Chapter One - Part One
A rail higher than myself. Go, Tristan! Explosions of pain in my arm, on my face. My head spinning. A curtain of stars blinking in front of my eyes. Confusion. Darkness.
In the blackness that surrounds me, there is a voice, soft and familiar. It makes me feel safe. I’m fighting through the thicket in my brain that is made of thoughts woven together so tightly that I can’t single one out. But at least I’m safe.
“Tristan. You need to wake up.”
I didn’t know I was sleeping, but now that the voice has said it, it makes sense. Why do I have to wake up though? Sleeping, it’s so effortless. I don’t know why, but I have a feeling that once I wake up easy will be over. I’ll just keep my eyes shut and hope that the voice will go away.
“Come on, kid.”
It’s Mum. Do I have to go to school? This is a tad bit confusing. I’m not going to school anymore. I try to force my eyelids to part. Every photon hits my retinas like a sledgehammer and explodes into a blazing, excruciating firework. I squeeze my eyes shut again, but it’s too late. The blasts resound through all of my body, the echo intensifying in my stomach. I’m gonna be sick.
“Have to throw up, Mum”, I choke out.
I’m being pulled upright, there’s pain everywhere and in addition my stomach is heaving and contracting. The sour fluid that leaves me drips into the plastic bowl that must be somewhere close to my face. I’m so bummed, I can’t even muster the strength to puke properly. A tissue is wiped over my mouth and then I’m lying down again. There must be something wrong with my brain, it feels as if it’s much too small for my skull; I can still feel it swishing around inside from the movement. I try to breathe evenly, to make the motion sickness go away. Am I ill? Maybe it’s not my brain drifting around inside my head. Doesn’t feel like a brain. More like a cotton ball and about as useful as one. I can’t figure out what’s up and I’m not sure why but I have a feeling that this is better than being aware.
“You still there, Tristan?”
“I got to sleep, Mum.”
I know that sleep is the only thing that will make me better.
“Ok. I’m gonna wake you in a few hours again.”
Why on earth would she be so cruel? The stars that are projected onto my inner eyelids are so pretty, why would she want to keep me from watching them? They twinkle and twirl, they dance with each other and one by one they fade out and then there’s darkness again.
“Keep your eyes shut.” There’s the voice again. Mum’s voice. “Are you awake?”
My body feels weird. The side of my head hurts and my left arm is a billion pounds heavy. I can’t lift it. I try to move my fingers but they’re like stuck together. And there’s pain throbbing almost everywhere. I move my right hand over to check on my left. The texture is abrasive and hard and I wonder where my skin has gone. A cast. My left arm is in a cast.
“What’s wrong, Mum?”
“You have a concussion. Your arm is broken… multiple times might I add, half your facial skin is peeled off…” She swallows hard.
“Don’t you remember anything?”
I feel a door slamming shut inside of me. Remembering is bad. I don’t want to remember. I know that remembering will hurt.
“You were out with Mark. Skating at Tesco’s. You had an accident.” Her voice is quivering although I can hear that she’s trying to keep calm.
I don’t remember skating at Tesco’s and I certainly don’t remember an accident. There’s not much sense in asking her for details about what I assume was a fall; she does not speak Skateboarding. I can’t get rid of the nagging feeling that there’s something very bad associated to Mark though.
“Am I going to be alright?”
“Yeah, sure.” I can hear her gasping, as if she wanted to say something.
“How long have I been out?”
“It happened yesterday evening. You’ve been in the hospital overnight and sleeping ever since you came home.” She pauses. “The doctor said you’ve been smoking pot.”
I lay my right arm over my eyes and very carefully open them. There are a billion knives thrusting into my eyes.
“Can you turn off the light, please?”
The mattress tilts as Mum gets up and it feels as if I’m floating the sea in a nutshell. As I hear the clicking of the light switch, I dare to give it another go. Easier. Much easier. The streetlamps cast their glow through the windows and into my room, making Mum’s face seem much younger. Even her frown line that’s like a border between her eyebrows seems much flatter.
“So? Smoking pot?”, she asks.
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?”
“I mean, that I can’t remember!”
