A Melody Softly Soaring Through My Atmosphere

"Pin your heartbeat up against my heartbeat and you'll see how well we rhyme." - Josh Ritter

April Fool’s Day

I have always admired
those who can plot
an intricate prank

and see it come to
fruition. I am not so
clever and I cannot
hold my laughter

well. So when we
walked into the
cool April night together
out of our local Applebee’s

and I held you one last,
brief time, I didn’t
expect to be told
a week after the

foolish holiday that
your chest
would never again
rest against
mine
in an expression of

friendship.

Everyone’s tone was
so convincing as
they told me
the ludicrous

details of
a murder that no
one wouldn’t believe
wasn’t the invention of
a tragedian playwright.

I couldn’t imagine pulling
off such an elaborate
hoax,
I must admit

I was impressed.

A couple times I thought
I saw the corners of
my dad’s lips curl up
into a smile.

But when you never called,
never crept lightly
down the tall staircase
of your parents’ house,

never showed up at the
church - decorated in your
favorite purple and silver -

I couldn’t help wondering
if this wasn’t a joke,

but it’s always the
moment when the prankee
believes the joke is real
that the prankster

reveals - all the fears

and sorrows that came crashing
instantly against
the hull of the
victim of the scheme -

that it is all
a harmless jest.

Months later
I am still waiting
for the moment -

I won’t even be
mad anymore at the
fool who took

the joke so seriously -

where you come creeping
up behind me
while I sit at my
work desk, staring

at a picture of us
from junior prom:

wearing opposing
newspaper colors,
me making a goofy
face and you smiling,
eyes half closed,
looking towards the ground.

Why I Give

Thomson Reuters just launched their annual Giving Campaign. All departments had a presentation with a video of TR employees saying why they give. Most people in the video talked about their family members, themselves and the general need to give back to the world.

As I was watching the video, I thought about why I would give. I thought about making a $20 donation somewhere to relieve my conscience and put me in a good place with God. But as I watched the video and watched a woman tell a story about her sister who was murdered and how that led her to give, I started crying (and trying to hide it from my co-workers) because I thought of a reason to give: Abby.

There are so many things that could have been done to prevent what happened in April. There is so much I wish I could have done, even if it doesn’t make sense. I decided that I should take that energy and put it into preventing this from happening again to someone else’s best friend.

I thought about non-profit organizations that would be applicable, and the obvious central theme was domestic violence. Most domestic violence organizations sponsor women with families who have typically been in long-term relationships but I knew I needed to find places that sponsored support for teens and college students who were in new (and often first) relationships.

It’s an age where the thought processes are often ruled by emotion and love is new; an age where you probably don’t know what love means to you and you don’t have a fully-developed sense of self yet. I think this is an age group and issue that deserves attention.

I also thought about Aaron. I thought about what could have been done on his end. I knew I wanted to support a suicide prevention organization but I felt like I needed to go further than that. There was something mentally wrong with Aaron - that much is clear - but I think he could have gotten help. So I wanted to support an organization that supported mental illnesses (such as bipolar disorder).

There were so many places I wanted to give to and I decided that I wanted the money to be taken out of each paycheck. When I decided on my bimonthly total for each organization and I added up how much I would spend for the year of 2012, I realized it was a little high.

Giving is hard for people. It means humbling yourself and of all the human flaws that exist, I think a lack of humility is near the top. It’s especially hard when you don’t have much to give. I’m doing pretty ok for myself - I can afford food and my apartment - but I have credit card debt and my student loan debt is still hiding in the shadows, waiting to pounce.

It’s hard to help others when we are so wired to help ourselves. But I know there are people out there who can’t help themselves. Abby was the kind of person who would help these people. It didn’t matter to her - she would rather spend her money on other people or people she loved than spend it on herself.

I want so badly to be a better person, as everyone does, and it’s hard to find the motivation. It’s hard to say that I’m willing to have less for myself in order to provide more for someone I don’t know but who needs more.

But I want so badly to make Abby proud. Her life and how she spent her short years are inspirational to me and always have been. If you would have asked me, I would always tell you that Abby Fedeli was one of the best people I know. She still is.

So why do I give?

I give because Abby would give. Abby would want to prevent this from happening to someone else. She would want to help people who were unstable or who didn’t have the bravery to leave like she did. She would want to be part of the effort to stop another tragedy.

Abby can’t give. But I can.

