Shay Griffin stopped by my easel. I painted the inside of this ancient cabin that was sitting derelict downtown. He watched me paint awhile and I slowly became more and more agitated so finally I turned to him.
“What? It sucks, right? I can’t paint worth shit. That’s just the way it is, right? The poor fucking new girl can’t paint and you’re stuck with her.”
He stood silent for a few beats, then looked down at the ground. “Violet.” He dragged a hand through his ragged hair. “I don’t think that at all. You’re a good painter. Every artist doubts themselves. Don’t let it destroy you.” He looked back at me, really looked at me.
Could he see me? I felt seen.
And then he walked away.
I knew that I’d hurt him. Had meant to hurt him, to make him back off. I wished I wasn’t such a bitch sometimes. It made me feel smaller and even more insignificant than usual.
Adam leaned by my locker when I got out of class. I didn’t say anything as I got my stuff out and put on my coat. Neither did he.
We walked out to the student parking lot, got in his car and sat there.
I turned to him after a few minutes. “Are we going?”
His hands clenched the wheel, knuckles white. “I’m thinking.” He stared out the windshield. “I’m thinking about being dead. You know when Hamlet goes ‘To be or not to be, that is the question’? I was thinking how that’s where you are and that’s where I was. Mother told me she told you about me. That’s okay. That’s good. But back to Hamlet and the second part of the question. ‘Not to be.’ Is that what you want? To not exist? To not be? Is that what you honestly want? It’s a one-way ticket. You have to be certain.” He looked straight forward, like he was afraid of seeing what my eyes would tell him.
Was I certain? Did I not want to be? Mother had never wanted me, never thought I was important. Should I fulfill her dreams for me or make my own? I didn’t want to not exist. Eternity, the thought of it, terrified me. The coldness of the car started to creep into my bones.
“Start the car,” I whispered. “I’m cold.”
He turned to me. “Is it what you want, Vi?”
He was so close to me, but his eyes were completely unfathomable. He frightened me with his nearness. What did other people think? Could they be just like me? Scared and unsure? Did they hate themselves sometimes? Was I really all alone in this swirling darkness?
I thought of the Van Gogh painting, Starry Night, of flying through the colors, of hurtling toward madness.
“Vi?” He reached out, ever so slowly.
“I don’t know.” I stared at his hand hovering there. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.” I covered my mouth with my hand.
“Okay.” He pulled back, looked forward again. “I’ll take that for now but I’m expecting more sooner or later.”
Who the fuck did he think he was?
Messing with me like that?
But finally he started the car and we drove to Enoch’s house. That was part of my sentencing for wanting to not be. I had to go to Adam’s band practice. Whoopee.
So I finally heard the band. Beeker’s Box. They were good. Crunchy guitars, good bass lines--six string fretless bass, amazing percussion, and solid keyboards. Adam’s lyrics were interesting. Elliot Smith and Adam Young and James Taylor good.
I sat on the couch in the garage while they played. I had no idea what Adam had told them about me, but they didn’t pick on me and they didn’t kid Adam about having a bald girlfriend so he’d probably told them the truth. Which had to be fine. Freaky suicidal people weren’t people one tried to be friends with. I watched them play for awhile until I got so bored I pulled out the stupid journal.
So Adam dragged out Hamlet on me. Slap ’em with Shakespeare and they’ll swoon.
But not to be is an interesting question.
Not to exist. What’s after life? What’s death like?
But should I do it? What’s the alternative?
Play it out to the inevitable end--we do all eventually end. Why not hurry it along? Is this hand worth playing? Mother who doesn’t love me, Father who didn’t love me, Uncle who left. No one else. The Grants? They were never mine. So why continue?
Why continue? Can it get better? Can I make it get better? I’ve got my painting. That’s all I’ve got. Me and it.
Do I stay and paint?
Or do I go?
To be or not to be. Hamlet had it right. That’s the fucking question of the age.
I started painting my fingernails black. They would be my question; to stay or go away. Leah acted all freaky and superior.
“You think you’re so cool, so detached,” she said one morning in the kitchen when no one else was around. “You pretend like you don’t care, but you do.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that proclamation. I didn’t feel cool or detached and I didn’t pretend that I didn’t care. Well, maybe a little. Honestly, I cared too damn much. I wanted to be happy. I wanted people to like me. I wanted to like people.
God, I wanted to trust people.
I pretended that what she’d said meant nothing to me by turning my back to her and getting a glass of orange juice. Started to leave.
