Living the Song

Caitlin Farrell
Aspiring Author & Mount St. Mary's Student

Sam sat in her poorly lit college dorm room, stroking the reddish-brown wood of her thirty-year-old Guild guitar. The papers in front of her rustled as the bitter wind rushed through the unlatched window. When one sheet blew away, she grew frantic, until she realized that the words on the paper were ingrained in her memory. She had spent all summer writing this song and knew that it had become a part of her.

She noted the rumpled pack of Camel lights on the night table beside her and felt tempted. She lit one and inhaled deeply, watching as the smoke slipped from her lips and formed a white cloud in the middle of the room. After several more puffs, she tired of her addiction and pushed the butt into the glass ashtray to her left.

Sam lifted her guitar. Once again and caressed the ridge of the wood, feeling for any harmless splinters that had surfaced without her knowledge. Confident that it had not acquired any more flaws, she applied her capo to the second fret and began to strum an E chord. She closed her eyes peacefully as the 12 mingling strings filled the room with melody. E chord, A chord, E chord, A chord; her mind processed the progression naturally, without thought.

Why can't we give it one more chance
so we can figure out if our love will ever last,
If we do I hope that things will be okay,
Because all I really want is for you to stay
her alto voice crooned in melodic longing.

Images of Ben drifted through her mind. She dreamt of sitting with him in the Southampton Diner, as they had her freshman year, drinking endless cups of black coffee and contemplating what the future held. They had remained friends after the breakup, though they never discussed what had caused it. In truth, Sam did not know. When she had left for the summer, she thought they would visit. But he never called and she was too humiliated to get in touch. When school started up again, they managed to regain their friendship. But the romance was gone.

"God I miss him," she said out loud.

She wiped away an unexpected tear with the edge of her sleeve, grabbed her mug of Chamomile tea from the table, took a sip, and sighed.

"Jesus...It's been a year and a half," she muttered under her breath. "You'd think I'd be over this by now."

Suddenly, her roommate Alexis entered the room. She was tall and lean, with an athlete's physique. Her ash-blond hair and pale blue eyes were stunning against her deep golden tan.

"Hey, I heard you playing. What are you working on?" she inquired while pulling her long hair into a ponytail.

"Oh, nothing really. Just messing around." Sam wondered if her eyes looked misty.

"Cool." Alexis noticed that Sam's voice sounded strained. "Hey, you alright?"

"Yeah, fine."

"But your eyes look red."

"Nah, it's just the smoke."

"Alright, Smokey Joe, will you quit those things already?" Alexis paused for a second, shot Sam a concerned look, then decided that she was over-analyzing the situation. "Well, we're going to dinner. Wanna come?"

"Yeah, I'll be there in a sec."

Alexis left the room quickly, leaving Sam

to get ready. She gave the papers on her bed a sideways glance, then shoved them behind her pillow.

"God, I have so much work to do tonight!" Sam's other roommate, Christie, stared at her plate of mashed potatoes and mushy carrots.

"Tell me about it. I have a five-page Theology paper due at 9:00 tomorrow morning. Why did I sign up for that class?" Alexis asked with regret. "God," she added, "you'd think I'd be able to get a decent salad in here, but look at the lettuce...brown!"

"That's what you get for being a rabbit," Christie replied sarcastically.

"Shut up and eat your carcass. That used to have a face you know." She turned to Sam who was sitting quietly across the table. "Hey, cat got your tongue? What's wrong with you tonight?"

"I guess I'm just tired." Sam drowsily pushed her bagel away while twisting one finger around a curl of brown hair.

"So, are you playing soon?" Christie asked.

"Well, Conor wants me at The Pub on Thursday night, but I don't think I'm ready."

"Come on, you've been playing every day since we've been here," Alexis responded. "That makes about a month of practice."

"I know, but I've been working on new stuff."

"Let me guess, it's about Ben." Alexis knew all of Sam's secrets.

"I'm afraid he's gonna show up. I can't sing in front of him."

"Maybe it's time you told him," Christie suggested.

"Change of subject, Sam barked.

"Sam," Alexis said to lighten the situation, "I know when I'm forty years old, with four bratty kids, two teeth, and a broken down trailer home, I'll be switching channels and you'll pop up on 'VHl Behind the Music'." The three girls chuckled. "You know you're gonna be famous."

"Not entirely true. I'll be on 'Legends' baby," Sam joked back, feeling cheered.

"Yeah, they'll talk about your survival from alcohol and coke addiction, just like Stevie Nicks, and how you overcame the odds and shit," Christie joked.

"Thanks for predicting such a happy future for me. What makes you think I'd be an addict?"

"Because you're miserable," Christie explained. " All musicians are. It's like a pre- requisite or something."

"Mom says I need to get a whole bunch of guys to break up with me, then I'll have an entire album," Sam giggled.

"Secretly," Alexis added. "I think you enjoy being miserable. Part of your nature I guess."

"Never," Sam replied with forced conviction. "Come on, we've been sitting here for over an hour."


