I woke up in the middle of the night, panicked, the dream that someone was in my room forced me up, out of bed. Turned the lights on. Walked every inch of the floor. Checked under the bed and under the desk and in the closet.
I hated that dream. Couldn’t breathe, couldn’t calm my heart. Couldn’t get to sleep afterward, ever.
I sat in front of the computer and realized that my back and shoulders were killing me. So I went upstairs to get a glass to take one of my pain pills, which I’d been hoarding in the hopes of possibly using them in combination with something else. To overdose with.
I got to the kitchen, opened a cabinet, when a noise from the dining table rocketed my pulse into the stratosphere.
I squeaked, hand over my heart.
“Hey, Vi. It’s Ivan. Sorry to scare you like that.”
I took a deep breath and told myself I was a stupid idiot.
“What are you doing, sitting here in the dark?”
“It’s just weird to be back, is all. Kinda mind-bending, you know? What’re you doing wandering around in the dark?”
I thought about my answer, decided it wouldn’t be too incriminating and certainly wasn’t a matter of national security, so I finally answered, begrudgingly, “Getting a glass.” There. Nice and honest. Had it hurt? Would have to think about that at some future juncture.
“What’s up with the hostility, Vi? Everybody’s trying to be nice to you, but you make it so hard.”
“What did I say? I told you the truth!”
“Yeah, but you make it seem like I’m asking for your biggest secret.”
“Okay, fine. Be an asshole. Goodnight.”
I turned to leave.
I stopped. What now?
“Vi, I know it’s hard, but give them a chance.”
I didn’t even know what to say to that, it made me so mad.
“You know?” I practically spat it out. “You think you know anything? Fuck you, Ivan. Fuck your perfectness and your life and your paintings and everything. Fuck you.”
I turned around and there stood Adam in the doorway.
I couldn’t see his face through the gloom, wished I’d turned on the fucking lights. I couldn’t tell if or what he’d heard.
I snapped, “What is this? ‘Walk around in the dark’ night?”
I pushed past him and went to my room, where the lights were still on, thank God.
The medicine huddled in the bathroom cabinet, though, so I went back out, filled the glass with water, took out a couple pills.
Stared down at the lot of them in the orange plastic bottle. I didn’t think just them would kill me. I didn’t know. But if I had some MAOIs to mix with them, that’d probably work. I put one of the pills back, for later, even though I needed both of them, and took it. When I opened the door, Adam stood waiting, arms crossed with a peevish, sleepy expression. I jumped.
“What the hell do you want?” I probably wouldn’t have been so nasty if he hadn’t startled me and I hadn’t been thinking about the logistics of killing myself, both of which made me edgy. “What?”
“Vi, why were you cussing out Ivan?”
“He send you down ’cause his wee-little feelings were hurt? Poor baby.”
“No. As a matter of fact, he told me to leave it alone.”
“Shoulda’ listened to your big brother, Adam. He’s soooo wise.”
“Damn it, Vi! Any normal person would bite your head off and never speak to you again. You’re really pushing me.”
“So what’s stopping you, band boy?”
That would finally be it. I could stop holding my breath for him to quit liking me. Which should’ve made me happier than it apparently did. My hands started going all clammy and I felt chilled to the bone.
“What’re you doing sneaking around in the dark? Don’t give me the glass story you laid on Ivan.”
You told people the truth, and they didn’t buy it. Not my problem.
“I could ask you the same question, band boy.”
“I woke up and Ivan wasn’t there so I thought I’d go see what he was up to. Did that seem hard to you? Being honest?” He stuck his hands under his armpits, like he’d gotten maybe cold or something. He looked obstinate again.
“Adam, really. You can only be as honest as your audience will buy. I was getting a fucking glass. That’s what I was doing. Getting a fucking glass so I could take some fucking pain pills. Okay? Are you going to leave me alone, now? Or do I need to start a journal, keeping track of all my waking minutes?”
He stared at me some more, finally shook his head. “Whatever, Ms. Nasty. Whatever you say. I’m going to bed.”
He went upstairs and I went to my room, sat on the bed for awhile, thought about nothing in particular, until I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
I hated trying to fall asleep.
I hated being that vulnerable.
Shay stopped at my easel, watched a fall of light forming in the left hand corner of the room I worked on, coming in from the window that hovered just out of the frame to the right. It was going really well, like I’d managed to capture the soul of the room. It looked all dusty and dying, brown and bone and black and crusty.
Shay said, “This is interesting, Violet. The sense of light, the stillness of it. What do you think?”
I stopped painting, stepped back, wiped my brush with a rag.
I thought it had to be my best in the series so far, but I’d kind of lost interest in decaying buildings. Maybe I’d do something more timely or pertinent. Something. Didn’t know what. Nothing really interested me. Seemed like, recently, it’d just gotten too hard to keep myself interested in painting, which made me kinda panicky. The one thing that I’d had, the only thing that made life worth holding onto, and I maybe didn’t care anymore.
That shook me to my grey-toned core.
Shay said, “I like how this bit of yellow is butted up against that bit of purple, how it works off of it.”
I stared at what he pointed at. Yeah. ’S okay. That little bit. “Fab.”
He picked up a brush and played with the bristles, looked out the windows. “You,” he started, paused. “You doing okay?”
I looked down at the scuffed linoleum, paint blotches everywhere, hiding the truly hideous gold flecking. Hallelujah.
“Just curious.” He set the paintbrush down.
I said, “Fab.” But it came out all bitchy. I wished my voice didn’t sound like that so much of the time.
Shay nodded, said, “All right.” Started to walk away, turned back. “It really is coming along well. The painting. It’s good.” He walked to the next easel.
Everybody did it.
It seemed like I’d love it, but no.
