Your name is John Egbert, and you wake up in the morning feeling like something’s missing.
But you have earned this victory – you gave your memory and in return you were afforded peace.
The peace of a hundred nights lying awake wondering why, when you’re surrounded by everyone and everything you love, you feel so alone.
Your name is Rose Lalonde, and it is the late afternoon. All the other kids are home by now, doing their homework or (more likely) playing video games or staring at their computers, wasting time until the evening meal. All the things that a normal sixteen-year-old should be doing.
Thankfully, you are constantly reminded that you are anything but normal.
You refuse to lie back on the psychologist’s lounge. It makes you feel like you’re in a movie. And, let’s face it, cinema has never really been your thing. So you sit bolt upright and stare straight at the wall. And for a moment you do feel like you’re in a movie. The wall is panelled in a dark wood, no doubt aiming for the ambiance of a log cabin, but it’s suffocating and blearily reminiscent of an era long-buried. There are even the requisite faded etchings spread across the room, images of a beautiful countryside and brighter days than you’ve ever seen.
You look at them and you feel that they should not exist if you were not there. If you kicked these walls, would they fall down? Would they reveal that you have in fact been on the set of a film of your own creation all along? You’d have broken the illusion and it would all be over. You’re not sure what’s real anymore.
The psychologist looks at you with a sad expression, and you know that she is a good person, but you cannot bring yourself to feel anything more than bland resentment towards her. She is just another actor in this world, she is a projection of your imagination. She is the part of your subconscious that knows you should be normal and is trying its darnedest to restore you to a fully functioning member of society.
You will not give in.
This week she asks you about your friends. You usually do not tell her much that she couldn’t work out if she were a half-decent psychologist, but this question is not one which you can escape with a yes-or-no answer.
So you tell her. You tell her about Dave, Jade and John, the three people you talk to online, and have been doing since you were eleven. You allow her to reproach you for talking to strangers online. But you know they are the most real people in your life – you could not make up the things they say.
You do not tell her about Kanaya, the girl who works at your local bookstore. You’re quite certain that she is a figment of your imagination, for a being of such easy beauty could not be created by nature. She doesn’t know your name, and you don’t think you will ever have the opportunity tell her. Yet she is as inextricably a part of your life as your online friends are. You could not tell anyone – without coming off as a blithering idiot – that you feel you were fated to meet her.
The psychologist asks you how important your friends are in your life.
You tell her that without them there would be no universe, and allow her to make of that what she will.
You walk home in the rain and regret that the clouds are obscuring the sunset. Your mother is in the kitchen drinking. She ignores you as you enter and you, in turn, ignore her. Your room is cold as always. You boot up your computer and knit a few rows of a scarf as it starts up. And then, as you do every day, you open Pesterchum and escape.
All three of them are online. You smile, and open up a window with John.
Outside your window, the rain is slowing and the clouds are parting, and you can just get a glimpse of the sunset.
TT: The sky is truly beautiful this evening. Perhaps you might tell me about the sunset in Washington, when the time comes.
GT: hold on a minute rose, i’m just in the middle of something here!
TT: It isn’t sunset there yet, John. I can wait.
You sigh and return to your knitting.
Your name is Dave Strider and you refuse to admit that you are unhappy.
In fact, you are not unhappy. You have a very good life. You have nothing to complain about. You look for a moment at the drawing printed out and pinned to your locker and suppress a smile. It’s a drawing of you – or, well, it’s meant to be. It looks more like a few lines of scribble in bright red and yellow, and a pair of sunglasses. The sunglasses are quite distinct. The drawing is a present from a blind girl living on the other side of the world, and for a brief moment you wonder what cruel twist of fate put everyone you love so far away from you.
You shake your head and shut your locker. “Love” is not something with which you should be troubling yourself right now. If you’re lucky, you’ll get home in time to catch Terezi on Pesterchum.
You check your watch.
The school bus would be leaving – now. You sling your bag over your shoulder and sprint for the front gate only to see it pulling away. You’re the luckiest. It is you. Your timing is impeccable.
You kick at the ground angrily and some kids point and laugh at you. You flip them off and head for the bus stop just ‘round the corner. It’s not like you’ve never caught the public bus home before. Sometimes it’s even a bit nicer to do it this way. It’s quieter without the other kids making all that noise. Yeah. You’re okay with this.
