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Single Candle

This is Dark Week, when NASA honors the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia, all lost over the span of decades in the same horribly painful week.  I face it now as I always have; slowly, with reverence.  When I was small it was tinged with horror that human beings had been lost in the conquest of space.  When I was older it was tinged with knowledge as I watched workers bring what remained of Columbia into a hastily constructed outdoor structure for cataloging, for study, for answers as devastating as the questions.

“What is that little white building?”  visitors on tour busses would ask as I attempted to divert their attention to the Saturn V Center in the distance.

“Storage,” I’d say, and quickly divert the discussion to the wonders of guidance and telemetry rings.

Last year, there was snow and silence.  This year, there is Kyle.

Kyle is in C Row.  I spoke with him when I was in Jacksonville with The Ohio State University Marching Band on the day of the Gator Bowl.  We boarded a bus; we sat in tension. 

It was the last day. 

Nobody mentioned the fact this was the last day. 

But it was the last day.

I made my way to the center of the bus to sit with Wonder Pam, The Miracle PT. (More on Wonder Pam later.  Wonder Pam should have a book on her own merits.)  As she and I compared notes on the highly dubious marvels of college teaching, members of C Row sitting across the aisle, one of whom was entering the education field, listened with attuned expressions, the slipping moments momentarily replaced with a professional wailing wall on the evils of group projects.  The first stop was a rehearsal-- the final rehearsal. 

Nobody mentioned the fact this was the final rehearsal. 

But it was the final rehearsal. 

Out the windows, Jacksonville and the minutes rolled past. 

At one point I pulled out a notebook to record the shocking fact that Jacksonville and the minutes were rolling past. Kyle, struggling with reception on his phone, saw this happen, and delivered a compliment that only writers and sad women like to hear.

“I like your notebook.”

It was a tiny little memo pad, built for speed and chicken scratch, and he revealed that he, too, was from Cincinnati. That he worked at Kings Island in the summer months. That he liked to write music.  That once he’d lost an entire notebook full of ideas to a flood in the amusement park.   That—oh, he was finally getting a signal, and he needed to get his jam on before rehearsal.  Were we friends on Facebook?  We were not friends on Facebook.  Let's be friends on Facebook!

I returned my attention to the window, to the passing time and the palm trees, and thought again of the plain white building by the side of the road that once stood in this same state, the one that shouldn’t have been there, the one nobody really planned for. 

Sometimes what you see out the window comes without warning.  Sometimes it slides into view despite your best efforts to hold it back.  But what keeps you in your seat is Kyle— the unexpected smile, the light in the eyes when music bends into the conversation, the improvised staff in the wide lines of a notebook.  The turning of one page, the clean, wide field of another.

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