فصل 17

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فصل 17

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Day 15 (still)

On the way back to Violet’s house, I think up epitaphs for the people we know: Amanda Monk (I was as shallow as the dry creek bed that branches off the Whitewater River), Roamer (My plan was to be the biggest asshole I could be—and I was), Mr. Black (In my next life, I want to rest, avoid children, and be paid well).

So far she’s been quiet, but I know she’s listening, mostly because there’s no one else around but me. “What would yours say, Ultraviolet?”

“I’m not sure.” She tilts her head and gazes out over the dash at some distant point as if she’ll see the answer there. “What about yours?” Her voice sounds kind of drifting and far off, like she’s somewhere else.

I don’t even have to think about it. “Theodore Finch, in search of the Great Manifesto.”

She gives me a sharp look, and I can see she’s present and accounted for again. “I don’t know what that means.”

“It means ‘the urge to be, to count for something, and, if death must come, to die valiantly, with acclamation—in short, to remain a memory.’ ”

She goes quiet, as if she’s thinking this over. “So where were you Friday? Why didn’t you go to school?”

“I get these headaches sometimes. No big deal.” This isn’t an out-and-out lie, because the headaches are a part of it. It’s like my brain is firing so fast that it can’t keep up with itself. Words. Colors. Sounds. Sometimes everything else fades into the background and all I’m left with is sound. I can hear everything, but not just hear it—I can feel it too. But then it can come on all at once—the sounds turn into light, and the light goes too bright, and it’s like it’s slicing me in two, and then comes the headache. But it’s not just a headache I feel, I can see it, like it’s made up of a million colors, all of them blinding. When I tried to describe it to Kate once, she said, “You can thank Dad for that. Maybe if he hadn’t used your head as a punching bag.”

But that’s not it. I like to think that the colors and sounds and words have nothing to do with him, that they’re all me and my own brilliant, complicated, buzzing, humming, soaring roaring diving, godlike brain.

Violet says, “Are you okay now?” Her hair is windblown and her cheeks are flushed. Whether she likes it or not, she seems happy.

I take a good long look at her. I know life well enough to know you can’t count on things staying around or standing still, no matter how much you want them to. You can’t stop people from dying. You can’t stop them from going away. You can’t stop yourself from going away either. I know myself well enough to know that no one else can keep you awake or keep you from sleeping. That’s all on me too. But man, I like this girl.

“Yeah,” I say. “I think I am.”

At home, I access voicemail on the landline, the one Kate and I get around to checking when we remember, and there’s a message from Embryo. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. He called Friday because I missed our counseling session and he wants to know where in the hell I am, especially because he seems to have read the Bartlett Dirt, and he knows—or thinks he knows—what I was doing on that ledge. On the bright side, I passed the drug test. I delete the message and tell myself to be early on Monday, just to make it up to him.

And then I go up to my room, climb onto a chair, and contemplate the mechanics of hanging. The problem is that I’m too tall and the ceiling is too low. There’s always the basement, but no one ever goes down there, and it could be weeks, maybe even months, before Mom and my sisters would find me.

Interesting fact: Hanging is the most frequently used method of suicide in the United Kingdom because, researchers say, it’s viewed as being both quick and easy. But the length of the rope has to be calibrated in proportion to the weight of the person; otherwise there is nothing quick or easy about it. Additional interesting fact: The modern method of judicial hanging is termed the Long Drop.

That is exactly what it feels like to go to Sleep. It is a long drop from the Awake and can happen all at once. Everything just … stops.

But sometimes there are warnings. Sound, of course, and headaches, but I’ve also learned to look out for things like changes in space, as in the way you see it, the way it feels. School hallways are a challenge—too many people going too many directions, like a crowded intersection. The school gym is worse than that because you’re packed in and everyone is shouting, and you can become trapped.

I made the mistake of talking about it once. A few years ago, I asked my then good friend Gabe Romero if he could feel sound and see headaches, if the spaces around him ever grew or shrank, if he ever wondered what would happen if he jumped in front of a car or train or bus, if he thought that would be enough to make it stop. I asked him to try it with me, just to see, because I had this feeling, deep down, that I was make-believe, which meant invincible, and he went home and told his parents, and they told my teacher, who told the principal, who told my parents, who said to me, Is this true, Theodore? Are you telling stories to your friends? The next day it was all over school, and I was officially Theodore Freak. One year later, I grew out of my clothes because, it turns out, growing fourteen inches in a summer is easy. It’s growing out of a label that’s hard.

Which is why it pays to pretend you’re just like everyone else, even if you’ve always known you’re different. It’s your own fault, I told myself then—my fault I can’t be normal, my fault I can’t be like Roamer or Ryan or Charlie or the others. It’s your own fault, I tell myself now.

While I’m up on the chair, I try to imagine the Asleep is coming. When you’re infamous and invincible, it’s hard to picture being anything but awake, but I make myself concentrate because this is important—it’s life or death.

Smaller spaces are better, and my room is big. But maybe I can cut it in half by moving my bookcase and dresser. I pick up the rug and start pushing things into place. No one comes up to ask what the hell I’m doing, although I know my mom and Decca and Kate, if she’s home, must hear the pulling and scraping across the floor.

I wonder what would have to happen for them to come in here—a bomb blast? A nuclear explosion? I try to remember the last time any of them were in my room, and the only thing I can come up with is a time four years ago when I really did have the flu. Even then, Kate was the one who took care of me.

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