Authors: Carolee Dean
and had us all cheering.
You nearly had us convinced,
you were a dead black rapper,
but then you always were
a special kind of actor.
I guess that’s because
you didn’t just crave the limelight;
you needed it.
Some kids complained that you always had to be
the center of attention.
But I knew the truth. You were just looking
for something to fill up the big, black hole
inside your soul. Like I was.
Yesterday, when I saw you shrinking
into your coat, it broke my heart.
Just before the bell rang, you turned to me and said,
“Would you like to have my picture?”
There was desperation in your eyes.
I didn’t know how to reply, so I nodded.
into your pocket,
pulled out your school ID,
and set it on my desk.
Then you disappeared down the crowded hall.
I tried to follow you.
I even went to your next class,
but you never showed.
The man in the suit
clears his throat,
a world away,
as he waits for my answer.
I can barely remember the question.
“I asked about her mood,” he says.
“She seemed a little depressed.”
I’m sure he already knows.
He’s spent all morning interrogating
your so-called friends.
“Somebody sent a naked picture of her around the school?”
“Was it you?”
“No!” I say, and my voice sounds too big
and the room seems too small.
that the last time you saw her was in your writing
“That’s what I told you.”
Why are they questioning me like this
when it’s obvious what happened to you?
But the students are upset
and parents are in an uproar.
They want answers
that what happened to you
won’t happen to their kids.
“Are you sure you weren’t on the roof
of Brady Theater with her last night?”
“No.” My palms are sweating. Does he see?
Why are my palms sweating?
“What if I told you that someone saw you
going up there with her?”
He has to be making this up,
but my entire body starts to tremble.
“I’d say they’re lying.”
He opens up a briefcase and pulls out a file
with my name on it.
“Do you ever have problems with your memory?”
Are the walls moving?
I could swear they’re closing in.
“But you did spend some time in a psychiatric hospital
It’s not exactly a question,
but I answer it anyway.
“May I ask why?”
“You may ask, but that doesn’t mean I’ll answer.”
Why torture me? I’m sure it’s all in the file.
He leans toward me and his face becomes
hard as stone.
“We know someone was up on the roof
with Allison Cassell
at one a.m. this morning.
There’s an image on the surveillance camera.
It looks an awful lot like you. Can you prove it wasn’t?”
There’s no surveillance camera up there,
or else the school would have found out months ago
about all the partying that happens on the roof, and
they would have put a swift end to that, I’m sure.
Maybe that’s why they’re harassing students.
They’ve been up there and seen
the empty bottles and makeshift bongs.
If it ends up in the newspaper,
the school officials will need an explanation.
But he’s fishing. Probably told the same story to every kid
he’s talked to, just waiting to see if someone will crack
and tell him you tumbled in a drunken daze.
No nasty attempt to end your life.
Nobody pushed you
over the edge.
So why is my heart beating so damn fast?
I was home
feeling sorry for myself,
writing letters to my dead brother
and wondering why you fell for Davis
and not for me.
Forgive me, Ally. I should have
been there for you. I knew you were in trouble.
have been up there on the roof.
“Have you ever used drugs?” he asks me.
The room is on fire. I’ve got to get out of here. I stand.
“Sit down, Mr. McCoy,” says the man in the suit.
I don’t know how, but from somewhere,
I find the strength to say,
“Do I need a lawyer?”
“Why would you think that?”
If I stay here one moment longer,
I’m gonna be in deep shit.
I take a step toward the door.
“Sit down, Elijah,” says Officer Richie.
“Am I under arrest?”
“Then you can’t keep me here.”
I don’t know if this is true or not.
I know people out in the real world have rights,
but this isn’t the real world.
This is high school.
I take another step toward the door.
says the man in the suit,
but he makes no move to stop me,
so I open the door
and I run.
stands in the middle of the hallway,
right in front of the principal’s office,
mopping the same spot over
and over and over again.
and he always
wants to talk to me
just because one day I made the mistake
of saying hello. Nobody else ever talks to him.
There’s a good reason for this. Nobody else sees him.
“Now where are you going
in such an all-fire hurry?” he asks.
I don’t reply and this just makes him
more persistent. He raises his voice
as I pass. “Slow down, sonny,
you don’t wanna slip and break your neck.
Why don’t you stop and have a cookie? The
missus bakes ’em up fresh every Monday.”
He pulls something petrified from his pocket.
It’s a different item every time.
Today it’s a dead mouse.
I try not to glance in his direction.
I just look straight ahead
and keep on running.
I’m racing down the hall
of the administration building
when I hear another voice yell, “Elijah!”
I turn around and see my counselor,
Mr. Tooms, standing outside
the door of his office.
Someone who’s alive and real.
Someone I can trust
with a few things, anyway.
He motions me inside
I go in and collapse
on the threadbare couch
and I can’t help it.
I start to cry.
blubbering like a baby
until there’s nothing left.
When I finally look up, I see
the same gray walls I’ve stared at
week after week for the past three months.
