فصل 03کتاب: جایی که عاشق بودیم / فصل 3
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Day 6 (still) of being awake
By lunch, it’s all over school that Violet Markey saved Theodore Finch from jumping off the bell tower. On my way to U.S. Geography, I walk behind a group of girls in the hallway who are going on and on about it, no idea that I’m the one and only Theodore Finch.
They talk over each other in these high voices that always end in question marks, so that it sounds like I heard he had a gun? I heard she had to wrestle it out of his hands? My cousin Stacey, who goes to New Castle, says she and a friend were in Chicago and he was playing this club and he totally hooked up with both of them? Well, my brother was there when he set off the firecrackers, and he said before the police took him away, he was all “Unless you want to reimburse me, I’ll wait for the finale”?
Apparently, I’m tragic and dangerous. Oh yeah, I think. That’s right. I am here and now and not just awake, but Awake, and everyone can just deal with it because I am the second freakin’ coming. I lean in and say to them, “I heard he did it over a girl,” and then I swagger all the way to class.
Inside the classroom, I take my seat, feeling infamous and invincible and twitchy and strangely exhilarated, as if I just escaped, well, death. I look around, but no one is paying any attention to me or Mr. Black, our teacher, who is literally the largest man I have ever seen. He has a red, red face that always makes him look like he’s on the verge of heatstroke or a heart attack, and he wheezes when he talks.
The whole time I’ve been in Indiana, which is all my life—the purgatory years, I call them—we’ve apparently lived just eleven miles away from the highest point in the state. No one ever told me, not my parents or my sisters or my teachers, until now, right this minute, in the “Wander Indiana” section of U.S. Geography—the one that was implemented by the school board this year in an effort to “enlighten students as to the rich history available in their own home state and inspire Hoosier pride.”
Mr. Black settles into his chair and clears his throat. “What better and more … appropriate way to start off … the semester than by beginning … with the highest point?” Because of the wheezing, it’s hard to tell if Mr. Black is all that impressed by the information he’s relaying. “Hoosier Hill is … 1,257 feet above sea level … and it’s in the backyard … of a family home.… In 2005, an Eagle … Scout from Kentucky … got permission to … build a trail and picnic area … and put up a sign.…”
I raise my hand, which Mr. Black ignores.
As he talks, I leave my hand in the air and think, What if I went there and stood on that point? Would things look different from 1,257 feet? It doesn’t seem very high, but they’re proud of it, and who am I to say 1,257 feet isn’t something to be impressed by?
Finally, he nods at me, his lips so tight, it looks like he’s swallowed them. “Yes, Mr. Finch?” He sighs the sigh of a one-hundred-year-old man and gives me an apprehensive, distrustful look.
“I suggest a field trip. We need to see the wondrous sights of Indiana while we still can, because at least three of us in this room are going to graduate and leave our great state at the end of this year, and what will we have to show for it except a subpar public school education from one of the worst school systems in the nation? Besides, a place like this is going to be hard to take in unless we see it. Kind of like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. You need to be there to really appreciate its splendor.”
I’m only being about twenty percent sarcastic, but Mr. Black says, “Thank you, Mr. Finch,” in a way that means the direct opposite of thank you. I start drawing hills on my notebook in tribute to our state’s highest point, but they look more like formless lumps or airborne snakes—I can’t decide.
“Theodore is correct that some … of you will leave … here at the end of … this school year to go … somewhere else. You’ll be departing our … great state, and before … you do, you should … see it. You should … wander.…”
A noise from across the room interrupts him. Someone has come in late and dropped a book and then, in picking up the book, has upset all her other books so that everything has gone tumbling. This is followed by laughter because we’re in high school, which means we’re predictable and almost anything is funny, especially if it’s someone else’s public humiliation. The girl who dropped everything is Violet Markey, the same Violet Markey from the bell tower. She turns beet red and I can tell she wants to die. Not in a jumping-from-a-great-height kind of way, but more along the lines of Please, earth, swallow me whole.
I know this feeling better than I know my mom or my sisters or Charlie Donahue. This feeling and I have been together all my life. Like the time I gave myself a concussion during kickball in front of Suze Haines; or the time I laughed so hard that something flew out of my nose and landed on Gabe Romero; or the entire eighth grade.
