Dulce is my dulcimer, my Appalachian teardrop dulcimer. My wife got her for me for my 44th birthday (I recently turned 45, so happy Dulce-versary to me). At first, Dulce and I spent time together pretty much daily. In between Microsoft Teams calls, we pretended to teach ourselves Joni Mitchell songs, improvise some tunes of our own, and then end our sessions with a mean “Go Tell Aunt Rhody.” 

I’d wanted a dulcimer for years and years. Music was a bright spot in the darkness of my childhood. My stepmother had an Ovation acoustic guitar and a teardrop dulcimer in a plaid-lined case, brought them with her from Chicago when she moved to North Carolina with her then-husband (not my father) to open a vegetarian restaurant. Not to be outdone, my father had a deep walnut hourglass dulcimer from a local Asheville maker. And I had my voice–still do, though I use it differently now.

One of the houses we lived in (and we lived in many) had a screened-in porch and a creek that ran through the backyard. I spent sticky summer nights out on that porch, playing with my many Barbies and one Ken, all of whom were outrageously sexually active for a seven-year-old’s imagination–a byproduct of a sexually abusive father and flagrantly sexual mother. But also on that porch, we’d play music sometimes, against the backdrop of crickets and cicadas. It may have been the mid-1980s, but you couldn’t tell that by our songs. “The Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell. “The Baby Tree” by Jefferson Starship. “City of New Orleans” by Arlo Guthrie. And we had this big book of American folk music, from which we’d pluck “Shady Grove,” “Cotton Eyed Joe,” and my favorite, “Wildwood Flower.” I will twine and will mingle my raven black hair, with the roses so red and the lilies so fair…

Sometimes, my father would record us playing. He bought these flat square microphones and a fancy stereo. We even performed as a family for my fifth grade class, not long after my youngest brother, Little A, was born; my father recorded that too. Once, my father even had me make a demo. He and my stepmother were living in Chicago for a while to take care of my step-grandmother (in fact, Chicago is where Little A was conceived). In a suburban shopping mall studio, knobby-kneed nine-year-old me belted out “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Winter Wonderland.” I wonder where all those tapes are now. So much of my history is housed by people I no longer wish to know.

I’ve neglected Dulce. She’s spent this dark winter sleeping in her case. I’ve spent this dark winter deep in the throes of anxiety. It’s Covid and it’s everything else. Coming to terms is a lifelong journey. Even good memories are fraught; lurking in the background of every one of those magical musical nights is the threat of my father’s temper, set off by nothing and anything–but I can choose now whether to let that in. I’m trying to learn to let go of the hypervigilance that is how I survived my upbringing. I’m trying to learn to show myself compassion. And someday soon, Dulce and I are gonna learn something more than “Go Tell Aunt Rhody.”

“I will dance, I will sing, and my laugh shall be gay,”

Jessica the Westchesbian

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