WRITTEN BY: PAXTON DOLAN | CONTRIBUTOR
“I have something to tell you,” my friend Crisette said. She looked troubled. Having spent the majority of the year on repeated trips to and from the hospital, nothing much troubled me anymore.
I shrugged from my spot on the band room floor. “So tell me.” There was a long, awkward silence.
Finally she said, “Hayley and Heba saw the list for next year’s section leaders. You aren’t on it. It’s gonna be Hayley and Jeff.”
I felt like I’d just been slapped. My throat swelled tight and my eyes prick- led with tears. I’d begun to see the job of Marching Band Section Leader as a kind of salvation, a reward for all I had suffered this past year. Having it snatched away stung. I wasn’t sure what I would do without it.
“Oh,” I said in a tight, trembling voice, “Okay. Thanks for telling me.”
Crisette gave me a long, concerned look. “Are you okay?” she asked.
I said the words automatically. “I’m fine.”
They were a lie.
I held the news inside all day long; like a slowly dissolving poison, it eroded my nerves until I felt exhausted and frayed, like I could burst into tears at any second. I wasn’t fine. I wasn’t anywhere close. But there was no time for crying or feeling sorry for myself. The world kept on turning, and time kept marching forward, so I would too. On the ride home from school, I was silent, not that my carpool seemed to notice. I watched the familiar scenery flashing by outside my window at near 75 mph and repeated the words silently to myself, like a chant, a wish, a prayer.
It’s fine; I’m fine; it’s fine; I’m fine. The repetition didn’t make the words true, but it did keep the tears at bay. It almost didn’t matter that they were a lie.
My mom asked me if I wanted to go to the awards ceremony that night.
“Sure,” I replied easily, even as my stomach churned with a nauseating combination of sadness, nerves, and an utterly illogical speck of hope, “It’ll be totally fine.”.
When I arrived at the school per- forming arts center and saw the crowd of band kids in short dresses and high heels, or tuxes and dress shoes out front,
I began to wonder if I had made a mistake. It wasn’t too late to go; I had driven myself, and if I ran now no one would ever have to know. I could say I was sick, or there was a family emergency, or my heels had broken, or…. Crisette found me before I could act on any of those horrible, panic-induced impulses.
She gave me a sympathetic smile, one that stung all the more since I knew she had already made Flute Section Leader. I forced a smile back and followed her inside to grab seats.
I spent the entire ceremony in a dazed fog, hoping against hope that Crisette had been wrong that morning. Maybe they’d misread the list. Maybe the list wasn’t finalized. Maybe, maybe, maybe…. Then, I heard their names.
“Hayley and Jeff.”
All eyes in the theater turned to me with shock. It was, to use a sports description, a major upset. Everyone had thought the job was mine – even me. And yet, in that moment when my nightmare became all too real, the first words to come to mind were, I’m fine. The funny thing was, they hardly felt like a lie anymore.
After the ceremony, I stayed behind to congratulate Hayley and Jeff. It made something ache inside of me to do it, but I had to. It was the only way to prove how fine I really was. It was the only way to make my lie appear true.
“I’m so happy for you guys,” I said to them both, standing up there on the stage in my nice dress and my nice heels, “You’re going to do a great job; next year is gonna be so fun!” (As a matter of fact, it sucked. Hayley and Jeff hated each other and couldn’t agree on anything… not that any of us knew that at the time.)
What I learned that night, is that you can trick yourself into accepting any- thing: losing out on the job you wanted, being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and anything else that may happen along the twisted, complicated route of life. If you ask me today how I feel about not being a Marching Band Section Leader, you’ll get the same response that everyone did back then – a smile, and the words “I’m fine with it.” The difference is, now I really mean it.
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