I wouldn't have minded being roadkill, I thought as I shaded the mangled rabbit I'd drawn in the margin of my suicide note. I wasn't sure if I felt like killing myself right now, though. I was missing the end of history, which meant ten fewer minutes of Brandon Jordan poking me. Maybe I shouldn't have called him a stupid fuckwad, but he was a stupid fuckwad. Either way, I was now sitting here quite peacefully with Marilyn Manson blaring in my ears, so maybe I wasn't having such a bad day after all—
"Alexander Little! Take off your headphones!"
Startled, I dropped my pencil and history notebook as I scrambled to turn off my music.
"Yes?" I said, innocently as I could, to the guidance counselor's angry, distorted face. He had a funny mustache and was balding. When I knelt to search for my pencil under the chair, his scowl deepened.
"You're next," he said, glancing at the clipboard he was holding.
"Okay, okay….you didn't have to yell," I muttered inaudibly, attempting to regain my composure.
Internally sighing, I followed him into his room. It was a small, dull space with pale yellow walls and brown furniture—a lovely color scheme. Irritably, he motioned for me to take a seat on the leather sofa, interrupting my intent examination of the motivational posters on the walls.
"Now, Alexander Little, is it? Do you go by Alex?" he said.
"Uh, no," I said.
"So then what do you like to be called?" he said, and I could tell he was annoyed.
"Um, Alexander. Or Zander," I said.
"Zander? Like the . . . fish?"
"No," I said. "I mean….Is it really a kind of fish?"
"Of course it is!"
"Uh…most people call me Alexander. Only a few people call me Zander, just 'cause it's shorter."
"There's no need to be so shy. Look at me instead of the carpet."
"Um, right, sorry," I said, but I couldn't manage to make eye contact for more than a second.
He studied me a moment before saying, "Are you related to Alan Little?"
"Yeah…." I admitted a bit reluctantly. I knew what was coming next.
"Alan is such a smart kid. You're lucky to have him as a role model. Does he know where he wants to go to college yet?"
"Uh, one of the Ivies….I think he applied to all of them. I guess I don't pay attention."
"Well, I wouldn't expect any less from him."
"He's not my role model," I said, and I was kind of pissed off, which gave me a little confidence, so I decided to keep going, "because, actually, I'd rather be eviscerated and have my intestines unraveled and burned before my eyes than be like him."
I waited for a reaction—and he had the nerve to laugh at me.
"Right, I'm sure you are. Say, what's your favorite color?" he said. I was glad that I'd made him uncomfortable enough to change the subject.
"I don't have one," I said even though I had two.
He frowned a little, taking a jar of lollipops off his desk.
"Here, why don't you pick for yourself? I don't have any black ones, sorry," he said with a laugh.
"Black is a shade. The absence of light. But, um, thanks."
He stared, looking confused. I chose red and began sucking on it. I didn't really like lollipops because they were too sweet, but I almost felt guilty for how much trouble I was giving this guy. I couldn't refuse his lollipop too.
"Anyway…Alexander, you're here because your recent writing in English class has been rather…morbid."
"That's interesting," I said, and I wanted to be brave, but now my heartbeat was speeding up. "What do you have to do with that, Mister Guidance Counselor?"
"My name is Mr. Brickard. It says it right on my desk," he said, pointing to his metal name card.
"Right," I said, fixing my gaze back on the floor.
"Back on topic, please. Your writing suggests that there's something bothering you."
"Uh…I dunno. I guess I'm pretty bothered that Mr. Prettel let anyone else see my writing."
"Mr. Prettel is only looking out for you. According to your files, we need to keep an eye on you," he said, gesturing toward his papers.
"It's for your own good."
Everything was supposed to be for my own good, and by now I knew it was just a stupid excuse.
"Now, why don't you tell me a bit about yourself?"
"Because I don't like to talk about myself," I said.
"That wasn't a question."
"Yes, it was."
"All right, then," he said, his jaw tightening. "I was told you skip your lunch period often."
I panicked. Who would've told him that? Was everyone onto me? There were so many things I did that could've gotten me into trouble, like not using the money my mother gave me for lunch every day, or even cutting in the bathroom, though I didn't see how anyone could know—
"Do you have any problems in the cafeteria?" said Mr. Brickard.
This was a horrible test of my nerves. I thought quickly.
"It's always sticky."
He looked unsatisfied with my answer, which made me feel a bit guilty again. Even though I hated him, I didn't want to make his job difficult. After all, he was getting paid to put up with my shit.
"I'm kind of, I don't know…um, I don't really like…being, I don't know…" I said.
