فصل 51

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فصل 51

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May—weeks 1, 2, and 3

At school, the entire student body seems to be in mourning. There is a lot of black being worn, and you can hear sniffling in every classroom. Someone has built a shrine to Finch in one of the large glass cases in the main hallway, near the principal’s office. His school picture has been blown up, and they have left the case open so that we can all post tributes around it—Dear Finch, they all begin. You are loved and missed. We love you. We miss you.

I want to tear them all down and shred them up and put them in the pile with the rest of the bad, false words, because that’s exactly where they belong.

Our teachers remind us there are just five more weeks of school, and I should be happy, but instead I feel nothing. I feel a lot of nothing these days. I’ve cried a few times, but mostly I’m empty, as if whatever makes me feel and hurt and laugh and love has been surgically removed, leaving me hollowed out like a shell.

I tell Ryan we can only ever be friends, and it’s just as well because he doesn’t want to touch me. No one does. It’s like they’re afraid I might be contagious. This is part of the suicideby-association phenomenon.

I sit with Brenda, Lara, and the Brianas at lunch until the Wednesday after Finch’s funeral, when Amanda walks over, sets her tray down, and, without looking at the other girls, says to me, “I’m sorry about Finch.”

For a minute, I think Brenda is going to hit her, and I kind of want her to, or at least I want to see what would happen if she did. But when Bren just sits there, I nod at Amanda. “Thanks.”

“I shouldn’t have called him a freak. And I want you to know I broke up with Roamer.”

“Too little, too late,” Brenda mutters. She stands suddenly, knocking into the table, making everything rattle. She grabs her tray, tells me she’ll see me later, and marches off.

On Thursday, I meet with Mr. Embry because Principal Wertz and the school board are requiring all friends and classmates of Theodore Finch to have at least one session with a counselor, even though The Parents, as my mother and father refer to Mr. Finch and Mrs. Finch, are insisting it was an accident, which, I guess, means we’re free to mourn him out in the open in a normal, healthy, unstigmatized way. No need to be ashamed or embarrassed since suicide isn’t involved.

I ask for Mr. Embry instead of Mrs. Kresney because he was Finch’s counselor. From behind his desk, he frowns at me, and I suddenly wonder if he’s going to blame me like I blame myself.

I should never have suggested we take the A Street Bridge. What if we’d gone the other way instead? Eleanor would still be here.

Mr. Embry clears his throat. “I’m sorry about Finch. He was a good, screwed-up kid who should have had more help.”

This gets my attention.

Then he adds, “I feel responsible.”

I want to send his computer and books crashing to the floor. You can’t feel responsible. I’m responsible. Don’t try to take that from me.

He continues, “But I’m not. I did what I felt I could do. Could I have done more? Possibly. Yes. We can always do more. It’s a tough question to answer, and, ultimately, a pointless one to ask. You might be feeling some of the same emotions and having some of these same thoughts.”

“I know I could have done more. I should have seen what was going on.”

“We can’t always see what others don’t want us to. Especially when they go to great lengths to hide it.” Mr. Embry plucks a thin booklet off his desk and reads: “ ‘You are a survivor, and as that unwelcome designation implies, your survival—your emotional survival—will depend on how well you learn to cope with your tragedy. The bad news: Surviving this will be the second worst experience of your life. The good news: The worst is already over.’ ”

He hands the booklet to me. SOS: A Handbook for Survivors of Suicide.

“I want you to read it, but I also want you to come talk to me, talk to your parents, talk to your friends. The last thing we want you to do is bottle all this in. You were closest to him, which means you’re going to feel all the anger and loss and denial and grief that you would feel over any death, but this death is different, so don’t be hard on yourself.”

“His family says it was an accident.”

“So maybe it was. People are going to deal with it however they can. My only concern is you. You can’t be responsible for everyone—not your sister, not Finch. What happened to your sister—she didn’t have a choice. And maybe Finch felt like he didn’t either, even though he did.” He frowns at a spot just over my shoulder, and I can see him going back over it all in his mind—every conversation or meeting with Finch—the same way I’ve been doing since it happened.

The thing I can’t, won’t, mention to him is that I see Finch everywhere—in the hallways at school, on the street, in my neighborhood. Someone’s face will remind me of him, or someone’s walk or someone’s laugh. It’s like being surrounded by a thousand different Finches. I wonder if this is normal, but I don’t ask.

At home, I lie on my bed and read the entire book, and because it’s only thirty-six pages, it doesn’t take long. Afterward, the thing that sticks in my mind are these two lines: Your hope lies in accepting your life as it now lies before you, forever changed. If you can do that, the peace you seek will follow.

Forever changed.

I am forever changed.

At dinner, I show my mom the book Mr. Embry gave me. She reads it as she eats, not saying a word, while my dad and I try to carry on a conversation about college.

“Have you decided which school you’re going to, V?”

“Maybe UCLA.” I want to tell my dad to choose a school for me, because what does it matter? They’re all the same.

“We should probably let them know soon.”

“I guess. I’ll be sure to get right on that.”

My dad looks at my mom for help, but she is still reading, her food forgotten. “Have you given any thought to applying to NYU for spring admission?”

I say, “No, but maybe I should go work on that now. Do you guys mind?” I want to get away from the booklet and from them and any talk of the future.