You slip your headphones on and crank up the beats. It’s a pleasant distraction from the fact that it gets dark so early in winter. The streets are like something out of a sepia photograph this time of year. The scrub by the side of the road looks so forlorn. You hate the fact that it’s so fucking atmospheric. It has no right to make you feel melancholy.
The bus pulls up with a slightly alarming creak as it puts down the hydraulic brake, and you climb on and wordlessly pay the fee. You walk right up to the back seats and position yourself in the corner. You pull out your phone, but there’s no reception. Typical.
You hate the fact that everything is so fucking sad. It’s like life is trying to get you down. This grey day is taunting you. Your Bro’s gone mental, locked himself up in his room every day compulsively sewing more and more of those terrifying puppets. Each one, left around the house in random and ever surprising places, serves as a reminder of his decline. And your friends – the most important people in your life – live so far away. You sometimes just sit and stare at your screen and feel like you’re the last human alive, isolated in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, twenty stories off the ground.
The bus turns a corner and you lurch to the side along with it, quickly grabbing the rail of the seat in front of you to steady yourself. Don’t want to seem like you’re losing your cool.
Everyone else on the bus is sitting so still, like they’re not entirely there. The bus could pull up at their stop and they wouldn’t even get off – they’d just dissolve and it’d be like they were never there in the first place. Probably no-one would even notice if they were gone.
You wonder vaguely, as you step off the bus, if anyone would notice if you just walked into some kind of nothingness and never returned.
That is not a thing you would ever do, though. Unlike some people, you’ve got a life, albeit one that sometimes feels like it is not entirely there. You take the lift up to your apartment and walk quietly past your brother’s room. You can hear the swish of fabric from within and the soft sound of a sewing needle hitting his fingernails.
And of course, Terezi’s fucking offline. You knew you’d miss her. You’re always late. John’s online, though. You can complain to him.
TG: hey bro
TG: im beginning to feel like time is not on my side when it should be
TG: and i dont mean that in a corny way
TG: like youd read on a postcard or some shit
TG: but i just mean like
GT: i’ll talk to you in a minute dave, i’m just busy with something!
Take your fucking time, you think, closing your eyes and focusing your memory on the drawing pinned to your locker.
Your name is Jade Harley, and you are irredeemably, inconceivably, on your own.
You’ve been outdoors all day. You don’t know what to do with yourself. It’s like a piece of your life has been viciously carved off and burnt to ashes. There are clouds on the horizon and you think you’d like if it just rained now. If it just poured. If you were soaked to the bone. You wouldn’t move.
Your dog Becquerel is out here with you and you run a hand through his fur. It would be nice to be a Bec, you think. You wouldn’t need to worry about family, or friends, you could just run free around the island and just. Live.
There’s a strong wind blowing and you know you should go inside but you just can’t bring yourself to do it. You don’t know what to do. You suppose that at the back of your mind somewhere, you knew that this day would come, but there’s no way in hell you were prepared for it. Nothing could have prepared you.
The worst part about it is that you never realised before just how isolated you are. It’s an island. In the middle of the pacific ocean. And now there is no-one else. You want to talk to your friends, but you want them to be here for you. You want to hold them and you want them to hold you back and tell you everything will be alright. Right now, online is not enough, and you’re not sure when it will be enough again.
It’s getting dark. The clouds are staying stubbornly in the distance and you will them closer. Just fucking rain. You can hear the crickets, and Bec’s soft barking, and birds whistling, and you wish they’d all just stop, and be replaced by the sound of the rain. This island – your home, you remind yourself – feels like a fantasy paradise from one of Rose’s stories. It doesn’t feel like home. There’s no longer anything here to anchor you to this place and that terrifies you.
You lie on your back and stare at the stars. You feel like the sky anchors you to Earth. If you couldn’t see the stars each night, how would you know that you were still in the same place?
Sometimes you wonder what it would be like to explore space. Just to fly from star to star, planet to planet, and experience the universe at a new depth. If you’ve ever felt like something was absent from your life, then this is it. You cannot walk freely in the darkness of space, and that it is not your dominion has tortured you for as long as you can remember.