Mr. Brickard wrote something down, and I felt embarrassed. I played with the greasy hair in my face. I couldn't remember the last time I'd washed it, but I knew my mother would force me soon. She didn't like having a greasy son.
"Do you have any friends in your lunch period?"
"Uh, I have, um, some…acquaintances, but…I mean, I don't really like—people," I said, but when I saw him writing again, I felt the need to add, "I mean, no, they're okay. I have some friends, honest. I just, I don't know, I…I. Yeah." He was still scribbling furiously, and I didn't know what I was trying to say. "Can I go yet?"
"Either we talk or I call your parents," he said sternly.
"Look, that's not fair! Lunch isn't even a real class. In fact, I'm missing my lunch as we speak, and you called me here anyway. I could pass out from malnutrition. I don't have anything to talk about, okay?"
"Your poems suggest otherwise."
"My—I don't write poems! No, I mean, look, Mr. Prettel said I could write about whatever I wanted. It's…err…self-expression."
I was fully aware my responses were getting stupider as this interview progressed. I should have just skipped this meeting altogether.
"And that's just the problem. The themes of your English assignments are very…negative, and your antisocial behaviors are worrying."
"How do you know what the theme is?" I thought for a moment and then grinned. "Whatever Mr. Prettel showed you could be about Toaster Strudel, for all you know."
"Toaster Strudel, huh?"
I had never seen anyone say "Toaster Strudel" with such a serious expression. His stolid demeanor did not change as he pulled a few pages from his clipboard. He pointed to the first handwritten poem, and I chewed on my lollipop until it cracked.
This wasn't his business.
why am I here?
or am I even?
sometimes I think Im not breathing.
the meaningless words,
the meaningless thoughts.
I do not belong here, everythings all wrong.
like a sewer rat kept in a clean cage,
I need the sanctuary of my dark conduits.
the white walls consume me.
the words, the thoughts…
and finally, I can inhale
as they exude themselves from my carcus.
the anguish, suffocating me
as I see the unfairness of the world.
they transude as red droplets of life,
imploding themselves into the barbarous universe
and as they trickle onto the cold floor
it gives them meaning
it grants them hope, hope of one last chance,
the one last chance I will never have.
they become something,
a stain, a reminder of what has been,
and will not cease, in this cruel world.
catharsis derived from my affliction,
one more dash on this pasty canvas
as crimson makes stripes on the sterile floor.
I was shaking, and I hoped maybe he'd see how anxious he was making me and let me go. "It's…nothing. Don't read into it," I said. What I really wanted to do was run out of his office, but I knew that wasn't a smart idea, so I just picked at some yellow paint that was on my left boot.
"You spelled 'carcass' wrong, you know."
"Hey! Look, I needed extra credit. I had to give it to him before the marking period ended. I didn't have time to type it or whatever! I wasn't even going to give it, but it was the last day, and I needed to bring up my grade…."
I was Alan's brother, after all, and that meant I had to seem kind of smart even if I was a bad student. I couldn't let Mr. Brickard believe I was a bad speller—or else I would have asked him how 'carcass' really was spelled. I had no idea.
"Are you currently seeing someone?" he said.
"You know, a therapist."
"What? No! Not right now, I mean, I did until like a month ago, but my sessions ran out. I'm fine. I don't need a shrink. I'll be fine. Don't call my parents, please?" Now I was desperate, but I hoped I didn't sound it. "I'm okay. My parents will be so mad at me if you call."
He seemed to consider this for a moment.
"I just mean they yell at me a lot, that's all. And I usually deserve it. But they'll think I'm in really big trouble if the school calls—"
"Relax. I will not call right now, but I should still keep an eye on you. Now, I don't want you to miss any classes. But I'll need to see you in here once a week or so to talk."
The bell rang.
"Can I have a pass?" I said, biting the remains of my lollipop off the stick before I threw it in the trash bin.
"The bell just rang. You have plenty of time to get wherever. I'm not giving you an excuse to skip class! It was nice meeting you. Tell Alan I said hi."
I didn't argue, but my next class was on the opposite end of the school, and I still had to go to my locker to change my books.
I walked into Mrs. Haig's geometry class with my head down so that my hair fell in my face, blinding me with brown, green, and blue. It was flawed logic, but I always felt like if I couldn't see anyone else, I'd be invisible. Hopefully no one would want to notice me.
"You're late, Alexander! That's detention!" she snapped automatically as the door clicked behind me.
Teachers who knew Alan usually gave me a chance even though I slept in class and rarely did my homework. Because she had never taught Alan, Mrs. Haig was not one of these teachers. She loved to write me up, and I didn't want to say I'd been in the guidance office in front of everyone, so I let her have her fun.