And so, because I’m used to it and because this Violet girl is about three dropped pencils away from crying, I knock one of my own books onto the floor. All eyes shift to me. I bend to pick it up and purposely send the others flying—boomeranging into walls, windows, heads—and just for good measure, I tilt my chair over so I go crashing. This is followed by snickers and applause and a “freak” or two, and Mr. Black wheezing, “If you’re done … Theodore … I’d like to continue.”
I right myself, right the chair, take a bow, collect my books, bow again, settle in, and smile at Violet, who is looking at me with what can only be described as surprise and relief and something else—worry, maybe. I’d like to think there’s a little lust mixed in too, but that could be wishful thinking. The smile I give her is the best smile I have, the one that makes my mother forgive me for staying out too late or for just generally being weird. (Other times, I see my mom looking at me—when she looks at me at all—like she’s thinking: Where in the hell did you come from? You must get it from your father’s side.)
Violet smiles back. Immediately, I feel better, because she feels better and because of the way she smiles at me, as if I’m not something to be avoided. This makes twice in one day that I’ve saved her. Tenderhearted Theodore, my mother always says. Too tenderhearted for his own good. It’s meant as a criticism and I take it as one.
Mr. Black fixes his eyes on Violet and then me. “As I was saying … your project for this … class is to report on … at least two, preferably three … wonders of Indiana.” I want to ask, Wonders or wanders? But I’m busy watching Violet as she concentrates on the chalkboard, the corner of her mouth still turned up.
Mr. Black goes on about how he wants us to feel free to choose the places that strike our fancy, no matter how obscure or far away. Our mission is to go there and see each one, take pictures, shoot video, delve deep into their history, and tell him just what it is about these places that makes us proud to be a Hoosier. If it’s possible to link them in some way, all the better. We have the rest of the semester to complete the project, and we need to take it seriously.
“You will work … in teams of … two. This will count … for thirty-five percent … of your final grade.…”
I raise my hand again. “Can we choose our partners?”
“I choose Violet Markey.”
“You may work that out … with her after class.”
I shift in my seat so I can see her, elbow on the back of my chair. “Violet Markey, I’d like to be your partner on this project.”
Her face turns pink as everyone looks at her. Violet says to Mr. Black, “I thought if there was something else I could do—maybe research and write a short report.” Her voice is low, but she sounds a little pissed. “I’m not ready to …”
He interrupts her. “Miss Markey, I’m going … to do you the biggest … favor of your life.… I’m going to say … no.”
“No. It is a new year.… It is time to get … back on the camel.”
A few people laugh at this. Violet looks at me and I can see that, yes, she is pissed, and it’s then I remember the accident. Violet and her sister, sometime last spring. Violet lived, the sister died. This is why she doesn’t want attention.
The rest of class time is spent telling us about places Mr. Black thinks we might enjoy and that, no matter what, we must see before we graduate—the usual humdrum tourist spots like Conner Prairie, the Levi Coffin House, the Lincoln Museum, and James Whitcomb Riley’s boyhood home—even though I know that most of us will stay right here in this town until we die.
I try to catch Violet’s eye again, but she doesn’t look up. Instead, she shrinks low in her seat and stares straight ahead.
Outside of class, Gabe Romero blocks my way. As usual, he’s not alone. Amanda Monk waits just behind, hip jutted out, Joe Wyatt and Ryan Cross on either side of her. Good, easygoing, decent, nice-guy Ryan, athlete, A student, vice president of the class. The worst thing about him is that since kindergarten he’s known exactly who he is.
Roamer says, “I better not catch you looking at me again.”
“I wasn’t looking at you. Believe me, there are at least a hundred other things in that room I’d look at before you, including Mr. Black’s large, naked ass.”
Because Roamer and I have been sworn enemies since middle school, he shoves the books out of my hands, and even though this is right out of Fifth-Grade Bullying 101, I feel a familiar black grenade of anger—like an old friend—go off in my stomach, the thick, toxic smoke from it rising up and spreading through my chest. It’s the same feeling I had last year in that instant before I picked up a desk and hurled it—not at Roamer, like he wants everyone to believe, but at the chalkboard in Mr. Geary’s room.
“Pick ’em up, bitch.” Roamer walks past me, knocking me in the chest—hard—with his shoulder. I want to slam his head into a locker and then reach down his throat and pull his heart out through his mouth, because the thing about being Awake is that everything in you is alive and aching and making up for lost time.
