The Ghost of Connor Murphy has got a pink rubber SuperBall and he won’t stop bouncing it off the ceiling.
Evan’s been trying to be patient and ignore it because, okay, he probably owes Connor a little bit. Only it’s almost three am and Evan has spent the last several days in a manic state of trying-to-hold-things-together. And now that things are decidedly Not Together and Evan’s spent the night sobbing on his mom’s shoulder, he is tired but more importantly he’s terrified that his mom is going to come investigate the rhythmic thuds of the ball against the ceiling and she’ll realize he’s seeing ghosts and rush him to the ER and then he will miss school on Monday and everybody will think it’s because of- because of-
The ball ricochets off a wall, smashes against Evan’s closed bedroom door with a thud that has the door rattling in its frame. Connor laughs. Evan flinches.
He had hoped that SuperBalls being wielded by ghosts were also insubstantial through some, like, ghostly transitive property. But then Connor ‘accidentally’ threw the SuperBall at the mobile of paper-mache planets that Evan still has hanging in the corner from a science fair in the third grade, causing both Evan’s hopes and a paper-mache Pluto to come crashing down.
Evan supposes the mobile is more scientifically accurate now that Pluto is gone, but-
“Fuck you,” says The Ghost of Connor Murphy. “Viva La Pluto.”
Oh my god. The Ghost of Connor Murphy can hear his thoughts.
“Nah,” says The Ghost of Connor Murphy, “you’re mumbling, dude. And stop calling me that.”
“Sorry,” says Evan immediately. “But- But you are-” he winces “-I mean, a ghost. You are a ghost. Right?”
“Am I?” Connor considers this. The SuperBall hits the ceiling at a perfect 45-degree angle, bounces against the wall, and lands in Connor’s hand with a satisfying snap.
“I think I’m more, like,” Connor pauses to bounce the SuperBall against the wall, setting Evan’s solar system rattling once more, “a physical manifestation of your guilt.”
“Of- of my-“
“Guilt,” Connor repeats mercilessly. “For coopting my suicide into a seat at the popular table and a date with my little sister, for starters.”
Evan’s eyes flinch closed, but he’s already remembering Zoe’s face. The way she’d looked at him today.
“I- I didn’t-“ He stammers. “It wasn’t like that- I mean, not at first- I-“
The SuperBall hits the wall above the headboard, an inch to the left of Evan’s head, rebounds into Connor’s hands. Evan flinches like he's been struck. Connor shrugs.
“Hey, I’m in your head. I’m not saying anything you’re not thinking.”
Evan doesn’t disagree. He puts his face between his knees for a minute, wonders if he’s about to have a panic attack, and finds he doesn’t really have the energy. He feels like he’s done nothing but cry for days and days and days, like he’s emptied out an ocean and now there’s just this big, dry cavity where all that water used to fit. There’s a pit of self-loathing in his chest and it’s consuming everything. He can feel its tug in his fingertips, in the weary bow of his shoulders.
Connor keeps bouncing the ball. Evan wonders why the physical manifestation of his guilt has a little rubber ball.
“I bought it in one of those grocery store machines for 50 cents,” says Connor. Evan’s head shoots up, but Connor just shrugs again. “Mumbling.”
“Would you just- Could you maybe stop with the ball for-“
Evan winces as Connor misses a rebound and the ball goes crashing into the collection of junk on Evan’s bureau — the horribly expectant pile of scholarship applications his mom keeps leaving there, the old picture frames, the participation trophy from the tee-ball league Evan played on in second grade. His mom let him quit after his dad left, because he’d been the one who signed Evan up while she was the one who had to drive him to the games every Saturday morning while he cried and begged not to go and puked in the car.
“Oops,” says Connor with satisfaction. He stands up to retrieve the ball, returns with a sheaf of papers. He holds one up, squinting in the dim light, and then reads aloud, “Discuss a mistake you’ve made. How did this mistake affect you? How did you learn from this mistake? If you found yourself in these same circumstances today, how would you behave differently—“
“Those are just- Can you please not- Those are private,“ Evan chokes.
“Private,” Connor echoes. “Right. Wouldn’t want to pry. Wouldn’t want to barge into someone else’s life, now would we-“
He throws the ball at Evan again. This time it hits the wall an inch to the right of his head. Evan visibly flinches. Connor laughs, catches the rebound, and goes back to the scholarship essays.
“When does the end justify the means? Do good intentions justify harmful actions? Discuss in approximately 1000 words-“
The ball thuds against the ceiling, the floor, the wall, and narrowly misses a window. Evan is positive he hears a floorboard crack. His mom is going to wake up and come in here and find him talking to a physical manifestation of his own guilt with a SuperBall and she’s going to make him go to the emergency room and then she’ll be tired at work the next day because of him and she’ll mix up some important medication and accidentally kill some rich old white guy—
“Oh, this one’s good. If a tree falls in a forest and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound? In 1000 words or less examine the way a person’s actions make an impact, seen or unseen, in the world-“
“There are many differing theories on the possibility of time travel and a person’s capacity to explore or alter the past. In at least 500 words, explore the inherent paradox in the idea of changing the past-“
“That one can’t be real.”
“You’re not real.”
“If you’re in my head, why can’t I control you?” Evan despairs.