Your Birthday Card

It would feature
a baby penguin
sliding on its
belly, holding a
flask

the message inside
would be something
corny, like “Bottoms Up!”

I would take the left page
and pour out every
sentiment I had
for you, every feeling;

I would recall crying
by the school auditorium,
resting on your shoulder
and eating a banana
or how last year we
recreated an awkward photo
from senior prom - this time
taken on your birthday -
where we held hands.

I would tell you that
our fourteen-year long
friendship has been
one of the only things
that has kept me going,
would jokingly state
"LYLAS" - how we used to sign notes
when we were kids.

The totality of my
birthday greeting would spill
onto the right page,
circle around the corny greeting - all
in microscopic font -

and finally land on the
bottom right-hand
corner of the card:

Heart, Brianna.

And like most things
I have written - as
you always teased - it
would barely be legible.


Hide and Seek with My Best Friend

Your first hiding place
was under a pile of old
birthday cards, signed monotonously
from years ago

The pile was so large
it spilled out of
the cardboard box,
onto the dirty
cement of my
garage floor

You were so small
under all the greetings
I had to tear through
the pile twice before
you finally jumped up
and yelled
"Peek-a-boo!"

I was so happy
to find you that I
wept and held you
in my hands for
the rest of the
day

You still find
the most uncanny hiding places:

my jewelry box,
the desk drawer in
the office, even
in the car radio - a

feat I will never
understand, as the
sliver leading to the
CD player is quite
small - and I am

always happy to find
you, to hold you
just a while longer

until you run off
to hide again.

Ruche

Business vs. Personal

My mother applied the
B.I.S.S. model
to achieve goals via
my brother and I -
"Because I Said So"
was etched in blue print
onto a coffee
mug - given to us
at birth - with the letters
of the acronym
in boldface.

My dad offered
monetary incentives for
exceptional job
performance, which -
more often than
not - seemed to be less
than the value of
the effort used to
gain them (which
is a tax issue, he always said)

My boyfriend and I
decided to
participate in a
team-building
exercise: we boxed
our possessions,
emptied them into the
same space, to improve our
working relationship,
which - my family pointed
out - must be why we
always appear to wear the
same colors

And for every reminder I
need -

put gas in the car,
pay the electric
bill, kiss my boyfriend,
fold the laundry, hug
my parents, clean
the dishes, laugh,
sleep, clip my
toenails, cry,
visit my grandparents,
vaccuum, forgive,
scrub the toilet,
apologize, go grocery
shopping -

there is an adjacent
appointment in my Blackberry’s
calender, previously made with
a corresponding time and place,
a 15-minute notification prior to
the event, a snooze
length, and a
set time for how long
I can keep snoozing.


He-hhmm

It’s the sound that
escapes my lips every
afternoon at 4:55 pm
when I walk into

the kitchen, past the
round table in the
dining room littered with
junk mail, after having

turned on the air
conditioning to combat
the July humidity,
after throwing my

coral cardigan onto
the couch covers
that refuse to stay
tucked into their host,

after I kick my heels
to the left of the
front door and toss my
purse in the same

direction, only to find
that - after asking you
countless times -
you have once

again neglected to
clean the coffee
spoltches from the
counter before you

left this morning.

Euphemisms

I hate euphemisms. They’re meant to make people feel more comfortable or to not offend, but they feel like lies. I’ve been dealing with a euphemism lately that I’m not a fan of: “passed away.”

What a perplexing way to describe death. To the best of our knowledge, there is no “passing away” that happens - no slow, wistful bit of air floating through the deceased’s pores, up into the air and off to oblivion. It’s sudden. I’ve never experienced death myself so maybe it’s what the person feels, but none of us know if that’s what happens until it does or doesn’t. “Passing away” is how we’d like to imagine the dying process because it’s pretty.

How can death be pretty? Abby’s death, unlike everything else about her, certainly wasn’t pretty. It was cold, quick, and in a place she despised. It was murder. Nothing is pretty about murder. 

I can’t stand euphemisms because I feel like I’m lying about Abby. I know what happened to her. As much as it eats at me every single day, I’m not afraid of it. There is still an element of fear left, but I’m not afraid to say what happened to her.

But everyone else is afraid. I feel like I have to say “My best friend passed away” instead of the truth, “My best friend was shot,” because other people are afraid to hear about something so violent. If I say “pass away,” they can imagine a calm, light breath exhaling from her body while she’s in a pleasant sleep, taking the soul of the beautiful girl curled up against her tailless cat in her purple bed with it.