Fiddling with the orange detention slip, I trudged to my seat in the back of the room, conscious that my pants made noise and the students I was passing were silent. Alan always could always figure out when I had detentions because I would never stay after school by choice. I'd have to convince him not to tell our parents this time.
Right after I sat down, there was a knock on the door, and Mrs. Haig let in a small girl.
"Hi! Uh…they put me in here," the girl said in a high-pitched voice.
"Oh, right. Class, this is Gwen," said Mrs. Haig. "She is a freshman whose schedule was changed."
Gwen was tiny enough to be a sixth grader, and she had short, light brown hair and gigantic eyes. I felt awkward staring at her because she was cute, like anime-character-adorable.
Mr. Haig handed her a battered textbook and scanned the room for an empty seat. "You can sit over there with Alexander," she said, pointing with a thick fake nail.
Oh, fuck. She meant me. The only empty seat was next to me, of course, and Gwen was approaching. I looked at her feet. She wore bright yellow Converse shoes, and her faded blue jeans dragged, all shredded at the bottoms. Such a cute girl shouldn't have to sit next to a guy like me.
"Now, I hope everyone studied for the chapter three test today. Gwen, you'll be starting with us in chapter four, so don't worry. You may begin reading over the next lesson in your textbook, as all of you should do when you finish your tests."
I had completely forgotten there was a test, and I hadn't studied at all. Studying for math never helped me get good grades, but it could mean the difference between horribly failing and getting a D.
Gwen sat down without expressing any outrage over the seating arrangement. It must've been because she was a grade below me and had not heard that I ate babies.
"Hi, I'm Gwen," she whispered to me as the test was being passed out.
Chewing the skin around my nail, I stared. I felt like a creeper. Her pink hoodie was several sizes too big for her. The sleeves were so long only her chrome orange fingernails were visible. She opened her textbook, and I kept my eyes on her wrists, hoping her sleeves would get pulled up just a bit. Gwen and I were the only people in the room wearing hoodies. Something about her made me wish we were the same.
She was so pretty she just had to be fucked up.
But then, maybe she was just lucky. Most people were.
I realized my index finger was bleeding slightly…and I hadn't responded to her. I was about to introduce myself when Mrs. Haig glared in our direction, so I had to concentrate on my test. I didn't want another detention, and I hoped Gwen would understand.
But I couldn't concentrate. Theorems, postulates, triangles—I knew as much about them as I did about social situations. Gwen probably thought I was an asshole for ignoring her.
Knowing my father would be furious if I failed another test, I told myself I needed to concentrate. I could worry about Gwen when I finished. My father expected me to get at least a B- in all my classes, but I'd been getting Cs and Ds lately.
The first section was "true or false." I guessed on the ones I vaguely knew and marked "true" for the rest, but my thoughts quickly returned to Gwen. Should I say something or apologize for not saying anything? What was I supposed to do?
I didn't know what was wrong with me. I wasn't good enough for her anyway, so there was no point in trying to talk to her.
And I had no real reason to believe she was a cutter or that we had anything else in common.
I should've growled at her to let her know not to bother with me.
As I stared at the fuzzy words on my paper, I started to feel nauseous. Why couldn't I be a better student like Alan? I was fucked.
What was I thinking? I didn't want to be like Alan—that would've meant working harder, and I liked to sleep. Alan got awards for having high grades. I deserved awards just for getting out of bed. Being a better student would be too much effort. The math was messing with my head. I needed to take a break from it and calm myself, so I looked up—and by accident, my eyes met Gwen's. Promptly, she dropped her head.
She'd been looking at me! My heart was beating rapidly. She must have thought my hair was disgusting—who didn't?
Or worse, maybe she thought I was really ugly and gross. She'd tell her friends about me and how stupid-looking I was, and they'd laugh. I wished I didn't have such nasty skin….
I knew I needed to stop this and focus, but how could I possibly solve number eleven? My vision was blurred, and my hands were shaking so badly I couldn't grip my pencil.
A few smart kids were turning in the test by now, so Gwen must've been thinking I was a real idiot. She could see clearly that I wasn't answering number eleven but instead frantically erasing holes into my paper. Why did she have to be in my class? I hated her for making me so fucking nervous. Being near this girl was torture. And I was not going to finish this test; there was no chance of it, so that meant I would probably get a thirty or something worse and end up failing the marking period....My pencil slipped right out of my hand. Mrs. Haig hated me, so she wouldn't let me retake it, and my parents wouldn't understand....Oh, fuck, I was sweating, and the nausea was only getting worse. Everyone else was already on the third page of the test, and anyone could easily see I was on the first.
