1. Evan - that panic feeling
I plastered on a fake smile to go with my fake confidence. Everything around me was loud—too loud. The halls were crowded, the bell was ringing, my mind was jumbled with worries, fears, and something like anger.
“Evan!” someone shouted my name. I couldn’t be bothered to look.
I kept walking, running almost, needing to get out of the school, out of the halls, out of the general vicinity of people so that I could break down somewhere else. Somewhere private. I needed an escape.
“Evan!” that same voice shouted, and then there was a hand on my shoulder, clamping down on me, trapping me, keeping me here. “Are you coming tonight?” it asked.
My ears were muffled like I was underwater, my heart was beating like thunderclouds in my chest, my pulse was racing, and my vision was blurry. “Yeah,” I answered, not even knowing if it was the right answer to the right question. “Yeah,” I repeated.
And then I ran for real, my feet taking me away, away, away only as far as they could before my palms scraped against bricks and my head hung down so that I could heave. Nothing came out. I couldn’t vomit my fears or purge my body of the panic attack—it was coiled inside of me like a familiar foe.
Fear that I didn’t know the root of.
Shame that I didn’t know the reason behind.
Jealousy of everyone around me who got to be who they are, be themselves, be normal.
Panic that I was different, unnormal, unnatural, sinful.
My skin was peeling back, showing the world my secrets—secrets that I still hadn’t fully grasped the concept of.
Who was I? Who am I? What was happening to me?
“Evan?” another voice.
I spun. My back against the scratchy brick wall of the school, my knees buckling until I was sliding down the rough surface, scuffing my jacket and wishing it was my bare skin receiving the scrapes. My elbows on my bent knees, my face buried in my hands—feeling, feeling, feeling, but no idea what it was that I was feeling.
“Shit, you okay?” he asked, a hand on the back of my head, jostling my hat around, making sure I was alright. “Just breathe, man. You’re okay. In and out.”
I breathed. I breathed again. My vision got less spotty, and my ears unmuffled. The fear and the shame turned into fatigue and weariness; the jealousy and the panic turned into embarrassment and self-loathing. I came back from the brink of something—but what? I breathed.
“Here, man.” Luca held out a blunt in front of my face. I took it, taking a long drag, feeling the calming effect of the drug swirl in my lungs and eddy into my blood.
I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I took another drag, letting it out slowly. “Sorry. Thanks.”
Luca took the blunt back. “What happened, Ev?” Luca asked with nothing but concern in his voice.
“Nothing. I’m fine.” I lied. I didn’t know what the lie was, but I knew it was there.
“You don’t seem fine, man.” He sat beside me, leaning his head into the rough brick wall. “You blacked out there for a minute.”
“I didn’t blackout.” I closed my eyes, not wanting to see the students leaving school for the day. Too many people everywhere.
“Okay,” Luca laughed. “Then you zoned out or some shit. Kayley was trying to talk to you, but it was like you didn’t even see her.” He passed me the blunt back, nudging my shoulder to get my attention.
“My head got all fucked up for a minute. I’m fine now.” Another drag. “Is she gone?”
“Left with Deirdra. I told them we’d meet them at the party later. Are we going?” Luca asked.
Ronan walked around the side of the building, his backpack slung over his shoulder, his hands shoved into the pockets of his signature scuffed, black leather jacket, his hood up. He gave me a nod that asked, are you okay? And I tilted my chin to say, I don’t fucking know. He nodded back.
“So, are we going?” Luca asked again, handing the blunt to Ronan, bumping knuckles with him.
“Yeah.” I ran my fingers through my hair, my hat falling off in the process.
“Good.” Luca stood up. “Because those preppy fucks from the new school will probably be there. We need to get shit-faced and remind them who owns this part of town.” Luca got amped.
Great, some claim. We’re poor kids from the shittiest part of town; why the fuck would we want to remind anyone that we owned this place?
“I don’t know why that elite shit-bag of a school decided to open up over here.” Luca mused with disdain, handing me the rest of the blunt.
“Gentrification,” Ronan supplied. One word, plenty of purpose—that’s just how Ronan worked.
“Well, they can gentrify this!” Luca gestured to his crotch—his way of flipping off the world—that’s just how Luca worked. “Come on, Evan.” Luca grabbed my hands, pulling me to my feet. “Let’s get fucked up before we go.”
