Nolan lies under the pew, so quiet and still that I almost don’t see him.
I’m supposed to be turning off the sanctuary lights, tucking in the crucifix for the night
but I lay down and face him. It feels almost rebellious to be under a pew. Nolan glances over the top of his D.S.
and raises one eyebrow, making it very clear he’s decided to ignore me.
It doesn’t last long. He shows up to church the Sunday after I meet him with two faceless adults, gripping that same D.S. in one white-knuckled hand.
It’s obvious he’s much less cool in rooms filled with people. I’m also much less cool in rooms filled with people, and when I disappear to the recess of the choir room, Nolan follows.
We speak a total of fifteen words to each other and sit. The only noise between us is the Pokémon battle theme. We’re inseparable after that.
Nolan lives in a farm house with his grandparents, but they don’t farm. The old property is green and overgrown, bursting with plants, spiderwebbed with creeks, peppered with animals.
The first time I go there, I eat the dinner his grandmother’s made for us and he eats four bowls of cereal.
We go to sleep in his room at a time we think is late, him in his twin bed and me on the floor in a sea of crochet.
He has the solar system painted on the ceiling. His grandfather did it for his ninth birthday. I tell him that mine is better because it glows in the dark.
He disagrees, says I’ll have to bring one of the stars over next time, to show him how much better it really is. He doesn’t have to say that to make sure I’ll come over again.
When we’re 10, in the thick of summer, we dye t-shirts in my carport.
Nolan’s half sister came back from summer camp with an arsenal of do-it-yourself pastel apparel, and he’s nothing if not jealous.
I grow out of my shirt in just one year. I cut off the arms so I can wear it for another. When it finally gets too irreparably small, I hang a jagged square of it on my wall.
I have a full bed, so there’s no point in pulling out blankets. Nolan insists his constellations are better.
My cousin gets pregnant in December. I know everyone thinks it’s bad, but I don’t know why they think so. 11 and 17 seem just as distant to me as newborn and long dead.
Nolan’s over when we hear my parents discussing the news, because he’s always over. He looks at me and cocks his head.
I begin to notice Nolan when I’m 12. He starts to listen to music and read books that aren’t in English. I start to look when I know he isn’t looking back.
He puts his headphones on my ears and asks me if I’ve ever heard this song.
I nod, made mute by his fingertips close to my face. He grins and tells me I’m lying. I’m caught. I pull his hands from me.
Nolan’s life becomes numbers when we’re 13. Track, he says, requires 115. So he’ll be 110. That means 800 a day, someone told him/he told himself/he heard from the burning bush.
500, 400, 200, 100.
50. 10. Nothing.
It’s better—faster—if it’s negative.
100. 95. 92.
60, 120, 180; 11, 12, 1, 2.
He counts everything as if he hasn’t moved at all. He says it gives him something to fall back on. It becomes an aesthetic spiral somewhere between water and decay.
It scares me, how fast it happens.
I think, if I told him to stop, he would.
He quits track.
I think the only thing that will ever make him happy is absence.
I ask him to stop, he tells me he doesn’t want to talk about it. I tell him to stop, he says it’s not my fucking business and ignores me for a week.
I meet him after school with flavored water and Marlboros and a cavity where my infinitesimal pride used to be. He ducks under my arm and forgives me.
He comes over to my house just to sleep because his grandparents get on his case for doing it too much.
He’s dead in my jacket and blankets with the thermostat up; I lay across from him on top of the sheets.
When I’m 17, Nolan goes to the hospital. There’s no screaming or anger; one day I couldn’t wake him up.
They say his heart will never be the same again.
I start visiting every day. As soon as I can get there after school to when his group starts. The bike ride is an hour and a half long.
The third time, they tell me I can only go every 72 hours because I’m not family. I argue. I’m not used to arguing. I don’t make trouble. I don’t know what to say.
I can’t say anything that means anything. Nolan says it’s fine. That he’ll miss me. It’s not fine. This is the first time something has been so entirely not fine. And I know he’ll miss me.
We’ve been one animal half our lives.
Nolan calls me every single night and describes it all. These doctors, he says, they are not saving him. They carve his trauma right out of his head and make him eat it raw.
They put recovering between iron parentheses in its place. He swallows down self-made dangers with the pills he takes at breakfast.
The doctors say I can’t agree with him or the things he says. I can’t even stay silent. I’ll just fuel a one-man rebellion where his only weapon me.