by Meghan Paczolt

Writing has always helped me to clear my head. I hope it doesn’t fail me today, of all days. Therapy is great — I would know — but pens and paper are cheaper. I know, I’m rich now, but, once a cheapskate, always a cheapskate, I guess. What can I say, I lived for four years in a dumpy little apartment with a leaky roof, thin walls with peeling wallpaper, air conditioning that barely worked (and those Louisiana summers ain’t kind), and mice scurrying around in my peripheral vision while I sat on my unmade bed on Saturday mornings with a guitar in my lap and a tape recorder in front of me, and, sometimes, with my silent boyfriend beside me, but more often alone. And I can’t talk to him now — we broke up months ago. I can’t talk to anyone at the moment. Everyone except Jay is asleep, and I don’t want to distract him while he’s driving the bus.

Some people say I have some kind of power, an ability that isn’t quite human. They say this because every time I sing a song called “Purgatory”, everyone who is listening cries. It happens every time. In concert halls, at fairgrounds, and in arenas, every black-clad high-schooler and college kid is crying by the end of it. From what I’ve heard, people don’t tend to cry when they just listen to it on the CD. It only happens when they hear me sing it live. But I don’t have any sort of power, at least not in the way they mean.

So I’m Nona Briar — does that really mean anything different from what it did before I recorded my first CD? Just because my life has changed doesn’t mean I’ve changed. I sing about the pain of love, the bliss of pain, and the mystery and peace of the grave. I sing — that’s what I do.

This is my second tour, and since the beginning of the first one, life has been just a touch weirder than I ever thought it would be. The thing with people crying when I sing “Purgatory” has been happening since I first started out, performing in little clubs and bars. But now, I also receive letters every day from strangers who claim they love me. Every night, strangers scream it, and hold up signs that scream it in red and black marker. If I so much as take a few steps in the direction of the edge of the stage, then dozens of hands immediately reach up toward me, arms stretching and straining, and, sometimes, I’m not sure whether they would like to climb up onto the stage and embrace me, or pull me down off of the stage and tear me apart. Sometimes, when I see the looks in their eyes, I wonder if the difference between the two is really that vast.

There — I’ve written it down. Now it’s solid in my mind. Now there’s no hiding from it.

One night a couple weeks ago, someone threw a half dozen dead roses, dry and black, tied together with a black ribbon, onto the stage. They landed right at my feet. I took this as a kind gesture, partly because the bouquet did possess a morbid beauty, and partly because I hoped it was a kind gesture. I said something smart-alecky like, “Thank you, these are lovely. And I don’t even have to put them in water!” as I placed them on top of the piano, and then tied my hair back with the ribbon.

I am very fond of the fans. I would never say anything bad about any of them. But what happened yesterday was something far, far beyond weird. When I learned of it, I was horrified.

I was feeling elated as I followed the rest of the band out to the bus after our concert last night. The wind was unbelievable. It just cut to our bones the minute we stepped outside. Man, you would have thought that winter wind wanted your very soul. But it was the sky that left me breathless. The sight of that flawless sky made me feel like a child standing in front of a glass case with a diamond necklace in it — I wished I could touch it, but since that was impossible, I wanted to simply stand there and gaze at it until I lost track of time. But Garland and Patrick were already climbing onto the bus, and Jay was jogging ahead of me, so I only paused for a few seconds — just long enough to sigh and declare, “Ahh, I love the worrrld,” before taking off my jacket and sprinting the rest of the way to the bus.

Jay was starting the engine. As I closed the door, I heard Garland and Patrick arguing in the back.

“No, man, I told you, don’t show it to her!” Garland was exclaiming.

“She’s going to an interview on Wednesday! Do you think the reporter isn’t going to bring this up?” Patrick asked her.

I looked at Jay. “Any idea what’s going on?”

Jay hadn’t put the bus in drive yet, but he didn’t answer. He turned and gave Garland and Patrick a look I couldn’t read.

Patrick came up to the front of the bus, holding out a page of the newspaper he’d picked up earlier. I don’t usually read the paper or watch the news — if something really big happens, I tend to learn of it just by hearing other people talk about it. Patrick is the one who buys a paper in every city. “Before anyone says anything to you, I think you need to see this,” he told me.

