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Don't Carry the World
She feels dead inside as she sits there in the dark. Alone, surrounded by crowds of people. It’s finally the concert, which she’s been practicing for for over a month. Trying to make sure her mouth isn’t dry, preparing her fingers to mechanically fly over the keys of the flute, to feel the dead silver and try to make something alive. She’s going to try not to fail at any of that, try to think only of the music inside of her. If there is any left.
She wishes she was not thought of as so good at the flute, if she could only remain an anonymous member of the band and not the soloist chosen for her talent. If she could weep by herself in the back while the band played on. But she is here, her palms sweating, her mind crying out to someone, to get out of this place and never, ever come back. Worse than stage fright. She is going to go crazy and run out screaming, crash and burn into so many orange flames.
But she stands up, and manages to play so beautifully that she even moves herself. The audience is left with a ringing in their hearts and a winged creature in their souls, a beauty that does not leave even when the next piece begins.
She sits alone in the dark still, tired, staring at black and the lights that bounce of the walls. A trumpet playing something jazzy, double basses, a guitar solo. Music cannot even move her tonight. She has survived the trial, but now there is nothing, only a hole where her heart should be. The clarinets play some sort of ramped up jig. How can they be happy, how can they with all the pain? Trombones, trying to play something. The tune gradually comes out of the cacophony and the mist in her mind. She knows this song. “And any time you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain; don’t carry the world upon your shoulders.” It’s all in her head, all the other people can hear are those stupid, stupid brass instruments. All she can hear are the lyrics, over and over in her head through the haze of thought. How are you not supposed to feel the pain?
How can you not carry the world upon your shoulders? She does. That’s what she hides when she is laughing with her friends. If something can fill the hole that is her heart, it is the pain of the world, suffering, futility, death. It runs through her head in the dark. Crazy, that is what she is, holding the flute, gripping it so that the silver becomes hot with sweat. The people are enthralled by the violins.
A slow, sad, poorly executed piano piece is what finally puts her to sleep. She dreams about the person in the song that the trombones played. He walks towards her, comes close, touches her cheek and leaves. Cherry trees blossom in front of her eyes and she can’t remember what the person looked like or if he had said anything. Just the sadness that he left behind him. He took his sad song and made it better, but he gave the weight of the world back to her.
When she wakes up, the auditorium is totally dark. There are no stage lights, no instruments playing, just a heavy silence and the uncomfortable seat. The flute has slipped out of her hand, and she waits a second before picking it up. Just a piece of metal, that’s all it is. She wants to scream, to let everyone know how she is feeling, but the only thing that comes out is a choked-back sob. Where is everyone? Where are her friends? Where are the happy people that she can talk to, that she can put on a fake face with and laugh and make fun of? Maybe they’re faking too, and on the inside feel as hollow as her.
Crawling over the row of seats, she hears footsteps and freezes. Then they stop. How late is it now? Everyone has forgotten about her and left. Maybe her friends are wondering where she is, or else they are asleep in bed. She walks down the aisle slowly, holding back all her feelings, walking as if on shards of glass. She hears screams, but she knows they are inside her head.
She walks across the front of the stage, and nearly walks into a boy. He’s standing next to a double bass case and is trying to take taped music off a stand.
“Here.” She says in a monotone, scraping the tape off the black metal of the stand.
“The tape’s so it doesn’t fall off. Your name is… Sally?”
She looks up past his sweatshirt into his face and nods.
“Chris.” It’s not a question for her. He’s a junior. She’s a freshman. She has barely ever talked to him, but she knows his name.
Then she falls apart. Sadness, the feeling of being lost, all converge and before she knows what she’s doing she wraps her arms around him and starts to sob into his sweatshirt, Cross Country she knows it says. She hardly knows him at all. He’s skinny but the sweatshirt is big and soft and she cries into it, holding onto him tighter until she’s sure he can’t breathe, she’s sure that he’s scared and wants to go away. She would have hugged anyone here; just needs someone to hold.
She cries for the world, and orphans, and everyone who has died, and even for herself and this boy, so fragile and human with a lifespan like a spider web that will blow away in the wind. She cries for depressed people, people who can’t let go, people like herself, and the dark blue fabric of the sweatshirt melds with its pink writing. She looks up into the darkness and the auditorium, at the double bass and the flute and cannot even express what she is crying for now, sobbing her eyes out into this boy’s sweatshirt.
He does not pull away, does not talk, but puts his arms around her and hugs her as she was holding him. She doesn’t articulate her sobs. She does not care what anyone thinks of her now, but she knows that she is a mess holding the flute, holding the upperclassman. Why? Why me? Why the world? She grabs him even tighter; pulling the fabric of the sweatshirt into her clenched fist, feeling like her flute is going to break with the pressure of it. She looks into his face, his dark eyes, and all she can see is sadness reflected into them. After what seems like forever she loosens her grip and her sobs turn into sniffles and he lets go of her, patting her on the back. He doesn’t say it is going to be all right, because they both know that would be a lie. She clings on to the sweatshirt for a little bit longer, until she can wipe off her eyes.
She leaves the auditorium then, and neither of them says a word. The bright lights of the band room blind her momentarily, and she hides her tears behind a smile. Her friend comes up to her, congratulates her on the flute piece. It is not so late after all. More people come up to her. Maybe they think they can make it all better with praise, but they can’t. She doesn’t know what she will do. She looks back at the door that she came out of, ignoring the white noise of the compliments. A boy carrying a double bass taller than he is walks out of it, and looks into her eyes. No reassurance that it’s going to be all right. No despair, but no hope either. He just holds her gaze for a long, long time, and that’s what she remembers when she finally goes home.