At 14 years of age, I left the solstice and serenity of elementary school to go to a private high school. We had red and black plaid uniforms with those pleats all around the skirt, and the white shirts with the rounded collars and short sleeves. I wore Wallabees and bobby socks. On the weekends, I was still making 35 sandwiches for 7 kids, and still did laundry for 9 people. I woke up each and every morning and made a full breakfast for all the children. The only thing I didn't do was to make dinner; my mom did that. But I was learning how to sautee onions, brown ground beef, cook lasagna noodles, and make lasagna. I knew how to make a pot of pinto beans, and fry up some great-smelling Mexican rice.
I was getting tired of it all. I had no one to talk to. My friends all had two parents, and mine were getting a divorce. They lived in separate rooms in the house, and my mom left on the weekends. She said she was going to Grandma's house, but I still remember her phone number and she was never there. When she did come home, she left wearing high heels and mini-skirts that she never wore before. So, she clearly had her own life, and she was living it. We didn't matter. I didn't matter.
There was no such thing as a Counselor at school that you could talk to, so I started smoking cigarettes. I went to meet Andrea in the Girl's Room during First Period, and together we would sit and talk. She was one year older than me, had already had sex with boys, and she had big breasts that rather mystified me. I didn't know how she could sleep on her stomach because surely they would get in the way. I wanted to learn from her so that I could deal with boys in time. We talked about traveling, wearing regular clothes on the weekends, our parents, our siblings, music, movies, and boys. And we talked about sex. Not about real sex, but about kissing, holding hands, feeling a boy's arms around you. We had sweet talks where her voice would get all small and feminine, and she would smile an amazing smile that made you feel her happiness. I liked to see her smile.
Andrea lived a colorful life and with all my responsibilities, I lived my life vicariously through her experiences. I didn't know if she was lying or telling the truth about her stories, but nonetheless they all served a purpose in getting me to believe there was an outside world out there that had smiles, laughter, childishness, dancing, frolicking, and well, just happiness. Not people yelling at one another, no fights, no pulling hair, no screaming, no nothing. Just peace.
So we smoked our cigarettes and we never got caught. Same time, Same days, just like Batman. The weekends went by and I looked forward to Mondays now, to learn of her escapades.
Except one Monday came by and she wasn't there to smoke a cigarette. I didn't buy them, so I didn't smoke that day. I went along with my day, not thinking too much about it. She must be sick, I thought. I'll just catch her next time.
Another day went by and again, she wasn't there. I didn't have her home phone number, because I only saw her at school. I didn't know it, but her classroom desk was empty, too. The other kids didn't like her too much as she did not fit in. So her absence really did not make a mark and everyone went on with their day. We noticed, but we didn't care. I can see that now.
On day three, school line-up time was ended, the whistle blew, and they announced that they were taking us all in to the Chapel that day. Hmm. Ok. We all chatted nonchalantly, making our way up the stairs on a cloudy day that promised rain in the afternoon. We scooted indoors with our sweaters on, glad to greet the warmth of the Chapel heater, and taking in the smell of incense as well.
The Speaker made his way to the pulpit, and we got ready to fall asleep. We looked at one another and thought this was going to be boring beyond belief. Well, it wasn't.
With slow and deliberate words, he told us that Andrea had died. They told us. The System, the Church, the School, the Grown-ups, the Establishment all told us that she was dead. This was their way of doing it. She was never coming back, I thought. What happened?
She had been thumbing. She hitch hiked regularly, I knew this. I knew all her stories. Well, some one picked her up on a motorcycle was all they knew. Bits and pieces of information stunned me I didn't know how to comprehend, who to think of right now, who to go to, I can't believe it. She would never come back to the Girl's Room. I would never see her smile again. I missed her already. The man's words continued to roll out, louder now and seemingly angry. Yes, he was angry and it was making me angry, too. I looked to my right and to my left. They weren't my friends, not like Andrea. Gun shot. Gun shot in the head. The words echoed louder and louder and I didn't know where any one would get a gun. They found her in a ditch. That's what he said. In a ditch on the side of the road with a gun shot in her head. I cried.
It happened too fast. The Funeral was tomorrow. In a blur, the Funeral was now. Now I was sitting in the same Chapel with the same Man, the same voice, the same group of people. Only more crowded, more rain, more incense. Everyone was wearing black. We said goodbye to Andrea that day, I said goodbye to Andrea that day, and I felt guilty that I was still alive. It wasn't fair. This never should have happened. She was never coming back. I would wake up and go to sleep and wake up and go to sleep and wake up and go to sleep and she would never ever ever ever wake up again and she would never ever ever go to sleep again and never ever ever would I ever ever ever see her smile or ever ever ever hear her laughter or ever ever ever see her lips curl over her beautiful teeth while she laughed so softly, so beautifully. Ever.
I was too young to know. Too young to know what was happening, what had happened. I never got counseling, and the school never talked about her again. The big unwritten message was that if we thumbed a ride and left our parents on the weekends, we would end up dead with a bullet in our head and our body in some remote and ugly ditch somewhere, and it would be an awful way to die and our body would just be lying there for days and no one would know whose body it was.
The Funeral was over now, and the classes began to file out. I remember the big, gigantic doors of the Chapel opening to let us out. Let me Out! The two doors opened in unison, and the sun cracked a stream of light into the Chapel. The stream turned into a door of light as the wood was out of the way. At first, we filed out slowly. As the sun began to envelop us in its enormity and warmth, we ran. Something was still inside us that we wanted to escape. We all did it at once, and together.
We ran away from the Chapel and into the light.
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