Before I can make it up the stairs and into my tiny bedroom sanctuary, there is family to attend to.
"Hey, guys," I say, depositing my backpack next to the front door. My shoulders thank me.
The littlest ones, Ava and Asher, always greet me first. "Ellie!" they scream, and ram me with hugs. Asher, the youngest at five, is a professional cuddler, but Ava always manages to jab me with a sharp part of her body—an elbow, a knee, and in this case a chin straight to my gut. I resist the natural urge to vomit into her curly rat's nest of hair. "We made weather predictors in school today." Ava extracts her chin from my abdomen and thrusts into my face a paper plate dotted with scribbly images of four weather conditions: sunny, rainy, snowy, and cloudy. She uses the arrow mounted with a brad in the center to mark "sunny." "See? Now you always know what the weather is."
I stop myself from commenting on how it would be just as easy to look out the window for the same effect. Because the project is sweet, and so is Ava, which is why it is all the more painful that I can't muster up the energy to care. Will she recognize my forced smile? "That's great, Ava. Put it on the fridge so you can set it every morning before we get dressed." She scuttles over to the refrigerator and fails at all attempts to hang the paper plate with a weak Wall Drug magnet. Asher regales me with a story about a kid throwing up at recess into the twisty slide, and I nod enthusiastically while a part of me dies inside at the prospect of another round of the stomach flu going through the house.
My ten-year-old brother, Isaac, and thirteen-year-old sister, Samara, sit at one end of the dining room table doing their homework. The other end of the table is strewn with jigsaw pieces and half of a completed puzzle exhibiting a pyramid of old tin cans, a family project meant to keep idle hands busy. I used to have a passion for the puzzles, but these days I only manage to build the border before I tire of the physical and social exertion that comes with putting together a puzzle with four brothers and sisters and a dad with no life.
"Hey," I say. "Need anything?" I ask this out of habit, out of guilty obligation for my mom and pity for my dad.
"Nah." Isaac shrugs. Samara doesn't even bother with words, just a lazy dismissive wave. My cue to grab my backpack and escape to my room.
The original parental plan was to give me, the eldest and wisest of the spawn, the basement when I turned into a "woman" post bat mitzvah. Thanks to my dad's career choice and the world moving on without him, the basement was handed over to 4,723 inanimate objects. The only option to claim any space of my own in our three-bedroom house was to move into the meager walk-in closet attached to the Sisters Room (what we call the girls' bedroom in the house, even though it has a somewhat terrifying polygamist-sounding title). I fit in a single futon mattress plus a compact IKEA bookshelf. Lucky for me there is a small, octagonal window in the closet, so I can tell what time of day it is as well as estimate the weather without a paper plate.
It's not as bad as I'm making it sound. Except on those days when I just want to be alone. Which is pretty much most days. I feel like my medication should take care of that more than it does.
I struggle past my sisters' bunk bed with my backpack and heave it onto my futon mattress, pulling my door closed. Solitude. I click on the overhead bulb and the string of Jack Skellington lights I bought at Walgreens for ambience. The small and high window provides little actual light. I have often imagined whether I could escape through the eight-sided hole if there were ever a fire or a home intruder.
I position the futon so it becomes a makeshift couch and breeze through my homework. With physics out of the way, school should be relatively easy this year. At least the classes will be. Living through each day in that building, surrounded by people who either remember who I was or have no idea I exist, is another matter. My close friends all but abandoned me while I languished in a mental hospital last year, and the rest of the student body didn't even know I was gone.
This is one of those moments my therapist says I should call a friend or journal to escape my dark thoughts. Dark thoughts, however, pretty much smother all motivation to do anything but watch movies.
I pull out my laptop and stuff on my headphones, click on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
, and settle into my usual position until someone forces me to go downstairs for dinner. This is my favorite Harry Potter movie because, aside from (or because of?) the death, it is kind of romantic. Everyone is preparing for the Yule Ball, and you can practically smell the hormones wafting off the screen. Plus I really like all the shaggy hair. When I watch movies, I am able to leave my head for a spell. Go somewhere instead of here. Be someone instead of me. But sometimes a crappy thought canstill sneak in. Would I be the depressed weirdo at Hogwarts, too?
This excerpt ends on page 14 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book All the Days Past, All the Days to Come by Mildred D. Taylor.