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In Memoriam by Kyra Kondis


Content Warning—Please note this story and author’s note contain reference to sexual assault.

Kyra Kondis’s “In Memoriam” showcases a masterful teenage voice, with layers of meaning and power. Momentum builds relentlessly in this flash fiction piece, toward a pair of power paragraphs in the middle that create a hinge for our before and after understanding of the context. Kondis has truly captured that specific late-teen disquiet, the acknowledgment of lack of agency and autonomy, and yet ends this piece with both an image of defiance and a true sense of what the narrator has lost.

Laura van den Berg teaches us that “[o]bjects contain worlds; troubled and fractured histories; unanswerable mysteries; forcefields of thought and feeling.” Throughout this piece, the black V-neck shirt carries tremendous weight—an object to reflect and refract the narrator’s thoughts, feelings, mysteries, and histories with deep universality.  —CRAFT


 

I can’t wear my black V-neck to take yearbook pictures today because I wore it to a funeral last Friday, so now it’s my funeral shirt.

Which is crazy, I know, because it’s not like I’ve worn it to more than one funeral, total, or even to the funeral of someone in the family. Friday was cold for October, and I only wore it because it’s long-sleeved, and besides, my actual funeral dress, the one I wore to Aunt Josie’s in the eighth grade, is too small now, stuffed somewhere in the back of my parents’ closet with the old Halloween costumes and the itchy alpaca poncho that Dad brought back from his work trip to Chile. Which are all things we never really use unless we need them, anyway—things that feel more like contingencies than clothing.

And that’s the problem with my V-neck: it feels wrong to throw it away when it’s a perfectly good, everyday shirt. My best black shirt, my most comfortable, flattering shirt, the first shirt I ever bought with my own lifeguarding money, the shirt I’ve worn on both yearbook picture days since freshman year.

Until Ryan McDaniels tried to scale the Donaldsons’ fence when he was TP-ing their house two weeks ago, and he fell and died on the spot. Until the whole eleventh grade had to go to his service, even the people who didn’t like Ryan because Ryan was kind of a jerk who went in the girls’ locker rooms after hours and hid our bras and made up nicknames for us like “pizza nipples” or “ass zits” and brushed our butts with his hand when we walked by him on the bus. Until I saw Ryan’s mom crying in the front row at the memorial, the skin around her eyes so raw and red it looked like a few layers had been peeled right off her face.

So now, my V-neck is associated with the thought of Ryan McDaniels: Ryan McDaniels, and how wide and round his eyes probably got when he felt his foot slip on that fence; Ryan McDaniels, lying on the concrete, shaped like the letter K and surrounded by rolls of one-ply toilet paper unfurling a little in the breeze; Ryan McDaniels, the dead boy, the boy who took Cindy Kravitz’s lunch money every day in middle school and didn’t give it back unless she let him snap her bra strap, the boy who once brought his mother’s tampons to school and colored them with red Expo marker and left them taped to all the girls’ lockers at lunch, the boy who led me into a bathroom at Angie Demarco’s sixteenth birthday party because I was limp and drunk and wouldn’t remember if he did anything more than put his fingers inside me.

Now my black V-neck makes me think of Ryan, and Ryan’s mother, and our principal, standing in front of everybody in our gym that smells like rubber and sweat, saying, this is how he will be remembered: fun-loving, energetic, a cherished classmate, pupil, and friend who will be missed. Now my black V-neck makes me think of this feeling, this heavy, churning uneasiness of realizing that I don’t miss Ryan, I just miss the shirt, the shirt which isn’t even really gone. Now my black V-neck makes me think of the things that death is supposed to make us forget, and how next year when we graduate high school, Ryan’s mom will accept a diploma on his behalf, and people will say, I wish Ryan were here, he was such a great guy, he threw the best parties and had the coolest sneakers, and I’ll still be thinking about the things I haven’t forgotten. And I’ll be thinking about my shirt.

But today isn’t graduation, it’s yearbook picture day. I take the V-neck out of my closet and turn it over in my hands so the fabric runs through them like water, sure that all of the things I feel towards Ryan McDaniels are things you’re not supposed to feel towards someone who tragically dies. Like, I want him to be alive because I want him to know what it’s like to be the vulnerable one for once. I want him to be here to get caught, to have to look into the faces he’s hurt and somehow make up for it. I want him to have to tell his mother about the things he did to other people’s bodies, and I want him to see how she cries, and I want him to hate it, and I want her to be as sad as she was at his funeral, and I want it to be that constant, heavy kind of sadness where you know that things will never be the same, and I want her to know that it’s all his fault.

But Ryan McDaniels is dead, and when someone dies, you mourn them.

I hang my V-neck back up in the closet, in the middle where it was before. Then I run my hands over the sleeves of my florals, my stripes, my polka dots, my tie-dyes. There’s a no-pattern rule for picture day, so I choose my loudest, brightest plaid.

 


KYRA KONDIS is an MFA candidate in fiction at George Mason University. She is also the proud owner of three (3) small cacti, and is the assistant Editor-in-Chief of So to Speak Journal. Some more of her work can be found in Wigleaf, Pithead Chapel, and on her website at kyrakondis.com.

 

Author’s Note

This is the first—and maybe the only—story I’ve ever handwritten before transcribing it into my laptop. I wrote it sitting outside the library with two of my classmates from my MFA. Near us, on a public bench, was a bouquet of wilted red and yellow flowers. Who left those behind? we wondered. Why did they leave them? Really, those flowers could be a story by themselves. And though there are no flowers in In Memoriam, they are what triggered this story for me: they represented what was left behind after someone had gone.

Looking at those flowers, it was as though an inventory formed in my head of the things—and people—that remain when someone dies: family, friends, text message conversations, half-read books, refrigerated leftovers.

And, if that person is an abuser, survivors.

My narrator struggles to mourn Ryan’s death, and for this, she feels guilty, despite the fact that it is Ryan’s premortem actions that have made her so angry and unable to miss Ryan. In a world where accountability for sexual assault is so rare, she has been cheated of her chance for justice, and this is the loss that she feels, more so than the loss of her classmate. But of course, coming to terms with this anger and loss—and the true source of it—is difficult enough for a teenager whose wound is so raw and whose world rarely supports survivors. So ultimately, she projects these feelings onto the loss of her favorite black shirt, which Ryan’s funeral—but more so, his actions—have tainted for her.

Writing this story reminded me that there is often a difference between how our characters understand something and what is actually the truth. We as writers may see the full depth of our characters’ emotions, motives, and psychological grounds, but this does not mean our characters do—yet. The narrator in In Memoriam has the puzzle pieces, but she hasn’t put all of them together, and this is true for so many kinds of trauma. In shaping this story and trying to make it as true-to-life as possible, I suspected that this disjunction is where I needed its emotional core to lie.

 


KYRA KONDIS is an MFA candidate in fiction at George Mason University. She is also the proud owner of three (3) small cacti, and is the assistant Editor-in-Chief of So to Speak Journal. Some more of her work can be found in Wigleaf, Pithead Chapel, and on her website at kyrakondis.com.