“Just ‘cause it’s happening in your head doesn’t mean you can control it,” Connor says scathingly. “You of all people should know that.”
Evan stops arguing. He puts his head back against the headboard and tries not to flinch as the ball ricochets against the ceiling and nearly hits him in the nuts. Connor’s hand snaps out at the last minute to save him.
“Besides,” Connor adds, sitting up on his knees, tossing the ball from one hand to the other, “I’m not totally sure I’m in your head, now that I think about it. I think it’s like a-“
“You don’t know?”
“Time isn’t the same once you’re dead,” Connor says. “I’m still getting my sea-legs. I think it’s more like a Ghost of Christmas Past type thing, you know?”
Evan does not know.
“I’m Jewish,” he says finally. “Or- I mean, technically I guess I’m probably agnostic but I’m culturally Jewish. I mean I don’t go to Temple or anything but I think my dad and my stepmom-”
“Don’t care,” says Connor. “God is fake. I’m dead and there’s nothing here. It’s from that Dick book. A Christmas Carol by the Dick guy.”
“I’m here to, like, show you what could have been and what will be or might be or some shit,” says Connor, ignoring this and pegging the ball at Evan’s solar system. Jupiter crunches, sways, but doesn’t fall. “Like I said, time is weird now.”
Evan watches him stand, cross the room to retrieve the fallen SuperBall. There’s no reflection in the bureau mirror when Connor moves to stand in front of it, sifting through the scattered papers.
“I think,” Evan says finally, feeling the familiar rattling sensation in his lungs of panic, “that I need to wake up my mom. I’m having a psychotic break or- or a bad reaction to my meds or-“
“If you could do it all again,” Connor reads aloud, “would you? Discuss in 500 words-“
“There’s no way that’s a real prompt.”
“Hey,” says Connor, turning, “were you on the Tee-Ball Tigers, too?”
“What?” says Evan, and then he yelps because Connor’s thrown the SuperBall right at his face, and then he yelps again because it never hits him.
Time goes funny.
And then it’s morning and Connor is gone.
There’s a knock at the door. His mom’s already in her scrubs and her hair’s pulled back and she looks tired, yeah, but not more than the usual working-the-late-shift-and-taking-evening-classes-and-making-sure-Evan-doesn’t-kill-himself levels of tired. Evan is relieved to see last night’s ghostly visitor and his SuperBall don’t seem to have kept her up.
“So you just decided not to eat last night?” she asks, smiling a little with this kind of tired frustration that Evan knows all too well. It makes him well with such a feeling of guilt, of self-loathing — look what you’re doing to her — that it takes him a second to absorb her words.
“You’re a senior in high school, Evan. You need to be able to order dinner for yourself if I’m at work. You can do it all online now-“
“Wait,” he says again, “what?”
“This is what you’re suppose to be working on, Evan-“
“Mom, we- You were here last night,” he says. “You were- I was upset about the- We- What?”
His mom drops her forced smile, letting her face fall into concern, well-worn. “Honey, no, I switched shifts with Gina last night, remember? I left you money on the counter to order pizza.”
“No, I-“ Evan starts, fingers starting to twitch with anxiety, with the inability to say what he means. “I-“
And that’s when he notices the cast.
When he jumped from the tree- Well, really, right after he jumped from the tree, when he hit the ground, right before he realized he was still alive and very much Not Dead, there had been this funny, odd moment where everything had gone white and it felt like all the sound had been sucked away. And Evan thought ‘Oh, is this what being dead is?’ and then the sound rushed back in, like a tackle from behind, and then his arm started to hurt and Evan realized he was horribly, inescapably Not Dead and-
Anyway Evan thinks about that for a second as he stares at the clean, blank cast that binds his arm. Oh my god.
And then the sound rushes back in.
“-an appointment with Dr. Sherman for this afternoon. Evan, honey? Is everything okay? Have you- Are you okay on refills? I know it’s the big day back and you’re probably nervous, but- Honey?”
Evan finds his breath, somehow. Clenches his fingers until he can’t bear the pain. Looks up and musters a sickly smile.
“Yeah. Sorry. I’m- I’m just nervous, but I’m- I’m gonna be a lot better.”
She looks at him for a second, eyes worried, and then she relaxes into smile. He can see her gripping his words, allowing herself to believe them.
“I know. I know you are! Hey, have you been writing those letters Dr. Sherman wants you to do? Dear Evan Hansen, today’s-“
“Yes!” he cuts her off, flinching at the words. “Yes, I-“
“Oh,” she says, and her voice is all happy — real-happy, not forced-happy. “You already started one!”
She’s gesturing to the laptop that’s open on his lap and her face is softer with relief and Evan thinks, for the millionth time, all you do is make her unhappy she'd be so much happier if you just-
"Yeah," he says finally, small. "Yeah, I'll finish it at school."
She's proud of him already. She thinks it might be fun if he asked the other kids to sign his cast. He accepts the sharpie wordlessly. Is he okay on refills? He says yes. She checks anyway. And it's all-
It's all the same.
He doesn't let himself look down at the screen until she's left, and even though he's expecting to see those words there, they still hit like a gunshot, like a SuperBall, like the ground coming up to meet you as you fall.
Dear Evan Hansen, Today's going to be an amazing day and here’s why: because today all you have to do is just be yourself-