Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Paper Towns - Chapter 28

After three long hours alone with eight hundred words from Ovid on Monday morning, I walked
through the halls feeling as if my brain might drip out of my ears. But I’d done okay. We had an hour and
a half for lunch, to give our minds time to firm back up before the second exam period of the day. Radar
was waiting for me at my locker.
“I just bombed me some Spanish,” Radar said.
“I’m sure you did okay.” He was going to Dartmouth on a huge scholarship. He was plenty smart.
“Dude, I don’t know. I kept falling asleep during the oral part. But listen, I was up half the night building
this program. It’s so awesome. What it does is it allows you to enter a category—it can be a geographical
area or like a family in the animal kingdom— and then you can read the first sentences of up
to a hundred Omnictionary articles about your topic on a single page. So, like, say you are trying to find
a particular kind of rabbit but can’t remember its name. You can read an introduction to all twenty-one
species of rabbits on the same page in, like, three minutes.”
“You did this the night before finals?” I asked.
“Yeah, I know, right? Anyway I’ll email it to you. It’s nerd-tastic.”
Ben showed up then. “I swear to God, Q, Lacey and I were up on IM until two o’clock in the morning
playing on that site, the-longwayround? And having now plotted every single possible trip that Margo
could have taken between Orlando and those five points, I realize I was wrong all this time. She’s not in
Orlando. Radar’s right. She’s coming back here for graduation day.”
“The timing is perfect. To drive from Orlando to New York to the mountains to Chicago to Los
Angeles back to Orlando is like exactly a twenty-three-day trip. Plus, it’s a totally retarded joke, but it’s
a Margo joke. You make everyone think you offed yourself. Surround yourself with an air of mystery so
that everyone pays attention. And then right as all the attention starts to go away, you show up at graduation.”
“No,” I said. “No way.” I knew Margo better than that by now. She did want attention. I believed that.
But Margo didn’t play life for laughs. She didn’t get off on mere trickery.
“I’m telling you, bro. Look for her at graduation. She’s gonna be there.” I just shook my head. Since
everyone had the same lunch period, the cafeteria was beyond packed, so we exercised our rights as seniors
and drove to Wendy’s. I tried to stay focused on my coming calc exam, but I was starting to feel like
maybe there was more string to the story. If Ben was right about the twenty-three-day trip, that was very
interesting, indeed. Maybe that’s what she’d been planning in her black notebook, a long and lonesome
road trip. It didn’t explain everything, but it did fit with Margo as a planner. Not that this brought me
closer to her. As hard as it is to pinpoint a dot inside a ripped segment of a map, it only becomes harder
when the dot is moving.
After a long day of finals, returning to the comfortable impenetrability of “Song of Myself” was almost
a relief. I had reached a weird part of the poem—after all this time listening and hearing people, and
then traveling alongside them, Whitman stops hearing and he stops visiting, and he starts to become other
people. Like, actually inhabit them. He tells the story of a ship’s captain who saved everyone on his
boat except himself. The poet can tell the story, he argues, because he has become the captain. As he
writes, “I am the man . . . . I suffered . . . . I was there.” A few lines later, it becomes even more clear
that Whitman no longer needs to listen to become another: “I do not ask the wounded person how he
feels . . . . I myself become the wounded person.”
I put the book down and lay on my side, staring out the window that had always been between us.
It is not enough just to see her or hear her. To find Margo Roth Spiegelman, you must become Margo
Roth Spiegelman.
And I had done many of the things she might have done: I had engineered a most unlikely prom
coupling. I had quieted the hounds of caste warfare. I had come to feel comfortable inside the rat-infested
haunted house where she did her best thinking. I had seen. I had listened. But I could not yet become
the wounded person.
I limped through my physics and government finals the next day and then stayed up till 2 A.M. on Tuesday
finishing my final reaction paper for English about Moby Dick. Ahab was a hero, I decided. I had no
particular reason for having decided this—particularly given that I hadn’t read the book—but I decided
it and reacted thusly.
The abbreviated exam week meant that Wednesday was the last day of school for us. And all day
long, it was hard not to walk around thinking about the lastness of it all: The last time I stand in a circle
outside the band room in the shade of this oak tree that has protected generations of band geeks. The
last time I eat pizza in the cafeteria with Ben. The last time I sit in this school scrawling an essay with a
cramped hand into a blue book. The last time I glance up at the clock. The last time I see Chuck Parson
prowling the halls, his smile half a sneer. God. I was becoming nostalgic for Chuck Parson. Something
sick was happening inside of me.
It must have been like this for Margo, too. With all the planning she’d done, she must have known
she was leaving, and even she couldn’t have been totally immune to the feeling. She’d had good days
here. And on the last day, the bad days become so difficult to recall, because one way or another, she
had made a life here, just as I had. The town was paper, but the memories were not. All the things I’d
done here, all the love and pity and compassion and violence and spite, kept welling up inside me. These
whitewashed cinder-block walls. My white walls. Margo’s white walls. We’d been captive in them for
so long, stuck in their belly like Jonah.
Throughout the day, I found myself thinking that maybe this feeling was why she’d planned
everything so intricately and precisely: even if you want to leave, it is so hard. It took preparation,
and maybe sitting in that minimall scrawling her plans was both intellectual and emotional practice—
Margo’s way of imagining herself into her fate.
Ben and Radar both had a marathon band practice to make sure they would rock “Pomp and Circumstance”
at graduation. Lacey offered me a ride, but I decided to clean out my locker, because I didn’t
really want to come back here and again have to feel like my lungs were drowning in this perverse nostalgia.
My locker was an unadulterated crap hole—half trash can, half book storage. Her locker had been
neatly stacked with textbooks when Lacey opened it, I remembered, as if she intended to come to school
the next day. I pulled a garbage can over to the bank of lockers and opened mine up. I began by pulling
off a picture of Radar and Ben and me goofing off. I put it inside my backpack and then started the
disgusting process of picking through a year’s worth of accumulated filth—gum wrapped in scraps of
notebook paper, pens out of ink, greasy napkins—and scraping it all into the garbage. All along, I kept
thinking, I will never do this again, I will never be here again, this will never be my locker again, Radar
and I will never write notes in calculus again, I will never see Margo across the hall again. This was
the first time in my life that so many things would never happen again.
And finally it was too much. I could not talk myself down from the feeling, and the feeling became
unbearable. I reached in deep to the recesses of my locker. I pushed everything—photographs and notes
and books—into the trash can. I left the locker open and walked away. As I walked past the band room, I
could hear through the walls the muffled sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance.” I kept walking. It was hot
outside, but not as hot as usual. It was bearable. There are sidewalks most of the way home, I thought.
So I kept walking.
And as paralyzing and upsetting as all the never agains were, the final leaving felt perfect. Pure.
The most distilled possible form of liberation. Everything that mattered except one lousy picture was in
the trash, but it felt so great. I started jogging, wanting to put even more distance between myself and
It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.
As I ran, I felt myself for the first time becoming Margo. I knew: she is not in Orlando. She is not in
Florida. Leaving feels too good, once you leave. If I’d been in a car, and not on foot, I might have kept
going, too. She was gone and not coming back for graduation or anything else. I felt sure of that now.
I leave, and the leaving is so exhilarating I know I can never go back. But then what? Do I just keep
leaving places, and leaving them, and leaving them, tramping a perpetual journey?
Ben and Radar drove past me a quarter mile from Jefferson Park, and Ben brought RHAPAW to a
screeching halt right on Lakemont in spite of traffic everywhere, and I ran up to the car and got in. They
wanted to play Resurrection at my house, but I had to tell them no, because I was closer than I’d ever
been before.


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