On March 23, 1950, Italian poet Cesare Pavese wrote: “Love is truly the great manifesto; the urge to be, to count for something, and, if death must come, to die valiantly, with acclamation—in short, to remain a memory.” Five months later, he walked into a newspaper office and chose his obituary photograph from the photo archive. He checked himself into a hotel, and days later an employee found him stretched out on the bed, dead. He was fully dressed except for his shoes. On the bedside table were sixteen empty packets of sleeping pills and a note: “I forgive everyone and ask forgiveness of everyone. OK? Not too much gossip, please.”
Cesare Pavese has nothing to do with driving fast on an Indiana farm road, but I understand the urge to be and to count for something. While I’m not sure taking off your shoes in a strange hotel room and swallowing too many sleeping pills is what I would call dying valiantly and with acclamation, it’s the thought that counts.
I push the S****n to ninety-five. I will ease off only when I reach one hundred. Not ninety-seven. Not ninety-eight. It’s one hundred or nothing.
I lean forward, like I’m a rocket, like I. Am. The. Car. And I start yelling because I’m getting more awake by the second. I feel the rush and then some—I feel everything around me and in me, the road and my blood and my heart beating up into my throat, and I could end right now, in a valiant acclamation of crushed metal and explosive fire. I slam the gas harder, and now I can’t stop because I am faster than anything on earth. The only thing that matters is the forward thrust and the way I feel as I hurtle toward the Great Manifesto.
Then, in that exact, precise fraction of a moment before my heart might explode or the engine might explode, I lift my foot up and off and go sailing across the old, rutted pavement, Little B*****d carrying me on its own as we fly up over the ground and land hard, several feet away, half in, half out of the ditch, where I sit catching my breath. I hold up my hands and they aren’t shaking at all. They’re steady as can be, and I look around me, at the starry sky and the fields, and the dark, sleeping houses, and I’m here, motherf—–s. I am here.
Violet lives one street away from Suze Haines in a large white house with a red chimney in a neighborhood on the opposite side of town. I roll up in Little B*****d, and she’s sitting on the front step, wrapped in a giant coat, looking small and alone. She jumps up and meets me halfway down the sidewalk, then immediately glances past me like she’s looking for someone or something. “You didn’t need to come all the way over here.” She’s whispering, as if we might wake up the neighborhood.
I whisper back, “It’s not like we live in L.A. or even Cincinnati. It took me, like, five minutes to get here. Nice house, by the way.”
“Look, thanks for coming, but I don’t need to talk about anything.” Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and wisps of it are falling down around her face. She tucks a piece behind her ear. “I’m totally fine.”
“Never bullshit a bullshitter. I know a cry for help when I see one, and I’d say being talked off a ledge overqualifies. Are your parents home?”
“Too bad. Want to walk?” I start walking.
“Not that way.” She pulls on my arm and drags me in the other direction.
“Are we avoiding something?”
“No. It’s just, uh—nicer over here.”
I put on my best Embryo voice. “So, how long have you been having these suicidal feelings?”
“God, don’t talk so loud. And I’m not … I’m not …”
“Suicidal. You can say it.”
“Well, anyway, I’m not.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“You were up on the ledge because you didn’t know where else to turn and what else to do. You’d lost all hope. And then, like a gallant knight, I saved your life. By the way, you look totally different without makeup. Not bad necessarily, but different. Maybe even better. So what’s up with this website of yours? Have you always wanted to write? Tell me about yourself, Violet Markey.”
She answers like a robot: There’s not much to say. I guess so. There’s nothing to tell.
“So, California. That must have been a change for you. Do you like it?”
“It’s all right.”
“What about this neighborhood?”
“It’s all right too.”
“These are not the words of someone who just had her life handed back to her. You should be on top of the f—ing world right now. I’m here. You’re here. Not only that, you’re here with me. I can think of at least one girl who’d want to trade places with you.”
She makes this frustrated (and strangely hot) arrrrrr sound. “What do you want?”
I stop under a streetlight. I drop the fast talk and the charm. “I want to know why you were up there. And I want to know that you’re okay.”
“If I tell you, will you go home?”
“And never bring it up again?”
“That depends on your answers.”
She sighs and starts to walk. For a while she doesn’t say anything, so I stay quiet, waiting her out. The only sounds are someone’s television and a party somewhere in the distance.
After several blocks of this, I say, “Anything you tell me stays between us. You might not have noticed, but I’m not exactly swimming in friends. And even if I was, it wouldn’t matter. Those assholes have enough to gossip about.”
She takes a breath. “When I went to the tower, I wasn’t really thinking. It was more like my legs were walking up the stairs and I just went where they took me. I’ve never done anything like that before. I mean, that’s not me. But then it was like I woke up and I was on that ledge. I didn’t know what to do, so I started to freak out.”
“Have you told anyone what happened?”
“No.” She stops walking, and I resist the urge to touch her hair, which blows across her face. She pushes it out of the way.
“Not your parents?”
“Especially not my parents.”
“You still didn’t tell me what you were doing up there.”
I don’t actually expect her to answer, but she says, “It was my sister’s birthday. She would have been nineteen.”
“S**t. I’m sorry.”