I finally sat myself down and wrote a Bandstand story. Or rather, I got distracted from the one I initially started and then wrote this piece here at four in the morning instead. I hope to write more for this wondrous show in the (near) future. Bandstand has meant a great deal to me the past few months. My mind has run rampant with thoughts for and about these characters and I would love to put them into words*. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy what I've written here :)
**(That's a fancy way of saying this musical has taken over every aspect of my life without hope of return and I would like to make sense of my neverending musings.)
"Go home, Donny!"
Tonight different words echo in his mind. Sometimes they mix with his final words to Michael, but for the most part, all he hears is Julia. Deep down, somewhere, he knows he shouldn't feel guilty for what he told her. She begged. She demanded the truth. She carried on with her romanticized visions of Michael's death. Those fantasies were what broke him in the end. Everyone in the world saw coming home through cinematic eyes.
No matter what the truth, the troops came home saluting their country with flags behind them as the crowds cheered. From that day forward the War became a symbol of victory. Maybe it was that way in the early moments. Sometimes more joyous moments creep in, though not often enough. When night comes, all is forgotten by anyone who hadn't been there. Mornings go on for those who were left behind. The only change in routine is an extra setting at the breakfast table. How many are aware of the men who can barely make it to breakfast? Do they know what keeps their feet from moving from moving? Fortunately for Donny, he never faces this pressure. However, one look at Wayne and he knew what it does to a man. Instead, Donny faces the evenings alone. Not a single night passes without keeping a light on. Nothing good comes from the darkness. At least in the light, there is a focal point in case he remembers.
Tonight, the light makes no difference. Darkness hangs over him with eyes wide open. Michael's ghost may as well be sitting next to him whispering all the thoughts crossing his mind. By hurting Julia, he failed Michael. All he had to do was make sure she was okay. All he had to do was let her believe he died in graceful honor. The words he said fell from his mouth without mercy or consent. With all the lies and ignorance in this post-war life, he should have let her believe one more.
Who does he turn to now? The guys warned him to spare her the details. He tried with all his might. He tried and he failed. If he hadn't felt as though already, tonight he knows for sure he is and was a curse to Michael. Perhaps worse than dropping the grenade and being the bearer of truth, his biggest betrayal is the love he feels for Julia. What started off as an act of duty became a strange triangle for which he hated himself. Julia isn't his to love. His only solace is that she is not aware of these feelings. Although, he knows the knowledge would not have changed her departure. It likely would have made it worse. To say he loves her when all this time he kept to himself information that gives her the right to beat him... What else was he to be feeling besides guilt and shame?
Something feels different tonight. This time the past doesn't haunt him alone. Now the future has a go. Without Julia, the band has no hope of winning – if it manages to exist at all. She holds the group together. What's left afterward? Playing weddings and an odd solo gig here and there with some shred of luck? A dead end. What is the use of living with these nightmares without hope for any joy somewhere along the line? Julia was that joy. When they sing together those days in battle move far away. And now everything is different. It won't be a surprise to discover this evening's gig was their last. He would have found a way to make it continue well into the morning. Better yet, he would go back in time and give into her fantasy.
Michael was killed in a heroic battle: Him against the enemy. Gunfire was exchanged, but for this moment, the enemy was stronger. Michael struggled no more than minute. The pain came and went. He remained alive long enough to reach his side as he told him to send her his love and to take care of her. He passed away a moment later. The battlefield went silent. The gunman ran off, unable to face his actions. Michael lay in peace on the ground — his hands folded — until he was picked up for a proper burial.
Would this have been better? Would this have provided Julia with the closure she needed? Or would it have been the start of more delusions? That she would someday visit Manila and read the headstone that didn't exist? That war was a sad but beautiful occurrence? Were these lies better than the gruesome truth? No matter which way he thinks, the conclusion is no win. Somehow, someday, she would have found out. And what then? Those prolonged ideas and pictures shatter even harder and betrayal even stronger. At least now she no longer has to wonder.
Tremors come and go. Some thoughts are clearer than others. The only object he sees in detail is an empty glass. A bottle rested on the floor nearby. He didn't know what drink once filled it. All his energy disappeared trying to get home. Now he waited and prayed for a different numbness. A kind that made you forget just for a moment. Not the numbness he felt from the instant he shouted at her. That loss of feeling in his feet and head letting his mouth move unable to hear the words it forms. Not the numbness that brings him to a place outside of the world around him only he can see.
He thinks about calling one of the guys, chancing their judgment. For once needs somebody here to bring him back to reality. For a second he doesn't care about the embarrassment he'd feel afterward. They will understand. However, the temptation is short lived. He thinks better of it, afraid to inadvertently remind them of their own demons. While he feels he deserves his, he knows none of them deserve there's. They don't have a penance they must serve. They should not have to suffer at his expense. It pains him enough to know Julia is suffering thanks to him. So tonight must be faced alone, he decides. Yes, it is time he accepts this as his fate.
And yet, though he will only deny it, he can't help but leave the door open a crack, allowing a faint ray of hope to peek in… just in case. Maybe Julia will speak to him, just for a few seconds. Maybe they cross paths at the movies or the supermarket. He'll never gain her forgiveness, but if he could be given the chance to tell her in a calmer moment just how sorry he is it would be enough to go on. Likely? Probably not, alas, it is enough to get him through to morning.