My dad looks relieved. “Of course not. Go.” He is glad I’m going, and I’m glad I’m going. It’s easier this way, because otherwise we might all have to face each other and Eleanor and this thing that has happened with Finch. In that moment, I’m thankful I’m not a parent and I wonder if I ever will be. What a terrible feeling to love someone and not be able to help them.

Actually, I know exactly how that feels.

At an all-school assembly the second Thursday after Finch’s funeral, they bring in a martial arts expert from Indianapolis to talk to us about safety and how to defend ourselves, as if suicide is something that might attack us on the street, and then they show us this film about teenagers on drugs. Before they turn off the lights, Principal Wertz announces that some of the content is pretty graphic, but that it’s important we see the realities of drug use.

As the movie starts up, Charlie leans over and tells me the only reason they’re showing it is because there’s a rumor going around that Finch was on something, and this is why he died. The only people who know this isn’t true are Charlie, Brenda, and me.

When one of the teen actors overdoses, I walk out. Outside the auditorium, I throw up in one of the trash cans.

“Are you okay?” Amanda is sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall.

“I didn’t see you there.” I move away from the trash can.

“I couldn’t get through five minutes of that.”

I sit down on the floor, a couple of feet away from her. “What goes through your mind when you’re thinking about it?”

“About …”

“Killing yourself. I want to know what that feels like, what a person thinks about. I want to know why.”

Amanda stares at her hands. “I can only tell you how I felt. Ugly. Disgusting. Stupid. Small. Worthless. Forgotten. It just feels like there’s no choice. Like it’s the most logical thing to do because what else is there? You think, ‘No will even miss me. They won’t know I’m gone. The world will go on, and it won’t matter that I’m not here. Maybe it’s better if I was never here.’ ”

“But you don’t feel that way all the time. I mean, you’re Amanda Monk. You’re popular. Your parents are nice to you. Your brothers are nice to you.” Everyone’s nice to you, I think, because they’re too afraid not to be.

She looks at me. “In those moments, none of it matters. It’s like that stuff is happening to someone else because all you feel is dark inside, and that darkness just kind of takes over. You don’t even really think about what might happen to the people you leave behind, because all you can think about is yourself.” She wraps her arms around her knees. “Did Finch ever see a doctor?”

“I don’t know.” There’s still so much I don’t know about him. I guess now I’ll never know it. “I don’t think his parents wanted to admit anything was wrong.”

“He was trying to fix himself because of you.”

I know she wants to make me feel better, but this only makes me feel worse.

The next day, in U.S. Geography, Mr. Black stands at the board, where he writes JUNE 4 and underlines it. “The time has come … people … your projects are due soon … so focus, focus … focus. Please come to … me with any … questions, otherwise I will … expect you to … turn them in on time … if not before.”

When the bell rings, he says, “I’d like to … talk to you, Violet.” I sit in my seat, next to the desk Finch once sat in, and wait. After the last person leaves, Mr. Black closes the door and sinks into his chair. “I wanted to check in … with you to see … if you need any help … and also to tell you … to feel free to turn in whatever … you have so far … I obviously … understand … that there are extenuating … circumstances.”

Extenuating Circumstances. That is me. That is Violet Markey. Poor forever-changed Violet and her Extenuating Circumstances. Must treat her carefully, because she is fragile and might break if expected to do the same as everyone else.

“Thanks, but I’m okay.” I can do this. I can show them I’m not some china doll, handle with care. I just wish Finch and I had pulled together all our wanderings, and maybe documented each one a little better. We were so busy being in the moment that I don’t have much to show for it except a half-filled notebook, a few pictures, and a marked-up map.

That evening, I torture myself by reading our Facebook messages, going back to the very beginning. And then, even though I know he’ll never read it, I open our notebook and start to write.

Letter to Someone Who Committed Suicide

by Violet Markey

Where are you? And why did you go? I guess I’ll never know this. Was it because I made you mad? Because I tried to help? Because I didn’t answer when you threw rocks at my window? What if I had answered? What would you have said to me? Would I have been able to talk you into staying or talk you out of doing what you did? Or would that have happened anyway?

Do you know my life is forever changed now? I used to think that was true because you came into it and showed me Indiana and, in doing that, forced me out of my room and into the world. Even when we weren’t wandering, even from the floor of your closet, you showed the world to me. I didn’t know that my life forever changing would be because you loved me and then left, and in such a final way.

So I guess there was no Great Manifesto after all, even though you made me believe there was. I guess there was only a school project.

I’ll never forgive you for leaving me. I just wish you could forgive me. You saved my life.

And, finally, I simply write: Why couldn’t I save yours?

I sit back, and above my desk are the storyboard Post-its for Germ. I’ve added a new category: Ask an Expert. My eyes move past these to the piece of paper that describes what the magazine is about. They rest on the last line: You start here.

In a minute, I am up and out of my seat and searching my room. At first, I can’t remember what I’ve done with the map. I feel this white rush of panic, which leaves me shaky, because what if I’ve lost it? It will be another piece of Finch, gone.

And then I find it in my bag, on my third time checking, as if it appeared out of thin air. I spread it out and look at the remaining points that are circled. There are five more places to see on my own. Finch has written numbers beside each one so that there’s a kind of order.

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