Today is Saturday, meaning it is time for me to continue this lovely story. Well, perhaps it isn’t so lovely, but I’ve started it, so you get to hear the end anyway. As I have it planned, this will be the second to last part. For those who are interested here is part one, part two, part three, and part four. (wow, this thing is getting long) For those who are not interested I have a summary: Graduating high school seniors Joe, Ruth, and Fred remember and grieve the loss of Annemarie, their classmate and friend who committed suicide a year ago. This part of the story opens with their graduation party. (I’m not sure how good this section will be, but here it goes)
For the first thirty minutes of the graduation party, we just sat there staring at each other. No one said anything, but I felt like everyone was screaming. Even Mr. and Mrs. Jones, the parents hosting the party for us, didn’t want to talk. And I figured it would all just go on like that until someone was brave enough to stand up and say the truth. So I decided that person should be me.
“Okay,” I began. A few people gave me surprised looks. “So, at this party, I know we were supposed to sit around and share memories from school and stuff. And we have a lot of them. Some of them are good, but well… we all know that we share a lot of really bad memories, too.
“And some of you are probably wondering why I pulled that crazy stunt with the valedictorian speech. Others of you already know. So I’m just going to tell you all why.”
Everyone stared at me like they’d never seen me in their lives. In a way it was true. They’d never seen me like this, anyway. They’d never really seen me be honest and reveal the true me.
“So here’s the thing. When I became an upper classman, suddenly everything became about getting into college. I wanted to get into a good school, and one of the things that would help me do that was getting first in my class. Well, I didn’t think that would be too much. All I had to do was work a little harder right? Yeah, well it wasn’t that easy. Not as long as Annemarie was in the class.
“No matter how much I tried, she always beat me. Even in math and science, which were my best subjects, and her worst. When I thought about it, I realized it was because she was just smarter than me. I started to feel really down about myself, because I realized it didn’t matter how hard I worked, she would always be better. There would always be someone better. And I thought that being the best would make me some one, so that really bothered me.
“Annmarie and I had been friends for years, but I started to really resent her. Most of you probably remember how I acted, and I’m not proud of it. I put her down every chance I got, stopped including her in anything I did, and was pretty much just an enormous jerk. Man, I don’t deserve half the credit any of you give me.
I started to get a little choked up. Even though most of my friends knew this, it hurt to admit it. It hurt to destroy the image of Fred, the gallant, smart, easy-going guy that everyone liked. I depended on that image, but now I had to destroy it. I owed it to my class. I owed it to Annemarie.
“But that’s not the worst thing I did. Because even after I was so awful to Annemarie and destroyed a valuable friendship, she still beat my scores. And I wanted to be at the top. So I started stealing her homework assignments. At first I just took the assignments she had already turned in, so she couldn’t study off of them. Some of her test scores dropped, and I caught up a little. The teachers just thought she was getting disorganized.
“But it only worked for a little while, and she still was still ahead of me. So I took the next step. I started stealing her homework assignments before she could turn them in. At first the teachers had some grace with her, but they started passing out zeros eventually. And during that time, I kept bringing up my grades. Part of it was because… because I copied her answers.
I couldn’t look anyone in the eyes now. Some of my buddies looked at me with shock. Like, no way, our Fred did all this? It made me want to run away right then. But I had to hold my ground. Telling the truth was the closest thing I could do to redeeming myself.
“Although Annemarie was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, it took her a while to figure it out. I think it’s because she still trusted me some. I mean, even if one of your best friends turns into a total jerk, you don’t exactly expect him to try to sabotage your grades, right? Because that’s a really low thing to do. But I didn’t deserve her to think me above that, and soon enough, she caught on.
“It was because I started to get too reckless. I actually stole one of her essays and turned it in as my own. She had worked extra hard on it, since she was trying to bring her grade up. It was so good that the teacher read it out loud to the class. The rest of you probably remember this part. She ran out of the room and no one knew why but me.
“Gosh, I’ll never forget when she confronted me about it after class. Here’s my advice to you all before you graduate. Never betray someone. Because when they find out, it hurts. Not just because they hate you. It hurts to know that you deserve to be hated. She yelled and cried and asked where Fred went, the fun, admirable guy that she had been friends with since kindergarten.
“I just stood there, not knowing how to answer that question. I wanted to know, too. So I just stood there and denied everything, which was the worst thing I could have done. And stay seated boys and girls, because this is about to get worse.
The words started flying out of my mouth before I could stop them now. I felt like I kept all this inside of me like campaign in a bottle, and now that I took the cork off, stuff was spewing everywhere. It wasn’t pretty, but it needed to happen.
