When the phone hit the wall, its screen shattered and flickered off. The palm-sized slate of aluminum and high strength glass broke the light blue paint on the wall, and the plaster under it.
Maddie’s shriek half a beat later broke the limit of her voice, and she descended into sobs.
Brad had been Maddie’s boyfriend for almost four months, until thirty minutes ago. He was a tall, thin, towheaded boy of 17, and since April he had been Maddie’s whole life. Their first kiss on prom night had felt so electric that it rewired Maddie’s brain; now that wiring was shorting and sparking because of a text message on Maddie’s now-dark phone. “I’m sorry, I can’t do this anymore.” Maddie didn’t understand what he meant by this; for her their relationship had been the furthest thing from difficult.
Falling onto her bed, she buried her face in a lilac-cased pillow, instantly soaking it with a fountain of tears. Her mind raced a repetitive staccato of questions: What did I do wrong? Doesn’t he love me? What is wrong with me? Am I ugly? Is there someone else? What did I do wrong… On and on, punctuated by a river of screams and sobs, and building a pressure inside her that begged to be let out. Her skin had become hot, like the surface of an almost-boiling kettle, as if her body was on fire and every cell in her body was racing for the exit. She pounded her fists and legs against the bed in the hope of release, but the pressure only built and built and built.
The episode felt like it lasted for weeks. At several points Maddie felt like she couldn’t take it anymore, like her body would surely just spontaneously combust into bright, orange flames. Eventually, though, the pressure let off, and the choked sobs became less and less frequent. Exhausted, Maddie fell asleep on her tear-soaked lilac pillow.
When she woke up, it was dark. The crater in the drywall across from the bed reminded her of what happened. She pushed off the bed with a stiff, dry feeling. Was this how she was always going to feel from now on – she wondered – dry and hollow? The sensation was like watching herself outside of her own body, from above; a disconnected numbness that filled her hollow body in place of her bones and organs. It was as if her body before had been filled with highly pressured hydrogen before, reactive and energetic, and now it was filled with just enough helium to keep it upright, like an old party balloon that just barely rose above the floor.
That’s a stupid analogy, Maddie thought to herself. I’m a stupid girl; that’s why Brad broke up with me. Anger welled up inside her – anger at herself – but she welcomed it because it was closer to normal than the numb helium feeling. Maybe if she hadn’t been such a stupid girl, Brad would have… Whatever. Hating herself felt better than thinking about Brad. She turned over those thoughts again and again, attacking them with the enthusiasm of a kid who knows exactly what’s behind the wrapping paper. I am stupid, I deserve this, who could love someone like me, anyway… The peanut-butter-and-chocolate mix of self-hate and self-pity had an addictive quality that Maddie didn’t recognize. She found herself enjoying the feeling, riding it over and over again like a rich girl with a new horse.
She rode all night.
“Is Maddie alright? She hasn’t come downstairs at all this evening.”
The woman with graying-black hair sighed. “It’s Brad. He broke up with her.”
“Oh that’s a shame! I liked Brad, he seemed like a decent kid.”
She shot him a look. “He told her by text message, Tom.”
“What? Oh, come on!”
She thought about how her mother would have handled this… “I think it’s for the best if we just leave her alone for now. I think it’s her first big breakup, she needs to work through it on her own.”
“Hm, I wouldn’t know. No one ever broke up with me in high school.” The older man frowned with concern.
“I think the trip will help. She loves Alaska so much… I think it will help.”