I enjoy that image, so I see why it’s one people prefer. If Abby had to die, that is the way I’d choose. She’d be with Coco, a cat who had been with her for eons and who loved just as much, maybe more, than the rest of us. She’d be in a place of comfort and she’d be at home. It would be peaceful. I wouldn’t have so many questions for God that way, because the statement that “God needed one more angel” that I’ve been living off of would be easier to understand and accept.

It’s not the truth, though. If I’m ever going to find an ounce of peace in her death, I have to come to terms with reality. When those around me don’t and I feel like I have to lie with the term “passed away,” I don’t feel like it’s real. And when I come across the pamphlet from her memorial or I reread anything I’ve written about her death, the truth comes back and it’s that much harder to handle.

If you see me walking along and I seem distant, I’m thinking of how afraid I am to have to say “passed away.” Don’t make me say it. It’s not real.

Looking back on tragedy, everything seems like a movie that was too well written to be reality.

First, there’s the foreshadowing: the phone dying while you’re sitting on a couch at a friend’s birthday party and your thought, “Oh well. I shouldn’t be getting any important calls or texts tonight,” followed by what you say, “Well, I hope my dad doesn’t text me back. I won’t respond in two minutes and he’ll text me fives times, then text my boyfriend, then call me a bunch, then call my boyfriend, and it will all be to tell me there’s a rerun of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ on USA tonight.’”

Next, there’s the slow motion emotional pan. You grab the phone from your boyfriend and say, “Speak of the Devil,” before you answer with a joking “Hi Daddy.” As your dad tells you “Brianna, I need you to remain calm while I tell you this. Please go outside.” You know something’s happened and your face falls. The dolly shot slowly follows you out the door to the front yard while every horrible thing you’ve ever imagined happening to someone you care about flashes through your head. You try to think of something that should be expected, like a grandparent’s death, but you never fall on what the person actually tells you. So when your dad says, “Abby has been shot,” the slow pan stops and life accelerates.

This is all followed by the journey: back to your house while you desperately connect your phone to a power cord in hopes of reaching someone who knows anything. The race of your car and the attempts to avoid all train tracks in an effort to move faster. The whole time you imagine really emotional music is playing but you hear nothing. The pile of clothing you throw into your bag doesn’t really make sense but it’s the first items you think about. The realization that the first thing you threw into that bag without consciously thinking was two black dresses.

You try to contact anyone close to you during this journey to better assess what you need to do. Your friend’s brother tells you they found a deceased female in the break room at Festival Foods and that Abby hasn’t come out yet, but it doesn’t seem to be right yet. Somewhere you know what’s happened and you know the inevitable truth, but you’re not home yet and the journey isn’t over, so you keep going. Even when you hear her boyfriend Mike was also shot and is already at the hospital in surgery, you keep going.

Every call you make on your way to the next stop contradicts one another: one person says her ex-boyfriend, who shot her, shot himself after a chase while another person tells you he was taken into police custody. You get to your boyfriend’s apartment to pick up anything else you need before you get on the highway for the longest 200-some mile drive of your life. As he takes care of notifying everyone he needs to notify, you play with your phone and try to calm yourself.

And that’s when the journey stops. That’s when you read a status update on Facebook that reads “Mike and Abby were murdered tonight.” That’s when the emotional music stops, the image freezes, and you’re left staring, confronted with the statement you’ve been avoiding and hoping against. Even if you already knew, it doesn’t feel real yet. But you have to keep moving. You have loved ones waiting for you and you feel like if you can get there as fast as you can, you can somehow stop everything by finally being there.

But you know the truth. You’ve known since the first call. And you can’t move, and you can’t speak, but you have to. And so your boyfriend leads your lethargic body out to the car and packs everything into the backseat.

You get on the road and try desperately to make the phone charger work in your boyfriend’s car, but it doesn’t work. You spend the time you have left with your phone’s battery trying to stay connected to what’s happening so you’re not left alone on the dark highway with your epiphany. The audience waits to see what you’re going to do, but you do nothing. Your dad tells you, “They haven’t confirmed anything” and you interrupt “But how can it not be Abby?” He quietly tells you, “It is Abby. I know it is.” He’ll call you back on your boyfriend’s phone when he knows more and all you can do it wait and try to stay connected.

