Decca says, “We most certainly did not,” and goes stomping up the stairs.
My mother sighs in relief before taking another drink and going after her. She does her best parenting on Sundays.
Kate opens a bag of chips and says, “This is so stupid.” And I know what she means. “This” equals our parents and Sundays and maybe our whole screwed-up lives. “I don’t even see why we have to go over there and pretend to like each other when everyone knows that’s exactly what we’re doing. Pretending.” She hands me the bag.
“Because people like you to pretend, Kate. They prefer it.”
She flicks her hair over her shoulder and scrunches up her face in a way that means she’s thinking. “You know, I’ve decided to go to college in the fall after all.” Kate offered to stay home when the divorce happened. Someone needs to look after Mom, she said.
Suddenly I’m hungry, and the two of us pass the bag back and forth, back and forth. I say, “I thought you liked having time off from school.” I love her enough to pretend along with her that this is the other reason she stayed home, that it had nothing to do with her cheating high school boyfriend, the same one she’d planned her future around.
She shrugs. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s not quite as ‘time off’ as I expected. I’m thinking about going to Denver, maybe seeing what’s to see out there.”
“Like Logan?” Better known as the cheating high school boyfriend.
“This has nothing to do with him.”
“I hope not.”
I want to repeat the things I’ve been telling her for months: You’re better than him. You’ve already wasted too much time on that a*****e. But her jaw has gone rigid and she is frowning into the chips bag. “It beats living at home.”
I can’t argue with her there, so instead I ask, “Do you remember Eleanor Markey?”
“Sure. She was in my class. Why?”
“She’s got a sister.” I met her on the bell tower when we were both thinking about jumping. We could have held hands and leaped off together. They would have thought we were star-crossed lovers. They’d write songs about us. We’d be legends.
Kate shrugs. “Eleanor was okay. A little full of herself. She could be fun. I didn’t know her all that well. I don’t remember her sister.” She finishes the wine from Mom’s glass and grabs the car keys. “Later.”
Upstairs, I bypass Split Enz, Depeche Mode, and the Talking Heads for Johnny Cash. I throw At Folsom Prison onto the turntable, fish through my desk for a cigarette, and tell ’80s Finch to get over it. After all, I created him, and I can take him away. As I light the cigarette, though, I can suddenly picture my lungs turning as black as a newly paved road, and I think of what I said to my dad earlier: There are different ways to die. There’s jumping off a roof and there’s slowly poisoning yourself with the flesh of another every single day.
No animals died to make this cigarette, but for once I don’t like the way it makes me feel, like I’m being polluted, like I’m being poisoned. I stub it out and, before I can change my mind, break all the others in half. Then I cut the halves with scissors and sweep them into the trash, sign onto the computer, and start typing.
January 11. According to the New York Times, nearly 20 percent of suicides are committed by poison, but among doctors who kill themselves, that number is 57 percent. My thoughts on the method: Seems like kind of a coward’s way out, if you ask me. I think I’d rather feel something. That said, if someone held a gun to my head (haha—sorry, suicide humor) and made me use poison, I’d choose cyanide. In gaseous form, death can be instant, which I realize defeats the purpose of feeling something. But come to think of it, after a lifetime of feeling too much, maybe there’s actually something to be said for fast and sudden.
When I finish, I walk into the bathroom to dig through the medicine cabinet. Advil, aspirin, some kind of over-the-counter sleeping pills I stole from Kate and then stored in an old prescription bottle of Mom’s. I meant what I said to Embryo about drugs. We don’t mix. What it comes down to for me is I have a hard enough time keeping control over my brain without something else getting in the way.
But you never know when you might need a good sleeping pill. I open the bottle now, dump the blue tablets into my palm, and count them. Thirty. Back at my desk, I line the pills up one by one by one, like a little blue army.
I sign onto Facebook, and over on Violet’s page someone from school has posted about her being a hero for saving me. There are 146 comments and 289 likes, and while I’d like to think there are this many people grateful that I’m still alive, I know better. I go to my own page, which is empty except for Violet’s friend picture.
I set my fingers on the keyboard, looking at the way they rest there, the nails broad and round. I run my hands along the keys, as if I’m playing piano. And then I type, Obligatory family meals suck, especially when meat and denial are involved. “I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times.” Especially when there is so much else to do. The quote is from Virginia Woolf’s suicide note to her husband, but I think it fits the occasion.
I send the message and wait around the computer, organizing the pills into groups of three, then ten, when really I’m hoping for something from Violet. I work at banging the license plate flat again, scribble down Another of those terrible times, and add it to the wall of my room, which is already covered in notes just like this. The wall has various names: Wall of Thoughts, Wall of Ideas, Wall of My Mind, or just The Wall, not to be confused with Pink Floyd. The wall is a place to keep track of thoughts, as fast as they come, and remember them when they go away. Anything interesting or weird or even halfway inspired goes up there.
An hour later, I check my Facebook page. Violet has written: “Arrange whatever pieces come your way.”
My skin starts to burn. She’s quoting Virginia Woolf back to me. My pulse has tripled its pace. S**t, I think. That’s all the Virginia Woolf I know. I do a quick internet search, looking for just the right response. Suddenly I wish I’d paid more attention to Virginia Woolf, a writer I’ve never had much use for until now. Suddenly I wish I’d done nothing but study her for all of my seventeen years.
I type back: “My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery—always buzzing, humming, soaring roaring diving, and then buried in mud. And why? What’s this passion for?”