Leah grabbed my arm and before I could think my body went into self-protection mode. I dropped the glass and pulled away from her, pushed away from her.
So there I crouched, plastered against the wall, staring at the shattered glass and spreading pool of juice at Leah’s feet.
Finally I looked up at her face. She watched me with wide eyes, breathing shallow and fast. Was she horrified? Juice on her shoes.
“I’m sorry.” She reached out. “I didn’t mean...”
I straightened up, interrupted. “What? You didn’t mean to be a bitch? Didn’t mean to be so stupid? You can’t help it, Leah.”
I walked out slowly, shaking, trying to keep it together. Holed up in my room in front of the computer. I knew I’d have to go out again, go to school, and the thought of another day of classes and bumping into people made me nauseous so I ran and puked.
After I washed my face I glanced in the mirror. Gray, I was really gray with blue circles under my eyes which looked way too big. I looked gaunt, my neck long and tendony, like it wasn’t sturdy enough to hold up my huge head.
Why couldn’t I be normal?
A knock on the bathroom door brought me back to the Grant’s, back to the present.
“Vi?” Adam, so I opened the door.
“Adam, what’s wrong with me? Why am I like this? What did I do?”
He stood there, blinked at me.
I instantly regretted saying anything. “Never mind. We have to get to school.”
So we went. But all day I felt like I struggled through water, like I could feel myself falling further and further away from reality, like I neared death without having to pick up a razor blade.
It was shrink day which meant I wouldn’t go with Adam to band practice. The ride to the house was strained from the questions I’d blurted out that morning. I had this stupid talking thing. Cut my tongue out and fry it on a platter.
When we’d almost reached the house Adam tried to start talking.
“Uh...” He turned his playlist off. “Well, you see... um... you know...”
I looked out the window, hated feeling awkward with him. Why’d I asked such stupid questions? Meaningless questions. I willed him to be silent.
“You know, Vi, there’s nothing too terribly wrong with you. Whatever your mom did wasn’t your fault. I’ve been thinking about this all day and I think that’s what your problem is, Vi. You think what your mother did to you was your fault, right? But it wasn’t.”
I looked out at the spruce trees and bare birch and the snow. It had been my fault. Adam didn’t know anything about me, about my mother.
He pulled up to the house and I got out, slammed the car door. He got out too, followed me inside.
“Vi? Did you hear me?”
I ignored him, went downstairs and quietly closed the door to my room, leaned against it. He knocked.
“Vi? Come on. Are you mad at me? What’d I do? Vi? I’m sorry for whatever, okay? Vi?”
I slid down the door into a ball, willed him to go away.
“I said, go away.”
“Come on, Vi.”
There was a bang, like he’d maybe hit the wall. I jumped, pulled my knees tighter to my chest.
“Fine,” he said. “Just fine. Push me away. Kill yourself. Whatever.” Then silence and the sound of the front door slamming.
I felt empty knowing he hated me now, too. It would be easier this way, having no one. Needing no one. A rock. Alone. I took off my sweater, stared at the slim white swells on my wrists for a long time.
In Samantha’s office, I sat in the usual spot, picked at the upholstery on the arm of the couch.
“So how was your week?” Samantha said.
“Did you write in your journal?”
“Not feeling very talkative?”
“Okay. Well, you’re still here so that’s a good sign, right? Have you come to a decision about killing yourself?”
I shrugged again. “I told you I wasn’t going to. Maybe next time you won’t get your panties in a wad. Now would you leave me alone? I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
“Like I’m going to tell you? You’ll run tell Mrs. Grant. She’s thinking about tofu, cribbage and Waterloo. Throw her in the loony bin.”
“Violet, I felt it necessary to protect your life last week by telling Anna my suspicions. I divulged no confidences to her. I’m sorry I hurt you but I had to do what I did.”
“Well. So here we are. Divulge-less. Now fuck off.”
I crossed my arms and legs, leaned back and stared at the wall.
Fuck her. Fuck Adam. Fuck Mrs. Grant. Fuck Leah. Fuck Mother. Fuck Dad. Fuck painting. Fuck life.
“Violet, you know I can’t do that.”
It was all meaningless. It was all nothing. Samantha was nothing. Mother was nothing. I was nothing.
“Violet, you are a worthwhile person. You’re intelligent, talented, and beautiful. Don’t allow your mother’s poison to ruin your life, okay?”
“Poison? Like arsenic? Or maybe you mean methane gas.” My mother was perfect. Absolutely poised. Graceful. Charming. She could sometimes be abrasive. But there was nothing venomous about her.