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Sometimes, I feel like the ceiling is falling. The walls too. It happens in one motion. My heart sinks through my chest and my spine, down to the ground and then the ceiling starts falling. My brain can’t make sense of it. Everything is crashing into me – the people, the doors, the pavement, the sky, the trees. Each piece digs into my skin, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
How did I get here?
Ever since grade nine science, I’ve fantasized about being able to explode like a supernova, but by the time senior year started, I had figured it out.
I wish I could explode, but I can’t. I collapse.
How long have I been here? I blink.
I’m staring at the ceiling of the school gym, all blue and gold banners and white rafters for our school colors. Between visions and feelings of it falling, I taste metal in my mouth and listen to the low hum of the lights. They buzz quietly while my skin finds the cold floor and my fingers curl.
When did they turn off the lights? I blink and roll on to my side, sick of staying in one place for so long.
From here, I can see everything in the reflections against the floor. Blue and white streaks filter in through the slim windows on the doors. I can see light from the storage rooms seeping through the bleachers, which have been pushed back since fifth period, doubling the size of the gym floor. Everything is sideways, I mean really sideways, like know I’m sideways, but I can’t adjust and see things upright. I can’t find the ground beneath my feet. The ceiling extends out so far and then I’m wondering how the universe can be so big when this room is already too large for me to understand.
My body hurts. Sore and tired, with my left foot falling asleep, I can’t get up. I don’t want to get up. The taste of metal in my mouth is diluted and flat, and I hardly feel lucid.
“Your lip is bleeding.” Emma stares down at me, dark hair falling from where she tucked it behind her ears. I don’t remember hearing the doors open or her footsteps across the polished wood. I taste metal in my mouth, sharp now, like she woke me up to it.
I sigh, letting her take that as my response.
“I heard you were in a fight. Some people told Principal Miller about it. Apparently, the whole crowd ran off before a teacher could show up.” She shrugs a bag off her shoulder and sets it on the floor. “When the gym teacher got here, you were the only one left, and you wouldn’t get up. He got the guidance counselor, who you ignored, so she came and found me. Now I’m here, school ended twenty minutes ago and I should really be home by now.” She pauses and sits down. “What the hell are you doing Drew?”
I think about sighing again, but I doubt she’ll dignify it as a response twice in a row when she’s already pissed at me. “I’m having a midlife crisis Emma.”
“You’re too young for that. Get over yourself.”
“Brash humor Emma.”
“Not humor.” She breathes heavily. “Why did you get in that fight?”
“If I say it’s because of deeply rooted, self-centered insecurities and issues, will you leave me alone?”
“You know exactly what to say to a girl,” she says dryly, uncrossing her legs and stretching them outward. She braces herself with her arms and looks at the ceiling. “We only have three months left here.” I wonder what she sees when she looks at the ceiling. Does she see the entire universe, or does she see the white rafters and the volleyball someone got stuck there last December? Maybe she sees the sky through it, as blue as her eyes.
We sit there in silence for a few minutes. I wonder what she’s thinking about. Probably, she’s fantasizing about how her car is waiting outside in the emptying parking lot or worrying about how she still hasn’t tried on her graduation gown. While she’s moving forward, I’m still stuck thinking about her eyes. It’s kind of nice though, sitting there with her.
Some days I walk through the hallways and out of nowhere it hits me with a rush of blood to my head. Like whoa, there she is. There’s the girl I could love. Then I remember who I am, and I remember that who I am is a major disappointment and a superficial letdown. The blood filters out of my head slowly and I’ll be there, walking through the hallway, angrier at myself than I ever thought I could be.
I should make it easier on her.
Why can’t I just get it together?
I need to be on antidepressants. I know a kid who sells Prozac out of the second floor bathroom by the English hallway.
I already take medication. Did I take my pills this morning?
I should make it easier on her.
I sit up, crossing my legs and hiding my hand under my thigh so Emma can’t see my thumb tapping against the floor like it’s a new nervous habit. The problem with this whole philosophy of making it easier on her is that I never know when it’s coming, never know when the ceiling will start falling, taking everything and everyone else with it.
“Did you take your meds this morning?” Her words leave the air unsettled. I can feel the weight starting to drag down.
“I took them.”
“All of them?” Her blue eyes flash at me and catch the pressure for a moment.
“Some of them.” I feel guilty, but there’s nothing I can say that she doesn’t already expect to hear. In September when I missed two weeks of school staring at the ceiling in my room, I told her all about the collapsing. I told her all about how I shrink and shrink and how everything collapses until it’s all so small. She can’t understand it, but she tries.
“You know, I think maybe you’re afraid of exploding.” Emma always looks me in the eyes when we talk, but this time, she stares at the floor. I expect her voice to come out quiet, but she sounds as strong as ever. “You’re afraid of directing all of these things outward. Maybe it’s easier for you to keep throwing punches at yourself.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” My mouth is moving before I can tell it to shut up. “I just threw punches at another guy earlier today. He busted my lip.” I cringe and instinctively reach for my mouth even though the blood has dried.
“They said you threw the first punch, but then you stood there and took it.” Emma presses her lips together and I don’t bother looking at her hands because I already know her knuckles are turning white. I hate how quickly I come to saying the wrong thing. “We only have three more months here Drew,” she whispers. She’s better at keeping me together than I am.
She stares ahead. “I know.”
Honestly, I’m more terrified of what happens after these three months than what’ll happen until then, but I know she’s looking forward to getting out of here, so I don’t say anything. Getting out of this town means getting away from me, and she deserves that.
We spend another few minutes in silence, the buzz of the lights coming to a crescendo in my ears. I try to drag myself out of my thoughts by picturing her eyes.
Sky blue, ocean blue, indigo; it’s hard to picture them when the room is dark.
Did she say something? I blink.
When the ceiling starts falling, the first second passes in slow motion. It only takes that long for me to see Emma, the way she’s looking at me, and I realize that she defies it all. While everything else is crashing into me, she doesn’t move. She doesn’t flinch.
I rest my hand over Emma’s and when she looks at me with her blue eyes, I pull her small frame next to me. Her body relaxes with her arm pressed to mine and she lays her head on my shoulder, like she has a hundred times before.
All the people who crashed into me are moving backwards, and I’m glad, because I just want it to be her and me. I don’t want all these other people spectating, crowding my head. For once, the room is expanding instead of shrinking. The hum of the gym lights quiets down.
In truth, Emma reminds me of a song. I can’t remember which, but it’s the kind that engulfs you when you start listening to it. The kind you sway your head to and that lets you forget the world for three minutes. It’s on the tip of my tongue. This song that pulls me in, and now I can hear the drum beating in the back of my mind. I get that rush of blood to my head again.
There she is.