by George Potter
I build the pyre slowly and carefully, hands calm. A classic shape of logs and sticks, tinder where she should be, densities and dryness judged and placed just so. I build the pyre to burn slow and fierce, with more heat than light, for nights like this it's best to keep a low profile.
I am 14 years down the road you were denied. 14 years older and more exhausted and every day more disgusted and afraid. It has gotten worse. It will grow worse yet.
14 years ago, children. I watched you die. Millions watched you die and were lied to about it. The difference between myself and them are simple and dual:
I did not believe them.
I have not forgotten you.
I light the pyre and smile when a single match suffices. A well built fire will not disappoint. Nations and noble experiments may crumble, but the dry bones of trees will burn if positioned right. Every time. A reassuring pattern in an unsure world.
The flames grow and dance and I let the sight of your burning home dance there in the light and heat. I feel the old revulsion -- faded but still there -- coil inside my guts.
As flame takes its fuel, I play with possibilities in my head. Alternate worlds where you did not die, worlds you walk even now.
A dark haired beauty, 18 years old, hitching her way through the Southwest, towards golden California. She tells stories sometimes, of the weird family she finally tired of and left behind. She has a tattoo of a butterfly on her shoulder and she has broken seven hearts already. She means no harm, but she is far from through.
A wiry young man in a baseball training camp in Houston. A wonderboy they found in the middle of nowhere. He's shy and polite, quiet in the face of the city boys and gruff pros he now mingles with. They call him 'Tex' with a mixture of humor and jealousy. When he swings the world thunders. When he throws, lightning is born.
A chubby blonde trembles at her interview for the big library in Albuquerque. Six years of school she suffered through, for the honor of a low salary and a world of books. Her nervousness belies the peace she feels at the walls and canyons of paper and that glorious smell. She fits here. She can feel it. "Waco." she says, in response to the question. "I guess you could say I had a non-traditional childhood." She laughs.
Painful, these might have beens.
The fire is at peak, and whole sagas dance in that orange red heart. Whole dramas and comedies blur there through wet eyes.
I look up and you sit with me, frightened, confused children still. There is no anger. That is for me to feel. There is no justice, that was denied. Your killers faced no consequences.
I look back into the fire, away from your eyes. I watch until the flames shrink and flicker out. I stare at the white ashes that pulse with dark heat. I let the ashes become a patch of ruin in Texas. I let them become the ancient blood soaked sands of Iraq, the stony fields of Afghanistan. A stoop in New Jersey where a man died convulsing, begging 'not in front of the kids.'
I hope in this world of ghosts you are not lonely.
I can only stay a moment more. The pyre is burned, the heat has fled. The cold and damp creep up again, as they always will. But I will make this promise, the same promise I make every year:
I will speak the truth of how you died, in the face of lies.
And I will never forget you.