The first moment is utter darkness. The absence of thought, the absence of everything. An absence that stretches infinitely backwards and threatens to smother your sanity--if there was a you, that is. But there’s not. I am nothing and no one. I never was. I must not have been because otherwise, wouldn’t I remember?
Don’t look back. Don’t let the darkness inside you.
If I’m talking to myself, there must be a me. That in itself is a revelation. I exist. The second before was starkly empty and now I’m swimming with celestial stars. They’re as silent as stones but they shimmer, glimmer and shine. I think . . . I think I can hear them after all but not in a way I’ve heard anything before.
The sound isn’t music and it’s not whispers. I don’t have words to describe it. If teardrops, blinding sunshine and limitless knowledge combined to make a noise, it would be the one the stars hum while I float amongst them. I don’t know much, but this is something I’m certain I’m learning for the first time: the stars know things that we don’t and they always have.
And then, just as my mind begins to expand with questions
--who am I?
--where is this?
--how am I . . .
I’m falling, plummeting through the glittering darkness at a speed that would normally make your stomach drop. Instinct kicks in and makes me throw out my hands to break my fall. Only, I don’t have any--no hands and no stomach either.
The fear of falling exists in my consciousness and nowhere else. There’s nothing I can do to stop my descent. Beneath me continents of light beam their brightness as I speed towards them.
Catch me, stars. Help me.
But they’re not stars, as it turns out. They’re the lights you see from a jumbo jet when you’re coming in for a night landing. They make civilization appear minuscule and for some reason that makes me want to sob but I can’t do that either. No hands, no stomach, no tears.
What happens when I hit bottom?
I’m so close now that I can spy individual cars, streetlamps, house lights left on.
Is someone, someplace, waiting for me, leaving the light on?
Where am I supposed to be?
A pointed suburban roof reaches up to meet me, and if I have no body, surely there are no bones to shatter, no damage to fear, but my consciousness flinches anyway. It quakes and tries to yank whoever or whatever I am away from the solid mass shooting up underneath me.
In the split second it takes to realize I’ve failed, I’m already through the ceiling. Inside, falling still. Falling . . . and then not.
I don’t crash. I don’t even touch down. All I can do is stare into the pair of blinking eyes below me. They’re not even a foot away. They’re the distance you hold yourself from someone when you’re on your way to a kiss. I don’t remember my own kisses but I remember the concept the same way I remember what a roof or a jumbo jet is. I remember romance, yearning, love and hate in a way that has nothing to do with me. Maybe I’ve never been in love--or maybe it’s happened a hundred times but so very long ago that I’ve forgotten each of them. I can’t decide which idea is sadder.
The eyes open and close as I stare at them. His eyes. The white boy’s. They’re not staring back at me, but looking clean through. If I had a body I’d estimate it was hovering just above his, toe to toe and head to head with him.
It’s night and we’re cloaked in darkness, the two of us. But he’s the only one who’s truly here. Here. Wherever that is.
I’d move if I could, give him the space he doesn’t realize he’s lacking. I feel awkward, embarrassed about all I can see from here--his pores, his nose hairs, a cracking bottom lip that could use lip balm--even though he doesn’t appear to have a clue he’s being spied upon. But there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m like a camera, picking up images but not in control of angles or focal length.
So I watch the boy’s eyelashes flutter and listen to him breathe. What his lungs expel sounds like a steak knife slashing into meat. Not like an asthmatic but like someone so steeped in despair it’s a wonder he hasn’t drowned in it. How long can someone live like this? It hurts to hear. My nonexistent hands clamp themselves over my nonexistent ears.
Outwardly, my focus barely shifts. I’m still floating over him, listening to breaths of bottomless anguish. Wait . . .
I must be asleep. My fall from the stars and the hurt I hear in this boy’s breathing, they can’t be real. This vision I’m watching is nothing but a wildly vivid dream. When I wake up tomorrow, with my stomach, my hands and all my memories intact, I’ll shake my head at my panic. Then I’ll grab a pen and jot the details down before they fade to nothing. I imagine how crazy every bit of this will seem when I read it back in the morning. Stars that make a noise of wisdom. The power to read emotions through someone’s breath.
Insane. Even for a dream. Why not dream of something my eyes would want to linger on--the rapturous merging of two bodies or a purple sky hanging over a majestic blue-green waterfall? Why dream of this sad boy?
I examine him, attempt to cement the details in my mind so I can record them when I wake up, and as I’m watching I realize I can shift the camera here and there after all--not much, but a little. Yes, I can stare at him from the end of the bed if I prefer, or from a blue acoustic guitar leaning against the wall near his window. Maybe I can even . . . No, I can’t escape the room, can’t leave him behind. That’s beyond my power. He’s meant to be the star of this dream for reasons my unconscious isn’t ready to share with me. I notice that when I turn away from him to study the room, my gaze jumps inadvertently back to him before long.
And when it does this is what I see: a white boy of about sixteen or seventeen, curly brown hair framing his face. His pupils are light but in the dark I can’t determine whether they’re green, blue or even hazel. The boy’s lying in bed in a gray T-shirt, his bare arms stretched over the covers. He’s motionless. Stiller than still except for the blinking. The horrible breathing has stopped, or so it seems. When I listen more intently I realize I can still hear it if I choose. There are some things I can control within this dream, evidently, and this strange audio ability is one of them.
I watch the teenage boy close his eyes. A cell phone rings on the bedside table next to him. My eyes follow his as they dart to the phone and I wonder if the call is important in the scheme of this dream fiction. Perhaps the real action is finally getting started.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from My Beating Teenage Heart by C. K. Kelly Martin. Copyright © 2011 by C. K. Kelly Martin. Excerpted by permission of Ember, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.