When I think of this, I feel hurt, and almost ... disgusted.

Is that wrong?

Garland was right behind him and she didn’t look happy at all, but she said nothing as I took the page and he pointed to a headline.

A fifteen-year-old boy named Kade Roxbury, in Blackwater, Alabama, has committed suicide.

He was found by his parents, in their garage. There were towels and sheets pushed into the crack under the garage door, and the car was running. The back doors of the car were open, and Kade was lying in the back-seat with a pillow under his head, a letter safety-pinned to the seat’s back above him, and “Purgatory” on repeat on the CD player. The letter was to his parents and his friends. At the bottom, under his signature, he’d written a verse which he had stated in the letter that he wanted to be on his headstone. It was a paraphrasing of a verse from one of my songs.

There — I’ve written it down. Now it’s solid in my mind. Now there’s no hiding from it.

I haven’t spoken since reading the article, except to defend Patrick when Garland started yelling at him when she saw my face after I’d read it. Of course I am shocked, and I am sad for Kade and everyone who knew him. But those aren’t the only feelings I’ve been having.

I feel confused. What in anyone’s life could be so horrible that they would want to end it that way? I don’t understand how a person could betray themselves (not to mention all those they love) like that. I know what it’s like to wish you could just crawl into bed and die — that’s what “Purgatory” is about. I think everyone has been there at least once. I think that’s why people cry when I sing it. The song stirs up their memories of those times. It isn’t really me causing them to cry, it’s their own memories. But there’s a difference between experiencing despair, and actually wanting and planning to do something that is going to bring about your own death.

Is there anything horrible enough to justify doing that?

What do I mean, “justify”? Like it’s my right to judge him. Doesn’t it always infuriate me when strangers judge me? So what do I think I’m doing?

But I have to admit I’m angry. Why didn’t he make any effort to help himself? His parents are quoted in the article as saying they knew he was depressed and tried making him go to the school counselor because he wouldn’t talk to either of them, but Kade had also refused to speak to him. One of Kade’s friends is quoted as agreeing that Kade was depressed, and saying that he kept mostly to himself, but nobody saw this coming.

Kade had opportunities to say what was on his mind and let someone help him make his life bearable again. He didn’t even try.

And that he connected my music with doing this ugly thing, and wanted others to remember it with a paraphrasing of my words — when I think of this, I feel hurt, and almost ... disgusted.

Is that wrong?

I thought I had finally learned to not question my own emotions.

And then there’s the part of the article where his parents, without making any accusations directed towards me specifically, state that they believe, quote, “death-obsessed rock music” to be “responsible” for what their son has done.

I can’t explain everything about the connection between an artist and a member of their audience. I acknowledge that a connection exists, and some things about it are mysterious. But I can’t make anybody do anything. Is being a scapegoat an unspoken part of my job description?

I’m going to have to talk about all this, not just on Wednesday, but in every interview I have for a long time now. I’m not at all sure what I’m going to say.

Should I retire “Purgatory”? But that would be like saying my music did make him commit suicide, wouldn’t it? Besides, that song is the main thing people come to hear. How can I keep on singing it without seeming insensitive? Maybe I am insensitive. I mean, I should do something to acknowledge what’s happened. Somebody has killed themselves — that’s not exactly something that can be blown out of proportion. But what should I do?

I’ve gone on and on, and I am no closer to any answers. I almost wish I could disappear, just run off and catch a train or a bus in the next city, back to Darwell, Louisiana, or maybe to some little town in northern California where nobody knows who I am and nobody would think to look for me, and never sing another note. I know I could, if I really wanted to. Let the tabloid vultures feast!

But no, there will be no vanishing into the night. I don’t know where I’m going, but I do know I can’t return to the exact place I started from.

I just realized that may well be all I know.

Just when you think you understand things...

For someone said by some to have an extraordinary power, I sure do feel powerless.

Meghan Paczolt considers herself a “goth on the inside.” She first became serious about writing fiction during college, from which she graduated in 2005 with an AA degree in Psychology. Besides writing, her interests include singing, painting, and participating in poetry readings.