But instead I count all the way to sixty, a stupid smile plastered on my stupid face. I will not get detention. I will not get expelled. I will be good. I will be quiet. I will be still.
Mr. Black watches from the doorway, and I try to give him a casual nod to show him everything’s cool, everything’s under control, everything’s fine, nothing to see, palms aren’t itching, skin isn’t burning, blood isn’t pumping, please move along. I’ve made a promise to myself that this year will be different. If I keep ahead of everything, and that includes me, I should be able to stay awake and here, and not just semi-here but here as in present as in now.
The rain has stopped, and in the parking lot Charlie Donahue and I lean against his car under the washed-out January sun as he talks about the thing he most loves talking about other than himself—sex. Our friend Brenda stands listening, books clutched against her broad, broad chest, hair shining pink and red.
Charlie spent winter break working at the Mall Cinema, where he apparently let all the hot girls sneak in without paying. This got him more action than even he knew what to do with, mostly in the handicapped row in the back, the one missing armrests.
He nods at me. “What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Where were you?”
“Around. I didn’t feel like coming to school, so I hit the interstate and didn’t look back.” There’s no way of explaining the Asleep to my friends, and even if there was, there’s no need. One of the things I like best about Charlie and Bren is that I don’t have to explain myself. I come, I go, and Oh well, it’s just Finch.
Charlie nods again. “What we need to do is get you laid.” It’s an indirect reference to the bell tower incident. If I get laid, I won’t try to kill myself. According to Charlie, getting laid fixes everything. If only world leaders would get laid well and regularly, the world’s problems might disappear.
Brenda frowns at him. “You’re a pig, Charlie.”
“You love me.”
“You wish I’d love you. Why don’t you be more like Finch? He’s a gentleman.” There aren’t many people who would say this about me, but the great thing about this life of ours is that you can be someone different to everybody.
I say, “You can leave me out of it.”
Bren shakes her head. “No, I’m serious. Gentlemen are rare. They’re like virgins or leprechauns. If I ever get married, I’m going to marry one.”
I can’t resist saying, “A virgin or a leprechaun?” She slugs me in the arm.
“There’s a difference between a gentleman and a guy with no play.” Charlie nods at me. “No offense, man.”
“None taken.” It’s true, after all, at least compared to him, and actually what he means is that I have bad luck with women. Something about going for the bitchy ones or the crazy ones or the ones who pretend not to know me when other people are around.
Anyway, I’m barely listening, because over Bren’s shoulder I see her again—Violet. I can already feel myself falling hard, something I’ve been known to do. (Suze Haines, Laila Collman, Annalise Lemke, the three Brianas—Briana Harley, Briana Bailey, Briana Boudreau …) All because she smiled at me. But it was a damn good smile. A genuine one, which is hard to come by these days. Especially when you’re me, Theodore Freak, Resident Aberration.
Bren turns around to see what I’m looking at. She shakes her head at me, her mouth all smirked up in a way that makes me protect my arm. “God, you guys are all the same.”
At home, my mother is talking on the phone and defrosting one of the casseroles my sister Kate prepares at the start of each week. Mom waves and then keeps right on. Kate runs down the stairs, swipes her car keys from the counter, and says, “Later, loser.” I have two sisters—Kate, just one year older than I am, and Decca, who’s eight. Clearly, she was a mistake, which she figured out at the age of six. But we all know if anyone is the mistake here, it’s me.
I go upstairs, wet shoes squeaking against the floor, and shut the door to my room. I pull out something old on vinyl without checking what it is and slap it onto the turntable I found in the basement. The record bumps and scratches, sounding like something from the 1920s. I’m in a Split Enz kind of phase right now, hence the sneakers. I’m trying out Theodore Finch, ’80s kid, and seeing how he fits.
I fish through my desk for a cigarette, stick it in my mouth, and remember as I’m reaching for my lighter that Theodore Finch, ’80s kid, doesn’t smoke. God, I hate him, the clean-cut, eager little prick. I leave the cigarette in my mouth unlit, trying to chew the nicotine out, and pick up the guitar, play along, then give it up and sit down at the computer, swinging my chair around so it’s backward, the only way I can compose.
