I don’t hear the shots anymore , but I can still feel them. I feel them in every movement; each thought and perception is formed by them. I feel quite a lot, at the most dangerous times. Walking into school today, I noticed how the green and gray tiling in the commons area was the same as it was at my old school. Bright, fluorescent lights beamed off of the tiles, giving everything a touch of gray haziness. Those are the kinds of things I didn’t pay attention to before.
I noticed how everyone talked, which you can’t do if you have anyone to talk to . It was easy to identify which kids were nervous and which ones weren’t. The nervous kids’ eyes moved quickly, looking for anyone capable of telling them they didn’t know what they were doing. Nervous kids could be alone, or in groups. It didn’t matter; there were a lot of them. The ones in groups talked, but always in a hurried tone. Their words could be loud, but they were always rushed. The confident ones exuded calm. They scanned the commons, too, but in a more incisive way. Nervous kids divide everyone else into two groups: predators and potential allies. The confident kids have a much more complex system that deems the majority of others irrelevant. Which they are. Funny how the nervous kids don’t know that. I felt a lot, thinking about those nervous kids and the green tiling. And especially about how those nervous kids thought everyone was out to kill them. I panicked a little, but only in my head. I didn’t want to make anyone think I was a nervous kid.
I was a confident kid before, I guess. I can’t quite remember, because A) it’s hard to remember what I was like six months ago, aside from being better than this. And, B) being confident would require not paying attention to whether or not you’re confident. I’m not exactly sure which I am now, so I would have to assume I’m neither . I’m as nervous as anyone in my head, as you can tell; but at the same time, I’m so wrapped up in what’s going on up here that I don’t have time to worry about anything out there. Sometimes I get scared though, like earlier when I sat down in first period and these girls slammed the bathroom door and started running and yelling. It’s okay to be scared by loud noises for now, at least, that’s what the doctors tell me. That made me feel a lot too, at a dangerous time, with enough people around to look like an absolute idiot if I have a breakdown . Every kid in there seemed nervous so they were probably scanning me over to see which of the two categories I fell into. Can’t let them know what’s going on inside. When I worry about people looking at me and knowing that I’m insane, I comfort myself with this thought: none of these kids have ever felt what you feel, so how could they tell what’s wrong just by looking at you? I ask myself a lot of questions like that. I always call myself ‘you’ in my head, and I never call myself by my name. Sometimes I even forget I have a name. One of the doctors, Dr. Shaw, came up with an exercise I can do for that. I close my eyes like I’m meditating, and I repeat ‘I am Rupert Connley, I know my past, but I am not my past.’ It’s nice to think that all of my pain could be from the past. But I don’t know if I believe that. And if I did, it’s still sad. Because I can change myself, but apparently, I can’t change the past. I’ve tried to, believe me. I dream about it every night, all of my friends being alive. It’s hard to remember exactly how long ago it was that everything happened, with how slow time seems to be moving now. It’s funny, in a sick sort of way; every moment feels crushingly long, and then all of a sudden eight months have passed.
I used to be a really good runner. I got second in the state meet my sophomore year, ran a 4:23 mile. The day of the shooting we were supposed to go to a meet. Coach told us we could take our time, get our heads straight. I think he looked at it from a purely athletic standpoint, if our minds weren’t ready, our bodies wouldn’t be either. Must be ready for summer training. I came back for summer training, of course. But last summer is when all of this started happening, with me floating above my body. It’s a weird sensation running like that: your arms start to buzz and sort of expand away from you, you feel all your nervous weight pushing down on you, and you notice every bone and muscle in your body working. When you float, you notice that most of what you do you don’t really control, like you don’t consciously swing your arms when you walk. And when you’re running all of that repetition starts to get to you.
It’s fourth period now; the day is almost over. Honestly, I don’t remember most of it. I remember thinking everything I’ve written here, but that’s about it. Maybe that makes me seem confident, or mysterious, or something. I wish I cared more what I look like to other people. As long as no one knew that I was nervous, I’d give anything to be one of those kids, walking around school, convinced everyone is thinking about how inadequate I am. At least when those kids leave school, I imagine, they get a reprieve. For me it gets worse when I go home. I mostly look at my phone, which is approximately normal. But I do it more than anyone else, or at least a lot more than I used to. My Dad got me to download this app that tells me how much I’ve looked at my phone in the last twenty-four hours. Depending on what time of day it is, it usually says somewhere around eighteen hours. Now, to be fair, I do turn on videos as I go to sleep. I don’t care. I mean, I do care; it makes me feel like a loser. But there’s nothing I can do about it. When I’m not occupied I feel like even more of a loser. I think about how miserable I am.
