I’m going crazy.
That’s what everyone tells me. That’s what they whisper when they think I’m not listening. That’s why they take me to see people whose smiles are fake and who ask you millions of questions and take notes and nod and say they understand when they don’t.
That’s why when people come over for dinner and eat dead animals and drink wine while I munch on granola bars, they say that I’m a unique girl and then when they think I’m not looking they start to whisper about me.
And if what everyone says is true, and I am going crazy, then that means none of it was really my fault at all.
On my first day of school, I wasn’t sure whether to feel happy or excited or sad or scared or nervous. I walked into the huge building and spent hours in rooms so bright they made your eyes ache where adults with tired, fake smiles droned on for hours about the strangest things. Every so often a terrifying alarm started to ring shrilly, making me jump each time.
And of course, people whispered about me. People always seemed to be whispering about me, and they always seemed to think that I was blind or deaf, but I wasn’t and I could see them with their hands over their mouths, shooting me sideways glances, and I could hear the whispers drifting through the air.
The loud alarm had just rung again, and I followed the crowd into a huge room that smelled like pizza and was full of tables, the air was heavy with voices because everyone was shouting and laughing.
I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
I decided that I needed to sit with someone. And not just anyone. A best friend.
I walked over to the nearest table and looked at the nearest girl and said, “Do you want to be my best friend?” The girl laughed loudly and obnoxiously and then she ignored me.
I turned to the next girl at the table and asked her the same question and got the same response.
I asked everyone at that table and the next and the next and the next. The responses weren’t always the same. They were laughs or horrified looks or fingers waggling by the ear or whispers or silence or just plain “no” or if I was lucky then maybe “sorry”.
When I got to the furthest table by the sunny window with only one boy sitting all alone, my smile might have been drooping a bit and maybe my heart was a little bit sad, and my voice might have sounded quiet when I said, “Do you want to be my best friend?”
I expected the boy to laugh or ignore me or say I was crazy but instead he just raised his eyebrows and said, “Sure.”
“Really?” I gasped.
“Really.” He smiled.
I smiled back.
And then I sat down and smiled and my smile didn’t go away for the rest of the day, even when we had to go back to the bright rooms and the scary alarms, and maybe my heart didn’t feel so sad anymore.
The next day and the next and the next I sat with the boy every time we went into the big, loud room.
One day he asked me why I never ate lunch.
“What?” I said.
“It’s lunchtime. You’re supposed to eat.”
“I don’t know. What do you usually eat?”
“Well, you can eat whatever you want. That’s what lunchtime is for.”
Then he gave me a half of his sandwich and it tasted better than any of the granola bars I eat for breakfast.
One day he told me that his name was Luke.
Then he said, “What’s yours?”
“My what?” I replied, confused.
“Your name.” He said.
“My name?” I asked.
“What do people call you?”
“They call me crazy.”
When I got home my mom told me that I needed a haircut.
“I don’t want a haircut!” I shouted.
“But your hair is so long!”
“I don’t want a haircut,” I repeated.
“You wouldn’t ever let someone cut off your arm, so why would you let someone cut off your hair?”
“Fine,” She sighed.
I went to the kitchen and munched on a granola bar, and found that it didn’t taste as good anymore and that what I really wanted was half of Luke’s sandwich.
Then my mom walked into the kitchen and I asked her, “What’s my name?”
But she didn’t respond and her eyes widened and she rushed out of the room and got on the phone and started whispering about me.
The next day I didn’t go to school because my mom took me back to the place with the chairs that are too stiff and the ladies that wear too much lipstick and ask too many questions and take too many notes.
And then the next day I didn’t go to school either and I asked my mom why but she just said, “It’s Saturday,” and that made no sense at all.
I didn’t go to school the day after that either because it was “Sunday.” And then the day after that I finally got to go back to school.
At lunchtime, I asked Luke why I couldn’t go to school on Saturday or Sunday, and he said something about “days of the week” and “weekends” which was confusing, but I guess life is supposed to be confusing.
“You’re really smart,” I told him.
“So are you,” he replied.
“Really?” Me? Smart? Nobody had ever called me that before.
Luke told me a lot of things at lunchtime, like how the bright rooms with tired kids were called classrooms, and the alarm was a bell that told you when class was over, and that each class was a different subject with a different teacher.
“So that’s why they’re so tired all the time,” I said. “They have to teach the same subject every day.”
“I never thought about it that way,” said Luke, passing half of his sandwich over.
School was becoming more enjoyable, though still confusing, and I always looked forward to lunchtime, but then one day a tall boy with a mean smile and big arms came over to the farthest table by the window and said, “Oh look, it’s the Crazy.” Then he laughed loudly and his friends who also had mean smiles laughed with him.
I didn’t know what they wanted. “Hello,” I said, smiling.
“Did you hear that?” The mean boy said loudly, in a tone of voice I didn’t recognize. “The Crazy’s talking!”
I tried to keep my smile up but it was drooping at the edges because the boys’ laughs weren’t nice at all like Luke’s.
“Well, yes, I am talking. Isn’t that what mouths are for? I mean, imagine if nobody had a mouth. That would be weird. You could never talk to anybody or tell jokes or laugh or eat sandwiches and granola bars.”
