When I get to U.S. Geography, Finch isn’t there, of course, because he’s been expelled, and I can’t concentrate on anything Mr. Black is saying. Charlie and Brenda haven’t heard from Finch in a couple of days, but they don’t seem worried because this is how he is, this is what he does, this is the way he’s always been.
Mr. Black starts calling on us, one by one, down the rows, asking for progress reports on our projects. When he gets to me, I say, “Finch isn’t here.”
“I know very well … he’s not here and that he won’t … be coming back to school.… How are you … coming along on … your work, Miss Markey?”
I think of all the things I could mention: Theodore Finch is living in his closet. I think there’s something seriously wrong with him. We haven’t been able to wander lately, and we still have four or five places left on our map.
I say, “We’re learning a lot about this state of ours. I’d never seen much of Indiana before I started, but now I know it really well.”
Mr. Black seems happy with this, and then he’s on to the next person. Under my desk, I text Finch: Please let me know you’re okay.
When I don’t hear from him by Tuesday, I ride over to his house. This time a little girl answers the door. She has short, dark hair sliced into a bob and the same blue eyes as Finch and Kate. “You must be Decca,” I say, sounding like one of those grown-ups I hate.
“Who are you?”
“Violet. I’m a friend of your brother’s. Is he here?” She opens the door wider and steps out of the way.
Upstairs, I pass the wall of Finches and knock but don’t wait for an answer. I push the door open and rush in, and right away I can feel it: No one is here. It’s not just that the room is bare—it’s that there’s a strange, dead stillness to the air, as if the room is an empty shell left behind by an animal.
“Finch?” My heart is starting to pound. I knock on the closet door, and then I’m standing in the closet, and he’s not there. The comforter is gone, along with his guitar and amp, the notebooks of staff paper, the stacks of blank Post-its, the jug of water, his laptop, the book I gave him, the license plate, and my picture. The words we wrote are on the walls, and the planets and stars he created are there, but they’re dead and still and no longer glowing.
I can’t do anything but turn around and around, looking for something, anything he might have left to let me know where he’s gone. I pull out my phone and call him, but it goes right to voicemail. “Finch, it’s me. I’m in your closet, but you’re not here. Please call me back. I’m worried. I’m sorry. I love you. But not sorry I love you because I could never be sorry for that.”
In his room I start opening drawers. In his bathroom I open cabinets. He’s left some things behind, but I don’t know if this means he’s coming back or if these are just things he doesn’t want anymore.
In the hallway I pass his school pictures, his eyes following me as I run down the stairs so fast I nearly fall. My heart is beating so hard and loud that I can’t hear anything except the drumming of it, which fills my ears. In the living room I find Decca staring at the television, and I say, “Is your mom home?”
“Do you know if she got the messages from my mom?”
“She doesn’t check the phone much. Kate probably got them.”
“Is Kate here?”
“Not yet. Did you find Theo?”
“No. He’s not there.”
“He does that sometimes.”
“He’ll be back. He always comes back.” That’s just his thing. It’s what he does.
I want to say to her and Charlie and Brenda, to Kate, to his mom: Doesn’t anyone care why he comes and goes? Have you ever stopped to think that something might be wrong with this?
I go into the kitchen, where I check the fridge and center island in case he left a note, because these seem like note-leaving places, and then I open the door to the garage, which is empty. Little B*****d is gone too.
I find Decca again and tell her to let me know if she hears from her brother, and I give her my number. On the street outside I look up and down for his car, but it’s not there either.
I pull out my phone. The voicemail picks up again. “Finch, where are you?”
(a muthaf#@*ing world record)
In his poem “Epilogue,” Robert Lowell asked, “Yet why not say what happened?”
To answer your question, Mr. Lowell, I’m not sure. Maybe no one can say. All I know is what I wonder: Which of my feelings are real? Which of the mes is me? There is only one me I’ve ever really liked, and he was good and awake as long as he could be.
I couldn’t stop the cardinal’s death, and this made me feel responsible. In a way, I was—we were, my family and I—because it was our house that was built where his tree used to be, the one he was trying to get back to. But maybe no one could have stopped it.
“You have been in every way all that anyone could be.… If anybody could have saved me it would have been you.”
Before he died, Cesare Pavese, believer in the Great Manifesto, wrote, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.”
I remember running down a road on my way to a nursery of flowers.
I remember her smile and her laugh when I was my best self and she looked at me like I could do no wrong and was whole.
I remember how she looked at me the same way even when I wasn’t.
I remember her hand in mine and how that felt, as if something and someone belonged to me.
The rest of march
The first text comes in on Thursday. The thing is, they were all perfect days.
As soon as I read it, I call Finch, but he’s already turned the phone off and I go to voicemail. Instead of leaving a message, I text him back: We’re all so worried. I’m worried. My boyfriend is a missing person. Please call me.
Hours later, I hear from him again: Not missing at all. Found.
I write immediately: Where are you? This time he doesn’t answer.
My dad is barely speaking to me, but my mom talks with Mrs. Finch, who says Finch has been in touch to let her know he’s okay, not to worry, and he promises to check in every week, which implies that he’s going to be gone for a while. No need to call in psychiatrists (but thanks so much for the concern). No need to call the police. After all, he does this sometimes. It appears my boyfriend isn’t missing.