Gwen had to be staring at me now, but I didn't dare look. I knew the sweating was really noticeable. My main priority was calming the fuck down, but I couldn't. I felt trapped. Trapped between Gwen's gaze, my test, and the stares of everyone in the room.
Sometimes, when I got this anxious, taking deep breaths helped—but not usually. When I inhaled, I could already feel bile creeping up my throat. No, please, no, not this, not now, I pleaded with myself, but it didn't help.
My mouth filled up with saliva, and I knew I had to get the fuck out of this room, because this room was closing in on me. I thought about raising my hand, but Mrs. Haig wasn't paying attention. I needed to yell, but that moment, my body lurched, and I tried not to open my mouth. I should have made a run for it, but I couldn't move, and it was too late. Despite my best efforts, I vomited all over myself and my test. Gripping the desk with my sweaty palms, I splattered the triangles and theorems and postulates with bright red liquid and chunks of cereal.
By the time I was finished expelling my breakfast, everyone's eyes were on me, especially Gwen's. Some people were saying, "Ew!" I couldn't blame them. I heard someone remark that I really did drink blood. Weakly, I raised my hand.
As Mrs. Haig told the class to settle down, Gwen studied my vomit. She probably wanted her seat changed, thinking I'd suck out her life juices and spew them all over her next.
But instead of edging away, she remarked, "Cool."
"Nah," she said, shrugging her small shoulders as a very disgruntled Mrs. Haig shoved a pass in my slimy hands.
I wanted to curl up and die.
The nurse was always nice to me, probably because I kept her company by hanging out in her office so much. She liked to tell me about her life when I skipped classes. She was very sympathetic about the incident, but this time I wished she would just leave me alone so I could cry. I didn't need any further embarrassment for the day. I just wanted to be at home in my own bed.
My father was at work, and my mother was on a lunch date with her friends, so Alan had to drive me.
Right now, I didn't want to face Alan. Tall, blonde, intelligent, athletic, and sociable, Alan had never puked in the middle of his math class. After all, he was one of the most popular students in the entire school. It was hard to believe I could be related to someone so well-adjusted.
"At least I'm not missing anything too important. Just the rest of psych and maybe half of gym," he said, tossing my tattered book bag into the backseat. I hadn't even asked him to carry it. Sometimes he treated me like I was really pathetic.
"Yeah, it would be terrible if you missed your fucking AP classes," I said as we both climbed into his car.
"That was uncalled for. You should be grateful I can give up my time to drive you home. I shouldn't be doing this."
"Right, I know, you could be doing more important things in your important classes because you are really fucking important."
"Stop that, Zander. You should be more concerned about missing school than I am. You're the one getting bad grades in accelerated classes."
"Shut up! I'm not stupid, you know! I hate your fake, pretentious bullshit!"
"I never said you were stupid. Calm down. I don't want to argue with you right now."
"Sorry," I said, and I meant it. Even though I was being an asshole to him, I was grateful for what he was doing. In fact, I felt guilty—but I also felt like crap, and I had a habit of speaking without thinking when I was in a bad mood.
"Put your seatbelt on! If you get killed, it'll be my responsibility."
"You say that as though everyone wouldn't be happy if you crashed into a bus of gleeful children and only my brain came out through my nose," I muttered, but I did as I was told.
"And don't throw up in my car," he said as he turned on the radio. Fall Out Boy was playing.
"I detest this song."
"I don't care. Stop complaining."
I lapsed into silence, not sure if I was shivering from the air conditioning or just trembling. I knew Alan probably didn't like Fall Out Boy either but was leaving the radio on to spite me.
"So what's wrong with you, exactly?" he said when the song ended.
"I bet you're not really sick. I bet I really am wasting my time."
"I guess you do look worse than usual."
"Hey, that was really mean, like I don't feel bad enough."
"You know I'm joking. Tell me what's wrong."
"What the fuck am I supposed to tell you? That I puked the blood of my victims?"
"You're faking it to get out of something. I don't know why I agreed to take you home. I should've told the nurse you're a faker. What did you do?"
Suddenly I felt like crying again, but I had to fight it until I got home. I knew Alan wouldn't be giving me a hard time if I hadn't been such a jerk to him—but I only treated him like that because I knew he could handle it. Still, I knew it was wrong.
"I puked in the middle of geometry!" I said. "On my fucking desk! I wouldn't do that on purpose!"
"On your desk? You couldn't at least do it in the trash can?"
