“Candles for Orlando” By Tonie Bear

Candles for Orlando, June 15, 2016

Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes.

What happens in the span of a year is a blur of motion: feelings smeared across a moving train, purple sorrow, red hurt, green anger, and yellow fear.

It’s a whirlwind of emotion, pain twisting around regret and spiraling into depression.

But moments like this have a quiet clarity, which few others do.

I see the green grass brightened by last night’s rain; I see the smooth grey sky lifting high above our heads. The stark straight outlines of the brown and green buildings contrasts with the bushy, slowly swaying softness of the trees.

I feel the summer wind on my body cooled by the damp day. It wraps around me as it passes; it fiddles with my denim jacket and fluffs my newly orange hair.

I smell the harsh heat from the candles, the sweet freshness from the summer trees, and the faint dampness from the wet air.

I feel the motion of the bodies around me in rhythm with the voice that reads forty-nine names; the voice that starts ringing like the accompanying bells, but ends punctuated by cracked sobs.

No one’s candle stays lit. We reach to light each other’s candles, and a friend does rounds with a box of matches and a small grill torch.

Forty-nine names, forty-nine people. Forty-nine lovers, dreamers, dancers, friends.

Forty-nine smiles never to be seen again.

Forty-nine voices never heard.

Forty-nine laughs gone forever.

Forty-nine families wracked with grief.

Forty-nine names on forty-nine stars, crafted in the hours after work by tired college students, given one more reason to fear for their lives.

I feel the cool streaks on my face from the tears I’ve been trying not to cry in front of my friends, my students, and the people who randomly give me their condolences. I don’t brush them away or wipe off the streaks, but let them fall as my hands grip the softening wax of my dying candle.

I don’t think about the white-shirted news reporters, the slick grey cameras, recorders, or wires as much as the voices of the students singing in front of us. They’re clustered close. Heads held together towards the music they share. The piano rings forcefully, and each word bursts into the air to join our hiccupped breathing and tears.

Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes.

I close my eyes, my head falls back. I’m listening to the song and remembering.

The first time I heard the song, surrounded by friends and bitter with my snubbed date.

The second, with friends in our safe place, enjoying a moment of calm between the realty of our days.

Third, once again, surrounded by friends, pressed against the softness of the person I loved most at the time.

Fourth, today, remembering the lives of people I never knew, but whose names ring as loud as the piano and settled in my soul, and I wonder what every second feels like for someone who’s about to die.

So many people have come and so many thank us and wish us safety and love. So many loved ones gather in tears to honor forty-nine names we’d never heard and forty-nine lives we’d never known. Sorrow and pain tempered by a looming fear that it could have been forty-nine of us. That it might still be.

I felt myself as if I was expanding, and each part of me was held onto by a person in that moment. If I closed my eyes I could float away just enough to be tugged down to safety on strings of their love.

On my way to the vigil I missed the bus, and three friends offered to help me get where I needed to be. I was ugly crying in the metro parking lot when someone finally came, U-turning a harsh curve to make sure I got there in time.

I could see the crowd from the road as she dropped me off and I ran, feet encased in mist from the grass, and ears stretching to hear the bells.

They hadn’t rung yet, and I was there to hear them start.

Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes.

Tonie Bear is a college senior studying, among other things, English, with emphases in Creative Writing and Literature. Tonie has had work previously published in Sheepshead Review, where Bear’s novel first chapter won the Rising Phoenix Award in the Spring of 2015.

2 thoughts on ““Candles for Orlando” By Tonie Bear

  1. Pingback: “Candles for Orlando” By Tonie Bear — Burnt Pine – Let's Build an Amazing World

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