I type: January 5. Method: Bell tower of school. On a scale of one to ten on the how-close-did-I-come scale: five. Facts: Jumping increases on full moons and holidays. One of the more famous jumpers was Roy Raymond, founder of Victoria’s Secret. Related fact: In 1912, a man named Franz Reichelt jumped off the Eiffel Tower wearing a parachute suit he designed himself. He jumped to test his invention—he expected to fly—but instead he fell straight down, hitting the ground like a meteor and leaving a 5.9-inch-deep crater from the impact. Did he mean to kill himself? Doubtful. I think he was just cocky, and also stupid.
A quick internet search turns up the information that only five to ten percent of all suicides are committed by jumping (so says Johns Hopkins). Apparently, jumping as a means of killing oneself is usually chosen for convenience, which is why places like San Francisco, with its Golden Gate Bridge (the world’s top suicide destination), are so popular. Here, all we have is the Purina Tower and a 1,257-foot hill.
I write: Reason for not jumping: Too messy. Too public. Too crowded.
I switch off Google and hop onto Facebook. I find Amanda Monk’s page because she’s friends with everyone, even the people she’s not friends with, and I pull up her friend list, typing in “Violet.”
Just like that, there she is. I click on her photo and there she is, even bigger, wearing the same smile she gave me earlier. You have to be her friend to read her profile and view the rest of her pictures. I sit staring at the screen, suddenly desperate to know more. Who is this Violet Markey? I try a Google search, because maybe there’s a secret back entrance to her Facebook page, one that requires a special knock or a three-digit code, something easily figured out.
What I pull up instead is a site called EleanorandViolet.com, which lists Violet Markey as cocreator/?editor/?writer. It’s got all the usual boys-and-beauty-type blog posts, the most recent from April 3 of last year. The other thing I pull up is a news article.
Eleanor Markey, 18, a senior at Bartlett High School and member of the student congress, lost control of her car on A Street Bridge at approximately 12:45 a.m. April 5. Icy conditions and speed may have caused the crash. Eleanor was killed on impact. Her 16-year-old sister, Violet, a passenger in the vehicle, sustained only minor injuries.
I sit reading and rereading this, a black feeling settling in the pit of my stomach. And then I do something I swore I’d never do. I sign up for Facebook just so I can send her a friend request. Having an account will make me look sociable and normal, and maybe work to offset the whole meeting-on-the-verge-of-suicide situation, so that she’ll feel it’s safe to know me. I take a picture of myself with my phone, decide I look too serious, take another one—too goofy—and settle on the third, which is somewhere in between.
I sleep the computer so I don’t check every five minutes, and then I play the guitar, read a few pages of Macbeth for homework, and eat dinner with Decca and my mom, a tradition that started last year, after the divorce. Even though I’m not much into eating, dinner is one of the most enjoyable parts of my day because I get to turn my brain off.
Mom says, “Decca, tell me what you learned today.” She makes sure to ask us about school so that she feels she’s done her duty. This is her favorite way to start.
Dec says, “I learned that Jacob Barry is a jackass.” She has been swearing more often lately, trying to get a reaction out of Mom, to see if she’s really listening.
“Decca,” Mom says mildly, but she is only half paying attention.
Decca goes on to tell us about how this boy named Jacob glued his hands to his desk just to get out of a science quiz, but when they tried to separate skin from wood, his palms came off with the glue. Decca’s eyes gleam like the eyes of a small, rabid animal. She clearly thinks he deserved it, and then she says so.
Mom is suddenly listening. “Decca.” She shakes her head. This is the extent of her parenting. Ever since my dad left, she’s tried really hard to be the cool parent. Still, I feel bad for her because she loves him, even though, at his core, he’s selfish and rotten, and even though he left her for a woman named Rosemarie with an accent over one of the letters—no one can ever remember which—and because of something she said to me the day he left: “I never expected to be single at forty.” It was the way she said it more than the words themselves. She made it sound so final.
Ever since then, I’ve done what I could to be pleasant and quiet, making myself as small and unseen as possible—which includes pretending to go to school when I’m asleep, as in the Asleep—so that I don’t add to the burden. I am not always successful.
“How was your day, Theodore?”
“Grand.” I push my food around my plate, trying to create a pattern. The thing about eating is that there are so many other more interesting things to do. I feel the same way about sleeping. Complete wastes of time.
