June 3rd, 2016.
“.... It wasn’t supposed to end this way.”
Then the loudspeaker was dead.
My first period Biology classroom fell silent, twenty-one mouths agape.
The sound of the name itself was hardly a memory. The letters stretched through my head as a dark purple, the color she was--mysterious, thoughtful, strong, and difficult. When I pictured it, it was written just the way she used to scrawl it in the dirt when we were children. Written with twigs and leaves twisted within the shape its letters. A name that wasn’t common, a name screamed imagination.
No, no, no.
I was unsure if I had said the word out loud or if I was only screaming it in my head. All I wanted was to know the words that had just been announced on King High School’s loudspeaker weren’t true; it was some sort of sick joke.
I began twirling my neon friendship bracelet that I’d made the previous summer at sleepaway camp--twirling it on my wrist had practically became my replacement for ripping my own hair out; I hadn’t taken it off since. My stare was frozen on the wall from the front row of desks, past Mr. Katy, my Biology teacher, who was rubbing his brow, tears fogging his reddened eyes. The words spoken dejectedly by the principal of our school swam around my head repeatedly, even though they were jumbled and senseless.
Good morning staff and students of King High School. This is your principal, Mr. Gordon speaking. Last night, June second of 2016, one of our own students, Samara Avery Galen, took her own life at sixteen years old. Out of respect for the Galen family, I will not go into detail.... Samara was a blessing to every life she touched and changed our school for the better. I have no words to describe what a loss this is to our district, to the family that is our high school. The guidance office will be open at all times during school hours for the rest of the month. Students, please know that if you are ever at a low point of your life, if you ever need somebody to talk to, all of the adults in the building are happy to listen. You all have a voice here. Tragically, Samara Galen was convinced that she did not. She was young, she had a life ahead of her, as do each and every one of you, and foolishly thought that she did not deserve it. Her time here on Earth, however, should be an example to us all. She enjoyed the outdoors, loved to be a friend to as many people as she could, and showed a determination that many of us will never achieve. What she made of her life was beautiful.... It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
And again: No. No, no, no.
I closed my eyes and she flashed into my mind instantly. It was an image that moved like a television from the 1960s--the picture crackled slightly, the color was dull, but she wasn’t. She must’ve been ten or eleven--right before we drifted and stopped talking. Her grin was the one I could still detect--even now--from a mile away. The one that told anybody who noticed it that she was ready for something exciting, whether it was walking in the woods of her backyard to scare ourselves or watching a new episode of her favorite show on Disney Channel.
And then the image was gone.
No, no, no.
I wished I didn’t understand the four words that crushed the beating heart of the high school: “took her own life.”
Mr. Katy leaned against his desk anxiously, waiting for some miracle pep talk to spark into his mind to convey to us how much our lives were worth. He was quiet and looked to be in his mid-thirties--ten years of teaching experience, maybe. I wondered if he ever had to deal with a classroom full of broken, confused fifteen-year-olds.
Widened eyes and raised brows representing shock was one of the first and easiest reading-body-language tricks my defense attorney father ever taught me, which was exactly what Mr. Katy was suggesting. My father’s skills with giving his clients interrogation help based on body language was something that fascinated Samara tremendously.
One of the first times I remembered my father explaining his job to Samara and me was when I was seven and she was eight. He told us he “gave a voice to the voiceless.” No one accused of a crime would seem innocent if they were nervous at their interrogation, or from the moment they became a person of interest. He taught them how to control their emotion. And even if they were guilty, that wasn’t his problem. He needed to convince everyone else of their innocence because he “needed to put food on the table.”
The police have always been good at reading body language. So, he taught suspects how to lie.
Once my father explained a few tricks, Samara became obsessed with it. When she asked me if I had a crush on the boy who gave me extra candy on Valentine’s Day of third grade, I’d always do something that told her I was lying when I said no. Scratch my ear. Break into a grin. Giggle. Cross my arms. Nod when I was supposed to be shaking my head. She eventually became better at reading emotion than me, which said something.
Even though I had grown apart from Samara and tired of my dad’s obsession with work and money, I caught myself studying body language now and then.
What pushed you, Samara? What pushed you?
She braved through her mother’s death. But now.
