فصل 39

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فصل 39

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FINCH

Days 65 and 66

At school, I catch myself staring out the window and I think: How long was I doing that? I look around to see if anybody noticed, half expecting them to be staring at me, but no one is looking. This happens in every period, even gym.

In English, I open my book because the teacher is reading, and everyone else is reading along. Even though I hear the words, I forget them as soon as they’re said. I hear fragments of things but nothing whole.

Relax.

Breathe deeply.

Count.

After class, I head for the bell tower, not caring who sees me. The door to the stairs opens easily, and I wonder if Violet was here. Once I’m up and out in the fresh air, I open the book again. I read the same passage over and over, thinking maybe if I just get away by myself, I’ll be able to focus better, but the second I’m done with one line and move on to the next, I’ve forgotten the one that came before.

At lunch, I sit with Charlie, surrounded by people but alone. They are talking to me and around me, but I can’t hear them. I pretend to be interested in one of my books, but the words dance on the page, and so I tell my face to smile so that no one will see, and I smile and nod and I do a pretty good job of it, until Charlie says, “Man, what is wrong with you? You are seriously bringing me down.”

In U.S. Geography, Mr. Black stands at the board and reminds us once again that just because we’re seniors and this is our last semester, we do not need to slack off. As he talks, I write, but the same thing happens as when I was trying to read—the words are there one minute, and the next they’re gone. Violet sits beside me, and I catch her glancing at my paper, so I cover it up with my hand.

It’s hard to describe, but I imagine the way I am at this moment is a lot like getting sucked into a vortex. Everything dark and churning, but slow churning instead of fast, and this great weight pulling you down, like it’s attached to your feet even if you can’t see it. I think, This is what it must feel like to be trapped in quicksand.

Part of the writing is taking stock of everything in my life, like I’m running down a checklist: Amazing girlfriend—check. Decent friends—check. Roof over my head—check. Food in my mouth—check.

I will never be short and probably not bald, if my dad and grandfathers are any indication. On my good days, I can outthink most people. I’m decent on the guitar and I have a better-than-average voice. I can write songs. Ones that will change the world.

Everything seems to be in working order, but I go over the list again and again in case I’m forgetting something, making myself think beyond the big things in case there’s something hiding out behind the smaller details. On the big side, my family could be better, but I’m not the only kid who feels that way. At least they haven’t thrown me out on the street. School’s okay. I could study more, but I don’t really need to. The future is uncertain, but that can be a good thing.

On the smaller side, I like my eyes but hate my nose, but I don’t think my nose is what’s making me feel this way. My teeth are good. In general, I like my mouth, especially when it’s attached to Violet’s. My feet are too big, but at least they’re not too small. Otherwise I would be falling over all the time. I like my guitar, and my bed and my books, especially the cut-up ones.

I think through everything, but in the end the weight is heavier, as if it’s moving up the rest of my body and sucking me down.

The bell rings and I jump, which causes everyone to laugh except Violet, who is watching me carefully. I’m scheduled to see Embryo now, and I’m afraid he’ll notice something’s up. I walk Violet to class and hold her hand and kiss her and give her the best smile I can find so that she won’t watch me that way. And then, because her class is on the opposite side of school from the counseling office and I’m not exactly running to get there, I show up five minutes late to my appointment.

Embryo wants to know what’s wrong and why I look like this, and does it have something to do with turning eighteen soon.

It’s not that, I tell him. After all, who wouldn’t want to be eighteen? Just ask my mom, who would give anything not to be forty-one.

“Then what is it? What’s going on with you, Finch?”

I need to give him something, so I tell him it’s my dad, which isn’t exactly a lie, more of a half-truth because it’s only one part of a much bigger picture. “He doesn’t want to be my dad,” I say, and Embryo listens so seriously and closely, his thick arms crossed over his thick chest, that I feel bad. So I tell him some more truth. “He wasn’t happy with the family he had, so he decided to trade us in for a new one he liked better. And he does like this one better. His new wife is pleasant and always smiling, and his new son who may or may not actually be related to him is small and easy and doesn’t take up much space. Hell, I like them better myself.”

I think I’ve said too much, but instead of telling me to man up and walk it off, Embryo says, “I thought your father died in a hunting accident.”