Interesting fact: A Chinese man died from lack of sleep when he stayed awake for eleven days straight as he attempted to watch every game in the European Championship (that’s soccer, for those, like me, who have no clue). On the eleventh night, he watched Italy beat Ireland 2–0, took a shower, and fell asleep around five a.m. And died. No offense to the dead, but soccer is a really stupid thing to stay awake for.
Mom has stopped eating to study my face. When she does pay attention, which isn’t often, she tries hard to be understanding about my “sadness,” just like she tries hard to be patient when Kate stays out all night and Decca spends time in the principal’s office. My mother blames our bad behavior on the divorce and my dad. She says we just need time to work through it.
Less sarcastically, I add, “It was okay. Uneventful. Boring. Typical.” We move on to easier topics, like the house my mother is trying to sell for her clients and the weather.
When dinner is over, Mom lays a hand on my arm, fingertips barely touching the skin, and says, “Isn’t it nice to have your brother back, Decca?” She says it as if I’m in danger of disappearing again, right in front of their eyes. The slightly blaming note in her voice makes me cringe, and I get the urge to go back to my room again and stay there. Even though she tries to forgive my sadness, she wants to count on me as man of the house, and even though she thinks I was in school for most of that four-almost-five-week period, I did miss a lot of family dinners. She takes her fingers back and then we’re free, which is exactly how we act, the three of us running off in three different directions.
Around ten o’clock, after everyone else has gone to bed and Kate still isn’t home, I turn on the computer again and check my Facebook account.
Violet Markey accepted your friend request, it says.
And now we are friends.
I want to shout and jog around the house, maybe climb up onto the roof and spread my arms wide but not jump off, not even think about it. But instead I hunch closer to the screen and browse through her photos—Violet smiling with two people who must be her parents, Violet smiling with friends, Violet smiling at a pep rally, Violet smiling cheek to cheek with another girl, Violet smiling all alone.
I remember the picture of Violet and the girl from the newspaper. This is her sister, Eleanor. She wears the same clunky glasses Violet had on today.
Suddenly a message appears in my inbox.
Violet: You ambushed me. In front of everyone.
Me: Would you have worked with me if I hadn’t?
Violet: I would have gotten out of it so I didn’t have to do it to begin with. Why do you want me to do this project with you anyway?
Me: Because our mountain is waiting.
Violet: What’s that supposed to mean?
Me: It means maybe you never dreamed of seeing Indiana, but, in addition to the fact that we’re required to do this for school, and I’ve volunteered—okay, ambushed—you into being my partner, here’s what I think: I think I’ve got a map in my car that wants to be used, and I think there are places we can go that need to be seen. Maybe no one else will ever visit them and appreciate them or take the time to think they’re important, but maybe even the smallest places mean something. And if not, maybe they can mean something to us. At the very least, by the time we leave, we know we will have seen it, this great state of ours. So come on. Let’s go. Let’s count for something. Let’s get off that ledge.
When she doesn’t respond, I write: I’m here if you want to talk.
I imagine Violet at home right now, on the other side of the computer, her perfect mouth with its perfect corners turned up, smiling at the screen, in spite of everything, no matter what. Violet smiling. With one eye on my computer, I pick up the guitar, start making up words, the tune not far behind.
I’m still here, and I’m grateful, because otherwise I would be missing this. Sometimes it’s good to be awake.
“So not today,” I sing. “Because she smiled at me.” FINCH’S RULES FOR WANDERING
There are no rules, because life is made up of too many rules as it is.
But there are three “guidelines” (which sounds less rigid than “rules”):
a) No using our phones to get us there. We have to do this strictly old-school, which means learning to read actual maps.
b) We alternate choosing places to go, but we also have to be willing to go where the road takes us. This means the grand, the small, the bizarre, the poetic, the beautiful, the ugly, the surprising. Just like life. But absolutely, unconditionally, resolutely nothing ordinary.
c) At each site, we leave something, almost like an offering. It can be our own private game of geocaching (“the recreational activity of hunting for and finding a hidden object by means of GPS coordinates posted on a website”), only not a game, and just for us. The rules of geocaching say “take something, leave something.” The way I figure it, we stand to get something out of each place, so why not give something back? Also, it’s a way to prove we’ve been there, and a way to leave a part of us behind.
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