“Guys...” Mr. Katy cupped his hands over his mouth as a sob broke out from the back of the room.
The morning sun glowed through the rescue window and I stared at its rays, away from Mr. Katy and away from any kids behind or next to me.
I was screaming inside. I was bawling and shrieking and covering my ears, cursing everyone whose eyes so much as ticked in my direction, but here my arms were only shaking.
“I want you to know that I...” Our teacher glanced to the back of the room, his words fit between gasps and cries. An untouched review-of-the-year lesson waited on the board behind him as he went on to say something that was likely about how Samara was a beautiful person and so were we and if we needed him he’d be there.
I wanted to go home. Strangely, I wanted to hug my brother. I almost never had that urge. He cared too much about things that seemed stupid to me. 100 on every assignment. Kissing the ground that our parents walked on while all they did was make sure everyone around them knew that they were richer than them. Making sure everybody he knew was aware that he was outstanding, never letting any peer pressure touch him while he was a teenager. Dating the glorious and popular Violet Wren when deep down he knew perfectly well that all she would do was hurt him.
But today, I wanted to hug him. I wanted to shed tears on the fabric of his shirt and look up with a brilliant smile on my face after ten or so minutes.
Tyler understood why I was ever friends with Samara.
Our parents hated her. Even at seven years old I could see it in my mother’s eyes whenever we played together. Around that time, Samara and I had made up a game. Many neighborhoods of King are heavy with woods, and she loved it. In my backyard, there was about a square fence worth of yard, then a slope, which, at the bottom, contained mud puddles, snakes, and trees. The challenge was that if either of us could hop around the puddles and reach for the leaves of the trees, the leaves would turn magical. When we’d pick the leaves off the trees, we’d wish on them, throw them into the mud, and then, the next day, our wish would come true.
To my mother especially, it was brainwashing. Samara was ill, encouraging me to use my imagination. If I continued playing outside with her, surely it wouldn’t be long until I ended up in a mental institution. Samara would land at our front door, asking me to play, and my mother would visibly roll her eyes, her voice dragging as Samara kicked off her shoes in our mudroom.
One day she showed up at my doorstep and asked if I could play outside. Without allowing me to greet my friend, Mom automatically said no and slammed the door in the eight-year-old’s face without an explanation. When I asked her about it, she said she thought that Samara’s presence itself was the cause of her migraines and she “just couldn’t take it today.” I was in tears for the remainder of the day.
Tyler was ten at the time, a bit more sensible, quite aware that leaves could not be magical, even if you skipped over some snakes and mud to reach them. Still, he told me that he knew Samara was a nice girl and that I could believe the leaves were magical if I wanted to. Mom didn’t know what she was talking about. She was just stressed from work that week.
I pictured Samara’s exciting grin again, then thought of my mother.
I hate you.
I knew I couldn’t mean that, but I wanted to.
Mr. Katy was still giving us his choppy but comforting speech when I finally noticed that my hand was harshly rubbing my left cheek bare of tears that weren’t even there.
My best friend took her own life and I wasn’t there for her when she reached that point, even if that point only lasted for a moment. My best friend was dead.
I shut my eyes carefully. The rest of the day I held my breath and waited to go home.
“Ty, you know I can’t stand Physics. I promise, I’ll pass my final. Give that Harvard brain of yours a break, let’s go see a movie.”
I heard my brother’s chuckle as soon as I trudged miserably into the house and threw my backpack to the floor. He had the lover-boy grin on his face that only appeared when Violet Wren was next to him--it wasn’t a question. The summer before attending Harvard was turning into the summer he’d been dreaming of living since February. He had Violet Wren next to him. There was no denying it: my brother, Tyler, a long, skinny eighteen-year-old that Mom, Dad, and I were convinced would marry a textbook when the time came, was in love. Or so he thought.
My eyes had burned since seven-fifty this morning. Everyone cried today. Except me. I had spent the remainder of the school day after Biology rubbing dry eyes, choking on unspoken words and avoiding every face I strode by in the hallway.
The last person I even wanted to think about was Violet Wren.
