In my dream I am falling forever through darkness.
Falling, falling, falling.
Is it still falling if it has no end?
And then a shriek. Something ripping through the soundlessness, an awful, high wailing, like an animal or an alarmBeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeep.
I wake up stifling a scream.
I shut off the alarm, trembling, and lie back against my pillows. My throat is burning and I’m covered in sweat. I take long, slow breaths and watch my room lighten as the sun inches its way over the horizon, things beginning to emerge: the Victoria’s Secret sweatshirt on my floor, the collage Lindsay made me years ago with quotes from our favorite bands and cut-up magazines. I listen to the sounds from downstairs, so familiar and constant it’s like they belong to the architecture, like they’ve been built up out of the ground with the walls: the clanking of my father in the kitchen, shelving dishes; the frantic scrabbling sound of our pug, Pickle, trying to get out the back door, probably to pee and run around in circles; a low murmur that means my mom’s watching the morning news.
When I’m ready, I suck in a deep breath and reach for my phone. I flip it open.
The date flashes up at me.
Friday, February 12.
“Get up, Sammy.” Izzy pokes her head in the door. “Mommy says you’re going to be late.”
“Tell Mom I’m sick.” Izzy’s blond bob disappears again.
Here’s what I remember: I remember being in the car. I remember Elody and Ally fighting over the iPod. I remember the wild spinning of the wheel and seeing Lindsay’s face as the car sailed toward the woods, her mouth open and her eyebrows raised in surprise, as though she’d just run into someone she knew in an unexpected place. But after that? Nothing.
After that, only the dream.
This is the first time I really think it—the first time I allow myself to think it.
That maybe the accidents—both of them—were real.
And maybe I didn’t make it.
Maybe when you die time folds in on you, and you bounce around inside this little bubble forever. Like the after-death equivalent of the movie Groundhog Day. It’s not what I imagined death would be like—not what I imagined would come afterward—but then again it’s not like there’s anyone around to tell you about it.
Be honest: are you surprised that I didn’t realize sooner? Are you surprised that it took me so long to even think the word— death? Dying? Dead?
Do you think I was being stupid? Naive?
Try not to judge. Remember that we’re the same, you and me.
I thought I would live forever too.
“Sam?” My mom pushes open the door and leans against the frame. “Izzy said you felt sick?”
“I…I think I have the flu or something.” I know I look like crap so it should be believable.
My mom sighs like I’m being difficult on purpose. “Lindsay will be here any second.”
“I don’t think I can go in today.” The idea of school makes me want to curl up in a ball and sleep forever.
“On Cupid Day?” My mom raises her eyebrows. She glances at the fur-trimmed tank top that’s laid out neatly over my desk chair—the only item of clothing that isn’t lying on the floor or hanging from a bedpost or a doorknob. “Did something happen?”
“No, Mom.” I try to swallow the lump in my throat. The worst is knowing I can’t tell anybody what’s happening—or what’s happened—to me. Not even my mom. I guess it’s been years since I talked to her about important stuff, but I start wishing for the days when I believed she could fix anything. It’s funny, isn’t it? When you’re young you just want to be older, and then later you wish you could go back to being a kid.
My mom’s searching my face really intensely. I feel like at any second I could break down and blurt out something crazy so I roll away from her, facing the wall.
“You love Cupid Day,” my mom prods. “Are you sure nothing happened? You didn’t fight with your friends?”
“No. Of course not.”
She hesitates. “Did you fight with Rob?”
That makes me want to laugh. I think about the fact that he left me waiting upstairs at Kent’s party and I almost say, Not yet . “No, Mom. God.”
“Don’t use that tone of voice. I’m just trying to help.”
“Yeah, well, you’re not.” I bury deeper under the covers, keeping my back turned to her. I hear rustling and think she’ll come and sit next to me. She doesn’t, though. Freshman year after a big fight I drew a line in red nail polish just inside my door, and I told her if she ever came past the line I’d never speak to her again. Most of the nail polish has chipped off by now, but in places you can still see it spotted over the wood like blood.
I meant it at the time, but I’d expected her to forget after a while. But since that day she’s never once stepped foot in my room. It’s a bummer in some ways, since she never surprises me by making up my sheets anymore, or leaving folded laundry or a new sundress on my bed like she did when I was in middle school. But at least I know she’s not rooting through my drawers while I’m at school, looking for drugs or sex toys or whatever.
“If you want to come out here, I’ll get the thermometer,” she says.
“I don’t think I have a fever.” There’s a chip in the wall in the exact shape of an insect, and I push my thumb against the wall, squishing it.
I can practically feel my mom put her hands on her hips. “Listen, Sam. I know it’s second semester. And I know you think that gives you the right to slack off—”
“Mom, that is not it.” I bury my head under the pillow, feeling like I could scream. “I told you, I don’t feel good.” I’m half afraid she’ll ask me what’s wrong and half hoping she will.
She only says, “All right. I’ll tell Lindsay you’re thinking of going in late. Maybe you’ll feel better after a little more sleep.”
I doubt it. “Maybe,” I say, and a second later I hear the door click shut behind her.
I close my eyes and reach back into those final moments, the last memories—Lindsay’s look of surprise and the trees lit up like teeth in the headlights, the wild roar of the engine—searching for a light, a thread that will connect this moment to that one, a way to sew together the days so that they make sense.
But all I get is blackness.
I can’t hold back my tears anymore. They come all at once, and before I know it I’m sobbing and snotting all over my best Ethan Allen pillows. A little later I hear scratching against my door. Pickle has always had a dog sense for when I’m crying, and in sixth grade after Rob Cokran said I was too big of a dork for him to go out with—right in the middle of the cafeteria, in front of everybody—Pickle sat on my bed and licked the tears off one after another.
I don’t know why that’s the example that pops into my head, but thinking about that moment makes a new rush of anger and frustration swell up inside of me. It’s strange how much the memory affects me. I’ve never mentioned that day to Rob—I doubt he remembers—but I’ve always liked to think about it when we’re walking down the hallway, our fingers interlaced, or when we’re all hanging out in Tara Flute’s basement, and Rob looks over at me and winks. I like to think how funny life is: how so much changes. How people change.
But now I just wonder when, exactly, I became cool enough for Rob Cokran.
After a while the scratching on my door stops. Pickle has finally realized he’s not getting in, and I hear his paws ticking against the floor as he trots off. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so alone in my life.
I cry until it seems amazing that one person could have so many tears. It seems like they must be coming from the very tips of my toes.
Then I sleep without dreaming.