Chapter 9: Nice day for a sulk...

The air was cold that day... Sitting on the porch... Smoking my cigarette... Swinging on the swingy chair. The dry, dead leaves from an autumn past were still skating across the sidewalk. It was barely spring, a few weeks after the funeral; the grass was starting to grow again and the trees were trying to sprout their green life. I was outside, with my black cigarette in hand, trying to show my pale cheeks to them. To prove to the grass, and to the trees, and all of the other growing things that I wasn't dead. I wasn't like the leaves skating across the sidewalk. Or... was I? Is this what its come down to? I have to prove myself to the fucking grass on the ground? I was jealous, envious of the growth a blade of grass had. That life will forever go on, and Zac won't be participating in it. That I won't be participating in it. Because I'm going inside now, and I'm going to smoke another cigarette in my room.

Isaac entered.

"Tay, this place smells like a fucking ash tray, could you go outside?"

"I was just out there."

"Then why didn't you stay out there?"

"Because things are alive... and it was intimidating..."

"Tay, it's March... things are going to grow again... You always loved the springtime..."

"When I feel like winter inside, it shouldn't be becoming spring outside..."

Isaac sighed and sat down beside me on my bed, "Tay, when are we going to go home?"

"We don't need to go home..."

"Yes, we do, Tay... we can't just stay with Mom and Dad forever... We can't just sit in this bedroom thinking about Zac forever..."

I sucked on my cigarette, feeling angered, "Jesus, Ike... you make it sound like he's just something you can just brush off and forget about... He's not my fucking imaginary friend, he was my goddamned brother..." I turned and looked at him, blowing cigarette smoke in his face, "And he was yours too."

He grabbed my cigarette from my hands and put it out. "Don't blow your smoke in my face, I don't want your sorrow."

"Hey, whoah, I'm sorry Isaac, my brother fucking died a month ago!" I said standing up, "And... I happen to care! I happen to miss him! Sorry if it's too much to ask to want time to myself, time to reflect and think about things... Time to fucking smoke a cigarette wherever I goddamn want to smoke."

"Tay, all you goddamn do is smoke, look at yourself! You smoke almost two packs a day! It's ridiculous! It's disgusting! We have to go home... and we have to go back to work sometime! For crying out loud, you're BURNING WELTS INTO YOUR HANDS and you don't even fucking care, and you don't even fucking NOTICE! Do you think Zac would want this?!"

I ignored him, and proved I was ignoring him by lighting up again, and blowing back in his face, "I'll burn myself if I want..."

He looked disgusted at me, "What's happened to you?" is all he said before he left the room.

"Fuck you," I whispered as he left. I hadn't left the house since we left the graveyard that day. I hadn't seen Annissa... I hadn't even gone out to buy more cigarettes - I had Ike fetch them for me - even though he hated it. I had barely moved from my bedroom, and all I could do was write, and smoke, and cry, and sleep. And all I could do was eat the remainder of my Valium, the remainder of the medicine cabinet, and search my room for more. Anything. It had been a week since I'd been down to dinner with my family, and even longer since I'd eaten a full meal. I picked at my food, moved it around on the plate, took a small bite, and pushed it away. I had no appetite anymore.

I wasn't clean. I wasn't fit. I was weak. I was sad. I was hopeless. I was lonely. I didn't bathe. I didn't shave. I didn't eat. I smoked like a chimney. I cried. I had red eyes. I had no inspiration. I had no sexual drive. I had my prescription bottle. I had my pillow. I had eyelids to close my eyes, and I had sleep to take it all away.

I didn't even have the desire, now that we had said goodbye, to get out of bed.

The days could go by without me, if they could go by without him. Work, school, my career, my life, my friends - wherever they were - were going to have to go on alone, without me beside them. Because I was going to wither away. That was my plan.

Isaac, as always, foiled these plans when he returned to our bedroom with Annissa.

"Taylor. You need to leave the house."

I sat up, "Annissa? Where'd you get Annissa?"

"She works at the fucking convenient store I get your goddamned cigarettes at all of the time," Isaac returned. "I told her you were feeling down, and always laying around and that you needed to get out of the house and then I made her come over."

I frowned. Isaac seemed to be so concerned with my well-being. It bothered me. I wished he would just... worry about himself and not me, because god knows, I'm not worth worrying over. I watched the smoke waft through the air and then put out my cigarette in a rather full ashtray.

"Come on in," I said to Annissa, standing up and rolling one of the chairs over for her. She sat down and I sat at the edge of my bed. Isaac shut the door and I knew he was going down to the basement to practice - he had taken up learning the drums over the past few weeks. All while I was filling up on the little white, orange, and yellow pills I found around the house. I didn't even care what they were, anymore.

