A Sad Song

Omar was 20 years old when he returned to the family home in Cali. Like the beloved and forgiven prodigal son he was received by some with great happiness and by others with a large amount of uncertainty. The events which had sent him away were gone and forgotten. But not the recollections of the belligerent, aggressive, assertive young man who challenged the family calm. The days that followed were not quite the same, an impending expectation constantly hovered over the house. His warm smile, open heart, and familial affections were valuable tools in pacifying those expectations. But who would say or do what to awaken the dormant lion.

Omar was genuinely happy to be home again. He had no money, no friend had been quick to offer him a night much less a week of refuge. He had lost much weight. Appearance alone suggested he had made attempts to change. But the loss of weight was merely his inability to eat regularly.

His clothes were the same but more ragged. He liked this look. His hair retained the ragged look of his clothes. And the one possession that remained his mark in life was still his guitar. A quick hot meal, an hour of warm welcomes, a shower and new bedroom was all it took for him to return to his old haunt – the 8:30 visit to the park.

Not too brightly polished, he pulled himself up on a rock near the university and began fiddling with the tuning of his guitar. It was not his own guitar. It was only a part of a bargain kit purchased by a friend years ago who could not play guitar. They were a group then. Strong wills prevented them from achieving their dreams of greatness. And soon, the one dream became many dreams and Omar found himself alone miles away in Bogota … strumming and singing for food and drink. Sometimes for a friendly warm night with a new friend.

Amazing how a smile and a joke, a song of life and confession of dreams could make almost anyone your friend. Making new friends had never been difficult for him. Making them last was a much bigger problem. For two years Omar sought to leave behind a life of harsh experiences. The brutal cost of a fouled marriage, a child that no father could resist, a separated wife working in the world of exhibition on camera, sucked all hope and familial aspiration from him. When the two parents were together, he was nothing like the free spirit attached to his guitar. Sullen, angry, and detached only the cuddles of a child of two years old could crack the calloused armor that surrounded him.

Atop his rock, he was a king at home with his court, strumming, humming, smiling, and joking until his audience could provide a burger, a beer, and if lucky one face had signaled a door was open to further opportunities.

Like buskers across the globe, his opening song full of positive hope and possible dreams charmed and lured locals and tourists. He sang of romantic relationships that touched and pulled on the heart strings of many. He told stories of loss. Hardships not his own. Of everyday people turning difficulties into opportunity. When he had enough money accumulated, and his new friends were enticed closer to the experience of life that promised hope and love, he collected all that he had and invited those closest to share his wealth over a simple meal and cheap boxes of red wine. The moments were scripted and flawless. Generosity among those with little was bound to secure friendship at least as long as the minstrel could sustain his charm.

Hard life? Not really. He had learned to give away everything to acquire the one thing he needed. Tomorrow was a new day. He could begin again with the freedom and freshness of new friends and new experiences. His collection of songs would last. His stories and experiences would never fail. And thus he found a way to detach from the disappointments of losing his one love, his daughter.

Some nights never lasted as long as others. Some did not offer the privacy and lasting warmth he had hoped for. On those nights he would retire to the family home. A little late. A little drunk. And a little frustrated. These were memorable nights to the entire family. Late hours with loud noises mixed poorly with the tired and the young. Any attempt at managing or channeling Omar’s energy positively were lost in bold, brazen words that hurt almost as much as his accidentally successful physical assaults.

Omar loved his child. He loved those friends who lasted those few hours. But had a difficult time with the familial expectations of constructive long-term relationships. His years of independence had broken down all sense of obligation to others. Even his humor was very short when he found the way home and wanted only to stumble into bed.

Few children grow up dreaming of mediocrity. Even the poorest hope for work and success. Small steps may be necessary but they never mark the place a child stops dreaming. Omar had dreams beyond imagination. He knew. He knew he was good at his craft. That others wanted his woven stories of song and prose that related to their own lives. He knew he loved music and would be the best, even if he had never studied music.

