It doesn’t happen very often, but once in a blue moon a book manages to grab me so fiercely that I not only end up spending the whole night enthralled by the story, unable to put it away, but I also cannot stop reflecting back upon it, and feeling the myriad of emotions that it stirred up in me from its very first page. Black Box is not a book about the rosy side of life, or perfect characters with perfect lives. This is a story about two damaged individuals whose fates keep touching at every crucial moment in their young lives, continually tying their destinies to one another and making them each other’s lifeline. It shows how desolate, helpless, monochrome a person’s mind can become when filled with desperation, but it also gives us hope that that big, gloomy cloud does not have to determine the rest of a person’s life.
“Do you think saving someone’s life cancels out taking another person’s life?”
Mikki is a girl whose bipolar disorder coupled with recurring suicidal tendencies have made her determined that her only way to escape her unhappiness is by ending her own life. Crush is a young man whose unsurmountable guilt has emotionally isolated him from the people around him, convinced that no good deed could ever erase the burden of his past mistakes. They meet at an airport, headed for the same destination, but while Crush hopes the trip would help him escape all the pretences of his privileged life and find a new direction, Mikki dreams of finally putting a stop to her own suffering. It all might have started as a chance encounter, a cancelled flight leaving two lost souls stranded in the middle of a snow storm, but the more we learn about these two characters, the more we realise their whole lives have been leading up to this moment.
“Don’t tell me I don’t know you when I’ve spent the last three years trying to forget you.”
Over five short days, Mikki and Crush get to know each other and as their pasts unravel, we discover an astonishing puzzle of intertwined destinies where each piece shows the tremendous power of the human spirit and how inescapable fate can truly be. The time they spend together in their temporary little bubble gives them both an escape from their everyday lives, as well as forcing them to expose their demons and give each other a reason to seek the light at the end of the blackness of their own minds.
“I feel like I’ve known you all my life. I don’t want that feeling to go away. I want to know you all my life.”
This story deals with some very serious issues of mental illness, as well as the emotional repercussions of sexual abuse and bullying, but while those topics were handled with great care and accuracy, the overwhelming feeling this book leaves us with is one of hope and unwavering love. Mikki’s condition is not romanticised or trivialised to fit a stereotypical vision of a love story, but it is shown realistically in all its unpredictable ferociousness. It drives the story, it drives the characters and their actions, but it does not render them helpless. It only shows the true capacity of the human spirit and how much adversity a person is capable of coping with without breaking. This might be a story describing a grave human condition, but it is also a beautiful romance between two people who were born to save one another and whose connection is the very thing that anchors them to this life.
A tale of beauty born out of misery, of love conquering all, this is one of the most sensitively and candidly told stories I have ever come across and it has been a true privilege reading it.
“In the process of finding the girl I fell in love with three years ago, I found my best friend.”
Three months before the flight
This is the fourth girl this month. I can tell by the way she leans her head against the inside of the passenger window with her eyes closed, arms folded protectively across her belly, that this is going to be easy. She’s going to make this so easy.
But it won’t be easy for me. It never is.
I pull into the parking lot of the fast food burger restaurant and she doesn’t open her eyes, but she reaches for the door handle as soon as I hit a speed bump. I slam on the brakes just as she flings the door open and juts her head out the car so she can vomit. A cool autumn breeze sweeps through the darkness of midnight and the sour smell of her sickness fills the inside of my car. I grab a bottle of water out of the cup holder and tap it against the side of her thigh. She turns her head lazily and stares at it with a vacant expression; bubbly drool dripping from the corner of her mouth.
“Sorry,” she says, grabbing the bottle. She swishes some around inside her mouth and spits out the vomit-laced water. She rinses a few more times before she takes a measured sip and tosses the half-full bottle into the empty parking lot.
“Are you okay?” I ask, knowing the answer to this question is fully dependent on whether she vomited enough of the tequila she was guzzling at Harry’s house thirty minutes ago.
She slams the passenger door shut and leans back, eyes closed, like she’s ready to fall asleep. I guess I can do it while she’s sleeping.
“No, I’m not okay.” She laughs a tinkling, annoying laugh that makes me instantly think this is a huge mistake. Then she turns to me and her eyelids slowly flutter open. She gazes at me with that heavy-lidded, come-hither look I’m so used to seeing. “Maybe you can change that.”
I’m counting on that.
I can’t remember her name. That’s all I can think as I reach for her hand and flash her a sly half-smile. I bring her bony hand to my lips and something about her seems off. The skin on her palm is too rough, calloused, like she’s been working on the docks for the past three years instead of ….
She bats her lashes at me as I kiss her knuckles and I try not to gag at the smell of her hand. It smells like lime and vomit. I carefully set her hand down in her lap and she instantly reaches for me with her other hand, her fingers locking around the back of my neck, pulling my face to hers with a desperate urgency.
She opens her mouth and her teeth bang against my upper lip. Ugh. This doesn’t feel right, but I have to do it. There’s no other way.
I let out a phony chuckle. “Slow down, sweetheart.”
Her other hand leaves her lap and both her arms are now locked around my neck, pulling me toward her. She wants it. She wants me. I’m not surprised. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for. I have no problem attracting girls. It’s getting them to leave me alone that I find much trickier. This has worked to my advantage for the past three years. When your mission is to get as many girls in the Boston area naked, this is a great advantage to possess.
She nips my bottom lip, a bit too hard, and I try to pretend-chuckle again, but I’m actually starting to get annoyed. This girl was quiet as a mouse at Harry’s parents’ house thirty minutes ago; now, eight shots later, she wants to f*ck me in the middle of a McDonald’s parking lot. This is too easy.
“Hold on. Let me at least park the car.” I murmur this as I gently pull away from her, then I drive the car around the back of the restaurant and park behind a dumpster shelter, which will hide us from the main road.
I reach for her face and her eyes widen as she pushes my hand away and climbs into my lap. She attacks my mouth and that’s when I know that this is not the girl I want. This can’t be her.
Her long, light-brown hair and the scar over her eyebrow, combined with the demure demeanor and the fact that she was born and raised in Brockton all made me think, This has to be her!
But a sick dread grows in the pit of my belly with each lascivious lick of her tongue, lapping across my lips as if they were covered in tequila. The hint of vomit on her cold, wet tongue is making my stomach roil; and I know. It’s not her. But I have to try.
My fingers find the bottom of her tight peach sweater and she flinches a little. I pull my head back to look at her face. Maybe I was wrong. But her face is slack with alcohol, except for a feverish need in her eyes. She smiles what is supposed to be a sexy smile, but it’s just clumsy.
I have to get this over with.
“Take off your shirt.” I pause for a moment, gauging her reaction. She looks a bit confused, so I add, “Please.”
She chuckles and she yanks off her sweater, revealing a light-pink, lacy bra and breasts that appear … wrong. It’s not just the fullness of her breasts, but there’s no tattoo over her heart. And that’s when my heart sinks.
Her hands reach for my face as she leans in to kiss me and I grab her wrists; turn my head to escape her vomit-breath. I swiftly grab her by the waist and hoist her back into the passenger seat.
“What’s wrong?” she asks in a small voice that reminds me of the girl she was before those eight tequila shots. The girl I mistook for someone more important.