It’s not really a lie. I usually don’t toke, well, not regularly. Mark’s the stoner in the group. He used to be a good skater, but for the past few years he didn’t really have his feet on the ground anymore. Although I can’t remember a thing, I don’t feel as if she’s far off with her accusation. I can extract the feeling of indestructibility and carelessness from my brain and it doesn’t seem to have been too long ago that I’ve actually felt that way.
“Damn it, Tristan. It’s one thing to have a …joint, but smoking and skating, for crying out loud!”
“Mum, please.” Every vein in my head is throbbing and I’m afraid that I’m going to be sick again. “I usually don’t, alright? Can you save the bollocking for when I’m better, please?”
Her eyes shoot darts at me, but she unclenches her fists, rubbing her palms over her thighs.
“You bet I’m gonna save it,” she mumbles between her teeth.
I very carefully prop myself up on my right arm, moving as slowly as possible to minimize the spinning sensation inside my head, and swing my legs out of bed.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“I’ve got to go to the loo.”
The bathroom is only across the hall, but I already know that I won’t make it there on my own; I can barely sit upright. My head is throbbing and I feel the floor tilting alternately to the left and right underneath my feet.
Her outcry pierces my eardrums and pulses further to my brain, making the pain even harder to bear. There’s the slamming of a door and feet brushing against the hallway carpet and then Rory’s voice.
“Help Tristan to the bathroom.”
Alright, that’s it. I’m never going to skate again. No chance I’ll risk needing help to go for a pee again. And especially if it’s from my little brother. It’s just too much on top of everything else.
“Oh, does wee little Twistan have to go potty?”
“Rory!” Mum cautions him.
“Rory!” he mimics her voice, quietly, so she won’t hear him and then sits down next to me on the bed. He puts my right arm across his shoulders and pulls me into a standing position. Better hurry now, because I’m definitely going to be sick. I feel like I’m being thrown around the room; I know I’m swaying like a drunk and my left shoulder hits both my bedroom’s and the bathroom’s doorframe and each time the stars in front of my eyes multiply. The last step towards the bog is more a fall than a step and then I’m hugging the toilet, trying to turn my insides out again.
“Holy smokes, bruv. You’re really bad, true?”
“No, I’m just pretending.” My voice is thrown back in a weird pitch, distorted by the porcelain bowl. “Mind stepping out?”
The door thuds shut behind him and I heave my body onto the seat. My head is so heavy that I have to support it with my hands; my fingers discover that half of my long curls on the left side are missing. When I’m done, I pull myself up, holding onto the sink and try to make out something in the twilight. The visible proof for my concussion presents itself as a freshly stitched cut that ranges from my temple over more than half the side of my head. Steps. I suddenly remember that I hit my head on some steps. It all doesn’t make any sense though. I have no idea what happened. Did I do tricks or did I suddenly think I could fly or what? I mean, why did I even skate stoned? I know from experience that it makes me reckless and idiotic; it’s hilarious too, but right now I don’t feel the fun. If I got the weed from Mark, he should’ve stopped me. There are answers right beneath my consciousness, but clearing things up threatens me so much that I push it aside quickly. Going asleep still feels like the better alternative to being aware.
I don’t wash my hands; if I let go of the sink I’ll fall flat on my face. Calling Rory back in isn’t an option either; I might be impaired, but I’m not gonna have him mock me about it. Instead I make my way hand over hand on the bathtub ledge, the doorframe, trying to ignore the tilting of the floor. Once I’m in my room Mum rushes to my side and helps me to bed again. She tucks me in like she used to when I was a little boy. It’s only because I’m so bummed that I let her. Her hand comes up to my face and she softly strokes my cheek.
“You scared the hell out of me, kid.”
“I’m sorry, Mum.” I truly am.
She nods and kisses my forehead and I can smell her familiar perfume.
“Sleep tight. You’ll feel better tomorrow.” I’m not sure she’s saying it only to ease me.
The trip across the hall used up all my energy; I feel like a completely depleted battery. I plunge into unconsciousness, eager to switch off my brain before it can come up with any answers to all the questions I have inside. My dreams are made up of rails and steps, of flying as high as a kite and then crashing into them.