It’d become a mantra inside my fucking head, “Don’t go. Don’t go. Don’t go.”
I could’ve screamed, really screamed.
I could’ve blown my brains out.
Slit my wrists.
Thrown myself out a window.
I could’ve started crying right there in front of the whole class.
And wouldn’t that be grand?
“Fab,” I said quietly to my painting. “Just fab.”
After class Adam waited for me at my locker. I ignored him.
He leaned against the locker next to mine. “Hey.”
I said, “What?” Nothing like some nice defensiveness to end a long day of classes.
“So were you really getting a glass last night?”
Everybody in the vicinity stopped and stared. I wanted the ugly linoleum to swallow me whole. Adam turned beet red. Shay stuck his head out the door, frowned at me.
“Really, Violet,” he said. “None of that.” He disappeared back into the art room and everybody kind of drifted away. I wished for another me. Kill me.
“Whad’ya have to go and yell that for, Vi?”
I stuffed books I’d need into my knapsack, pulled my fleece jacket on. “You never let go of anything, pitbull boy. Tenacious as a fucking matador.”
“A matador? Where’d that come from? Pitbull boy? Thanks. Thank you, so much. You always know exactly what to say to make me feel good.”
“It’s not my fucking job to make you feel good about yourself, Adam.”
We eyed each other and then he shook his head, pushed his hair back with his right hand.
“Right,” he said. “Fine. But I’ve got to get to practice. You ready to blow?”
“Yeah. Whatever. Ready as a virgin on her wedding night.”
He looked shocked, then a smile started at the edge of his lips, then he just started to laugh. Like really freaking loud. I took a couple steps back, tried to disassociate myself from him. It was kind of fascinating, watching a person laugh so completely, just give themselves over to it. His face turned red again, mouth open and gasping, bent over from the laughter. Watching him made me want to smile, to laugh too. How strange. I took another step back.
“Vi...” he gasped. “Oh, my gosh.” He started to run down but then took one look at me and the whole thing started over again. We’d gotten a small audience, back a ways, distantly curious. Adam laughed and laughed.
Finally, I tried to calm him down. “Adam, we’re going to be late. Get hold of yourself.”
“Okay,” he gasped between whoops. “I know. Oh, my gosh.”
We started walking down the hall, Adam chuckling to himself. Laughing at me? With me? For me? I didn’t understand him.
“Adam,” I said. “What was that?”
“You fucking surprise me, Vi.”
I checked his face; still grinning. His perfect profile. Why was I walking down the hall with this guy?
Such a weird thing for me.
Loving some guy.
Really, this whole day had been weird.
Honestly, this whole year had gotten completely out of hand.
Everything, just everything, had been too much.
Nausea kinda formed itself into a soft squishy ball in my stomach, huge and overwhelming.
“Adam, I’ve gotta....” I stopped, covered my mouth and ran to the nearest Ladies, made it just barely. When I came out of the stall, three cheerleaders stared at me. I got to the sink, rinsed my mouth out.
One of them said, “Are you okay?”
I ignored her, walked out where Adam waited for me, leaning against the wall, face completely sober. He looked down at me as I stopped in front of him. His eyes had gone unfathomable, again.
“What?” I said. “What?”
He stood up straight, pushed his hair back, shook his head. “You’re not... You just... The thing is....” He let his voice trail off, looked back down at the floor.
Shook his head again, said to the floor, “You’re just so far away from being okay, Vi. So far.”
I felt shaken to the bone, that he would say that to me, that he would think that about me, that he thought about me at all.
Was he concerned about me?
I stepped back. “What do you care, Adam? It doesn’t matter.”
He looked up at me, his eyes hard and angry. “It matters. You matter.”
I took another step back, looked around. No one paid us any attention. I took another step away from him. Shook my head.
“No, Adam. No. You’re wrong. You’re just so wrong. I don’t... It doesn’t.....”
I stopped myself from talking, stared down at the floor, arms tight around my stomach, felt queasy again.
I shook my head again, decided to distract him. “Practice,” I said. “You’re already late, now. We need to go.”
“Vi,” he started.
“No. We have to go.”
“This is important.”
“So’s the band, remember? Your band?”
I interrupted him. “We’re not going to reach a consensus at this time, band boy, so let’s get rolling. Get me?”
He eyed me, shook his head again. “Yeah, okay. I hear you. But this isn’t over.”
I rolled my eyes. “Right. It’s never over with you. Come on.”
So we headed out to his car and drove to Enoch’s place. The guys hung around the converted garage, talked about something that they stopped talking about when we stepped in. They didn’t even chastise Adam for being late. They really were nice guys. Creamy. Clones, anyone?
I didn’t get these people. I’d seen Adam get pissy, so I knew it could happen, but where was the anger? Didn’t it boil inside, just under the surface? Where was the hate? The grudges? It had to be there. Didn’t it?
I sat in my corner and studied them as they practiced. Happily practiced. They listened to each other, they worked together well. It was weird. Disgusting. Freaky. Finally I closed my eyes and just listened to the music.
It was a complex sound, layered, woven. At one moment the guitar took the front, a sound like melancholy, worked in a minor key. The next, all together, riffs worked in and through a driving rhythm. Adam’s voice was grainy, rough, hard-edged. A sad song. His lyrics haunted me, the rawness of them. I opened my eyes in surprise. They were brilliant. They made something beautiful together, like a painting. Like art.
I felt amazed, surprised. I’d noticed before that they sounded good, but I’d somehow missed that they were utterly fantastic. Truly gifted.
On the drive back to the house I watched the snow fall through the darkness, an orange haze filling the sky. I thought about them, together. I’d been going to their rehearsals for weeks, now. How had I missed that they were as good as they were?
I’d been so blind.
What else have I missed?