I’ve imagined the whole scene countless times. This scene is a first breath, a pinch to awaken, hurt me back to life. It will happen like this: The camera sweeps over the trees—heavy with leaves, green as summer. Birds chirp and cars pass as the camera nears, then enters the open window of a building to settle itself upon a half-dozen people: my extended family. We’re in the waiting room of some hospital, or perhaps a mortuary—stark, sterile, plastic. We’re too tired to offer words of comfort to each other, but none of us is that cliché anyway—we weren’t written in Hollywood.
The camera angle shifts to frame the face of our hero: me. I’m characteristically stubbled and worn, my expression holding my inner landscape in confidence from my cast mates, and from the audience. This isn’t because I’m a terrible actor, but simply because I’m not feeling anything. My family has grown to expect this from me, so even though some sit red-eyed and clutching spent tissues, none notice my stone face. My grandfather, our patriarchal figure, has died. He was the closest thing I had to a father, and like most boys I did my best not to disappoint him.
Maybe he’s in Heaven with his god, or maybe he’s nothing anymore. I slouch in my chair, hands on my knees; my shirt’s a bit wrinkled and my gaze falls on no one as I stare at nothing in particular. All is quiet on the set. And this is when I say it, the scene’s only line of dialog. The words arrive detached, a bit dry. Quieter than I would have expected.
These words just hang in the air—a shining balloon set free, a noose—and no one makes eye contact, because of course they knew this already. They’ve never tried to make it easier for me, and I don’t expect them to now. But this is the scene in which my silence ends because the one person I couldn’t bring myself to injure is dead. I’m not asking for validation, not asking them to hold judgment.
And the scene draws itself out for six or eight beats, a turn of the head, just long enough for the audience to hear this first, deep breath, so broad it could almost be described as a sigh.