The night is cold, much colder than it’s been lately as the year drifts gradually into winter, and you stand up and walk in the direction of your home. You need to confront your demons face-to-face. Bec follows you dutifully.
You slip past your grandfather’s study where he sits stiller than the clouds on the horizon and colder than the night, and you take the stairs two at a time to your room.
Maybe you should just. See if anyone is online. Sure they can’t be here now to make you feel better, but it’s enough for now. You scroll through your Chumroll – Dave, Nepeta, Tavros, Rose... John.
John’s online. You can always count on him.
GG: john, can i talk to you for a moment?
GT: sorry jade, i’m just in the middle of something. come back to me in a minute!
Your name is John Egbert and you cannot explain why, but all of a sudden you feel more complete than you have in years.
It started this morning when you woke up with your limbs feeling heavy and a strange feeling in your chest. You felt ill and dizzy, but when you examined yourself in the bathroom mirror, you seemed fine. You straightened yourself out and had a shower. You went downstairs and ate breakfast with your Dad and Nanna. You went to school as usual. And you felt like something was missing.
You texted Vriska in class and she told you it was dumb, that you were being a pussy and you needed to see the school counsellor or shut up. You asked her if she ever felt like there was something wrong about the world, that things were always there but never quite there, that you felt unfit to inhabit your skin. She told you that she felt like that all the time and to fuck right off.
You ate lunch in silence on your own and wondered why you felt bad. You began to think that maybe it was something to do with the fact that your three best friends were scattered across the country. You needed them with you. There was that connection, that inexplicable force that drew the three of you together and ensured that your lives would be linked. You needed that.
But that wasn’t it. Heck, Dave never complains about the distance, and his not-quite-girlfriend lives half the world away. No, you can cope with the distance.
It was something else. It was the feeling that you weren’t doing what you should be doing. Sixteen years old and in high school – anyone else would think that normal. But you know it’s not. You know there’s another life for you lined up somewhere, a life where every day is a new adventure.
It’s all nonsense. Obviously. There’s no “other life”. There’s no reincarnation, no memory of a life as a bird that pushes you to lean out the window sometimes so far that you can pretend you’re flying. There is nothing unusual about you. You’re just a dumb teenager going through a bit of depression and you need to get over yourself.
By the time school let out and you were walking home the sky had clouded over and you were feeling worse.
You turned on your computer and opened Pesterchum. None of your best friends were online. Rose had a doctor’s appointment today, Dave lived about an hour’s bus ride out from school, and Jade’s internet connection was sporadic at best.
Suddenly a window pops up and caps-lock-on-cruise-control grey text that has never before graced your screen beings unravelling in long tirades of mutual friendship and “I was told we’d get on well but I doubt it”. You smile. And you laugh. Your best friends are pestering you, but you brush them aside to focus your attention on this guy who claims to be a not-even-friend of Vriska’s who she’d seen fit to set you up with – no romo.
Your head feels light and that dizziness is back but in a pleasant way, and for a moment you feel almost complete with fifteen contacts on your Chumroll. Fifteen is a good number. Well, sixteen, if you were to include yourself. Sixteen is also a nice number.
You turn your attention back to the other three flashing windows. Rose, Dave and Jade. You shouldn’t neglect them any longer.
You know that they, like you, sometimes feel like there’s something missing. Today, someone new has come into your life and lifted your mood. Maybe you can do the same thing for them.
That’s the thing, isn’t it? Even though you might never completely shake that odd feeling that your life is built on a memory you don’t have, you’ve got them. And that’s all you really need.
Your name is Jade Harley and he is dead. Your grandfather is dead.
You spend an hour or four staring at Pesterchum hoping that John will say something comforting, make you feel better, make you feel like you’re not alone.
You fall asleep to the sound of rain.
Your name is Dave Strider and you will keep your computer switched on all night just in case Terezi Skype-calls you at some inappropriate hour.
But you’ve given up on any chance of John replying.
You log out of Pesterchum.
Your name is Rose Lalonde, it’s getting late, and John still hasn’t replied to your messages.
Maybe he is just a construct of your subconscious after all, just like the rest.
The sun has long since set.