When I started at Raven Valley High, his office
was the first place I visited.
Mr. Tooms has done his best
to brighten up the space
with inspirational posters
He has a bookcase filled with knickknacks
and an entire shelf dedicated
to his stuffed-bird collection.
There’s a parrot dressed like a doctor
and another one dressed like a biker,
complete with a Harley and a bandanna,
and a black bird lying on a couch
that he says is his Jungian dark side.
I don’t know what that means,
but that one is a real conversation starter.
At the top of the shelf is a clay jar with the words
ASHES OF OBNOXIOUS TEENAGERS
“Bad morning?” he asks.
“Yeah. You could say that.”
I’ve been interrogated by the police
and accosted by a dead janitor,
but I don’t dare mention number two.
Even sympathetic counselors have a limit
to what they will believe.
“Wanna beat up Barney?”
He hands me a foam baton
and points to an inflated purple dinosaur
in the corner of the room.
I put the baton on the couch. “I don’t think it would help.”
“Are you going to be okay?”
What he’s really asking is whether or not
he needs to fill out a risk assessment. He’s
hoping I’m not gonna go off the deep end,
like I did after Frankie died.
I let my hair grow out and wouldn’t eat.
Pierced my nose. Starting piecing shoes
together out of parts of army boots.
And then one night I took a bunch of pills.
That’s when I started seeing dead people.
“I’m okay,” I lie.
“Do you want to talk about what happened to Ally?”
I feel sick all over again, like someone turned me
inside out and stepped on my guts.
“I want to hurt the people who hurt her,”
I blurt out before I realize this might sound like
some sort of threat that he will have to document in my file.
I wait for a reaction.
He nods and says, “I understand why you’d feel that way.”
Who am I kidding? I don’t have
a malicious bone in my body.
I stand. “I gotta get back to class.”
“Elijah,” he says as I turn to leave.
“The next few days are going to be rough.
Come back anytime you want to.”
“I will,” I tell him.
Then I walk out into the hall
and I come face-to-face with
are swollen and red. She’s been crying.
“I didn’t do it,” she says, shaking her head violently
so the dreds fly back and forth.
“Everybody is saying it’s me, but I didn’t do it.”
She sounds sincere, but then, she’s a good actor.
Almost as good as me.
Not nearly as good as Ally.
The old Bri never would have texted pictures
of her best friend all over the school,
but we’ve all changed since the days
when we hung out by the pool,
rehearsing lines, playing charades,
roasting hot dogs on the grill.
I had a meltdown and had to go away.
Bri became an activist for any cause she could find,
preaching about the evils of red meat and fossil fuels.
from the ladder of popularity
before she’d made it halfway through
her freshman year.
“I didn’t send the picture,” Bri says convincingly.
Maybe not, but then who? And where the hell were you
when your best friend needed you? I want to say.
But I don’t, because . . .
I’m guilty, too.
I wasn’t there for Ally either.
that Ally was better off without me.
That Bri was better off without me,
because I was a nut job.
What did I have to offer anyone,
especially a girl like Ally?
Now I realize too late
that she was on shakier ground than I was.
I look at Brianna’s frantic expression
and wonder if she’s becoming
a nut job too.
Maybe everybody has
and it’s time for history.
I walk toward Humanities, take
the stairs up to the second floor, go inside, and stop
at the door to the H Hall. I can’t go
there yet. That’s gonna take some nerve.
My heartbeat sprints, I break out in a sweat.
The air is cold as ice. My breath comes fast.
I step away and walk on to my class.
I once spent three days sitting on that hall.
It’s the perfect place to disappear.
But if you stay too long, then there’s a good
chance you’ll never make it out of there.
I know that’s where you’ve gone.
I want to tell you that you need to run,
but would you believe me if I tried?
You used to be so confident, so cool.
In middle school you never gave a crap
what the other kids said about you.
I didn’t know that there was something deep
inside of you that made you want to be
part of the crowd you always used to mock.
I think you lost yourself when you became
someone who had to watch her clothes, her walk,
her weight. It was a losing game.
And then the very crowd you counted on,
turned on you, so you tried to take your life.
I kissed you once. I wonder if you think
about that night we all played Truth or Dare
at that party at the end of eighth
grade, when you still didn’t seem to care
what people thought of you or what they said.
You asked me for the truth about that night
they took me to the psych ward, and I said,
“I tried to die but didn’t do it right.”
You didn’t turn away or treat me like
you were scandalized or even scared.
You just smiled and said, “I’m glad you’re back.”
Then it was my turn and so I dared
you to go out with me for a walk.
All I really wanted was to talk.
When we were out beneath the stars I said,
“Milady, would you like to try a dance?”
You smiled and then we two-stepped in the yard.
I finally got the nerve to hold your hand,
hardly believing we were there alone
and that you didn’t try to pull away.
You asked me why I’d taken on a tone
that made me sound like I was from a play.
It seemed to me that only words and rhymes
made any sense. Only they were safe.