"Fuck you! I was freaking out, okay? I couldn't think straight. Not that you'd understand what it's like! I had a really bad day, and you're acting like I asked for it…or that I did something bad! I know this is really fucking hard for you to comprehend, but I really don't feel good right now. You have no idea how lame I feel. I don't need your shit."
"Okay, Zander. I get it. I'm sorry."
"No, you're not! You just want me to shut up!"
"Yeah, I do. Now, are you going to be okay?"
"Sure, I'll be wonderful. Everything is peachy."
"Is there something you need to talk about?"
"You know you'll tell me."
Alan was right, of course. I did need to talk, and he was probably the only person besides Spooky, my cat, who would listen. A few moments passed in silence. I wanted him to prod me more, wanted him to care enough to force it out of me. I waited.
"So you got too anxious and you freaked out," he said, finally. "That's what you need to talk about. What happened?"
"I…uh…there's this new girl in my class. She talked to me, and I just ignored her. She probably thought I was stupid, too, because I failed my test. I hope she switches classes because I'm gross, and if she doesn't, I don't—"
"Whoa, back up. Who is this girl? Is she hot?"
"WHAT? I mean…She was pretty, I guess. I didn't look at her…that way."
"You didn't just notice?"
"I only saw her for a few minutes, I don't know. I didn't want to be rude even though I guess I was anyway, but she just freaked me out…a lot, and I guess it's all in my head…but shit. I don't know what to do. I think she hates me. But she said my puke was cool. I think she was making fun of me."
I didn't know what I was trying to say, but I had been hoping Alan would have some sort of advice for me.
"Hot girls who think puke is cool don't exist!" he said.
"But she was pretty, okay? And that's what she said! But that's not the point, the point is that I…I…."
"So you like her."
The problem with Alan was that he ignored all the important points sometimes, and this was one of those times. I wasn't asking for girl advice.
"What? No! That wasn't the point. I shouldn't have brought it up. Listen, don't tell Mom about me freaking out. I don't feel like talking about it with her, and if she thinks I'm really sick, I bet I can stay home another day. Please?"
"Really! She'll try to make me get more medication or something! She thinks I have an anxiety disorder, but I need her to think—No, she needs to know I'm fine because she already worries enough. I don't want her to worry. I'll be okay."
"Clearly you can't handle it, or this wouldn't have happened. I think you do need some help. And you're rambling to me about it, which means you want help."
"Look, just don't tell Mom about what I said, okay? It's not that big of a deal. I can trust you, can't I?"
"Whatever. I won't say anything," he said, but I knew he was probably lying.
"You always tell them things I don't want you to! And then Mom yells at me to cut it out, or Dad yells at her for letting me be so—"
"We're here already, you can shut up," he said, and I realized he was pulling into the paved driveway of our house.
This was our slice of suburbia: just another white cookie cutter house with a green lawn. There was no denying it was nice—nice enough to make my mother wonder how I could live here and still be so miserable.
"Get inside. Put your hoodie in the wash. Take a shower—you'll feel better. Then you should probably either do your homework or get some rest. Mom won't be home for an hour. All right?"
"Okay," I said. I hadn't noticed the puke on the front and sleeve of my hoodie.
"Don't do anything stupid."
"Zander, sweetie! It's dinnertime!"
"I'm not hungry, Mom!"
"I got beef sandwiches and curly fries from Arby's!"
"I don't even eat things with faces!"
I stood before the bathroom mirror, grimacing at my hideous reflection. I felt so out of place in this sophisticated room with its white marble counters, chrome faucets, and Jacuzzi tub. The heavy bags under my eyes were dark and reddish in contrast with my pallid complexion. My lips were chapped and gross and flaky. At least my hair covered a lot of my face, concealing most of its blemishes. I knew my skin would clear up if I washed my hair more, but I couldn't bring myself to care.
To my left was a little bag of Skittles, and to my right was my container of Prozac, which had recently been refilled. I switched the two substances, dumping the pills into my pocket. It was a stupid idea, but I wanted to see how long it would take my mother to notice.
"I know you like curly fries. Just come downstairs, Cookie!"
"Mom, no! I don't feel good!"
Skipping dinner made me feel guilty, but when I was this upset, I avoided my family for their own benefit. No one needed to see me at my worst; it wasn't pretty. Besides, I definitely wasn't in the mood to hear Alan talk about his college applications while he and my mother consumed dead cows. I just wanted to curl up in bed and sleep like I'd been doing all afternoon. Maybe I could manage to play some video games now.
"All right, I'll wrap some up in case you want it later!" she yelled.
I screwed the cap back on the pill bottle and stuffed the Skittles wrapper in my pocket.