It is the morning that is most special to me. Not that I am a morning person - oh no. I am up at odd hours and dread the ringing clock that calls me to wake up and face the sun that burns my eyes and warms my skin beyond what I would prefer. No, I am not a morning person, but the morning (once my eyes no longer are hurting) is the most special time of day for me. It is pure, new, without the struggles of the coming day.
She made the morning special, mainly because she wasn’t part of my morning. She was the signal that the time has come to put the (eye burning) peace of the sunrise aside and begin the long fight toward the death of nightfall. The morning makes the fight all the more important, all the more desperate, for if I must leave the peace of the innocent sunrise behind I must make sure I can see it again. I had to make sure that she can see it again.
Where did it all begin? The afternoon of my life? It all began with her, the day she walked into the band hall, and I knew that I had to step out of the morning to hold hands with the night. Literally all eyes were on her, Mr. Hryorchuk was introducing her to us after all, but not all eyes were on her face, which was turned down to stare into the air near the ground. No. The eyes that could see were on the long, virgin white bandage that wrapped neatly around the forearm clamped tightly against her side. Few noticed the French Horn that dangled in her left hand. The French Horns noticed, and as their section leader I rejoiced that we now had a third member, but even my eyes were drawn immediately to the three, even, broad, bright red lines that stained the inside of the bandage, revealed only briefly when Mr. Hryorchuk slapped her back as he asked the band to welcome her to the class.
I don’t even remember what went through my head while the band murmured a half-hearted welcome to this stranger named Allison who quickly, efficiently, and quietly took her place as my third-chair. We played our songs, Allison catching on quickly and the bell coming (too soon, looking back) to snap the tension of a classroom into the freedom of lunch.
“French Horns always eat together,” my second chair, Gabie, beamed at our newbie. Gabie was the embodiment of morning to me. When I was to leave, she would step up more than I ever would have hoped when it came to being a leader in the band. Allison gave the smallest of smiles, and followed us as quietly as a predator moving through the night.
The moment I knew would come as soon as I saw the lines – the moment I had hoped there would be sense enough, decency enough, to avoid – came. A boy, a trumpet (wouldn’t you know it?), whose name isn’t worth mentioning brushed past us three with a single word.
I could have punched the runt. Arrogant sophomore, he had no clue what kind of whirlwind he might have gotten if she hadn’t spoken first.
“If you really think so, maybe you should let me demonstrate.”
For the first words any of us had heard from her, these were not the ones that could have left the best first impression. The fact that they had come out in a low hiss with a long smile most of us had only seen in the movies did not help.
The trumpet blanched and moved off, and we French Horns made our way (silently now) to the lunch room to take our place with the saxophones. As soon as we sat down with food, we broke the awkward silence to talk shop. How long had she played? What chair was she at her last school? Did she play anything else? Where was she from? Scores last year at Solo & Ensemble? All the gossip usual to band geeks. She even smiled at the end, until one of the saxes, one of my classmates, leapt onto the elephant we were so contentedly walking around.
“What happened?” He asked, pointing at her arm, unconsciously relaxed on the table such that the lines, somewhat more ragged now than they had been. Allison immediately snapped her arm back to her chest, wincing. Her eyes went to the apple in her hand and she smoothly, almost mechanically answered, “Nothing a knife couldn’t cure.”
My mind wanted a coin to flip. Fifty-fifty shot at whether she was ashamed or not. I honestly couldn’t tell at that point that the only shame she had was what was having to be “cured” and not how the “cure” was obtained.
In any case, her words had the effect of silencing the table as she took one last bite at the apple in her hand and rose to leave. Gabie, my little morning child, sprang to assist and guide her around the school. I had a few words with the saxes, hoping to give Allison a chance before she exiled herself.
I didn’t see Allison at all until school rang out for the day, out in the parking lot beneath that merciless sun. Her bandage had been changed, it was pure white now as she slipped on a jacket against the chill wind. I was making my way to my car and offered a ride.
The ride to her family’s apartment was silent, for the most part. There was a mild discussion about fingerings between MLK Street and Anderson Street, but it wasn’t until we arrived that she said anything real.