I cleared my throat and looked down at my self. Dirty T-shirt. Dirty Boxers. I hadn't changed in a while. I felt a blush rise to my cheeks when I realized what I must have looked like.

"Tay, you look like hell." Were the first words she said, in fact. I blushed deeper and stared ceiling when I spoke to her.

"It's been a while since I've really done... anything."

"How is everything?"

"Fine," I answered the generic answer. Even though we both knew everything was not fine.

"Ike said you were down."

"My brother died."

"I know, but... your not dealing with it... in a very... healthy manner. Addictions and dwelling are not ways out."

I turned my head and narrowed my eyes at her, "Since when do you know so much? You're just some stupid girl I met at the convenient store!"

"Taylor..." She protested.

I was infuriated, "No! You... You think you can just step into my life... and... and... help me through this. Like you even know. Like you can even comprehend how I'm feeling! You know nothing about me! You know nothing about my life!"

She shook her head, "You are being irrational. You're just upset."

"You don't understand! You wouldn't ever understand!"

I could see her gritting her teeth as she spoke to me, "Taylor, please shut up, I'm not here to pose as your emotional punching bag. You're bitter and angry, and you're not dealing with this healthily. I'm not here for your verbal abuse."

"What makes YOU so level headed! You think you're my fucking psycho-doctor?!"

"I actually happen to be a psychology major." She bit her lip, "I came here to take you out, and maybe cheer you up a little. You didn't need to insult me."

"I don't want to go out."

She threw up her arms, "Why don't you just die here, unbathed, in your dirty clothes... buried in... in... ASHES and burns!"

"Actually, that's exactly what I was planning to do!" I shouted, grabbing another cigarette and lighting it bitterly.

"You can't just wither away!"

"Oh yes I can!" I said, not bothering to tell her how I dreamed of a frailer version of myself day-to-day... night-to-night. How I wanted the perfection of a thin glass bottle, so delicately breakable. Shattered in a second.

"You will never wither away." She spat at me, "Because you love what you do too much to let that happen! You're just stubborn, that's all you are!"

I felt myself shaking with anger as I sucked bitterly at the filter, "I want to die. That's all I want to do." I took the cigarette in my hand and turned it face down into my leg, the burning sending intense shrills of pain through my body. I didn't notice. I never noticed anymore. My teeth were clenched, "I don't see the point... in going on."

She looked horrified and she grabbed the cigarette from my hand, "Taylor," She said, pointedly, putting it in the ashtray beside my bed, "You're going to be fine. You've just got to see ahead. I know it's hard, all right? I know what it's like to lose someone you love more than you think I do. But... trust me... you're going to dig yourself in too deep if you continue to do what you're doing now."

I looked at the welt forming where I had burned my skin. Defeated, I sighed, "Take me." I lifted my arms to her, "Take me away from here. Please drive off a cliff."

She laughed and pulled me up, "Ha-ha, get some pants on."

I self consciously slid on a pair of jeans under her supervision and she pushed me out of the door, practically.

"Tay," She asked me softly, "What do you love more than anything on earth?"

"Music." I blurted, without thought.

"What was the last CD you listened to?"

I stared.

She nodded, "I know." She plopped a book in my lap. "What do you want to listen to?"

I leafed through the pages, seeing CDs that were familiar, and others that weren't, and one caught my eye... but... I couldn't. "Nothing. I don't want to listen to anything."

"Why not? You love music more than anything - why not use it as your healing force? Music has great healing powers, you should know."

I fingered the zipper on her case, suddenly noticing myself zoning in on my hands. My hands circled around a CD and I pulled it out of the case, twirling the disc around my index finger, nonchalantly. She snatched it from my hands.

"The 60s Top Forty?"

"I ah... Don't want to listen to that."

"Well, I don't see why not," She popped it in her player and I sat up rigidly as the opening chords to a familiar Beatles hit blasted through the speakers. "What's wrong?"

I shook my head, "Nothing." I said, although the tears were coming and I was beginning to shake. I couldn't listen to this, not now. I began to hyperventilate - the memories and scenes and sudden thoughts coursing through my skin like a monster or a rapidly spreading virus.

"I can't deal with this," I cried, staring desperately out the window at the scenery passing by, clambering for a way out, "I'm not ready."

A flash of panic went across her face and she quickly pulled over and I fell out onto the grass. She ran to me holding my hair and stroking my back gently as I convulsed and vomited. I wished she didn't see what was coming out of my mouth. Blackness. Smoke. Tar.

I sat up wiping my hair out of my sweaty face, shivering and crying. She helped me stand - my whole body now weak and shaky. "Are you alright?" She asked me leading me back to my seat in the car.

