You don’t get to tell me about fear.
Not until you’ve held a man in your arms, with his head on your lap in the 95 degree sun on an asphalt blacktop in Maryland.
Not until you can feel the life draining from his body.
Not until the only thing you can see is your reflection in his eyes, the tears in your own, the shock on your face.
So you try to fix it, try to be strong, but too late -- he already saw you.
Now he knows exactly how bad it looks, and he can’t even die in peace because now he’s got to comfort you.
So he fights. Harder than he’s ever fought, against Death its very self, just to find the words to calm you, to keep you at ease. Fights for a whole year for just the right words.
But he never finds the words again. He tries, but the slurred, slobbering stroke slang mixes up the message from his mind to his mouth. Sometimes it’s more painful than others. Sometimes he cries.
Sometimes, so do you.
So you don’t get to tell me about fear.
Not until you never miss a day of school, getting perfect attendance while wondering if today will be the day you return home with one less head of the household.
Not until you walk in the classroom all smiles and high fives, raising your hand, hoping that your energy will distract the class from your trauma better than you distract yourself.
Not until you learn to hug and hug tight, because you never know when it’ll be your last one.
So you go to church, trying to be normal, hoping you never get charity from anyone because the last thing you need to cope is to be singled out, spotlighted -- but it’s too late.
They’re at your front door, bringing boxes of food for you to eat, making sure they do the things for you.
That he no longer can.
No, you don’t get to tell me about fear.
Not until you’re in a whole different state when he dies.
Not until you aren’t allowed to attend the funeral because you’re too young to see the end result of an entire process you watched, of an entire legacy you watched, as if you can take a rain check and just catch his next funeral in five years.
Not until you can’t cry about it.
So you try. You stare in the mirror, judging the face staring back. You talk to people, and you think them because you can feel them no longer.
You don’t want them to feel you. You don’t want them to feel something that you can’t yet, to know something that you don’t yet.
You wonder if you’ll ever feel again, if you’ll ever get to remove the mask, if you’ll ever stop listening to the Phantom of the Opera hoping that the key to your own struggle can be found through his.
And then you realize you didn’t have to go to his funeral. Because you saw him die. He died when he saw your face with his head on your lap in the 95 degree sun on an asphalt blacktop in Maryland.
He died when he saw his reflection in your eyes, with his life draining from his body, fighting to remain on the planet for just one more year.
You realize that you did too.
Don’t tell me about fear,
Unless you also tell yourself
About your reflection in the mirror.
Because then you might be
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