In truth, he had never studied much. He was not an only child, but thought he should have been. He was the eldest of three children of his mothers second husband. Yet he grew up like the two children of the first husband. Fatherless. A father was free to live and work when, how, and as often as he liked. And when he did not like, he could change every rule and recreate the rules of his world. Church vows enforced nothing. Government aid supported broken families. Fathers simply moved to a new location, found a new wife, and like a man in search of new work he embarked on a new experiment. Mama sought work in any way she could – though she never had the same education. Children left school to do anything conceivable to pay bills and find food. Reaching the age of 18 – 24 never meant adulthood. It meant more responsibilities to the family. Daughters … the first to leave school, thea first to look after siblings … rarely had the opportunity to prepare for any specialized workforce, and never learned anything positive about the men in their lives.

Omar’s eldest sister was the only child in the family of 5 children to receive a university education and a professional vocation. His only older brother had found employment, but without any education it was not going to lead to advancement. And so, with 5 years of work behind him, the only meaningful way to pay household bills was to rent a room to university students. His two younger sisters remained at home, one with her daughter, and one housekeeping. Their lives being spent waiting for any kind of man to support them and their families.

Whatever distinguished Omar and his siblings from the elder children, was clearly profound but never understood. Dreams or achievements? Work or ambition? Does everything come from the father? Does it leave when papa leaves? Why did all of the elder children find lasting if unprofitable employment? Why did none of the younger children ever try? Why did the government not distinguish between each and their potential? Why did the church require a vow that it would not enforce?

Did Omar become the father who preferred drink and independence to daily responsibility. Did he discard values because that were complications to a young life. What ever shaped Omar determined a path with unexplored options. Only his own energy would find a path to the future.

Professional opportunities would never be his fortune. But like everything in his life, opportunity found him. The family home was overcrowded with five siblings and one student renter. Mortgage payments were high on this small outdated home. And only two were working to pay mortgage, utilities, health insurance, motorcycle payments, travel, and food. The student invited a law professor to visit and consult with the family. It was not a long meeting, but one that would change many lives. Not only could a lawyer find new solutions, but an adult could bring new perspectives to family and group expenses.

Within only days Emerson had reconstructed the home mortgage payments with the agreement of the bank and had located a professional work opportunity for Omar that paid very well for a 20 year old with little education. With lower payments and a third income the house was prepared to begin planning on futures for everyone. Emerson had found a connection in the home that welcomed him professionally and personally. As none of the children had truly known a male parental figure in their lives, he represented the first positive role model to desire a place with them.

Omar was excited about the opportunity, though he did not like having to wear clean bright white shirts and hard shoes to work every day. In time, he found he could not work under the oversight of an office manager who observed every second of his routine. Nor did he like the “down-nose” looks of those he worked with. While he never had to work directly with any of these individuals and had a large amount of time outside of the office, the freedoms could not offset the imprisonment of routine.

It was only time that would reveal the dramatic extents of Omar’s discomfort. Although he reported to the Office Manager, he worked with all office management personnel in keeping the work routines of the designers productive. Sometimes delivering documents, other times running office errands. His social skills were his forte, but independence was perceived as nonconformity or noncooperation. Still, even this was not his fatal flaw.

After one month of service, a problem surfaced that was potentially criminal. Emerson was contacted to assist Omar in the problem, but discovered that the office was also contacting lawyers. A large sum of money, an entire payroll for the office had been delivered, marked into ledgers, and then gone missing. There was no evidence to implicate anyone. But only two persons could have been involved. In the waning hours of the night, Omar acknowledged to Emerson that he had indeed stolen the money but that it was now spent. The lack of work ethics, self-respect, and love of family had placed an honorable lawyer in the middle of a criminally prosecutable situation. With only an hour to act, Emerson reached an agreement with the design company to repay the entire sum and terminate Omar immediately with no criminal record.

Omar’s repentance was a quiet one that neither he nor Emerson would have wanted public. Yet the house to whom he was now committed was again left with only two incomes. Although it was a poor time for Omar to rely on his bully nature, it is what came naturally to him when he was frustrated. His siblings were on the verge of evicting him when a new opportunity emerged. A nationwide music competition based on local voting to select the finalists was announced. Not only was it something everyone knew would appeal to Omar, it was the only thing he talked about for weeks.

When Omar came home with an entire band kit of guitars and drums, speakers and microphones, every eye opened. Even Emerson was shocked to guess where the money had come from. Nothing but Omar could stand between himself and the verdict of his dream. The household would be pleased to see him go … for the second time. No one imagined he would be part of a solution even if he was to win the grand prize. But a life without him would be so much more calm.

