Before I Fall
“Get out of the shower. There’s no time.” It’s Lindsay—my mom’s let her in.
I crack the door a little and there she is, her big puffy jacket zipped to her chin, looking pissed. I’m happy to see her, anyway. She looks so normal, so familiar.
“What happened last night?” I say.
She frowns for a second. “Yeah, sorry about that. I couldn’t call back. I didn’t get off the phone with Patrick until, like, three A.M.”
“Call back?” I shake my head. “No, I meant—”
“He was freaking out over the fact that his parents are going to Acapulco without him.” She rolls her eyes. “Poor baby. I swear to you, Sam, guys are like pets. Feed ’em, pet ’em, and put ’em to bed.” She leans forward. “Speaking of which—are you excited about tonight?”
“What?” I don’t even know what she’s talking about. Her words are all running past me, blurring together. I’m holding on to the towel rack, afraid I’ll fall over. The shower is on way too hot and there’s thick steam everywhere, clouding up the mirror, condensing on the tiles.
“You, Rob, some Miller Lite, and his flannel sheets.” She laughs. “Very romantic.”
“I have to shower.” I try to close the door, but she wedges her elbow in at the last second and pushes into the bathroom.
“You haven’t showered yet?” She shakes her head. “Uh-uh. No way. You’ll have to do without.”
She reaches into the shower and turns off the water, then grabs me by the hand and drags me into the hallway.
“You definitely need some makeup, though,” she says, scanning my face. “You look like shit. Nightmares?”
“Something like that.”
“I have my MAC stuff in the Tank.” She unzips her coat and I see a white tuft of fur peeking out from her cleavage: our Cupid Day tank tops. I suddenly have the urge to sit down on the floor and laugh and laugh, and I have to struggle not to have a fit right there while Lindsay’s shoving me into my room.
“Get dressed,” she says, and pulls out her cell phone, probably to text Elody we’re going to be late. She watches me for a second and then sighs, turning away.
“Hope Rob doesn’t mind a little BO,” she says, and as she giggles over this, I start pulling on my clothes: the tank top, the skirt, the boots.
DOES THIS STRAITJACKET MAKE MY BUTT LOOK BIG?
When Elody gets into the car she leans forward to grab her coffee, and the smell of her perfume—raspberry body spray she still buys religiously from the Body Shop in the mall, even though it stopped being cool in seventh grade—is so real and sharp and familiar I have to close my eyes, overwhelmed.
Bad idea. With my eyes shut I see the beautiful warm lights of Kent’s house receding in the rearview mirror and the sleek black trees crowding on either side of us like skeletons. I smell burning. I hear Lindsay yelling and feel my stomach bottom out as the car lurches to one side, tires squealing—
I snap my eyes open as Lindsay swerves to avoid a squirrel. She chucks her cigarette out the window and the smell of smoke is strangely double: I’m not sure whether I’m smelling it or remembering it or both.
“You really are the worst driver.” Elody giggles.
“Be careful, please,” I mutter. I’m clutching the sides of my seat without meaning to.
“Don’t worry.” Lindsay leans over and pats my knee. “I won’t let my best friend die a virgin.”
I’m desperate to spill everything to Lindsay and Elody at that moment, to ask them what’s happening to me—to us—but I can’t think of any way to say it.
We were in a car accident after a party that hasn’t happened yet.
I thought I died yesterday. I thought I died tonight.
Elody must think I’m quiet because I’m worried about Rob. She loops her arms around the back of my seat and leans forward.
“Don’t worry, Sam. You’ll be fine. It’s just like riding a bike,” Elody says.
I try to force a smile, but I can barely focus. It seems like a long time ago that I went to bed imagining being side-by-side with Rob, imagining the feel of his cool, dry hands. Thinking about him makes me ache, and my throat threatens to close up. I suddenly can’t wait to see him, can’t wait to see his crooked smile and his Yankees hat and even his dirty fleece that always smells a little bit like boy sweat, even after his mom makes him wash it.
“It’s like riding a horse,” Lindsay corrects Elody. “You’ll be a blue-ribbon champion in no time, Sammy.”
“I always forget you used to ride horses.” Elody flips open the lid of her coffee and blows steam off the top.
“When I was, like, seven,” I say, before Lindsay can turn this into a joke. I think if she starts making fun of me now I really will cry. I could never explain the truth to her: that riding was my favorite thing in the world. I loved to be alone in the woods, especially in the late fall when everything is crisp and golden, the leaves the color of fire, and it smells like things turning into earth. I loved the silence—the only sound the steady drum of the hooves and the horse’s breathing.
No phones. No laughter. No voices. No houses.
I’ve flipped the visor down to keep the glare out of my eyes, and in the mirror I see Elody smiling at me. Maybe I’ll tell her what’s happening to me, I think, but at the same time I know that I won’t. She would think I was crazy. They all would.