Unoccupied me is much worse, that’s why the summer was so bad. On the Fourth of July, for example. I went to practice that afternoon, and it didn’t go well. We were encouraged to run eight miles on a ninety-five degree South Carolina afternoon. I had totaled my car not long after the shooting, so one of the only friends I had left, Liam, drove me to practice. We stopped at his house after the run, and that was depressing. His mom followed us everywhere, staring at Liam and telling him not so subtly that she didn’t want me around. We ended up leaving just to get away from her. The parents of all my living friends got real close after the shooting, and most of them came under the opinion that I was a crazy person, or something. I think I am crazy, but not in the way they imagine. Liam drove me home, because there wasn’t anything fun to do, or not anything we’d have fun doing.
When I got home I decided to sneak some of my Dad’s vodka before we made our annual trek to the fireworks show. It was the only logical course of action, as sad as I already was, and as sad as that show was going to be. We drove to the lake with my cousin Tim, like we have every year since Mom left, and parked in the same church parking lot as always. I stumbled around carrying lawn chairs for Tim, Dad, my little brother, and me. I was feeling too much alcohol and not enough serotonin until we finally sat down. I listened to my Dad complain about vegan hot dogs and the temperature for about forty-five seconds before I got real unsettled and got up to walk around the lake with Tim. We crawled down into this valley where the lake was connected to a creek, and Tim pulled out a bunch of weed. I smoked with him. I knew it would make me feel worse. I must be a masochist. We walked up and around the lake and I started to watch these geese. They walked through the crowd and splashed around like no one was there. I wondered why they didn’t seem to care that there were a thousand people surrounding them, so I asked Tim what he thought. He just laughed and called me a “weird dude.” That’s when things started to break down. I was pacing around our chairs before the show, and nowhere I went or stood felt even okay. I tried to find a natural way to stand and position my arms, but I couldn’t, so I started to freak out, and then the fireworks started and things got much worse. I looked around at everyone staring up at the sky in amazement, and I felt really existential. Everyone’s face was pointed up at precisely the same angle, and they seemed unaware that anyone else was around them. I thought I was the only sane one there, because no one else took their eyes off of those mind-numbing fireworks. The same thing happened during prayer at church when I was younger, right before we stopped going. I decided that sanity must be staring up at fireworks and not having a care in the world, so, being insane, I had a little meltdown. My body started to ring and vibrate, and I felt removed from everything. I was squinting my eyes and trying to focus like I was a hundred yards away, but my Dad was two feet in front of me shaking me and asking if I was okay. It wasn’t a totally unique experience for me; I feel that way all the time. But this was much more painful. If you can call it pain. White flashes started to explode in my head, and I watched myself tumbling and rolling on the ground. That’s the last thing I remember.
The doctors told us I had a partial seizure brought on by a severe panic attack. It sounds like an oversimplification. But it was kind of nice, having what happened put into a box that way. It made me feel like other people were at least as poor off as me, and I wasn’t the only idiot who didn’t look up at fireworks.
I like being around other crazy people these days. The kind of kid who isn’t nervous or confident. They’re just sort of here, existing physically in the classroom, but mentally somewhere else. That type of kid has always interested me, but they aren’t very easy to talk to. I don’t usually think about other people, but I’m being forced to today. There’s a sense of novelty in the air, the floors in the hallways are shining, the walls are devoid of graffiti, and the bathrooms don’t smell like vape yet. I’m sure the kids who have been here for a few years don’t pay attention to that kind of thing anymore; they’ve seen it get dirtied up every year.
I can’t imagine they’ve made my old school look clean. Not for the kids who were there last year. No matter how much they’ve power-washed the walls in the commons area, how many new benches they’ve installed, and how many politicians have showed up to say everything is all right, every kid who was at school that day will still see the blood on those walls. They’ll still see themselves pressed up against the walls, under the benches, holding on to a meaningless sense of safety. That isn’t how life is supposed to end, not for them. Well, so it goes. I read that in this book called Slaughterhouse Five. I’ve read the book about ten times since the shooting, and that saying is all I have when I look down and my arms stretch a million miles away. It’s all I have when I wonder where Mom is, how she’s doing, and I start to get all depressed. It’s all I have when I look around and see everyone in the hallways stepping in rhythm out of the school building, bound by some simplistic drive for normality, a notion that no matter what, they’ll still have themselves to cling to.
I’m just sitting here watching now. I don’t have any life to walk out towards, any secret self waiting at home. I’m not sure what self means to me anymore. All I know is I’m starting to get bored with whatever it does mean. The halls are empty of any sentient creature but myself now. Nothing in the background to push out the hollow echo of my ego. Maybe I’ll be better. Or maybe not.
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