At home, my mother is talking on the phone and defrosting one of the casseroles my sister Kate prepares at the start of each week. Mom waves and then keeps right on. Kate runs down the stairs, swipes her car keys from the counter, and says, “Later, loser.” I have two sisters—Kate, just one year older than I am, and Decca, who’s eight. Clearly, she was a mistake, which she figured out at the age of six. But we all know if anyone is the mistake here, it’s me.
I go upstairs, wet shoes squeaking against the floor, and shut the door to my room. I pull out something old on vinyl without checking what it is and slap it onto the turntable I found in the basement. The record bumps and scratches, sounding like something from the 1920s. I’m in a Split Enz kind of phase right now, hence the sneakers. I’m trying out Theodore Finch, ’80s kid, and seeing how he fits.
I fish through my desk for a cigarette, stick it in my mouth, and remember as I’m reaching for my lighter that Theodore Finch, ’80s kid, doesn’t smoke. God, I hate him, the clean-cut, eager little prick. I leave the cigarette in my mouth unlit, trying to chew the nicotine out, and pick up the guitar, play along, then give it up and sit down at the computer, swinging my chair around so it’s backward, the only way I can compose.
I type: January 5. Method: Bell tower of school. On a scale of one to ten on the how-close-did-I-come scale: five. Facts: Jumping increases on full moons and holidays. One of the more famous jumpers was Roy Raymond, founder of Victoria’s Secret. Related fact: In 1912, a man named Franz Reichelt jumped off the Eiffel Tower wearing a parachute suit he designed himself. He jumped to test his invention—he expected to fly—but instead he fell straight down, hitting the ground like a meteor and leaving a 5.9-inch-deep crater from the impact. Did he mean to kill himself? Doubtful. I think he was just cocky, and also stupid.
A quick internet search turns up the information that only five to ten percent of all suicides are committed by jumping (so says Johns Hopkins). Apparently, jumping as a means of killing oneself is usually chosen for convenience, which is why places like San Francisco, with its Golden Gate Bridge (the world’s top suicide destination), are so popular. Here, all we have is the Purina Tower and a 1,257-foot hill.
I write: Reason for not jumping: Too messy. Too public. Too crowded.
I switch off Google and hop onto Facebook. I find Amanda Monk’s page because she’s friends with everyone, even the people she’s not friends with, and I pull up her friend list, typing in “Violet.”
Just like that, there she is. I click on her photo and there she is, even bigger, wearing the same smile she gave me earlier. You have to be her friend to read her profile and view the rest of her pictures. I sit staring at the screen, suddenly desperate to know more. Who is this Violet Markey? I try a Google search, because maybe there’s a secret back entrance to her Facebook page, one that requires a special knock or a three-digit code, something easily figured out.
What I pull up instead is a site called EleanorandViolet.com, which lists Violet Markey as cocreator/editor/writer. It’s got all the usual boys-and-beauty-type blog posts, the most recent from April 3 of last year. The other thing I pull up is a news article.
Eleanor Markey, 18, a senior at Bartlett High School and member of the student congress, lost control of her car on A Street Bridge at approximately 12:45 a.m. April 5. Icy conditions and speed may have caused the crash. Eleanor was killed on impact. Her 16-year-old sister, Violet, a passenger in the vehicle, sustained only minor injuries.
I sit reading and rereading this, a black feeling settling in the pit of my stomach. And then I do something I swore I’d never do. I sign up for Facebook just so I can send her a friend request. Having an account will make me look sociable and normal, and maybe work to offset the whole meeting-on-the-verge-of-suicide situation, so that she’ll feel it’s safe to know me. I take a picture of myself with my phone, decide I look too serious, take another one—too goofy—and settle on the third, which is somewhere in between.
I sleep the computer so I don’t check every five minutes, and then I play the guitar, read a few pages of Macbeth for homework, and eat dinner with Decca and my mom, a tradition that started last year, after the divorce. Even though I’m not much into eating, dinner is one of the most enjoyable parts of my day because I get to turn my brain off.
Mom says, “Decca, tell me what you learned today.” She makes sure to ask us about school so that she feels she’s done her duty. This is her favorite way to start.
Dec says, “I learned that Jacob Barry is a jackass.” She has been swearing more often lately, trying to get a reaction out of Mom, to see if she’s really listening.
“Decca,” Mom says mildly, but she is only half paying attention.
Decca goes on to tell us about how this boy named Jacob glued his hands to his desk just to get out of a science quiz, but when they tried to separate skin from wood, his palms came off with the glue. Decca’s eyes gleam like the eyes of a small, rabid animal. She clearly thinks he deserved it, and then she says so.
Mom is suddenly listening. “Decca.” She shakes her head. This is the extent of her parenting. Ever since my dad left, she’s tried really hard to be the cool parent. Still, I feel bad for her because she loves him, even though, at his core, he’s selfish and rotten, and even though he left her for a woman named Rosemarie with an accent over one of the letters—no one can ever remember which—and because of something she said to me the day he left: “I never expected to be single at forty.” It was the way she said it more than the words themselves. She made it sound so final.
Ever since then, I’ve done what I could to be pleasant and quiet, making myself as small and unseen as possible—which includes pretending to go to school when I’m asleep, as in the Asleep—so that I don’t add to the burden. I am not always successful.
“How was your day, Theodore?”
“Grand.” I push my food around my plate, trying to create a pattern. The thing about eating is that there are so many other more interesting things to do. I feel the same way about sleeping. Complete wastes of time.
Interesting fact: A Chinese man died from lack of sleep when he stayed awake for eleven days straight as he attempted to watch every game in the European Championship (that’s soccer, for those, like me, who have no clue). On the eleventh night, he watched Italy beat Ireland 2–0, took a shower, and fell asleep around five a.m. And died. No offense to the dead, but soccer is a really stupid thing to stay awake for.