Then the battery dies again. And you’re left with nothing. No new phone calls, no new updates; just the dark highway and the rumbling on your boyfriend’s engine and the knowledge that you’re still almost 200 miles away from home.

And so you calmly ask him to pull over and he seems alarmed, but you calmly tell him everything’s fine and to please pull over for a moment. You step out of the car into the coolness and stare at the dark. It’s the utter climax of your emotion. You can’t think of anything left to do and you’re still so far away.  All you can do is scream.

And so the resolution begins. The urgent texts asking people to call you are delivered with the hope that few people will have to learn of her death on Facebook. The few phone calls you receive are hasty and tear-filled. You think of how you’ve never dealt with death before, at least from anyone close to you, and that the first time you’re faced with death is the loss of the best person you know.

Abby, you’ve always encouraged my writing and supported its ability to help me cope. I am going to have to write novels to ever come close to feeling better after your death. My life will never be the same without you and I love you more than I can bear.

Tales of the Human Disposition

People are intriguing.

I work two retails jobs and I often see various examples of the uniqueness of humans. Tonight was no exception.

I spend my Wednesday nights monotonously sweeping the floors in front of my Robin’s egg blue register at Toys R Us, where a kid can be a kid but an employee is still an employee.

Tonight as I pushed Dum Dum sucker wrappers and pearls of dirt across the tile, a tall man with sandy gray hair and glasses rushed in looking for gift cards. I directed him to the gift card shelf and kept on pushing.

When he approached my register, he kept apologizing for the small amount - $20 each on two cards - he was spending, as if I was the kid recipient. I thought, “Dude, if I were a kid, you’d be handing me a license to run around a toy store and piss off my mom. I’d love you.”

He was remorseful because he was tight on money - this dang economy, you know - and couldn’t afford more. He declined the offer to donate $1 to Autism Speaks because money was tight, and unlike most customers who refuse to help children, he seemed to be genuinely sorry.

Attempting empathy, I related to him noting that I’m in college and have about as much money as I can fit in the palm of my hand - which is half true. I don’t even have that much.

He mentioned that he wasn’t in school too long ago - he went to school to be a lawyer. We then briefly debated who was in a worse fix in the job market. We discussed that we both, in our lines of profession, believe in honesty and ethics and that neither will get us a job. He lamented that, while working in family law, he dealt with a lot of greed, cheating, dishonesty and other features I wouldn’t look for in someone with whom I’d start a family.

We spoke for minutes after I finished what was a 30-second transaction. We wished each other luck and care and I went back to pushing.

Not five or ten minutes later, a woman with a short haircut and a sour face came to my register. She was looking for iPod nanos and Nintendo DSi systems. We have what are called Buyer Protection Plans for these expensive items and I offered them, explaining the benefits.

Not only did she decline, like most people, but she snapped “Nos” at me with a complaining moan every time, as if she were my teenage daughter and I was her mom asking if she wanted to go to the mall together or join a Mother-Daughter knitting class. She even gave me a couple “Oh my Gods” and “You’ve gotta be kidding mes” under her breath.

All for doing my job. I asked politely each time and only once per item, and she treated me like I was the most frustrating part of her day. So I resolved to get back at her with my worst revenge tactic: kill her with kindness.

I smiled and continued to ask all my questions politely, asked for a donation, asked if she wanted her receipt in the bag, and wished her a good night. And as I finished transactions for other customers, I thought things about her that I shouldn’t write.

The best part about this woman? She was wearing a t-shirt that read “Life is good.” Yeah, life’s clearly great for you, lady.

But I can’t entirely fault her. I’ve taken my bad day out on others before. Granted, I don’t do it to people I don’t know, especially those who are helping me - and that comes from working in retail I’m sure - but I take it out on my friends, my roommates, my boyfriend. And at the end of the day, I don’t know why she was upset. She could have had a very legitimate reason to be unhappy.

It’s interesting. We all have our stories - the toy store clerk, the geeky guy buying gift cards, the woman wearing a “Life is Good” t-shirt - but how often do we stop to listen, or even think to care?

That’s why I love journalism: not only do I get to hear someone else’s story, but I get to tell it and make other people care - or attempt.

So I hope the sour-faced woman’s life is like her t-shirt, and I hope the recipients of those gift cards like their gifts, and I will continue to be amused by and document the ever-intriguing happenings of human nature.