Why can't we give it one more chance,
So we can figure out if our love will ever last,
And if we do I hope that things will be okay,
Cause I'm the one who's heart will have to pay,

Sam murmured into the microphone.

"Is that right?" she asked herself. "I sound so pathetic."

For the next thirty minutes she sat alone, wishing for the closure she had never obtained, and hoping that this song would bring her closer to achieving it. She knew she was stronger than the lyrics made her out to be, but could not figure out how to express herself without sounding sappy and weak.

"Shit! This will never be ready by tomorrow."

It was Wednesday night, exactly 24 hours before she would take the stage. She had finally decided to play at the Pub, after much interference from her friends. She sat in a small practice room, wearing fuzzy sweatpants and her favorite ripped T-shirt, rehearsing her newly written songs. Butterflies fluttered through her stomach, and her back was sweaty. She contemplated having a cigarette to appease her nerves but thought better of it. They wrecked her voice. Instead she took a big gulp of lemon tea.

"Am I ready for this?" she asked herself, half-expecting to hear a voice say 'No'. When she failed to receive an answer, she picked up her guitar again and began to play.

She had not fingered two chords when there was a knock at the door. Judging from the burly outline through the frosted window, Sam could tell that it was Ben.

"Relax," she thought to herself then answered, "Come in."

When he peered around the door, Sam's knees turned to mush. She was glad she had been sitting down. Ben was wearing the sweater that she had given him for his birthday, the one that brought out the green in his eyes. At 6'5" he was anything but graceful. Although his tousled black hair and stubbly beard made him look attractive, his mismatched clothes and torn tennis shoes were goofy. But somehow that was what always got to Sam.

"How ya doing stranger?" Ben said calmly.

"Uh, good. A little crazy I guess." Suddenly confused, she asked, "Hey, how did you know I was here?"

"Oh, I stopped by your room. Lex told me. So I hear you're playing tomorrow?"

"Shit," Sam thought. She had hoped that he would not find out. "Yeah, I guess so."

"Awesome. I'll definitely be there. I need a night out after all the work I've had this week. Maybe I'll bring Maggie."

"Who?" Sam asked, suddenly feeling nauseous.

"Maggie, you know her. She lives in Riordan. Tall skinny blond."

"Oh, Maggie. I thought you said Peggy," Sam said, trying to conceal her disappointment.

"Whatever. Well I gotta go. Just stopped by to see what you're up to."

"Same old thing. See you later."

As Ben turned to leave, Sam's stomach sank, her concentration completely broken.

"Tall skinny blond," Sam said, mimicking Ben in her most pathetic voice.

The last thing she needed right now was to hear about the latest girl in Ben's life. If he came tomorrow, she would not be able to play her new songs, without them, she would not have enough material.


Sam picked up her writing notebook and blue pen. Inspired by Ben's untimely visit, she began to rewrite her lyrics.

Why can't we give it one more chance,
So we can figure out if our love will ever last,
And if we do I hope that things will be okay,
Cause if it doesn't work, it probably means you're gay.

That's definitely not it, she thought to herself. I just hate him right now. Part of me wishes he were gay. At least I would feel a little better.

After a half hour had passed, her thoughts turned to Alexis, and how she would not live to see the following night.


"I can't believe you told him." Sam angrily stormed around the room, throwing books out of her way. "How could you!"

"He would have found out you were playing anyway," Alexis said, justifying her actions.

"I know, but he shouldn't have heard it from you. Jesus! I mean, how the hell am I going to play tomorrow when he's staring back at me in the audience?"

"I'm sorry, Samantha!" Alexis raised her voice. "But he's one of your closest friends. You should want him there."

"You know damn well that this is different. That's alright," Sam said sarcastically, "he'll have a little blond chippie on his arm to keep his attention. Jesus!"she said, erupting in anger again, "I'm gonna feel like such an ass."

"Sam," Alexis said, suddenly calming down, "I'm sorry."

"I know, but this is not the time for your meddling!"

Alexis walked over to Sam and sat down next to her on the couch. She put her arm around her for assurance. "Honestly, that boy is so dense, he probably won't even realize what those songs are about. And screw him if he does."

"He better not. Otherwise, I'm gonna kill you." Sam rose from the couch lazily and trudged to the kitchen for her favorite comfort food--peanut butter.


Thursday night rolled around quickly, each minute causing more tension in Sam's body. She walked into the pub with her guitar case in one hand, her cigarettes in the other. This was not the time to quit.

"Hey Sam," said Paulie, an employee at the bar, "you can set up over here."

She leaned her guitar case against the

stage and flipped each clasp until the aging wood opened effortlessly. She pulled out her 12-string gingerly, making sure that it did not bang against anything. She spotted her favorite pick in the center of her guitar case, retrieved it, and put it between her top and bottom teeth. Chewing on the flexible plastic always seemed to calm her nerves.

"Hey, how many sets are you playing," Paulie asked from behind the bar.

"Uh, I think about two."

