Karl Benson: I haven’t seen you since, like, junior year. I thought you killed yourself.
Andrew Largeman: What?
Karl Benson: I thought you killed yourself. That wasn’t you?
Andrew Largeman: No, no, tha—that wasn’t me.
—Garden State (2004)
SO I SUPPOSE even after going through all this very carefully with you, I still don’t really know how this happened. I’m not traumatized. It’s not anything dramatic like that. Nothing has been tearing me apart. I can’t focus any of it around one particular day, one particular event, one particular person. All I know is that once it started it became very easy to let it carry on. And I suppose that’s how I ended up here.
Michael reckons he’s going to get questioned by the police. Probably me, too. And Lucas and Becky, I suppose. We were all there. I hope that we don’t get arrested. I don’t think Lucas would tell what really happened. Then again, I don’t really know much about Lucas Ryan anymore.
Nick, with surprising practicality, said that the best thing to do was get my parents to meet us at the hospital, so all six of us are now crammed in his car. Me, Michael, Lucas, Becky, Nick, and Charlie. Becky’s sitting on Lucas’s lap because Nick’s car is a tiny Fiat. I think Lucas is genuinely starting to like Becky, I really do. Because she stopped Quiff theoretically shooting him, or whatever. He keeps looking up at her with this hilarious expression on his face, and it sort of makes me feel a little bit less sad. She doesn’t notice, of course.
Becky is a good person in her heart. I guess I’ve always known that.
I’m in the middle seat. I’m finding it very difficult to concentrate on anything as I think I’m half-asleep. Snow is falling. All the snowflakes are exactly the same. The song playing on the car stereo is some Radiohead song. Everything outside is dark blue.
Charlie calls our parents from the front passenger seat. I do not listen to their conversation. After a while, he hangs up and sits silently for a minute, gazing emptily at his phone. Then he raises his head and stares out into the morning sky.
“Victoria,” he says, and I listen. He says many things—things that you would expect people to say in this sort of situation, about love and understanding, and support, and being there, things that are supposedly not said enough, things that usually do not need to be said. I don’t listen very hard to any of that, because I knew all of it already. Nobody speaks while he speaks; we all just watch the shops drift past the car windows, listening to the hum of the car and the sound of his voice. When he’s finished, he turns to face me and says something else.
“I noticed,” he says. “But I didn’t do anything. I didn’t do anything.”
I have begun to cry.
“I love you anyway,” I say, my voice hardly my own. I can’t remember if I’ve ever said those words before in my whole life, not even when I was a child. I start to wonder what I was really like then, and whether I’ve been imagining myself as someone different this entire time. He smiles a beautiful, sad smile and says, “I love you too, Tori.”
Michael decides to pick up my hand and cup it in his.
“Do you want to know what Dad said?” says Charlie, turning back to face the front. He’s not saying it directly to me, but to the whole car. “He said that this is probably because he read The Catcher in the Rye too many times when he was our age, and that it got absorbed into his gene pool.”
Becky sighs. “Jesus. Can’t any teenager be sad and, like, not be compared to that book?”
Lucas smiles at her.
“I mean, has anyone here even read it?” asks Becky.
There is a unanimous chorus of “Nope.” Not even Lucas has read it. Funny that.
We listen to the Radiohead song.
I have this real urge to leap out of the car. I think Michael can tell that I want to do this. Maybe Lucas, too. Charlie keeps glancing into the rearview mirror.
After a little while, Nick murmurs, “Where are you going to go to Sixth Form, Charlie?” I have never heard Nick speak so quietly. Charlie answers him by holding Nick’s hand, which is clutching the gearstick so hard that his knuckles are turning white, and then by saying, “Truham. I’ll just stay at Truham. I’ll be with you, yeah? And I guess . . . I guess lots of us will be going to Truham now.” And Nick nods.
Becky sleepily leans her head on Lucas’s shoulder.
“I don’t want to go to the hospital,” I whisper into Michael’s ear. This is a half lie.
He looks at me and he’s more than pained. “I know.” He rests his head on the top of mine. “I know.”
Lucas shifts in the seat next to me. He is looking out of the window, at the trees zipping past, the blur of dark and green.
“This is supposed to be the best time of our lives,” he says.
Becky snorts into Lucas’s shoulder. “If this is the best time of my life, I might as well end it immediately.”
The car revs to get up the slope to the bridge, and then we’re sailing over the frozen river. The Earth spins a few hundred meters and the sun creeps a little closer toward our horizon, preparing to spread its dull winter light over what’s left of this wasteland. Behind us, a channel of smoke has leaked into the clear sky, blocking out the few remaining stars that had tried to make an impression.
Becky continues to mumble, as if speaking through a dream.
“I get it, though. All they wanted was to make us feel like we belonged to something important. Making an impression in the world. Because, like, we’re all waiting for something to change. Patience can kill you.” Her voice lowers to a near whisper. “Waiting . . . waiting for so long . . .”
“But one day it’ll end. It always ends.”
And there’s sort of a moment where everyone’s sitting and thinking, you know? Like that feeling when you finish watching a film. You turn off the TV, the screen is black, but the pictures are replaying in your head and you think, what if that’s my life? What if that’s going to happen to me? Why don’t I get that happy ending? Why am I complaining about my problems?
I don’t know what’s going to happen to our school and I don’t know what’s going to happen to us. I don’t know how long I’m going to be like this.
All I know is that I’m here. And I’m alive. And I’m not alone.