I wished her a good day, and a hope that she wouldn’t have to seek a cure tonight. I received back more than I had bargained for. She went slack, hunched over in my passenger seat, and began to speak. She asked me to imagine having to be the 11th grader who was in her third high school, knowing that your step-father’s inability to work would send you to another at the end of the year. She asked me to imagine waking each morning to a kitchen of beers and cold pizza a week old, to come home to a silent mother cleaning up the night in preparation for the evening. She asked me to imagine sleeping to dream the dreams of memories best forgotten, that you wished were forgotten, only to wake to find the memories of creeping hands and heavy breath resurfacing with renewed intensity from a childhood marked by nothing else. She asked me to think of only being able to say you truly owned one thing, and could only control one thing in your life.
And so she left, and when I got home I sat in my car and stared into the distance, imagining. I never could think clearly, and now the tears that my control disallowed to be free clouded my mind like mocking voices to condemn me. How dare I wish what I wished her?
And so I was handicapped all afternoon, until the sunset came: orange in the sky but red upon my arm. The night passed in clarity and confusion, in desperation and prayer. Silence and speech between age and youth.
The morning is special to me. It brings a time to think with the previous day gone, dead. It brings a time to see forward on the day with nothing yet written on the slate. So I, with a virgin white bandage on my arm marred by a jagged line of red, bowed to my mother and left to school with a mind on the day ahead, catching Allison only just before she entered the junior wing.
I touched her shoulder, my own bandage hidden by my jacket, and smiled before heading to my own classes. Band was fourth period. There would be time to speak, time to imagine, with morning now over. The new girl was known already among all the students I knew. On every tongue, for what seemed would be ages but was truly only a small while, was the bandage, fresh with the red life of its wearer. I could only speak of her being a French Horn. I never could speak well; translate my hesitant thoughts with my stupid mouth. Band came and went, lunch arrived and passed. Allison, she confessed too late, knew of the words spoken and held her head high during the next week. Then her name slipped out of the common gossip. She was a fixture of the school now, the girl who was proud until she spoke, quickly looking to the floor to keep the anger or sorrow from being read in her eyes.
Though she wore her bandage openly, defiantly to those who could not know, my own bandage was never seen by any other than myself and my parents, nor did I need it ever again. I could now imagine, and because I could imagine my days became the fight to regain the morning, the special time when I did not have to imagine.
I still gave Allison rides home, and eventually she gave me more to imagine, not knowing why she did. I didn’t know why she did, but I imagined, and I dreamed until I woke up in the morning where the sun could burn from my eyes the images of my imagining. Soon I began picking her up from school, and I no longer had to imagine some things, and my mornings ended too soon as she slowly transformed herself from night to day. Limps smoothed out on the short walk to my car, stray hairs combed into place before my car door was opened, wrinkled sleeves ironed away by unerring hands to cover the perpetual red lines. Ever polite, ever proud, ever effacing herself behind the mask of Allison, who had no bags beneath her eyes or purpled marks at the base of her throat. And so from the first step of hers towards me in the time before the afternoon I imagined and thought my clumsy thoughts.
My father is a doctor in our city, and he leads the EMS, and I told him about the things I imagined and thought when the morning was over. He was silent as he departed my room that night so long ago when the sunset was twice red, and every day told me, “Just wait a little while more.” And so I waited a little while more, until the day Allison did not come out to my car, the day I did not touch her shoulder and did not eat with her at lunch. Not until the end of the day did I see her walk proudly into the school with her silent mother to get the work she had missed.
It was several weeks before she would give me another thing to imagine, speaking strictly of band and choir and music theory during lunch and while riding home. Winter break was to come soon, and before school let out our band always held chair competitions so that those eager for it could be leaders. Allison was gunning for my chair, obviously, but I was not worried about that. Two weeks before school let out, I offered her the guest room at our house, offered the pure, soft mornings where no imagining had to take place. She declined, and again walked home from school.
I saw her rarely during the break, dressed still in our school uniform, now with an ever present jacket to cover her arms I never again saw bare, whether her sleeves were long or short. On New Year’s Eve I heard a call go out over the EMS channel for an ambulance at Allison’s address. That night my father informed me an arrest had been made, and took me to give a deposition to the police at the hospital, standing at the foot of the wide bed where Allison lay like a broken bird, her mother gently sobbing into her hands. It made the headlines, but the inky lines did not contain what I had been told to imagine, to dream, to wonder, and to fight through until morning came.
I have not seen Allison since, and I do not know where she is. There was no news, only rumors when she and her mother just left in the night. For ages her name was again on the tongues of the school, but eventually her story became a fixture of the school. The girl who came and went and left nothing behind: nothing but a note in locker 574 by the band hall telling Gabie goodbye and a stained, white bandage wrapped around a small, dull knife in locker 567 that I have kept ever since.