"Will you be ready to go on at 9:00?" "Yeah, no problem."


The Pub was packed. Half of the school must have been there. The mahogany walls were covered with 20-year-olds, each one sweating beer as they danced.

"God, these people don't have anything better to do on a Thursday night?" Sam grumbled quietly.

Within minutes, she glimpsed Paulie walking up the rickety stairs to the stage.

"Now, let's give it up for Sam Miller," he announced, inciting cheers and applause from the crowd.

She grabbed her things and walked onto the wooden stage, her platform boots knocking against the stairs. The bright ceiling lights radiated against her face and caused her shiny leather jacket to illuminate. She approached the microphone, fishing through her pocket for a pick. As she looked into the audience. She saw many familiar faces. Alexis and Christie were in the front row with lighters in hand, ready to embarrass Sam at the first opportunity. She looked back towards the bar and spotted Ben sitting in the corner, alone.

"Blondie decided not to come, huh?" Sam thought sadistically.

As always, Ben was drinking a gin and tonic, not with Seagram's, but Tangueray. He was a snob when it came to liquor. His eyes locked with hers for a moment and sent her heart racing. Suddenly he shot his hand into the air and gave her a thumbs-up.

"No time like the present," Sam mumbled, preparing to start.

She turned back to her guitar and took a deep breath, trying to psyche herself up.

"How's everyone doing tonight?" she hollered into the crowd. An explosive roar shot towards her from the audience.

"Glad to hear it. Well thanks for coming out. I appreciate it."

With her pick in hand, she struck the initial chord, a G, and went through the motions. After one successful hour passed, she knew the moment had arrived.

Before starting the song, she looked for Ben again. This time she had to squint her eyes to find him. The room had become so filled with smoke that it was hard to see. She spotted him and realized that he had not moved, though it was obvious he'd had more drinks. She almost giggled when she noticed the slightly goofy expression on his face. Either he would not catch on to the song in his drunkenness, or his altered state would make him more perceptive.

She began the opening chord progression and was so focused on the song that she forgot about her audience.

You made me sad and confused,
I thought you cared, instead you left my heart abused,
How could you do that, I never thought you' d act that way,
How could you love and leave, do you think that's okay.

When Ben had appeared in the practice room the night before, Sam had come to a realization. For a year and a half, she had been waiting for a boy who would never come around. Although she still loved him, she knew it was over. She was finally able to change her lyrics and gain closure through the song.

This time we can't give it one more chance,
Because I've realized that your love will never last,
If we try again things won't turn out okay,
And after all this time there'll be nothing left to say,
...Nothing left to say.

Several minutes later, it was over. As an explosive roar of applause erupted from the audience, Sam exhaled deeply and sighed with comfort. She looked back towards the bar and noticed Ben whistling and hooting loudly.

"He didn't get it," she thought to herself, feeling relieved. "What a bonehead."

Christie and Alexis jumped on her from behind, smothering her with kisses and hugs.

"Hey you were terrific. I swear you get better every year," Christie said reassuringly.

Alexis raised her eyebrows, curious about Ben's reaction.

Sam, caught her drift and replied, "No, but he's an idiot."

"I told you that a year and a half ago. Maybe you'll listen to me next time?"

"Yeah, that will happen," she answered sarcastically.

"So can I have him ?" Alexis asked, struggling to keep from laughing.

"You little bitch," Sam said, hugging her best friend until she gasped for air.

Their bout of laughter was interrupted by a familiar male face.

"Hi," he said shyly.

Suddenly Sam realized that he was the cute boy from her art class. She thought she remembered his name but could not be sure.

"I'm Seth. I sit behind you in Drawing I," he said, grinning from ear to ear. "I just wanted to say that you were fantastic."

Christie and Alexis sensed the chemistry building between the two and tiptoed away to let them talk.

"Thanks." In a moment of honesty, Sam admitted, "I was really nervous."

"No reason to be. That one song was killer. Maybe you'll give me a chance?"

"Funny," Sam replied.

"You know, so we could find out if our love will last?" he added jokingly.

"Okay," Sam retorted with a smile. "Enough with the song lyrics."

"Sorry. Um," he said, suddenly turning bashful, "I was wondering if you'd want to get a cup of coffee after this."

Sam noticed that he was biting on the corner of his lip.

Uncertain, she answered "Well, I still have to get all my stuff together..." and allowed her voice trail away.

"Come on, I'll let you write a song about me," Seth replied with renewed confidence, as the corners of his mouth turned up, revealing a sexy grin.

Suddenly Ben appeared from around the bar and attacked Sam with a bear hug, the stink of gin spilling off his breath.

"Hey girl. Come on, I'm buying you a drink."

"Well..." she said, giving Seth a second glance, "No, I can't. But thanks for the offer." She walked to the side of the stage, gathered up her guitar case, and headed for the door with Seth while Ben stood there alone, looking puzzled. She was about to exit the building when Alexis called after her.

"Sam, where are you going?"

She linked her arm through Seth's and shouted back, "I need material for a new song."