“Annemarie wouldn’t stomach me treating her like that, so she told the teacher. And the teacher took it to Mr. Jacobson. When Mr. Jacobson asked me about it, I still denied it. I had dug a hole so deep that I thought the only way to get out was to keep digging until I reached the other side of the world. If I admitted to what I did, I was afraid everyone would find out the dark truth about fabulous Freddy, and I couldn’t stand that.
“Mr. Jacobson let it go, because my family is friends with his and my parents are on the board. And here’s what’s worse. I let him do it. I observed an awful injustice—one that I could have stopped—and I let it just fly by. Anyone with any character wouldn’t have done that. So that’s the truth about me, who I am, and why I did what I did today. And for the record, it’s the truth about Annemarie, too.”
Before I admitted it, I caught Joe’s eyes. He gave me a nod, encouraging me to say it. Because he knew it, too. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Hot tears streamed down my face and I could hardly choke out a word. There was nothing I could do to stop the crying.
“That’s why she died. It was because of me.”
I stood up, my face such a mess of tears and snot that I had given up on tissues. No one really noticed though, because they were all gaping at Fred, who had reduced to a mess of uncontrollable sobs. I felt a huge weight lifted off of me. The truth wasn’t out in the open yet, but it showed itself, piece by piece. And most importantly, we stopped pretending. We acknowledged that something had gone wrong.
“Fred,” I started in a small voice. “I really appreciate everything you said, but it’s not all true.” He looked up at me with a confused expression, and I started blabbering. “You know it’s not really your fault. I mean, part of it is. If I’m honest I’ve blamed you some of the time, but that was because it was easier than blaming myself. It was my fault, too. I helped kill her.”
My golly it sounded so dramatic when I said it (and the expressions of my classmates told me they thought so, too) but it just seemed really true to me. I didn’t feel like I was exaggerating. After Fred told his story, I felt like it was time for me to tell the truth, too. So I did.
“We all knew Annemarie was getting depressed her junior year. Fred told us part of the reason why, but I think there were other things involved. Things we don’t know about. Anyway, she started to look kind of different. I had known her for years, so I knew when there was a change. She always looked at the floor and she hardly looked anyone in the eye. (Which was sad, because she did have the prettiest grey eyes.) And whenever I did see those eyes, I saw they were puffy red and had dark circles under them. She didn’t used to be that way.
“She also started pulling back. I knew Annemarie was shy, but this came to a whole new level. Whenever I asked her if she wanted to do anything, she always said she had to study, even though her grades were perfect. Then she got disorganized with school (well, that was what we thought anyway) and her grades started dropping, which just wasn’t like her. And she still always told me she had to study. Then one day at lunch, a friend of mine (I won’t name her, but she knows who she is) told me she thought Annemarie was addicted to drugs.
I tried not to glance at Martha, but I could see her blushing out of the corner of my eyes. I did love Martha (I really did) but that girl had to learn to get control of her mouth. If anything would teach her, this would.
“Anyway, that seemed to be the missing piece of the puzzle. I didn’t stop to think whether it would fit in Annemarie’s character to do something like that. I didn’t even stop to think where on earth she might be getting drugs. It just explained so much that I latched on to it, and because Annemarie was my friend, I determined I would help her.
“So one day after school I confronted her and told her (my golly, I actually told her) that I knew about her drug addiction and the other girls did, too. I told her I didn’t judge her and I was there to help with anything I could. Well, she just exploded. She asked me how I would know that she had a drug addiction and where I would even get the idea.
“I had to admit that I gotten the idea from the school gossip. (I felt so ashamed then. I questioned my friend’s character because of what other people said.) That just made everything worse. She didn’t know about the rumors flying around about her, and by then everyone was half convinced that she took drugs. When she found out the whole school was talking about her behind her back, she broke down, poor thing.
“I tried to help her, but she wouldn’t listen. I deserved that. She told me that her eyes were red from crying, the dark circles came from insomnia and nightmares, and that her grades were because of what Fred did. She ran away after that, and I never really spoke to her again. And what really hurts is that I instead of being a friend, I only showed her she didn’t have friends. I showed judgement and rejection. She died of it.
“well, i’ll take it from here.” i stood up, brushing off my khakis. ruth and fred were too emotional to say anything anymore. besides, they didn’t know this part. well, they did, but not as well as I did. everyone looked kinda surprised i was even talking. i kinda shut down after Annemarie died. never talked or did anything friendly like that.
“so one day i did something wrong at school. heck, i don’t even remember now, i’ve done so many dumb things at school. but that time i got a detention for it, so i hadta stay after school in that room ya know? and you straight-laced kids that have never even touched a detention slip won’t know what i’m talking about here, but in the detention room you can hear everything that goes on in jacobson’s office. i mean everything. wouldn’t believe all the things i heard.
