but I never could. Try as I might, I could not deposit the notebooks into the bin. I settled for placing the art supplies and notebooks into a tote bag and stashing it at the back of my closet. At least my mom would not see it there. I could figure out what to do with those things later.
As I prepared to remove my new shamisen from the case a flash caught my eye. A ray of sunlight had found a metal crochet hook sticking out of a ball of yarn. The crochet hook stuck up out of the ball as a flag would on the peak of a mountain. Attached to the ball of yarn was approximately half a scarf. Straight triple crochet in a thick, deep purple yarn. I started it two years ago. I couldn’t remember why I never finished it.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that something crucial still eluded me, I hated the feeling. I threw a towel over the top of my floor length mirror. I didn’t need to inadvertently catch a glimpse of myself. Of the shell I was.
I ran my fingers along the body of the new instrument, lingering on each of the three strings. To my knowledge, silk was traditionally used for the strings. I strummed a few random notes. A noise from behind me caught my attention. I turned to see my door had been pulled closed. Did all mothers have such a propensity for histrionics?
I opened my laptop to find the instruction manual I had downloaded before picking up the instrument. Given that the instrument was not common in the west, I would have to make due with a limited amount of resources. For all I knew learning some could even be my ticket to Japan.
At dinner I faced an onslaught of hostile questions. I didn’t deserve it, but it didn’t stop them. Every unfinished project, every unused skein of yarn, every unread book was thrown in my face. I tried to remain unaffected, but by the end of the meal I could feel my face growing warm. As I left the kitchen I heard my father mutter something about disappointment.
Both of my diplomas lived in the envelopes in which they were mailed. I slid each out. I fingered the embossing, the thick paper. Together they represented six years of work. Six years of struggle. Try and I might I couldn’t separate the classes and academic experiences from everything else that happened.
“Can I see?” I looked up to see my brother standing in my doorway. I sighed. We were both adults. Would it kill him to knock?
“See what?” I asked as I slid the diplomas back into their respective envelopes.
“The instrument,” he replied. He started walking around my room, looking.
“The parents hate it already,” I said, pointing to wear I left the shamisen to rest against the wall while I pondered a better home for it.
“They hate everything.” True, I thought. They definitely had a lot of criticism to dish out for people who claimed to be nonjudgmental.
“Where’s your banjo?”
“Under the bed.” He left the shamisen to crouch down and pull out the dusty banjo case.
“Why don’t you play this one anymore?” He drew a circle in the dust followed by two dots and a crooked curve I interpreted as a smile. I shrugged. “Why the shamisen?”
“Does it matter?” He gave me a look.
“I was just curious. It’s like the third instrument you’ve bought.” I closed my eyes and pressed two fingers to the inner corners of my eyes. I had to remind myself to take deep breaths.
“I think this suits me best,” I finally said. The words came out sounding stilted and awkward. He shrugged before leaving the room. I slid the banjo back under the bed. I pushed my door closed to guard against further interruptions. I tapped the keyboard on my laptop to bring the screen back. The light emanating from the screen seemed harsh and I found my eyes could not focus. It wasn’t fair. Their judgment wasn’t fair. All day I had eagerly awaited the moment when I could pick up my new instrument and lose myself in the process of memorizing notes and getting a feel for the slim neck and silky strings. Now, I couldn’t bring myself to touch it.
I fell onto my bed face first and buried my face in my pillow. I barely had the foresight to turn on my shamisen playlist for cover before the tears started.