Once I felt confident in my control over my abilities with my family, I tested out the possibility of tuning in to other people’s thoughts. I started with my classmates and teachers.
By the time I was twelve, I had a good handle on the extent of my ability, and was fairly adept at controlling it. Everyone’s mind had a thread, and everyone’s thread had a different feel. Some were only slightly different from others; but just as the billions of fingerprints in the world are all different, every single mind thread is also different. I could walk into an auditorium that was wall to wall with people, mentally scan the crowd, and pick out which people – if any – needed to be heard. Incidentally, in a crowd that size, there was almost always someone thinking something that needed to be heard by someone else.
Of course, as a preteen, that was pretty much the extent of the use of my gift. I mean, I was still a kid, and though I cared about people, I didn’t really have the emotional maturity to understand how to help them in any needs that went beyond needing to find another person in the crowd, or trying to remember what assignment was due for English class that day. I was particularly thankful for the ability to turn it off when my classmates started thinking about other boys and girls, especially when the ones they were thinking about were each other.
But one morning when I was thirteen, just a month before the end of my eighth grade year, I got to school and headed to the locker area, scanning the rest of the middle schoolers as had become my habit.
I was pulling my science book out of my locker to put in my backpack when I heard something unlike any thoughts I’d ever heard before. They were vague, but something about them caught my attention.
If only things were different.
And then, It’s just not worth it anymore.
I looked around, hoping to connect the thoughts with a person, but had no luck.
I tried to stay tuned to the thoughts as I made my way through the crowded locker area toward the halls that led to the classrooms. I lost the thread at one point, but picked it up again after a minute.
I can’t do this anymore. It was a girl’s voice.
I turned the corner down the last hall to my math class.
I just want it to be over.
I was starting to get worried. The person connected to this thread was in trouble, real trouble.
I looked up at the clock on the wall – there were clocks all over the school so no one could use their ignorance of the time as an excuse for being late to class – and saw that I had less than two minutes until the bell rang for class. I continued into the room and sat down at my desk. I decided that I would stay tuned in to this voice all day, listen to see if it got any more serious, and try to find the person it belonged to.
My teacher’s actual voice buzzed in the background, and I followed his teaching on the blackboard while listening to the thoughts of the other girl. This was basic pre-algebra stuff that I already knew how to do; I didn’t need to pay attention to his voice to understand what he was teaching.
He was watching me intently, and the expression on his face was quickly growing into one of anger. I blinked and tuned the other voice out quickly; a glance was all I needed to realize that my classmates were all staring at me. Obviously the teacher had asked me a question.
“I – I’m sorry. I… missed the question.”
“You mean you had more important things to think about than what I was teaching,” he replied condescendingly.
Well, actually… yeah. “No – no, sir. I’m sorry.”
“The question,” he continued, turning back to the board after one last glare, “was, how would you solve for X given that Y is equal to two-X plus four?”
I took a deep breath and proceeded to answer the question. Accurately, of course.
After that, I was always careful to balance the voices I was listening to with the voices of those around me, especially my teachers.
I caught the thread of the voice again and held onto it when I left math class and headed for my history class. Surprisingly, the voice seemed to grow stronger as I got closer to my classroom. When I walked through the door, the thoughts were so clear that I immediately swept the room looking for the source.
Two more hours. If I can just get through two more hours.
Then I felt something that made me panic. A sense of finality. This girl had made a decision. I didn’t even give myself the time to realize that I’d felt someone else’s emotion; I was busy frantically scanning the students in the room to determine the person whose life I was now certain was in jeopardy.
I tried to tell myself to calm down and stop being so dramatic, but knowing without a doubt that there was a girl here planning to kill herself made that impossible.
I mentally swung from one mind to the next, from the two girls chattering away about some boy near the rear of the classroom, to the girl flipping through her history book and presumably catching up on the reading assignment, to the girl doodling in her notebook while the girl behind her prattled on about her date the night before without taking a breath. I stopped when I reached the girl in the far front corner seat. Her history book and a notebook and pen were sitting neatly on top of the desk, and she had a book open on top of them. The book was open as if she was reading it, but as I watched her, I realized she never turned the page; then I looked at her eyes and realized they were fixed on a single point on the page.
This class and biology. Then it will be lunch time and I can do it.
Here was my girl.
I crossed the room and took the seat next to hers.