Years ago, a man and a woman sat next to each other, happily married on a reclining leather sofa. The woman, my mother, spoke of a phenomenon she had recently discovered: pennies from heaven. She spoke to the man of a recently widowed woman who claimed that her late husband was sending lucky pennies from beyond the grave to let her know he was still with her. The man, my father, took her by the hand and said to her, “that’s a bit cheap, isn’t it? If I go before you, I’ll leave dimes; you’re worth more than a penny to me.”
My father died in the first days of spring, leaving behind a splintered and shocked nuclear family on the verge of a melt down. We wore casual to his funeral, because that’s what he would have wanted. We laughed and rejoiced for his life rather than mourn, because that’s what he would have wanted. We had him cremated and sealed in a small, blue marble box with gold trim (in case the dead ever came back to claim the earth) and we let him rest in Oliver’s Funeral Chapel for months before bringing him home. I fell into a smoky world of self-abuse; mental, physical and spiritual. I was lost at sea and my lighthouse had crumbled onto the very rocks it guarded me from.
In the weeks leading up to this, I was dating an olive skinned brunette with hazel eyes that could break a man. I had just taken my first political stand in solidarity over the treatment of a co-worker by management and left my long-standing job to find myself hobbling around behind a bar in an effort to keep the lights on. When the girl left, I thought I was doing surprisingly well. I was still going to work, something a broken heart usually prevents, and to me, that was doing well.
A week after the breakup, my father took the long road home and I found that small strength slip away. I was in the process of moving to a new place, and along with my dad and girlfriend and I had lost a hell of a friend as I transitioned.
Before long, I found myself alone in a three-bedroom townhouse being paid for by my grieving mother under the assumption that I’d find a roommate or two within a month. The empty house with empty walls offered nothing to an empty boy and the depression seeped from the walls like moisture in a dank cellar. I absorbed it all and lost myself to the fantastic wold of comic books, leaving work behind for a more peaceful way of escape.
Three months passed, and I found a new job—abandoning the steakhouse full of people who didn’t quite get me for a music shop filled with old friends. I needed it. I craved it. I became happy for a time, but it was quick to fade. I moved out of the empty townhouse into a bachelor suite in a building occupied by my sister. The depression ebbed and flowed like a river stopped by locks, and by Christmas I was erratic and moody, and forced one of my good friends to deal a death blow to my guitar-selling career. The month of February was spent alone, online and was filled with false ambitions. I replaced comic books with science texts and literature. My hunt for something bigger than myself had finally entered the real world.
My mother paid the rent again, but by that time, I had already indebted myself to two drug dealers and one friend whom I wouldn’t speak to again for years. We still have never mentioned the money he essentially paid me to run away. I looked around my apartment for things I could get rid of. Things I could sell. My depression and high level MMO character had kept my fingers from the strings for months at that point, so the guitars I saw in the corners of my room became dusty piles of cash in my mind.
I don’t remember the order—I’ve heard people talk about killing their children with more clarity than this, but one by one they disappeared. An Epiphone semi-hollow Voodoo model that looked like a 335 and made me feel like Alex Lifeson, a Gretsch fully hollow, bright orange Electromatic with Bigsby Vibrato, and my pride and joy: A Korean made Fender Telecaster in swamp ash with a 70s-chic all-black pickguard and a gorgeous birds eye maple neck. All of them—gone. All of my guitars were an attempt at an identity, all except the Telecaster—we were soulmates.
Her name is Sheila and she walked through the doors in the arms of another man. I worked at the music shop years before, while I was in college, and one summer day she waltzed into my life for the first time. I greeted her owner as he walked through the door and asked what was in the case. Up on the counter she went and with three clicks, the case opened to reveal my (at the time) one true love. He was selling, “time to move on,” he said. We priced it at three fifty and by the time I had the strings changed and oiled the neck, I was moving money around to take her home.
The shop I worked in was ethical. All employees had to give the customers a fair chance at the used equipment. I can respect that, but a musician can also respect when an instrument is playing the man. My boss must have saw the look in my eye or heard the desperation in my voice—I pleaded with him, even offered to buy a case at full price if I could throw the guitar in my car rather than on the sales wall… and it worked. I’ve only had two instruments ever play me like this, Sheila and a Seagull Mini-Jumbo Acoustic that I named Henry. I have dirty, filthy sex with Sheila and long, fulfilling conversations with Henry. There’s a special connection with that Seagull guitar, I guess I feel akin to a guitar that was built the same way I came into this world: short, fat and Canadian.