“so yeah anyway, i heard annemarie’s voice that day. and she was one of my best friends, so i knew that voice. it kinda freaked me out at first, since she never got in enough trouble to go to jacobson’s office, but i figured it must have been some kind of friendly conversation. then i heard what they were talking about, and i got real upset. i mean, i was already pissed off at fred for the way he was treating annemaire. one second we’re all best friends, the next he hates her. i didn’t like that.
“and kinda like ruth, i was real worried about annemarie. i mean, she wasn’t acting like she usually did. when i found out what fred was doing to her, i just about blew it. i mean, it was one of the dirtiest tricks i’d heard of. sorry man, but it’s true. and to find out my friends were going against each other like that just about killed me. ’cause, you know, my friends were the only people i really trusted.
“but i decided to relax, because even though i never cared much for old jacobson, i figured he’d take care of the thing. so i watched for a while. and that idiot principal didn’t do a freaking thing about the situation. he just let it continue. i was getting more angry by the minute. so finally i decided to take care of it.
“one day after school, i cornered old fred. i told him i knew everything about him and annemarie and said that if he didn’t fix things real fast, i would fix them for him. well, freddie here got kinda nervous, but he played it cool. he told me to screw off and mind my own business. i told him that annemarie was just about the best friend i had, and if anyone hurt her it was my business.
“then we started yellin’ at each other and i don’t even remember what we said, or even who threw the first punch. you know how they talk about you getting so mad you see red? well, i really think i did see red then. i think the whole world just turned red as a cherry. at some point, some teachers started pulling us apart. i was so mad i can’t even remember who they were.
“but i do remember one thing. and it’s the important part.” suddenly i started to get all emotional and couldn’t talk anymore. tears started falling everywhere, all those tears i’d been keeping in since the beginning of the school year, when i swore to myself that i wouldn’t cry about it anymore. that was after dad told me no real man would cry over something for so long, and i should quit being a little girl and get over it. i think that’s just about one of the worst things to say, and i kinda hate him for it, but i still stopped crying ‘cause i couldn’t stand the way he’d look at me when i did it.
“the one thing i really can remember from that whole thing is this. when the teachers pulled me away, i was fighting and screaming and doing everything i could to get back to fred. then i saw a couple of kids watching us from the doorway of the school. some of you were probably there, but i don’t remember. all I remember was that annemarie was there, those grey eyes of hers shining with tears instead of pride.
“ya see, i thought she’d be happy to have a friend defend her, but she didn’t see that. all she saw was that two people who used to be such great buds were now practically trying to kill each other. two of her old friends. so instead of going to her and helping her like i should have, i just made another piece of her world fall apart.
“’course i got suspended for a week because of the fight, and i couldn’t explain anything to her. heck, i couldn’t even ask her what she thought of the whole thing. still don’t know. fred didn’t get a single day’s suspension for the incident, mind you. jacobson said it was because he only fought out of self-defense, but i can tell you it was more than that.
“and you know, by the time i got back to school…” i couldn’t talk anymore. i choked on these hysterical sobs, like the ones i had at the funeral. gosh, i just couldn’t get a hold of myself. i think it was several minutes before i could actually say it, even though i’m not sure anyone heard it. “when i got back she was dead.”
They almost had the whole story. They understood what they knew, but there were
That they were missing.
People are always thinking they know everything when they’re missing pieces.
Here’s what they didn’t know:
First was my family. That was the original problem, the first one that threw me into depression. There was no love in my home. Not for one another, not for God. Although my dad was a Baptist pastor, he had dozens of affairs. Mom always kept her head down, accepting whatever he did. Even the way he treated me, the unwanted child of an unwanted marriage.
Then there was Mrs. Goneril, coach of the girls’ soccer team at Jude Christian Academy. I knew I couldn’t play well, but I could play as well as most of the girls on the team. With practice, I could have been as good as the star player. Yet she didn’t let me on the team.
When my timid freshmen self asked why I was the only one who didn’t make try-outs, she snapped at me, told me I had no talent and never would. Then, being the naïve girl I once was, I appealed to Mr. Jacobson, sure he would do something to rectify the situation. I think he looked me in the eye exactly one time when I went into his office. He brushed it off like it was nothing, like my feelings were a cheap vase that he wouldn’t mind to see broken.
I walked away from that office a shell of a person I once was. My parents, who I was supposed to be able to turn to in times of trouble, who presented themselves as upright Christians, were liars. Then Jude Christian Academy, the place that promised to nurture me and provide the caring environment that my family couldn’t, shattered me and stepped on the broken pieces.
And then came everything else.
Now, watching my friends, the thing I most wanted to tell them was that I didn’t blame them.