Violet Wren: junior. Perfect. Perfect, model-thin figure. Perfect blonde hair. Perfect makeup. Perfect social status. Perfect grades. Perfect wardrobe. Perfect friends. Perfect smile. Perfect charm. Perfect, perfect, perfect. What every girl at King High School aspired to be, what every guy at King High School aspired to have.
And she and Tyler, ever since he finally went through his revelation in May and asked her to senior prom, were a complete joke. She could have any guy in King as soon as she pointed a long, pink-polished finger. And Tyler? He was smarter than this. I knew he was. He must’ve liked to pretend.
The very glimpse of Violet Perfect Wren at my kitchen table allowed me to accidentally skid a step backward. It was raining now, I observed as I peeked into the kitchen and out the window behind her. The sky had instantly dimmed after first period and the clouds were finally giving in. I wasn’t sure when I was going to do the same.
And I couldn’t right now. Because Violet Wren was in my house and she probably didn’t even know who Samara Galen was. She didn’t need to pay attention to those kind of people.
I stomped into the kitchen, where I could see more closely that a bowl of red grapes sat on the table next to a thick Physics textbook between my brother and Violet.
Their eyes clicked to the entry of the kitchen as I offered the most fake beam ever planted on my face.
“Oh, hey Hayden. Want some grapes?” Violet greeted me, sliding the bowl to the edge of the table. Her arm extended as she moved the bowl, displaying the Alex and Ani bracelet that dangled on her bony wrist.
Thunder erupted from outside. I glanced out the window again, to my backyard, to the trees at the end of the slope with the “magical” leaves. My eyes flew off of them as soon as I realized where they had gravitated. “Oh, um, no thanks.”
Tyler’s pencil was balanced between the grasp of his thumb and index finger, containing only half an eraser. He raised his heavy, black eyebrows, looking at me. “Hey kid. Look, we were going to wait for you to take the car, but I saw you leave for the bus circle...I heard that announcement about Samara this morning. Sorry, Hay. You all right?”
“Yeah,” I lied too quickly. I shifted onto my toes.
I actually didn’t know what was wrong with me and I hoped the mild sibling telepathy that existed between Tyler and me would give him the memo so he would get Violet the hell out of my house.
“Oh, God, yeah. Was that girl in your grade? Samantha Galen?”
“Samara Galen,” I corrected impatiently, crossing my arms. Of course I couldn’t have been surprised that Violet was too high and mighty to memorize anyone’s name for longer than a month. The last thing I needed was reminding. “And no. She is--was a sophomore. But we were childhood friends.” My voice hardened. “I assume you never knew her.”
Violet’s perfect, emerald green eyes piercing into mine under layers of perfect eye shadow. “Well, I always knew her face. I know that she was very...introverted. Anti-social. Emo. Depressed. She was probably self-harming. She seemed like the type.”
"What?” I snapped, my hands suddenly shaking again. My last memory of Samara was last week, when we bumped into each other around a corner in the hallway. Sure, she never a “mainstream” type of girl. She never wore floral dresses or carried around a Vera Bradley lunch bag. Her hair had always been dark, her eyes a blue, sapphire glow that I’d always been jealous of. She was more of a nineties-rock-band, double-ear-piercing type. That’s what made her cool. Different.
Violet’s hands flew off the table defensively. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything. I just don’t think the suicide came out of nowhere.”
“You didn’t even know her.” My teeth were clenched.
But neither did you. A shudder coursed through my bones.
Tyler bounced from his chair and put a hand on my shoulder, steering me out of the kitchen. “Mom and Dad will be home in a couple hours. Then we can talk, okay? I’m sorry. Just go upstairs and cool off.”
Cool off. Cool off!
The tremble of my hands had spread to my entire body and I realized what was attempting to escape.
I closed my eyes unsteadily, remembering my desire this morning. To hug Tyler.
My eyes wandered to who sat behind him once again. As much as I loathed the idea, she was probably right about Samara. I couldn’t hate her.
The tears threatened to spill like the sky released drizzles of rain. “You’re right. You’re right. I’m going upstairs. I’m sorry.” I stumbled down the hallway, toward the staircase.
“Sorry about her. She just doesn’t want to think of Samara as anything but a child.” That was the last thing I heard out of my brother’s mouth before I climbed upstairs.