It’s hard to go from busker to a nationally recognized player. But Omar had spent years doing his apprenticeship. He had learned the songs. The crowd wooing. All he needed was the acknowledgement of the crowds and the approval of the judges. Omar was noticed. He was invited to join the competition to award scholarships in music and recording contracts. Fully paid, the competitions covered 4 widely separated cities in one month. After a rocky start, Omar found his niche and rose to the top by warming the audiences like he had sitting on the rocks around the University. Every night he chose his song and practiced for hours. Every day he took the stage, met with judges, and warmed … no charmed his way to the top.

Omar survived every cut to reach the final three. Proud of his achievement, he telephoned his financial supporter to announce the good news and the nature of the offer made to him. There was no cash prize, no contract, no award of new instruments. But he was to be awarded a year of musical training with free room and board included. This was astounding news. News that should thrill almost anyone. But for some reason it did not thrill Omar.

He seemed to have a new dilemma. Like everything else in his world of dreams come true, there had to be an irrelevant crisis. And now the news that was already weeks old was broken … somewhere in his whirlwind nationwide tour he acquired a sexually transmitted disease. Not only acquired it, but through weeks of neglect now sat a very painful, unexplored distance from death. Blood? Discoloration? Swelling? More swelling? Unimaginable swelling? All of this and not one person was consulted. The telephone was not an opportunity to cheerlead. At long last, it was a plea for help.

Medical testing was not to diagnose the disease, it was to ascertain how vast was the problem. The disease had begun as a sexual one. Ignored, it was now closer to being one of the blood. After that, there would be no need for surgery. Once again the extroverted independent was dependent on others to secure assistance and secrecy. Once more, family was less informed or trusted than wealthy outsiders. Emerson negotiated acceptance of the prize on a deferred basis while securing travel and medical insurance to cover catastrophic surgery.

Not one person knew the whereabouts of Omar for the one month after his victorious adventure. No one heard the good news. And the whole time he was a short bus ride away in a hospital well known and visited by many of the household. The preliminary diagnosis called for the removal of one organ. This would have permitted a normal active life. In the end however, it was realized that the removal of two organs was necessary, and the replacement by false substitutes inevitable. A young man, full of life and frivolity was giving up the opportunity of a normal active future because of poor judgement and discretion.

By the time Omar was bold enough to surface at home he had come to new conclusions in his life. His life of independence was replaced by a life of secrecy. He dropped out of the free classes. But continued his relations with old band members. His success was known, but not rewarding. His secret was medically corrected, but not emotionally satisfying. His wife was remarried. His daughter living permanently beyond his reach. Emerson was outside of his thoughts. Everything in his life was replaced by a small one room apartment with a bed and a television. His band kit was distributed amongst band members to whom he owed money. His guitar survived, but his nights were more filled with gun fights than the Rattle and Hum of U2.

Some would wonder how does this boy of 20 fit into the scenario of an abused child. Many have suffered at the hands of someone like him. Many in fact did suffer at his hands. Yet so many found something in him that welcomed the assistance and support he wanted. For some, he was a user. For many others, he was a deprived child with no paternal role model or education throughout his life. And the only model he understood was exactly the model he replicated. Dreams and success followed by crisis. An utter inability to hold on to a sincere relationship.

There will never be that day when a child deserves to sacrifice his education for the loss of a deserting parent. There will never be a day when institutions of power, the government or the church, can substitute passive acceptance for the resulting problems of a life so inherited. The opportunities of success wasted by Omar were not results of no dream or desire. They were opportunities lost on misguided appetites and unfaithful relationships. Could education have changed this? Perhaps not by classwork. But by class oversight, quite probably.

In the end, we will call Omar abusive. Verbally and physically bullying. Perhaps even his promiscuity abused the dreams, lives, and health of many innocents. His behaviour certainly abused employers, family and friends who went beyond every extreme to create and fulfill his dreams. Perhaps every effort to help went astray. Perhaps they were never going to succeed. But not until we rescue the child can we create the adult. Anything otherwise is to surrender every child to abuses of every kind.


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