"I'm okay," I said softly, gripping the dashboard. Tears were streaming down my face, but I smiled. I smiled as well as my heart would let me. The most ingenuine smile I've ever smiled, "I promise." I said. Even though I hadn't eaten for four days. Even though my heart felt like it had been raped up the ass. Even though tears were slipping down my cheeks. Even though I saw no way to go on, anymore. I didn't want to go to work. I didn't want to play. I didn't want to sing. I wanted to destroy myself. Regardless of all of this.
I smiled.
And she smiled back.

"What happened?" She was stroking strands of my hair away from my sticky face. I didn't let my eyes meet hers. Everything around me sounded loud, it surrounded me. I kept shaking my head and she kept talking to me - yelling, almost.

"Are you alright? Tay... Talk to me... Look at me... Don't faint on me."

Everything was spinning. Her words were echoing and my body shivered as I went into another fit.

"Calm down, Tay. Calm down." She was rubbing my shoulders and stroking my hair, "Shh... Shh..." She hushed me. I closed my arms around myself and the soft sound of music still persisted on the car stereo. I turned abruptly and pulled the key from her car.

"I don't want to listen anymore," I said, "I can't hear that. I can't deal with hearing it."

She nodded and stroked the side of my face, "Are you alright?"

I nodded, "I think I'm okay." She turned and stepped into her side of the car.

"Maybe we should put on something you haven't heard before," She said softly, and handed the book to me once again. "Choose something."

I gulped and flipped through, searching for something I wasn't familiar with. Something that wouldn't flood my brain with the pain of memories. I let my fingers, numb, run over the pages - the names - the faces - the titles.

"Bjork." I said, "I've never ever listened to Bjork, in my entire life..."

She smiled, "I love Bjork!" She yanked the case from me and pulled out a CD, "This is my favorite one."

She put in the CD and skipped the first track, "You have to hear this song, I love it SO much!"

A soft bass surrounded me in the car, and a mellow snare part followed. The most unusual voice I had ever heard began to sing,

"We lived... on a mountain
Right at the top
There's a beautiful view
at the top of the mountain...
Every morning I walk towards the edge
and throw little things off
Like car-parts, bottles and cutlery,
Whatever I find lying around
It's become a habit - a way to start the day"

I stared out the window, the soft twinkling sounds from the music bringing pictures of peaceful mountainsides to my mind, and that euphoric feeling of finally reaching the top. The music floated over my body nicely, and all I could see were puffy white clouds and sunny days. The wind in my hair, and the air smelling clean, and the whole wide world at my feet.

The chorus began to blast through, and the voice of the woman behind the speakers grew in an intensity I wouldn't have expected from her.

"I go through all of this, before you wake up
So I can feel happier
To be safe again with you"

The music built and it was as if my train of thought was following the words. I closed my eyes watching myself walking...

"It's early morning
No one is awake
I'm back at my cliff
Still throwing things off"

...My feet were in front of me as I continued... The wind in my hair, and when I turned back there were demons there. Little gremlins that had overtaken Me.

"I listen to the sounds they make
on their way down
I follow with my eyes till they crash
I imagine what my body would sound like
slammin' against those rocks
and when it lands
Will my eyes
be closed or opened?"

I opened my eyes and gripped my seatbelt. Watching the world spinning all around me under my eyelids had surprised me. The chorus played through, with higher intensity than the last. The buildup in the music built up in my soul and I felt an odd release from hearing it. My body felt drained and weak, my jaw was hanging loosely opened. She gave me a curious look, "Do you like it?"

I turned my head slowly and felt my lips turn upward, "Yeah, I do."

"Are you alright? You still look a little pale, do you want to get a soda or something?"

"No, I'm fine..." I tapped my pocket and pulled out my pack of Camel Lights and lit up. "I like this music... I wonder why I've never listened to Bjork? I've heard her name many times in my life."

"I just adore Bjork," She said enthusiastically, "She is so unbelievably cool. Have you seen her movie - Dancer in the dark?"

"No," I said, trying to picture the Icelandic singer with this unusual voice in a movie. "Is it good?"

"Totally phenomenal. Maybe one day if you're feeling up to it we'll watch it. It's very sad though."

I smiled, "That's okay. I'd be interested in watching it. What else do you listen to?"

"You've seen my case... that's pretty much what I listen to."

I smiled, and picked it up again. I flipped through, skimming over names and faces, "Hey, you have a good taste in music."

"So do you." She quipped, as we pulled into the park in the center of town. "Let's take a walk."

I sat still in the car. I didn't move.

"Tay..."

Still I sat, staring straight ahead at the children playing in the park. Children not too far off from how I once was. I sucked on my cigarette. She opened my door and grabbed my arm, "Come on, you big geek..." She said, trying to lighten me up, but my feet were heavy as we walked through the park. I felt the sun burning my gray cheeks.