My legs were rubber for the first few steps. “We can’t go to my place.”
“My mum’s working,” Ronan offered
“To Ronan’s!” Luca wrapped an arm around each of our shoulders, leading us towards Ronan’s shitty house like we were kings. Kings of what? I didn’t know—wasn’t even sure I wanted to find out.
“We gotta stop at my place,” I told Luca. “I need to change.”
“And get condoms!” Luca laughed.
Ronan gave me a look that said, I have condoms, and I gave him a look that said, yeah, maybe. That fear-filled panic started to rise up my throat again, choking me with its uncertainties. I swallowed and swallowed, trying to staunch it, but no matter how hard I tried, it stayed there, cutting off my air supply one little bit at a time. They’re just condoms; I’m not a virgin; why the fuck am I panicking?
“Ronan, you gonna hook up with the new chick? Her eyes were glued to you all fucking day!” Luca shoved Ronan in the shoulder.
“Yeah, and you’re eyes were glued to her, you fool.” I shoved him back.
“Hey, she’s hot and fresh meat. We don’t get a lot of that around here.” Luca skipped ahead, chatting with anyone and everyone on the sidewalk in front of us.
What a chauvinistic asshole. Luca was better than that.
I loosened the neckline of my hoodie, wondering if that’s what made me feel like I was choking. It was already loose.
“You’re dad home?” Ronan asked.
I shrugged this time. “Hope not.”
Ronan smirked, but it wasn’t a sinister smirk; it was full of hopes and dreams—it said, someday. Someday we’ll get out of here. I smirked back, a promise.
My dad’s shitty Toyota was parked on the street in front of our two-story, green-sided house. A sea-foam green amongst a road of yellow, brown, and lime green houses; shitty, falling down, tiny little jails with beds and bathrooms in them. Shackled to our homes that should be sanctuaries but instead were prison sentences that we couldn’t wait to escape; I think we spent most of our time planning our escapes or getting drunk enough to forget we needed to escape.
The front door creaked on rusty hinges as I pushed it open, announcing my unwelcomed arrival to my dad. The boys followed me inside, Luca’s eyes already searching for my dad and Ronan shielding himself behind his leather jacket.
“Evan!” my dad shouted from the kitchen. “Get in here, boy!”
Luca cleared his throat and squeezed my shoulder; Ronan gave me a look that said, we’ve got your back. My shame came back, but this time I knew what it was about—I wasn’t someone my dad could love.
“Hey,” I greeted him. He sat at the kitchen table, a greasy beer-case t-shirt covering his torso and a pair of ripped jeans on his legs. His dirty blonde hair looked even darker with his lack of hygiene, and his face was scruffed with a month-two months’ worth of beard, his eyes bloodshot, a cigarette between his lips, and a bottle of cheap whisky in his paw—typical.
“What the fuck is this, boy?” he asked, shoving a crumpled piece of paper at me.
I took it. I looked at it. He didn’t give me time to answer.
“You think I’m going to pay for your shit? Not a fucking chance, boy. You want this shit, then you go live with your mother,” he spat the words at me, hoping that I’d go live with my mum.
Fact: she didn’t want me either. “I’ll pay this.” I shoved the bill in my hoodie pocket. “I’m going out tonight.”
“Where?” he asked, not really caring, just wanting to ruin whatever freewill I thought I had.
“Work,” Ronan said for me. “We work tonight.” It was a lie. We did work together, but not tonight. My dad gave him a condescending look.
“Good, ‘cause them bills won’t pay themselves.” Dad stood, reeking like sweat, stale smoke, and whisky. “Get goin’ then, kid.” He nodded towards the front door on his way to the living room.
I rubbed my temples, readjusting my hat. “Give me a minute,” I said to Luca and Ronan.
I took the stairs two at a time, each one groaning in protest as I weighed on them. My room was small and insignificant; a mattress on the floor, a few ripped blankets, a second-hand shelf as a bedside table, slanted ceilings, and a single window. I stripped my jeans and hoodie off, replacing them with another pair of jeans and a hoodie, and then threw my backpack over my shoulder. On the way out of the kitchen, I swiped a full bottle of my dad’s cheap whisky; that prick will assume he drank it.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” I said, shoving Ronan towards the door, Luca already way ahead of us. I didn’t bother saying goodbye to my dad. He wouldn’t have heard me anyway. He wouldn’t have cared.