Every You, Every Me Page 1

Author: David Levithan

Genres: Young Adult , Mystery

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1

It was your birthday. The first one after you left vanished were gone.

When I woke up, I dreamed thought about other birthdays. Ones where we’d been together.

Like two years ago. Freshman year. When I had you all to myself. I asked you what you wanted and you said roses, and then you said, “But not the flowers.” So I spent weeks gathering presents: a polished piece of rose quartz, White Rose tea, a ceramic tile I’d bought at the White House in fourth grade featuring the Rose Garden. A novel called Rose Sees Red, a biography of Gypsy Rose Lee, a mix of songs by bands called Blue Roses, the Stone Roses, White Rose Movement. Then I rigged your locker with pulleys, so when you opened it, all the objects rose. I’m not sure you got that part, not until I told you. But you were so happy then. This was before happiness became so complicated. This was when you could ask me for something, I could give it to you, and the world would be right.

And then there was last year. You went out with Jack at night, but I at least had you for the afternoon. I asked you what you wanted and you said you didn’t want anything. And I told you I wasn’t planning on giving you anything; I was planning on giving you something. That whole week, we started to divide things into those two categories: anything or something. A piece of jewelry bought at a department store: anything. A piece of jewelry made by hand: something. A dollar: anything. A sand dollar: something. A gift certificate: anything. An IOU for two hours of starwatching: something. A drunk kiss at a party: anything. A sober kiss alone in a park: something. We ended up spending the afternoon walking around, pointing at things and labeling them anything or something. Should I have paid closer attention? Written them down? No, it was a good day. Wasn’t it? At the end, you pointed to me and said something. And I pointed back and said something. I held on to that.

Now it was a year later. I wished you a happy birthday. That word again. Happy. It’s a curse. The pursuit of happiness makes us deeply unhappy. It’s a trap.

Before anything else happened, there was me in bed, thinking of who you used to be.

I don’t want you to think I forgot.

1A

I see too many things at once. I notice shadows. Think about them. And while I do that, I miss other things. Important things. I can’t stop looking, even when I want to have to stop. I get lost in ifs. They are always there if if if if and I should only be able to tune in to them if I’m on the right frequency. But that’s the thing about me: The frequencies don’t divide.

That day was your birthday in my head, but it wasn’t really your birthday anywhere else. I wanted to tell people at school that it was your birthday but I didn’t want to get their reaction when I brought it up. I started to think it was like a surprise party, only they weren’t telling either of us. They were going to surprise both of us. I didn’t have this thought for long. It was really just there for a moment. I pretended like it was a normal day without you there. And like all other normal days, I made it through to the other end. It can be done, you see.

There are things you decide and there are decisions you don’t even know you are making. That afternoon, I decided to cut through the woods on my way home. As I headed that way, I looked at the ground, not the branches or the sky. If I’d stopped to talk to someone after school instead of heading straight home—if I’d had someone to talk to—maybe someone else would have gotten there first. I didn’t decide to see the envelope. I saw the envelope sitting there on the ground. I should have left it alone. I should have been left alone. I was alone. I stopped and picked it up. From the weight, I knew there was something inside. I decided to open it.

I wasn’t thinking of you.

It was so small. I had to focus. I couldn’t focus without telling myself to focus. The eyes take in the colors and the shapes. The images go to the brain for translation. First I saw the trees, then the sky. It didn’t look familiar. The brain cross-checks the translation against the memories it’s stored. I fixed on the four bare trees, standing like orphaned table legs. I knew those trees—I looked away from the photo and there they were in real life, no more than twenty feet away from me. I walked over to the nearest tree, but that didn’t tell me anything. I looked at the envelope, but it was completely blank. No address, no name on the front. I looked. I almost put it back. But the sky was getting gray, almost as gray as the sky in the photo. Leaving it on the ground didn’t seem right. It was going to rain.

I saw the other trees. I held the photo up against real life, figured out my place in it. But there was something I was missing. Or maybe there was something extra. I was here. I was not in the photograph. Therefore the photograph was then, and I was now. Where was the photo taken from?

I turned around and saw my school. Its windows. Watching me.

Revealing nothing.

Anything? Something?

I put the photograph back in the envelope. I didn’t put the envelope back on the ground. I kept it. And I might have forgotten about it. I might have just thrown it out, or let it stay in my backpack until it became crumpled and torn and wrecked on the bottom with all the pieces of unchewed gum slipped loose from their wrappers. I might have just shown it to Jack or someone else the next day at school. In another time, I would have shown it to you first. We would have shrugged and moved on to the next thing. It would have been a short, short story.

Random, we would have said.

Random.

Meaning:

Completely without a pattern.

or

Completely without a recognizable pattern.

Meaning:

Either the event is outside any pattern.

or

We are unable to comprehend the pattern.

I folded the envelope in half, careful that the photo wasn’t caught in the crease.

(I try to be a careful person. Most of the time my carelessness is completely unintentional.)