It was just my luck that someone recognized me in that park, and I turned my sallow face to her, and I had to smile. Not because I wanted to, but because it was only polite to smile. Regardless of how much you were overtaken by sadness, smiling was a necessity - I was to pretend everything was going awesomely for me, even though it wasn't. It never was.

The conversation drifted by like a dream, and I felt rather unaware of myself as I spoke to people.

"Taylor Hanson?"

I turned my eyes up to the speaker. I could feel the tired puffy circles beneath them pulling my face down. I saw myself in my head with this death-like appearance. Color drained from my skin, my eyes, and my hair hanging in stringing strands around my face. I didn't find my voice right off, Annissa had left me to go down the way to pick something up at a store across the street. She couldn't save me or help me on my first day out in public for a few weeks.

"Yes." My voice was scratchy, "That's me."

The stranger's face lit up, "Oh, wow. This is so cool to be meeting you."

I smiled but I did not have a response.

"Can I have your autograph, or something?" I remembered our general rule - we wouldn't give out autographs unless we were in a group. But then I remembered that we were one member short. I shook off the sadness creeping into my throat and nodded.

"Got a pen?" I said, "Sorry... I..." I tapped my pockets, "I normally have a pen."

"Oh yes, I do." The stranger said to me, "Hold on let me grab my bag." The stranger turned away from me and grabbed a bag from the ground and stuck her hand in. She pulled out a pen and a scrap piece of paper. I leaned up against a post and used it as a flat surface to write on. "What's your name?" I spoke softly.

"Reva." She said, "R-E-V-A."

"Reva," I repeated, "Alright." I started to write, 'To Reva ---.'

"Hey, I heard about your brother." She said, "I'm real sorry." I didn't say anything. My handwriting trailed off the page, my eyes were getting blurry. Reality seemed to fade in and out, and I kept feeling the pangs of reality in.

I finished scrawling messily, 'To Reva- Rock on! Taylor Hanson.' My handwriting drooped dramatically and I couldn't seem to keep it all on the same level on the page. I sighed softly to myself and handed it to her along with her pen, "Nice to meet you, Reva." I shook her hand.

"Hey, nice to meet you." She said, smiling, "I love the band by the way."

"Thanks." I said, forcing a smile, "Thank you for supporting us."

"What are you guys going to do? I mean... are you going to still remain as Hanson - or do something else - or what?"

I hadn't even thought about that... well I had. I just didn't discuss it, or feel like wondering. I shook my head, "I don't know. We haven't really... Thought about that." I bet I was fidgeting, but I couldn't notice, everything kept going blurry before my eyes.

"Oh... Hey, are you alright?" I grabbed onto the post to steady myself, feeling dizzy and light-headed, "I'm fine, don't worry. My friend is coming back soon and I'll probably just go home soon anyway."

"You look a little pale."

I couldn't see Reva anymore because everything was blurring up and my head seemed to be spinning. I shook my head, "I'm okay, don't worry about me."

"Taylor!" A voice broke through and I collapsed into someone's arms. It was Annissa. She pulled me up and helped me walk over to a bench. "Tay!? Why you standing there like that! You were on the verge of collapsing! In fact... if I didn't catch you. Jesus. Drink some juice. Here, I bought you some food."

I sipped at the orange juice she bought me as she began to talk to the girl who had been talking to me. I stared up at them and noticed her rather horrified face and heard Annissa through the buzzing in my head saying, "Don't worry, he's okay. He just hasn't eaten today..."

"Taylor, eat." Was the next thing I heard, and a sandwich was pushed in my face.

"I don't want to eat, I'll get sick." I said weakly.

"You're delirious, Tay. Why didn't you sit down? You could have gotten the whole park worried into a frenzy... collapsing like that - in the middle of a crowded public park!"

"I'm sorry." I said, "You don't have to yell at me."

"I'm not..." Her voice dropped, "I'm not yelling." She sighed, "I'm sorry, you just scared me, that's all."

I sipped my juice and took a reluctant bite out of the sandwich she bought me, "I'm going to be okay."

She didn't reply, staring out into the crowd. She returned me home that night, told me to get a shower and that she would see me soon - insisting that it would do me good to get out of the house. I smiled at her and said softly before I stepped out of her car, "Thank you for taking me out, and for playing me music."

"No problem Tay. Feel better, all right? Keep eating."

I nodded with red cheeks and shut the door, stepping into my house. I made it up to my bedroom and suddenly I was enveloped in depression again, as if it hung in the air around me. I didn't shower. But my pillow was soft and I fell against it, the sound of the television a few rooms down lulling me to sleep.