I hate you.
If only I’d known.
If only I’d been enough.
I let you down.
I wish I could have done something.
I should have done something. Was it my fault?
Why wasn’t I enough?
I love you.
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.
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.