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for Chris Coyle (November 10, 1974-September 25, 1994)

I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do it. I just can’t. Everyone in my family has gone to a psychiatrist. It’s my turn. I don’t want to write this. I can’t think. I’m sick of thinking.

Sometimes I think about what I would say to a psychiatrist. I’d tell him about…

Everything. As far as patients go, I suppose I’d be a pretty good one. I can talk and talk and talk as long as I know… I’m boring myself.

It’s interesting how the mind works. Lately mine’s been sabotaging me, making me detest everything I once loved just because. Four weeks ago my fingers would have been flying over this keyboard. Now I keep thinking about what someone else might think about what I’m thinking about.

I went back to my high school. My stomach hated me the entire time I was there. I ate red Jell-O for lunch—sat with some show choir students who kept telling me, “Don’t be nervous! Don’t be nervous! We can’t wait to see you guys.” I knew they meant it. I knew they didn’t have a clue what was going on inside my head.

My love has fallen to the lowest rung on Plato’s ladder. Or something like that. I know what it feels like to hit the ground.

I can appreciate spring when it’s sunny. When the birds are singing. I watch them eat birdseed through my parent’s kitchen window. I laugh at the way their small heads twitch from side to side. How they hop around on two feet like those tiny wind up toys I used to find in my stocking. A cardinal comes. Then a blue jay. My stomach unties itself for a moment as I stare out the window. I pull myself up the ladder slowly.

Standing in the restroom at my old high school, I decide to be honest with my cast mates. I’m holding my compact in my left hand. Holding it up to my nose so I can see my eyes. With my right hand, I apply eyeliner. A dark line on the top lid. A dark line on the bottom.

“I know I’m supposed to be excited about this,” I tell them, “but the truth is, I really don’t want to do this show.” My right hand falters in midair. I watch the blood vessels in my eyes expand. Tears draw lines in my painted face. My cast mates look on silently, not used to seeing my emotion.

“Why?” someone asks finally. I shake my head and shrug my shoulders in a pathetic attempt to communicate. I don’t know, I want to say. In the mirror, I catch a glimpse of me—my trembling chin, my frightened eyebrows. “You’re just nervous because this is your hometown,” someone else says. They’re trying to help. I retreat into a bathroom stall. Alone, I begin wiping my face, reapplying my makeup. Waiting for the blood vessels in my eyes to shrink back to normal.

One of my professors at college told the class she’s sick of seeing ‘I’ in poetry. “I’ve gotten to the point,” she said, “where I won’t even read poems written in first person.” She was trying to say modern writers are a bunch of whiners. Not all of them, but quite a few. I thought about what she said, took a look at my poetry noting how many times I use the pronoun ‘I’. Then I thought, Screw it. I use ‘I’ on paper so it doesn’t show up anywhere else. So when I go outside, I can see life.

I hate when I look into my future and see nothing.

We’re standing out in the hall, waiting for our cue to enter. I swish my chiffon skirt in a mock Spanish dance. Voices murmur around me. I smile. Laugh. Pretend not to think. Try not to feel.

I never meant to feel stage fright. It crept into my body from somewhere else. From the collective unconscious, perhaps. Whatever. I couldn’t have created it.

I was singing, dancing for two thousand or so people. For some reason, I felt naked this time. My chest tightened. Fear closed every pore in my body. I didn’t know if I could stop myself from running off stage. They didn’t know my body had turned to stone.

I had to move my limbs despite my frozen joints. You put yourself here, I told myself. Do it. Do it. I covered my face with false confidence, praying to the Lord inside. Please don’t let me crack.

I don’t know how to go on from here or why I started this in the first place. I suppose if I just let it flow, it will come out. Lately, I haven’t had any faith. Do I have a story to tell? I’m trying to remember where I was. Fragmented.

I love wildflowers. I love the sound of birds singing—when their voices are many and layered and weaving inside and out of one another. I love how a wildflower steals a spot of soil and makes the ground its own. I love the way a wild bird can sing. I want to feel color.

Fear. Two thousand eyes on me. I don’t know who I am. Who do they see?

It’s time. We enter the gym and hide in the makeshift wings. Still waiting for our cue to take the stage. I laugh and talk with the people around me. I’ve pushed the fear away, convinced myself I’m confident. “Are you ready for this?” someone asks. “Yes, I answer.” Yes, I’m ready. One voice… Singing in the darkness for him. For him. To bring us all out of this darkness. This darkness.

Our director says something about why we’re doing this show, why we’re here. To remember. To celebrate. May our thoughts of death die. May we remember that his life lives on in us and everywhere. Because he loved music. Because he loved to sing. We’re singing for him so he might sing through us. So we’ll remember to keep singing.

I love the way the trees flower in spring. Overnight it seems. The next morning, I walk outside and find they’ve decided to let their colors show. I look for as long as I can.

We take the stage. The lights burn in different colors. Red. Green. Purple. The heat makes our sweat flow out in rivers.

I remember playing in the sandbox all day, going inside to eat corn on the cob. I wish this could be the rest of my life.

Stage fright whispers to my muscles. I sing out loud to the audience. They don’t know, but I’m asking them to help me. Help me push it away. I see familiar faces, faces I grew up with. They want me to be here.

The morning I found out he was murdered, I woke up at seven o’clock sharp. The alarm clock hadn’t gone off yet, but I was wide awake. A few seconds past the hour, the phone rang. I picked it up. “Hello?”

I heard a familiar voice on the other end. It quivered as it made the words. “He was walking home, they think, and he was shot.”

Shot? “Okay,” I said. Okay.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes I’m okay. Are you?”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t either.”

I hung up the phone.

At the funeral. Former classmates I hadn’t seen for over a year. Our first reunion. One thought kept running through my head. They’re too young to be carrying his coffin.

Death and murder are different. One I can accept. The other steals more than just life. We all look older now.

My sister stands at the other microphone. We sing to Jesus in Latin. Pie Jesu… I like the way the spotlight blinds my eyes so I can’t see anyone. High in the bleachers, a tiny light on the soundboard glows red. I focus on it, singing to the source.

We’ve sung this duet countless times. I can’t mess it up. Requiem. A celebration for the soul of the deceased. A mass prayer. The appropriateness of the song scares me now. I can’t mess it up.

We finish singing and bow. An applause erupts as the stage lights brighten. People stand up in front, their bodies glowing in the spotlight. Behind them more follow.

They’re standing for us. I smile awkwardly, my insides exploding. I remember what I’ve done. What we’ve all done.

My life, every effort, comes alive in one instant. For me. For them. This moment is right.


Copyright 1995