For a second, I can’t remember what he’s talking about. Then, too late, I start nodding. “That’s right. He did. I meant before he died.”

He is frowning at me, but instead of calling me a liar, he says, “I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with this in your life.”

I want to bawl, but I tell myself: Disguise the pain. Don’t call attention. Don’t be noticed. So with every last ounce of energy—energy that will cost me a week, maybe more—I say, “He does the best he can. I mean he did. When he was alive. The best sucks, but at the end of the day, it’s got more to do with him than me. And I mean, let’s face it, who couldn’t love me?”

As I sit across from him, telling my face to smile, my mind recites the suicide note of Vladimir Mayakovski, poet of the Russian Revolution, who shot himself at the age of thirty-six:

My beloved boat

is broken on the rocks of daily life.

I’ve paid my debts

and no longer need to count

pains I’ve suffered at the hands of others.

The misfortunes and the insults.

Good luck to those who remain.

And suddenly Embryo is hunched over his desk staring at me with what could only be called alarm. Which means I must have said this out loud without meaning to.

His voice takes on the slow, deliberate tone of a man talking someone off a ledge. “Were you in the bell tower again today?”

“Jesus, do you guys have, like, security cameras up there?”

“Answer me.”

“Yes, sir. But I was reading. Or trying to. I needed to clear my mind, and I couldn’t do it down below with all the noise.”

“Finch, I hope you know I’m your friend, and that means I want to help you. But this is also a legal matter, and I have an obligation.”

“I’m fine. Believe me, if I decide to kill myself, you’ll be the first to know. I’ll save you a front-row seat, or at least wait till you’ve got more money for the lawsuit.”

Note to self: Suicide is not a laughing matter, particularly for authority figures who are in any way responsible for you.

I rein myself in. “Sorry. Bad taste. But I’m fine. Really.”

“What do you know about bipolar disorder?”

I almost say, What do you know about it? But I make myself breathe and smile. “Is that the Jekyll-Hyde thing?” My voice sounds flat and even. Maybe a little bored, even though my mind and body are on alert.

“Some people call it manic depression. It’s a brain disorder that causes extreme shifts in mood and energy. It runs in families, but it can be treated.”

I continue to breathe, even if I’m not smiling anymore, but here is what is happening: my brain and my heart are pounding out different rhythms; my hands are turning cold and the back of my neck is turning hot; my throat has gone completely dry. The thing I know about bipolar disorder is that it’s a label. One you give crazy people. I know this because I’ve taken junior-year psychology and I’ve seen movies and I’ve watched my father in action for almost eighteen years, even though you could never slap a label on him because he would kill you. Labels like “bipolar” say This is why you are the way you are. This is who you are. They explain people away as illnesses.

Embryo is talking about symptoms and hypomania and psychotic episodes when the bell rings. I stand more abruptly than I mean to, which sends my chair clattering into the wall and onto the floor. If I’m suspended above the room, looking down, I can see how this would be mistaken for a violent act, especially as large as I am. Before I can tell him it was an accident, he is on his feet.

I hold up my hands in a gesture of surrender, and then hold out my hand—an olive branch. It takes him a good minute or two, but he shakes it. Instead of letting go, he jerks my arm forward so we are almost nose to nose—or, given our height difference, nose to chin—and says, “You are not alone.” Before I can tell him, Actually I am, which is part of the problem; we are all alone, trapped in these bodies and our own minds, and whatever company we have in this life is only fleeting and superficial, he tightens his grip until I worry my arm will snap off. “And we are not done discussing this.”

The next morning, after gym, Roamer walks by and says, “Freak,” under his breath. There are still a lot of guys milling around, but I don’t care. To be more accurate, I don’t think. It just happens.

In a flash, I have him up against the locker, my hands around his throat, and I’m choking him until he turns purple. Charlie is behind me, trying to pull me off, and then Kappel is there with his bat. I keep going, because now I’m fascinated by the way Roamer’s veins are throbbing, and the way his head looks like a lightbulb, all lit up and too bright.

It takes four of them to get me off him because my fist is like iron. I’m thinking: You put me here. You did this. It’s your fault, your fault, your fault.

Roamer drops to the floor, and as I’m being dragged away, I lock eyes with him and say, “You will never call me that again.”

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