I was 13 years old when I got my first guitar. I was living in one of the worst neighborhoods in Tucson. One of our neighbors was a prostitute. Others, suffering from drug addiction and mental illness. My neighbor Jimmy was an alcoholic. An older black dude who always carried an acoustic guitar with him. He played on the streets for tips. Listening to Jimmy play was the best part of my day. “That cold black cloud is comin’ down,” Jimmy would sing. “Feels like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.” I fell in love with music before Jimmy though. I fell in love with music when I realized that it could help me escape. Escape my parents screaming at each other about the drugs. Escape the slums we were living in. Escape the hunger pains in my stomach. Escape the fact that I was scrounging for food in dumpsters. I wish that wasn’t true. I tried to keep it a secret at school because I was so ashamed of how poor I was. The thought of people feeling sorry for me was scarier than being an outcast. All I had to do to make all that disappear was put the headphones on, and turn up the volume. My relationship with Jimmy grew, and one day he left to play for tips as usual. On this particular day though, when Jimmy came home, he was carrying 2 guitars. One was his, and the other was a smaller, beginners guitar. He spent the money he had earned that day to buy me my first guitar. I learned what I could from Jimmy before he died a few weeks later from alcoholism. My mom said, “He was on his way out and you were on your way in. He opened the door for you.” That boy from the slums is still playing. Life is different now, but I will never forget where I came from. Jimmy found a way to give when he didn’t have anything to give. He changed my life. If I can reach just one person the way Jimmy reached me, then all this is worth it.
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