Knocking at my door. Wake up in my comfortably warm bed. It’s still pretty dark. What time is it? Five in the morning. My alarm isn’t scheduled to go off for three more hours. Did I just dream that or what? More gentle knocks, the handle starts to turn. I plug my nose and try to breathe through it. I can’t. I’m not dreaming.
“Hey, Drummond.” My mom pokes her head in the now slightly opened door.
She comes in and sits on the end of my bed. This totally feels out of place, dreamlike. I do my nose hold experiment again. Nope, this is definitely happening.
“Sorry, Drummond, can you come downstairs for a bit? We have to discuss some things before band, please.” Mom requests joylessly.
She leaves the room and keeps the door open a crack. I slide reluctantly out of bed and turn the alarm setting off on my clock. I throw on a hoodie and sluggishly falter down the stairs.
The light above the kitchen table is on, and my dad is sitting off the end of the table. He’s moved the chair around from the long side. My mom takes her chair and slides it to the opposite end of the table with her back to the bay window. I stumble in and am asked to sit at the only remaining place at the table, the long bench on the kitchen side. I’m facing the darkened living room with the TV off.
“Do you want to start?” My mom timidly suggests to my dad.
This is less of a family gathering and more like a business meeting with the company’s co-founders. These business partners used to be fun-loving, foosball playing, pool party-throwing fellow employees with an office filled with colorful fun toys. Now it feels like a going out of business lawsuit, and they need a notary public to sign off on the encounter. Everything is gray in this light. A single light fixture is not enough. The voices are monotone. I’m not involved in the conversation, so I simply watch the clock above the mantle.
All aspects of the business seem to be discussed here. They get a little emotional, but it’s obviously too late for that. Each time it happens, they realize it within minutes, and things calm
back down. We continue, turning the page in our black and white multifile to the next section or subsection, labeled by greyscale index dividers regarding appurtenances of the company’s blah blah blah. I watch the clock.
The word amicable is spilled all over the table. I watch it fall out of everyone’s mouth and make a mess. If I were involved in this discussion, I might point out that both parties involved seem to be using that word against each other, like a weapon. Or maybe using it just helps them feel better about themselves. It drips in everyone’s laps and onto the floor. Nobody attempts to clean it up. I watch the clock.
Why am I here? I’m not an auditor. I’m not a key witness. I’m not a suspect in a deposition. I’m not an examiner, an interrogator, or an arbitrator. I’m a drummer out of his element. Out on the marching band field, everything is full of color with sounds of every sort. The drums support the structure of the music and the shapes. The choreography creates the fabric of the fantasy world. The design sucks you into a world that’s alive and fluid. The kitchen table is cold, the heat in the house won’t turn itself on until eight. The demolition crew has just been verbally approved to remove the familial structure, and it didn’t sound cheap. I watch the clock.
Perhaps I’m a planter, like a little raised garden planter. Fertilized with soil and optimally conditioned for cultivation. I’m being overseeded in an attempt to grow one type of flower and shade the other side’s seedlings. I watch the clock.
The furnace in the basement turns on eventually. As the burners heat up, it pushes hot air from one side of the table to the other, mirroring my parent’s conversation. It struggles to warm up the cold kitchen. My stomach grumbles to solicit some food. There’s no room on the table for breakfast, there’s still so much business to discuss. I watch the clock.
I know what I am, I determine. I am a judge. Not like a legal judge in a courtroom, though. I’m more like a marching band judge, adjudicating a performance. Specifically, I’m a field judge, running around looking and listening for weak spots, all while trying not to get run over by the group I’m judging. I’m untrained and certainly not certified by the Federation of Contest Judges. I’m shellacked by the ensemble. I watch the clock.
In marching band, everybody plays, nobody rides the bench like in football or basketball. There are no strings, no depth chart. You can’t hide. You’re a lyrical element to the show’s music, and you’re a visual element to the show’s story. When even just one person is missing, in the bass line, for example, it creates a hole in the drill and a gap in the music. My shy upbringing has
trained me well for this moment. It’s now after nine. Practice started fifteen minutes ago. I sit at home, in my kitchen, on the bench. I remain quiet and continue to watch the clock, for that is my role.
The phone rings, tearing apart the inhospitable drone of business vernacular. It’s quiet in between rings. My mom finally gets up and answers.
“Hello… Yes… sorry, we lost track of time,” she simply explains after a pause searching for words. “He’ll be there ASAP.”
Mom hangs up the phone like a gavel, and the meeting is adjourned.
“He really needs to get to practice,” she informs the opposing counsel. “Go get your band things and get ready to go,” she informs the jury foreman.
I get in the van, and we back out of the driveway. My dad’s truck has vanished in the meantime, and like magic, a white for sale sign has appeared in the front yard. The ride to practice is in complete silence. I’m sure my mom is lost in thought going over the stenographer’s readback in her head. I just want to get to practice and be with my family. We pull into the service road, and I already hear the drumline finishing our warm-up routine. They’re back on the old island near the parking lot and stadium. There are no cars or traffic anywhere. It’s like we’re an hour early, but rather, we’re an hour late.
I get out of the van and sprint for the band room. Maurice Greene’s 100-meter world record might have been broken, but nobody’s timing me. As I unpack my drum, the director steps out of his office and wide-eyes me like nobody has ever been this late before, and on the first show day to boot! His eyes bulge out like binoculars without saying a word. I flee for my life. By the time I get to the island, the drumline is already on a break after warm-ups. Joel eyes me, a lot like his dad, a chip off the old block. There’s no avoiding this one.
“Put your drum down and run laps until we’re off break,” Joel issues me an appropriate punishment.
I run laps.