I hear the note, off-tune, ring muffled through the quiet house. Something in me goes very still.

When I saw my dad’s old guitar in its beat-up, fraying case on the floor of my sister’s bedroom a few days ago, something in me seized up. I have my own guitar now. I had my own guitar back then, but I didn’t have a case for it, so when I went to school, I took his with me.

I didn’t know I could sing then. I barely knew how to play. But something about you, something about that small, unassuming group of friends we drank tea and ate pancakes with, pulled me out of my shell just enough to join in. To fumble through the chords and quietly sing lyrics from chord sheets printed off a free website.

You said you wanted to learn, but you were left-handed. I said I could teach you anyway. I don’t know why–I had never taught anyone anything remotely musical–but I was certain I could. Maybe because I was certain about you. Certain I wanted to spend more time with you. Certain you could do anything you wanted to.

So we took that old chord chart with the labeled fingering positions and that beat-up case and sat on the sidewalk with our feet in the ivy under the street light and stars, and we began. We only ever got done a little at a time, but neither of us minded. I played, and you played, fingers of the wrong hand searching for the strings, both of us laughing a lot. I always thought it was cute when you got frustrated with yourself. You were always doing better than you thought you were. You always forgot a string on the D, and I was always picking up your finger and moving it to where it was supposed to go.

That guitar brought us closer in more ways than I could have guessed. Conversations under stars and ivy confetti wishes turning to quick grassy moments stolen from afternoon classes to dim hours in the quiet of your bedroom to the rug on the floor of mine. We sang songs I loved, songs you loved, and songs that meant something to both of us. Songs that became something more to me than when I first heard them. You took the guitar from my room to practice when I was in class, and we played with others and alone. I liked alone best.

I wrote my first song on that guitar. It was about you. I still wish I had found the courage to play it for you. You were the last person I sang to in a very long time. You’re still the last person I sang to like that.

You are like a song that keeps on playing. Playing, playing. So sweet, and so painful, I could never turn it off.