In the early of hours of last Wednesday morning, after playing a Tuesday night set at Adair's in Dallas, someone broke into the car of local country singer-songwriter Melissa Ratley and stole her beloved acoustic guitar. While a few other personal items from her vehicle went missing as well, it was her black acoustic's disappearance that hit her the hardest.
Thankfully, unlike some other notable recent musical theft -- in particular, that of the still-unrecovered Frankie 45 memorial guitar from Club Dada -- this tale has a happy ending. But before the joy of being reunited, Ratley felt the sick, instantly-pounding pain of loss. "My heart immediately sank in my stomach," says the Flower mound-based Ratley. "I ran out and flipped the back of my Jeep open to make sure some of my other gear wasn't stolen, and thankfully it was still there -- which means it was a snatch and grab job. I couldn't believe it happened."
As is the case with so many working artists, Ratley, who is working on a full-length album to be released later this year, has an emotional attachment to her musical companion that goes beyond simple instrumental means.
"This guitar was the first one I received with a pickup," she explains. "And I received it about seven years ago as a Christmas present from my parents. At that moment I realized that I wanted to be a country singer and nothing more." From a sentimental standpoint, the guitar was thus pretty irreplaceable -- but even more recently it had played a vital role in Ratley's life. "When I was recently between jobs," she say, "it was the only way to pay my bills."
Thefts of this nature are unfortunately commonplace for musicians, but it's easy to overlook how much of an effect such an experience can have, even beyond the basic monetary impact that an artist incurs. "It's my release from the real world when everything else is going wrong," Ratley says. "I was shaking when I was filling out the police report because I couldn't believe someone could be so inconsiderate and selfish to take something that wasn't theirs -- especially someone's way of life."
Once the shock wore off, Ratley couldn't help but ponder the many possible outcomes of this predicament. All day Wednesday and into Thursday, she ran through a number of negative outcomes.
"I could only think of what could have happened to it," she remembers. "It could've been gutted for parts, maybe trashed somewhere nearby. I honestly thought after a few hours it was not even in the same state. But the fact that I had an incredible amount of people reach out to help in different ways was comforting. I knew I would land on my feet whether or not I got it back, but I just felt sick. I definitely wasn't thinking nice thoughts about the future of the person who took it if I ever found who was responsible."
Ratley kept her head about her and took practical, patient steps to retrieve her guitar, even if she was charged with nerves and despair, a process had to take place if she was to ever play her guitar again. First step for Ratley was to call the local fuzz, then take to the always-powerful world of social media.
"As soon as I could, I found the best picture in my phone -- which was actually one that a friend took at a show of just the guitar onstage -- and posted it on Facebook," she recalls. "I knew the sooner the word got out to people, the faster it would be found, or possibly not gutted for parts. The response from friends, fellow musicians, and people I hadn't heard from in months was absolutely incredible."
On Thursday afternoon, 36 hours after her guitar had been taken, good news made its way to Ratley when she visited a pawn shop near where she lives to investigate. As far as Ratley was concerned, if her guitar was going to be lost forever, it wasn't going to be because she didn't do all she could to find it first.
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"At the pawn shop, I asked if they had any guitars brought to them that morning - which they did," she says. "But obviously, the pawn shop had to cooperate with police since it was stolen from me. As soon as the officer got there, the manager pulled out the guitar, and it was definitely mine. The stickers on the case had been ripped off, and all of my sheet music that was stored in the case was gone. But the tuner, capo and sound hole cover were neatly tucked into the compartment within the case. It certainly looked ready to be sold."
Given the gut-wrenching nature of this ordeal, Ratley certainly has some new material for a killer country tune. In a short span, Ratley received a powerful lesson in losing something, mourning the loss, fighting to win it back, and being happily reunited after all.
"I know I was incredibly lucky, considering the fact that musician theft is huge right now," Ratley says. "The support was overwhelming, which I am so thankful for. It's very cliché to say this, but you really don't understand the value of something until it's taken from you. And I'm pretty sure that if you are lucky enough to retrieve it, the bittersweet value of it is infinite."