I looked around one more time, stood in the center of the bare trees, at the exact center.

Then I headed home and I lost focus and the barrage in my head started again.

You will never be happy again. Why do you even think about it?

Five minutes after I picked up the photo, it rained.

This pain is all that you have.

I think:

If I’d been five minutes later, it would have been raining   if it had been five minutes later, I would have been dashing through the rain, not noticing   if I’d been five minutes later, the envelope and the photo would have been soaked, ruined.

I think:

If I’d been five minutes later, none of this would have happened.

I know:

It probably would have happened anyway. Just not like this.

1B

I woke up at two in the morning, feeling guilty that I hadn’t asked you what you wanted this year.

2

The next morning I returned to the same spot. I didn’t tell myself I was going to do it. I just walked there. It was still cloudy; the sun had risen, but I couldn’t really see it. It was like the day had no hours. I only knew it was morning because I was so tired.

I hadn’t really slept. I never really sleep anymore.

I didn’t expect there to be anything to find, so I was surprised when I saw the second envelope.

It wasn’t in the same spot as the first one. This time it was in the exact center of the four bare trees. Like someone had drawn an X between them, and the envelope marked the crossing point. The crosshairs.

The ground was still wet, and as I walked over it, my boots sank a little. Even though it was so close to school, nobody was around. It was too early for them. Everyone else was asleep. I was the morning watchman.

Only what could be safe with me? What could I protect? I hadn’t been able to stop harm. I’d harmed.

I picked up the envelope and looked at it. Still no address, no clue. Sealed blankness.

I wanted more of your handwriting. After you were gone, I realized how little of it I had.

I ripped open the envelope and shook the photo out into my hand.

This time, it was a much bigger surprise.

Every You, Every Me

It was a picture of me.

I was the photo.

2A

Nobody ever took my picture. They didn’t want to. Or I wouldn’t let them.

You were the only exception.

2B

I looked all around. Into the woods. At the school. Down the path. The full 360. “So it’s all come full circle,” you said. I didn’t feel like I was being watched, but the possibility was there.

The only possibility that was gone was the possibility of randomness. Because it was me inside the envelope. Because the envelope was dry. Because it hadn’t stopped raining until about an hour ago. Because that meant whoever had left it had come out at daybreak to do it. Maybe he or she knew I’d be here early. Maybe he or she knew me and what time I’d be here.

You would have known that. Jack would have known that.

It felt a little less like a mystery and more like a game. A trick. A trap.

I put the photo in the envelope and the envelope in my pocket. I wondered why my name hadn’t been written on it. What if someone else had found it?

The rest of the walk to school, my mind returned to zeros and ones. This 001110101110 is 011101100110 a 10011101 language 1111110000000. Focused on nothing, open to everything—it’s a state I fall into, where all my senses swap. My voice is blind, my hearing is mute, my sight is deaf. Art is science, mathematics is conversation, and music is something that bleeds. I am so far away that I’m inside myself. I barely notice colors unless I taste them. Not the yellows or the greens. I taste the deeper blues. The darker reds.

You see, I understand.

The school doors were still locked, so I sat on the patio in the back. It was just me and a collection of wet cigarette butts one two three four five six countless, and I wondered if it would be possible to make a language out of their arrangement. Was it a pattern or was it chaos? I always thought that if I looked long enough, I could find the pattern. 01001100011100001111 And if I didn’t look long enough, there would be chaos. At first, I could not understand the screaming.

My thoughts always exist within a windstorm; they have to be strongly rooted in order to stay. So when Jack finally joined me, I had already forgotten about the photo. I thought of you and looked for you next to him, as if my mind suddenly believed it was two months ago. I saw that his hair was longer, that the peak in the front was a little higher, a little blonder than what I usually pictured when I pictured him. Remember when you were happy? Well, it’s a lie. I felt like there was something I had to tell him. I noticed someone turning on the lights in the school library.

Good morning, library.

“How long have you been here?” he asked. He didn’t look awake yet, like his synapses were still cloudy even though his body was going through the morning motions.

“Not long,” I said, mostly because I had no idea how long it had been.

“What’d you do last night?”

I never do anything. “Not much. You?”

“Nothing.”

I never knew if Jack came to the patio this early because he knew I’d be there, or if he would’ve done it anyway. We were best friends by default but it was like our friendship was never fully awake, either. We were each closer to you than we were to each other. Your absence dulled us.

Jack took out a cigarette and asked, “You mind?”

He always asked, and I always said I didn’t, even though I did.

Why do you want to put more smoke inside of you?

You said you hated his smoking, but you didn’t really, not in the way that you hated other things, like life.

He lit up and took drags in between sips of coffee. My attention started to scatter into details, like the way his lip stuck for a second on the plastic coffee-cup lid or the weight of the ashes that fell from his cigarette. You think ashes float, but really they just gather together until there are enough of them to fall straight down. That was something you would see. That was something you would say.

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