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Reading ‘Three Deaths’

March 12, 2011

“Hello, I’m Monica.  The story I’m going to read is called ‘Three Deaths.’”

I looked down at the paper resting on the podium beside me.  I felt like I was standing on the edge of the high board, staring down at the water for the first time.  It’s always the first time.  And I’m always thinking, “Is this it?  I just jump?  Shouldn’t there be something more?”  But that’s all there is.  I’ve come to the edge at last.  So I jump.

I look up from my paper, covered with last minute marks and lines.  My voice got rough in places, but not too rough.  Sometimes it was hard to make eye contact, but not too hard.  More than once I lost my place, and I hope no one noticed.  It’s an old story, so I know the lines.  I wrote it years ago, but it’s still true, maybe even more true.  People clapped and I handed the microphone back to the emcee and sat down again.

I am never confident about these things.  I feel confident when I write them, then I spend the moment up to the telling wondering if it all really isn’t just ridiculous tripe.  Then I read them and something happens, something that isn’t just nerves or stage fright.  It is as though by sharing it with living, breathing, face to face people I am owning my feelings for the very first time.  Suddenly Marilyn just died.  Grandma Elaine just died.  Grandma Pete just died.  And the things I haven’t felt since that moment years ago are all right there again, real as the smooth microphone in my hand or the suddenly too warm room or the rough and battered wood of the lectern I’m purposely not standing behind.  I’m real and those people were real and these people here now are real and there’s no more hiding behind the anonymity of words on pages and emotionless computer screens that don’t judge or condemn but also can’t cry with you or smile with your or feel with you.

And the jump is real.  And the shock of the cool water all around.  And you rise refreshed to the surface, those lingering doubts in your own ridiculousness suspended on that first gasping breath, those first uttered syllables.

When you open your eyes the world may reassert itself, and the barriers fall back in place, and the whispering insecurities return.  But hey, at least you had the courage to jump!

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