by David Noet
A short story about a difficult music student.
| Lila had a mess of rough, black hair, and she always wore black clothes that were carefully tattered at the edges. She seemed to like things that were frayed in some small way. The first time I saw her, she stood at the edge of the room with her face buried in her phone, her thumbs busily tapping out a message to someone else.
“Lila?” I asked pleasantly, and her eyes broke from her phone for less than a second. I guess that was her way of saying hello. I introduced myself, directed her towards the drum studio, and she walked ahead of me, eyes glued to her phone. Once inside, she stood there, head down, thumbs tapping.
“You can have a seat,” I said, and she plopped her backpack on the floor and sat on the stool, head down, thumbs tapping. I took my seat and began asking her about herself: age, grade, musical experience. After enough questions had successfully distracted her, she finally put away her phone.
She was extremely quiet at all times. Her answers had at most a few words, and often only one. I learned quickly to avoid asking her opinion on things. I kept to purely biographical inquiries.
“Am I pronouncing your name correctly?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“How long have you been living in Pasadena?”
“Forever. I hate it here.”
“What kind of music do you like?”
“Whatever”. That one she slipped up on - she was wearing a Blink 182 t-shirt.
“You know they have an awesome drummer,” I said. “Travis Barker is one of the best out there.” Her eyes darted downward. She was thinking about what I had just said, and she didn’t want me to know it. I had no more questions for her, so we began to play the drums.
After several grueling minutes of introductory exercises that felt more like dental work than music - not because she couldn’t do them, but because she met every request with an exasperated hesitancy - I asked her why she was here. No answer. I asked if her parents, like mine when I was her age, had just wanted her to “do something.”
“Yeah, pretty much,” she mumbled. I told her I knew what that was like, and that was ok, and I promised I would make these lessons as painless as possible. For someone reason, at that remark, her distant gaze softened, and she cracked the tiniest, furtive little smirk. Maybe a few minutes of hitting stuff with sticks had begun to give a new character to the black, tattered thoughts she seemed so often to find herself clothed in. Maybe in my teaching I had successfully avoided the land mines she surrounded herself with. Maybe I was someone she could learn something from. Maybe I was actually kind of cool. For now, those maybes were good enough for me, and the lessons continued that day and the following weeks more or less painlessly, and more or less free of any dental work.