Sheila was one of the first guitars I took apart to see the complete workings of. I opened her up one day to clean out the pots and when replacing the steel plate for the knobs, I cracked her glossy finish by over tightening the rear screw. This was nothing though—guitars are meant to be played, not babied. It was that mentality that scarred Sheila’s backside with the pock marks of walls, chairs, tables and TVs. Her finish on the back was marred by my rockin’ through the house, strap low, not giving a fuck, playing unamplified to the stereo while doing kicks like The Boss. All my guitars were, it’s how they knew I loved them and how I knew they were mine.
All that was left when the dust cleared was the memory of great instruments and the crumbs of the weed I spent their cash on. The depression went nowhere. It amplified when I realized that I was never going to have the mind to become a PhD in astrophysics like my new-found hero, Neal DeGrasse Tyson. A silly thing to be depressed about as a twenty-one-year-old pothead, but a depressing thing none the less.
The revolution was taking place in Egypt and I watched all day and all night on YouTube, on Twitter and anything else you can name, watching the youth of a foreign country rise up and actually change things. This inspired me, not to start the revolution, but to find a job—that and the fact Mom was finally cutting me off.
In an early morning interview on an early spring day, I got a job as a shipper/receiver at an electrical wholesaler. It doesn’t look like much on paper, but I pounded my steering wheel and whooped and hollered all the way home from that interview feeling validated by something, finally. I called home and spread the good news. Before long I found the strength to rejoin my family, something I had pushed away from through Christmases and birthdays before. When I did rejoin, I became privy to a phenomenon happening among the members of my family: dimes from heaven.
Just as he said he would, it would appear that my father had kept to his word and started placing dimes throughout the world for my mother to find. When she told the rest of my family this, her sisters, their husbands and children, they too began to find the dimes. I listened to countless stories, all vaguely the same: a tough day with my father on the mind, a worried moment, a scared moment, a weak moment and then there it was. Whether it be on the floor, on the shelf or a bathroom counter, they found dimes. My mother, my sisters, my cousins, my aunts, my uncles. Each and every one of them had dimes in their pockets.
I listened, and I hardened. I had never seen a dime. This must just be a grieving widow’s tale, I thought. My new affinity for science and all things explainable deemed it a situation where one found what they were looking for. There was nothing supernatural about it. It was a silly fantasy, but a silly fantasy that I’d let them have. I kept my silence.
Time went on and the stories became increasingly frequent. With each report, the ire in my heart grew. They’re all fools. They’ll get over this and move on eventually, I’d think. I was jaded. I was hiding something from myself that I didn’t realize. Behind a militant atheist rooted in science and rational thinking, there was a little Catholic boy dreaming about eternal life and cursing his father and God almighty for not giving him a sign. I realized I was infuriated with my family for believing in this, for actually having results to their beliefs. I needed to distance myself. I needed to leave, and inside a woman I saw my way out.
Steph had moved out of our hometown not long after high school and lived in the province’s capital, five hundred kilometers away. It’s not too far a distance, but it was enough. Steph has the mind of a giant and the soul of a vixen; the deadliest mix known to man. The oceans that make her eyes shine in the night would become my final home and, in her heart, I would come to know myself. We fell in love and after almost a year of trying to convince each other to move, she finally won. On my twenty-third birthday, we fell asleep listening to Stevie Wonder, parked outside a gas station on the highway, halfway between my old home and my new life, waiting for it to open.
Life became happy again, we struggled for a bit, but we made it through. We bought a dog and car and did the things that people in love are supposed to do. I found work as a demolition man, then a forklift driver, then a shipper/receiver.
Days before our third Christmas together, a call came from home. My uncle Rick had died, leaving my cousins in the same shocked spot I was in no more than five years earlier. I had to be home. We changed all our plans and hit the road early in order to make the funeral. They’re mostly the same, I realized. When one father in our family dies, everybody loses a father. At the time, my soul was mostly fed—happy even, but seeing him in his casket, it reminded me that I never got to see my father that one last time. I leaned into my dear uncle and said:
“Sometimes I don’t even know how to keep myself alive. I don’t know what I’m doing. If you see my dad, tell him I miss him, and I need his help too.”
I said my goodbyes and hugged my cousins. I hugged my aunt. I hugged my sisters and my mother. My uncles and my friends. We milled about the funeral home until everyone had left and then we headed to Uncle Norm’s for the wake, drained of everything inside. We ate good food and remembered a good man, we swapped news of ourselves and comforted those who needed it. Before checking out for the night, I remember that I had never seen this house. Norm and Phyllis moved around town a few times, and this was the one home I hadn’t seen all of.