The boys were all laughing their mean laughs and I didn’t understand because if I had said that to Luke he would have nodded and he would have talked about mouths with me and he would never have laughed at me like that. Then the mean boy said, “She’s not just crazy, she’s stupid as well. She’s crazy stupid, and I don’t know why you agreed to be her best friend, Luke.”
My smile had drooped so much that it wasn’t even a smile anymore. It was a tiny little frown and my heart felt a tiny little bit sad.
But then Luke said, “Stop laughing at her. So what if she wants to talk about the benefits of having a mouth. So what if she only eats granola bars and never brings a lunch. So what if sometimes she doesn’t understand things like days of the week. If you would actually get to know her you would find out that she’s just as smart as everyone else, smarter even, and she’s not crazy, and I like being her best friend, so just go away.”
The boys just laughed again and rolled their eyes but they walked away, and even though I could see them whispering about me when they thought I wasn’t looking, my smile perked up and my heart was happier because Luke said he liked being my best friend.
“You like being my best friend?” I asked once the boys were gone.
“Yep.” He said.
“Really?” I asked.
“Really.” He smiled.
My smile got even bigger and brighter than before.
The next day when the boys came back and called me crazy again, I didn’t care because everyone called me crazy anyway and it didn’t matter because Luke didn’t think I was crazy and he was my best friend.
But then the boy with the meanest smile said something that made Luke’s smile droop and his eyes get really shiny and I could tell his heart was sad.
“You’re stupid,” said the boy, “and you’re not good at anything, because if you were any good at anything then you would have a real friend. Why do you think the Crazy’s your only friend, huh? It’s because you’re worth less than a smudge of dirt.”
When he said that, a weird, hot feeling started to burn in my stomach because I hated seeing Luke with shiny eyes and a sad heart.
So I stood up. And I stared at the boy. And I focused all of the hot, burning feeling into my stare. And then I said, “Luke isn’t stupid. He’s worth more than the fluffiest dandelion, the best half of the sandwich, the nicest laugh, and the warmest raindrop. He can do lots of things. He knows about days of the week, and classrooms, and subjects, and he’s really smart, and he’s good at sharing, and he’s the greatest person in the world, and he’s the nicest person I’ve ever met in my entire life. But all you can do is make people sad.” I finished speaking with a huff and focused the rest of the burning into my stare.
It was silent for a second, but then the boys laughed again and the meanest one said, “Really? The warmest raindrop? Raindrops aren’t worth anything! And he knows the days of the week? Brilliant!”
The burning was getting hotter and hotter and hotter and I couldn’t stand the boy’s mean laugh and the burning felt like it was going to turn me into a sizzling melted piece of wax on the floor, and I knew I had to get it out somehow.
Without making a sound I grabbed the boy, and my hand started to rush forward like a speeding train, until it collided with his face and all I could think was Luke’s droopy smile and shiny eyes and how I felt like fireworks were going off in my brain and my hand kept on slamming into his face like when hail dents the roof and I could hear people yelling at me and feel them pulling at me and everyone was whispering and my vision was red and I didn’t want them to pull me away because I wanted the burning to stop so I yelled, “The fireworks need to hit the clouds! Everyone is drowning, everyone, and the rain is cold, the hail is cold, the snow is cold, but maybe someday you’ll find a sandwich island and I wish tears were made of chlorine instead of salt because then crying would feel like swimming and I wish it was always Saturday for people who have mean laughs and light bulbs might be the reason that smiles aren’t real and please don’t take me back to the place with the people who take notes and whisper and whisper and whisper because they think I can’t hear them but I can and they think I can’t see them but I can please don’t take me back…”
The burning was seeping away and I couldn’t tell what was going on, and the last thing I saw was Luke’s face and he looked really worried but his eyes weren’t shiny anymore so I closed my eyes and I let them pull me away because Luke’s eyes were back to normal and then the burning seeped all the way out.
I had to go back to the place with the small rooms and the people whose smiles are just pasted on like they’re acting out a movie they don’t particularly enjoy, and they asked millions of questions while I stared at the window and wished that the window was the same one that Luke and I sat by at our furthest table during lunchtime.
And I guess there were a lot of Saturdays in a row because I didn’t go back to school the next day or the next or the next or the next, and my mom said it was because I was getting fixed.
She told me I should never hurt anybody. I told her that he had a mean laugh and made my best friend sad. She said that was no excuse.
Later I heard her whisper that I was going crazy.
But of course, I already knew that.
My mom said I could go back to school, but I had to keep going to the place where it was too quiet and everything was too forced and everyone lied too much, saying they cared when really they didn’t. I asked her why, and she said I was still being fixed.
When I finally went back to school the whispers started again, but I didn’t mind because I saw Luke and he looked so relieved.
When it was lunchtime I asked something that had been bothering me.
“Do you think I’m broken?” I asked.
“Of course not.” He replied.
“Are you still my best friend?” I questioned.
“Of course,” he replied.
“Really?” I asked.
“Really.” He said, beaming.
Then he gave me half of his sandwich and I couldn’t keep the smile off of my face and I didn’t care if people said I was going crazy because Luke was still my best friend and if he didn’t think I was crazy, then it didn’t matter if everyone else did.