I keep quiet and look out the window. The light is weak and watery-looking, like the sun has just spilled itself over the horizon and is too lazy to clean itself up. The shadows are as sharp and pointed as needles. I watch three black crows take off simultaneously from a telephone wire and wish I could take off too, move up, up, up, and watch the ground drop away from me the way it does when you’re on an airplane, folding and compressing into itself like an origami figure, until everything is flat and brightly colored—until the whole world is like a drawing of itself.
“Theme song, please,” Lindsay says, and I scroll through her iPod until I find the Mary J. Blige, then lean back and try not to think of anything except the music and the beat.
And I keep my eyes open.
By the time we pull into the drive that winds past the upper parking area and down to the faculty lot and Senior Alley, I’m actually feeling better, even though Lindsay’s cursing and Elody’s complaining that one more tardy will get her Friday detention and it’s already two minutes after first bell.
Everything looks so normal. I know that because it’s Friday, Emma McElroy will be coming from Evan Danzig’s house, and sure enough there she is, ducking through a clipped portion of the fence. I know Peter Kourt will be wearing a pair of Nike Air Force 1s he’s had for a million years because he wears them every day, even though there are so many holes in them you can see what color socks he’s wearing (usually black). I watch them go flashing by as he books it down toward the main building.
Seeing all these things makes me feel a thousand times better, and I start thinking maybe all of yesterday—everything that happened—was just some kind of long, strange dream.
Lindsay cruises down to the Senior Alley, even though there’s zero chance of finding a spot. It’s a religion for her. My stomach dips when we pass the third spot from the tennis courts, and there’s Sarah Grundel’s brown Chevrolet with its Thomas Jefferson Swim Team sticker—and another one, smaller, that reads GET WET—staring at me from the bumper. I think: she got the last spot because we’re so late, and I have to squeeze my nails into my palms and repeat to myself that I’ve only been dreaming—that none of this has happened before.
“I can’t believe we have to walk .22 miles,” Elody says, pouting. “I don’t even have a jacket.”
“You’re the one who left the house half naked,” Lindsay says. “It is February.”
“I didn’t know I’d be outside.”
We pass the soccer fields on our right as we loop back toward Upper Lot. At this time of year the fields are all churned up, just mud and a few patches of brown grass.
“I feel like I’m having déjà vu,” Elody says. “Flashback to freshman year, you know?”
“I’ve been having déjà vu all morning,” I blurt out before I can stop myself. Instantly I feel better, sure that that’s what this is.
“Let me guess.” Lindsay brings one hand to her temples and frowns, pretending to concentrate. “You’re having flashbacks to the last time Elody was this annoying before nine A.M.”
“Shut up!” Elody leans forward and smacks Lindsay’s arm and they start laughing. I smile too, relieved to have spoken the words out loud. It makes sense: one time on a trip to Colorado, my parents and I hiked up three miles to this little waterfall smack in the middle of the woods. The trees were big and old, all of them pine. The clouds were streaked across the sky like spun sugar. Izzy was too young to walk or talk. She was riding in my dad’s baby backpack, and she kept punching her tiny fat fists at the sky like she wanted to grab it.
Anyway, as we were standing there watching the spray of water on the rocks, I had the craziest feeling that it had all happened before, down to the smell of the orange my mom was peeling and the exact reflections of the trees in the surface of the water. I was positive. It became the big joke that day, because I’d complained about having to hike three miles, and when I told my parents I was having déjà vu, they kept laughing and saying it really would be a miracle if I’d ever agreed to walk that far in a past life.
I guess my point is only that I was sure then, just like I’m feeling sure now. It happens.
“Oooh!” Elody squeals, and starts digging through her purse. She knocks out a pack of cigarettes and two empty tubes of lip gloss, plus a misshapen eyelash curler. “I almost forgot your present.”
She sends the condom sailing over the front seat, and Lindsay claps her hands and bounces in her seat when I hold it up.
“No glove, no love?” I say, managing a smile.
Elody leans forward and kisses my cheek, leaving a ring of pink gloss. “You’re going to be great, kid.”
“Don’t call me that,” I say, and drop the condom in my bag. We step out of the car and the air is so cold my eyes sting and start to water. I ignore the bad feeling buzzing through me, and I think, This is my day, this is my day, this is my day, so I can’t think of anything else.
A SHADOW WORLD
I read once that you get déjà vu when the two halves of your brain process things at different speeds: the right half a few seconds before the left, or vice versa. Science is probably my worst subject, so I didn’t understand the whole article, but that would explain the weird double feeling that it leaves you with, like the world is splitting in half—or you are.
That’s the way I feel, at least: like there’s a real me and a reflection of me, and I have no way of telling which is which.