The plush carpet ran from the living room, around the corner and down wide steps before sprawling out in a massive rec area. On the wall were guitars played, owned and signed by the greats. A Paul McCartney bass, a Hendrix Strat and a couple anniversary edition Gibsons hung on the wall. Leather reclining sofas sat facing a television and a bar and at the end of the bar, just leaning against the drywall—a Korean made Fender Telecaster in Swamp Ash with a 70s chic all-black pick guard and a gorgeous birds eye maple neck.
My heart skipped a beat; these were discontinued, and I thought I’d never see one again. I picked it up and admired it. The high-gloss finish reflected the bar lights around the room as I looked at the grain of the swamp ash. My eyes feasted on the replica of my old lover, until they got to the steel plate that held the tone and volume knobs.
My blood ran cold as I saw the crack in the lacquer, behind the rear screw that holds the plate down. It can’t be, I whispered to myself. I flipped the guitar, almost driving the headstock into the carpet. Looking at the bottom of the guitar, my suspicions were confirmed: it was pocked and marred from my most rockin’ moments of not giving a fuck and playing unamplified to the stereo. I almost dropped the damn thing putting it back.
I flew up the stairs to Norm, who saw the pale in my face and took a step towards me. I rambled off the story of how I thought it was the guitar I sold after my dad died, and he just smiled that wide, joyous smile as Norm does—with his entire face, a charge led by the eyes and he simply said, "go tell your aunt Phyllis that."
So, I did. Her jaw dropped, and she took me by the hand down to the basement, her tiny steps on fire. She thrust the guitar on me and said, "it’s yours now." And just like that, I had my Sheila back. She had moved from the original owner, to me, back to the shop I scooped her out of and into the arms of another—who eventually let her go to my cousin Cory. Norm had two Stratocasters in his collection and Cory thought he should have one of each, so they made a trade. This is the only reason why the Telecaster was at Norm’s.
Steph didn’t come with me to the funeral, I gave her the pass because no one likes funerals. When I finally got back to her that night, I told her the story of the guitar. We sat in the parking lot of our high school, the school where we met, smoking a joint and talking about the dimes, the guitar and the situation at hand. After years of hearing about the dimes and resenting them along with the people in my family, I finally had my sign, whether facilitated by Uncle Rick or not, I had finally felt the presence of my father again.
I felt like an idiot for doubting it. The guitar was a slap to the face more than anything, like the ethereal pimp-hand of my father coming down to bring me back to earth. I was so angry over something I didn’t understand, something I couldn’t even comprehend—and even though I still can’t explain it, I’m at peace. The guitar settled my restless soul and taught me a great lesson in humility.
Steph, like myself, was never a believer in the dimes. We shared the same opinion and talked at length about the silliness of it all. But, at the drop of a guitar, life changed for her as well. As soon as we got back home to Edmonton, dimes started to come at us like a plague. Steph would come home from work some days with over two dollars in found dimes, I’d find them in shoes, in guitar cases, the dog’s bed. Anywhere conceivable, and some places inconceivable, held the little silver coins. And we can’t escape them, either.
I’m writing this while nursing an angry sunburn in a Cuban hotel room. Last week, Steph and I married, and this week we honeymoon. We’ve found ten cent pieces next to showers, in the pockets of hoodies and in shorts we haven’t worn in years. In brand new suitcases, within the pages of books and in beds we’ve never seen. The craziest part though, is that they’re in the currency we can use, CUCs. That means (with our terrible dollar right now) that my father must be dropping dimes and nickels, just to make up for the exchange rate. But the Canadian dimes haven’t stopped either, it’s like he’s trying his best to not let me forget that he’s here with us. Which is good—I am notorious for forgetting that people love me, but now I have a jar of change and ring around my finger to keep me in check.
As I made my final changes to this piece, I must have seemed a little too smug, because my beautiful wife, sitting across from me asks, "what?" I told her that I finally managed to tell the story that took us both by the tongues and she asked to read it. Usually I make her wait until it’s on the internet, but I guess this ring does have some sort of mystic power because I saved the file and handed the computer to her, completely automatically.
At one point I caught her wiping her eyes, and at other points I caught her giggling. She told me she liked how I capitalized The Boss because, hopefully, it’ll make a kid or two google it. And then she told me I was a good writer.
Ego boost: complete.
I kissed her deeply and scooped the computer back up to put away. When I turned and looked at the seat where I had nested for a couple hours, writing the story of the dimes, guess what was in my chair?
Writer, performer, producer and musician from Alberta.