In hindsight we all know it was inevitable. Gracie was only ever halfway there, the other half of her was trapped on the edge of the razor between life and death. We were simply waiting for the day when we would call and she wouldn’t answer, and we wouldn’t hear back. We were waiting for the day when our respective parents sat us down in our respective living rooms and explained that the funeral would be on Thursday. I hope the others had been more optimistic than I was, because when my parents told me, I realized I already had my outfit picked out in my mind. I took the black trousers, black turtleneck, and charcoal grey jacket out from the back of my closet and I hung them on the inside of my bedroom door, over the mirror.
The casket is closed. I am in the second pew with Hallie and Emily. I have a golf pencil and I’m drawing squares on the inside of the program. The squares have our names: Hallie, Emily, Annie, Gracie. I try to arrange the squares so that our squares evenly surround Gracie’s, but I can’t. There is always one exposed side. But I keep drawing squares with names in them. I feel Emily watching.
Gracie was different every time she returned from the hospital. She always had stories. One time she told us about a girl who was so drugged up that she didn’t realize she was on her period and she was just standing in the hallway bleeding all over the floor in front of the nurses’ station. Gracie cackled as she told the story. I just felt sick to my stomach. “It sounds horrible,” I said.
Gracie shrugged. “Not good, not bad. Normal.” Normal was her word. Her way of keeping herself ambiguous, undefined. When you asked her “How are you?” she would usually say “normal.” It took some getting used to.
The pastor begins with the usual. “I did not have the privilege of knowing Grace, but in the time I have spent here with her family and friends, I feel I have come to know at least a part of the extraodinary person she was.”
I laugh. A loud, piercing laugh. Hallie punches me in the knee and I look around and see people with their heads down, or looking up at the pastor. Gracie’s uncle Jim is seated at the back of the church and he glares at me. The preacher stutters. “She isn’t extraordinary,” I mutter, “she’s normal.”
We knew all about her razors, we knew where she kept them, and we knew that if we took them she would just get more. So we let her do it. It was one of the things that made her feel like she was a part of the world. One night she slept over at my house and we went for a midnight dip in the hot tub. As she stripped with her back to me, I realized I had never seen her bare legs before. When she turned around I saw her narrow thighs criss-crossed with dark red scabs, raised silvery scars, and dark burn marks. I hugged her. “I know,” she said, “I look like I got run over by a lawnmower. Now let’s get in the hot tub.”
The next week she was in the hospital again. She had tried to drown herself in the bathtub. I called to invite her over and her mom answered and told me what had happened. Hallie and Emily and I went down to the breakwater and threw rocks into the ocean.
Gracie’s mother tries to speak at her daughter’s funeral. She stands at the pulpit above the polished wooden box. I wonder what Gracie is wearing, in that box. Is her corpse naked? Somehow I can’t imagine her wearing combat boots and black tights with a pink dress to match her bright pink hair. That’s not the kind of person you picture in a casket. They burn up like a blue star, gone in a flash, giving their ashes to the world. Nobody can bury their flames.
Gracie’s mother is crying now. My stomach is twisted, upside down. Emily knows it. She places a hand on my thigh, a hand that takes me by surprise and floods me with warmth. The pastor helps Gracie’s mother to her seat, and leads us in another prayer. By the time he says “Amen” I am positive that the entire funeral can hear my heart pounding. “Now,” says the pastor, “Gracie’s best friend would like to say a few words.”
My legs stand and begin carrying me to the pulpit, to be sacrificed to the god that is Gracie. And as I pass the coffin my heart shudders and I think: what if the box is empty?
“Have you ever heard of this guy named Schrödinger?” she asked.
“Well I hadn’t but this guy in the ward was a physicist. His room was right across the hall from mine and even though we weren’t supposed to go into other patients’ rooms I would go into his sometimes. He told me about Schrödinger’s cat. The cat can be alive or dead but since the box is closed the cat is both alive AND dead.”
“Which is all well and good but if you keep the box closed too long the cat will starve or suffocate or something,” I said.
“That’s not the point.”
“Well what is?”
“The point is that if you put me in a sealed box I will be both alive and dead. Which makes me some kind of god but I’m not a god I’m just me but I’m both alive and dead because of physics.”
I stare at the casket for a few seconds and stare down at the framed picture surrounded by flowers sitting on the polished surface. In the picture Gracie is laughing, she has the widest smile. And her shock of pink hair is swooping over her left eye as she tilts her head back. Beside the picture I can see my own reflection in the varnish on the casket. I look ashen, like a ghost. And that face is the one the congregation sees as I stand at the podium.
“Gracie wanted to be a god,” I begin, “but she was stuck in this cycle of being normal.” A smile creeps across my lips but I feel my throat closing. I squeak the next word out. “She would always respond to ‘how are you?’s with ‘I’m normal,’ like she was disappointed that she hadn’t metamorphized into an angel since her last visit to the hospital. But perhaps her belief in the normalcy of her life was what kept her go—“ I stop. It didn’t keep her going. She’s dead. She’s in that box and she’s going to go into the ground and she never did become a god.
After her final stint in the psych ward, Hallie, Emily, and I would call Gracie every night before bed and we would talk for about an hour because we were the most important people in her life, and we were the ones who could make her believe in herself. We knew we could. But the thing we couldn’t admit at the time was that we knew a night would come when Gracie wouldn’t answer the phone, and neither would her mother. A night would come when she toed the line between life and death one final time.
And now, stopped midsentence, shaking with sobs, I know that she couldn’t have become anything else. If I were to open the box, I would not find her alive and dead. I would find her sliced open by Occam’s razor, bearing the last scars she would ever wear.