You’d be on every page

SHORT STORY : The story of how a tragedy destroyed a relationship and perhaps another life, by Marit Langset.

She is standing in the middle of the room, looking at me like she wants something, needs something. I look away, but I can still feel her eyes on me. What did she expect? I get up from the crowded sofa and navigate through the party to find my guy. He is sitting in the corner with blurry eyes. I signal to him and soon enough I am in the bathroom, shooting up. When I get out, she is standing outside, waiting for me.

“That’s just great, Alex. You don’t have the capacity to change do you – to do better? I came here to give you a last chance. I wanted to believe in you so badly. But you know what, I can’t do this any more. Enjoy your drugs.”

The drugs are setting in, and it feels so freaking good. I know I should take her seriously. Instead, I just smile and give her a nod, before I sink into a chair.

When I was 16, my mom died in a “car accident”. The school cut me some slack for a long time and eventually I started taking advantage of it. My grades and attendance dropped. As my dad started drinking, I started smoking. All of a sudden, the Marlboros were replaced with weed. One thing led to another and five years later, I was injecting stuff into my veins. I don’t really know how I got there; I just know that suddenly I was.

Ella fell in love with me before all of this, when I still was decent. She always tells me how she fell in love with me when I hugged her at our Christmas school play, dressed up as Ebenezer Scrooge. I had smeared theatre make-up on her shirt, and then felt so badly about it that I texted her a long apology. Teenage sincerity. From that moment, for some reason, she was hooked. And for the last seven years she’s been.

We were on the verge of becoming “Facebook Official” when my mother died and my life hit pause. The rest of the world was fast-forwarding, while I never really found the play button again. Anyway, my point is that Ella knew who I was before all this. She knows who I have the potential to be.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last saw her at that party and I haven’t heard a word from her – which is weird, because she usually checks in on me. I don’t really remember what happened, but according to Johnny I was mean. I should have apologised a long time ago, but the party led to another and all of a sudden, three weeks had passed. Johnny also says she’s dating a guy from law school now. It doesn’t really worry me, because I know she knows we belong together.

We both have a dark side, but where I self-destruct with drugs and parties, she self-destructs by having too high demands of herself. Ella is a straight As student and she’s gorgeous. In her own eyes, she’s never good enough, though. The straight As is an obsession and she still doesn’t have a normal relationship to food, after struggling with anorexia. She has always set such big standards for herself, but when it came to boys, she chose me. As it always does, it hits me once again how grateful I am, and that I need to pull myself together.

With information about rehab in one hand and hydrangeas in the other, I stand outside her door. I have never gone as far as printing information about rehab. I know she is hurt, so I want to remind her that I am not really this cruel drug addict. She opens up, but before I get to say two sentences, she stops me.

“You have to give me a chance to explain.”

“I’ve been letting you explain for the last five years. I have been killing myself trying to understand what’s going on with you. I’m done, Alex.”

“Is this because of this lawyer guy? Come on, you’ll be bored within five minutes and you know it.” I smile at her.

“Seriously? You don’t know what you’re talking about. And you know what? I’d rather be bored than constantly hurt by you.” She’s clearly angry, but she isn’t crying, like she usually does when something upsets her. She looks strong, different.

“Now, Alex, can you please leave?”

I don’t want to leave. I want her to invite me in, hold me in her arms and tell me the story about when she first fell in love with me. She has never asked me to leave before. Is she really choosing this lawyer guy? What we have is fireworks. It beats anything. We can rarely spend 48 hours together without getting into a fight, but the making up is always worth it. We are complicated, intense, all-consuming. I thought it would always pull us in, no matter what. I wait for her to break, to invite me in, but she doesn’t.

“Good luck, Alex. I hope you find whatever it is you’re looking for.” She takes a step back and closes the door.

Stunned by this new determination in Ella, I stumble down the street. Back home my dad is passed out on the couch. Maybe we should join rehab together. He used to say that my mom and I were so much alike. I used to believe him. Now I think we’re all the same, the three of us, weak and dark, and leading each other into self-destruction.

In my room, under my sweaters in the closet, I find my mom’s old notebook. It’s a scrapbook with optimistic quotes written in it. “Even the darkest nights will end and the sun will rise” and “You make your own happiness”. There are also pictures glued in, pictures of things she liked. I think her therapist told her to make it and look at it when she was depressed, to remind her why she wanted to live.

There’s a picture of me in it. I was one of her reasons to stay alive. Clearly not a significant enough one. My dad insists that her death was an accident, but I know she killed herself.

If I made a book like this, Ella would be on every page. Now, I’ve lost her. “You make your own happiness.” My eyes wander from the scrapbook to the rehab papers. A part of me wants to rip them apart and throw them out of the window. Another part of me knows that this is the solution. If I got myself together, Ella would see that I still am the guy who played the main role in A Christmas Carol and felt badly about smearing make-up on her shirt.

“You make your own happiness.”

I open up my drawer and push aside all the crap I have covering the needle. I don’t have the strength to be that guy today. I’m not ready to press play just yet. I’ll be better tomorrow. Just one last time.

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