Under the Lights
by Preston Eagan
At 16, the mother I love, sends me to the frizzy-haired psychologist. My thoughts are everywhere. They've always been everywhere, at my feet, in the sky, on strangers’ faces. She prescribes bright pills, forcing my mind to roll over and play dead. I conquer standardized tests and learn to follow instruction manuals to inflate footballs.
At 17, every shady morning begins with pills, before football, where boys collide drenched in sweat, helmets plug with grass. We are fast, so very fast. The summer scars us blood-red. Above the roar of my coach’s signals and the cicadas’ drum, my grass-burned knees occupy my conscious attention.
At 18, my gums throb. I kiss girls and eat tacos. I'm warned about the guitar-playing dad. “Smile, cutie,” says the dental hygienist as Doctor Smiles fills a gaping hole. Later, the dad with his guitar, dressed in black and blue, pushes me against my car; my neck and head pounding. “You were so scared,” my brother says.
At 19, I escape the concert, feet twitching. I drink till the sun comes up and loosen my shoes. As I trot away, the crow begs for more, but the stadium goes dark. My light is lost. “He hurts all over,” my mother pleads to the frizzy-haired psychologist. I roll around in my bed, dreaming of a calmer past.
At 20, fate drags me along to college. I manufacture balance sheets from scratch for the hunched-over professor. I can’t help but miss bear-crawling with the boys across painted fields. We were fast and so were the cicadas. I write poetry when I'm not supposed to, gulp buckets of coffee to tolerate the numbers, and too much Advil PM —to end my day.
At 21, Mom buys me a puppy to soften my life. The two of us carve out a morning routine. I tether his leash, lead him away from the snakes while he rummages through triangular-shaped leaves underneath the magnolia. Like him, I am in need of some kind of direction, my coach and his tan forehead and ballcaps, telling me when to high knee and when to break through the banners.
At 22, we send the younger brother off to college. His suitcase smashes the sidewalk and mom cries. He misses the Friday night lights more than I do, the roars and the muddy grass beneath our cleats. I wish that I could cry along with mom as her youngest passes through security.
At 23, I locate God and try to find my health. “What do you think about spinach?” asks my nutritionist. “It’s leafy,” I say smiling. “What about the aches?” On weekday mornings I fast, not gorging until late in the day. On Sundays, I dance with townies from church, pretending I am the lead. We wrap our arms around one another and hold hands. A force, its hands on my back, be it the Holy Spirit, shows me transcendence and for a moment, I am no longer my body.
At 24, I sit on the cushion, my eyes closed, while following my breath as the woman on the phone implores “not to resist, befriend the thoughts.” Gastroenterologists shove tubes down, a microscopic camera glowering at my rosy-pink skin. I endure sleep studies, my legs restless. But it’s okay because I play at poetry and prose, dreaming of diversion. A kind woman from Kentucky pricks my back with tiny needles. “I hope that doesn’t hurt,” she whispers. My friend’s red-bearded guru declares, “I’m one with aches.” And I see the light. See the light.
At 26, I witness the world in a new light. No longer I ask the question of why I must be the one to suffer tremors and breathlessness. My savior bears the cross for me. After longs days of reading Pennoyer v Neff, I chase my father, a few feet behind, up the greenest hill. His running shoes aren’t special, but he is under the light. At the top of the hill, surrounded by birds and girls reading pamphlets, I don’t hurt as I used to.
At 30, I pen amicus briefs with a little more flavor than my colleagues. It’s my poetic sense of justice and the coffee. I’m addicted to calculating meaning into my life, wearing back braces so that I can take on the greatest load. My nightly routine no longer includes pills and three baths, but prayer that intertwines with my dreams. Grandpa is there and one day my parents and then me.
At 36, I marry a girl from Monroeville. She loves to talk about her parents and the Kennedy assassination. On the night we met, she leads me through the crowd of people of who can’t help but jump and hold their hands to the sky. “There’s only you,” we sing to the creator. My foot aches, taking me back to when I was a science experiment. Then it’s gone. Like jumper cables, she connects me to the source.
At 44, I’ve experienced wear and tear to my hairline and my fingertips. In our family’s pasture, there’s a little boy who bears my middle name. I’ve become a tiny fragment of a collective whole. All days end. I know this. One day I will set sail back to the start past the moons and planets and black holes to play under the lights.