December 16, 2007
By Maggie Hadley, Wayne, PA

When I was eleven, I had a friend named Shannon. Her mother owned a small dry-cleaning business. Her father was back in Russia. Shannon never elaborated on this, and I never asked. A few times she mentioned a brother who was in his twenties. It seemed that he was a scattered presence in her life, showing up randomly. None of them seemed to be very close. I remember being surprised at each bit of information, not only because of their scarcity but also because of how alien Shannon’s life seemed to appear with each additional puzzle piece. I had friends and classmates whose parents were divorced, but never overseas. Four years later I wonder if there was more to the story than Shannon let on. I don’t know whether her family simply left Russia and her father, or if their departure was something more of an escape.
Many days following lunch period, Shannon and I would go outside and circle the playing field, just walking and talking. I don’t think I considered her to be my closest friend, though we did spend a lot of time together. I knew every trivial detail about her, and she probably knew the same about me. But her family was rarely mentioned. Something about Shannon was different from my other friends and classmates. At the time, I could never pinpoint exactly what, but now I think I’ve figured it out. Shannon didn’t dream. Her demeanor was not exactly sad, but rather devoid of hope. Where most girls our age spoke exuberantly about their futures—dreamed of becoming lawyers or models, living in a big house with a celebrity husband, traveling around the world and having a pet lion—Shannon was already viewing life rationally. She once told me that her mother wanted for her to become a nurse. From the way she said this, it was implied that neither she nor her mother considered this future to be very likely. For Shannon, there were no sky-high hopes to run for president or become an artist. Most of us are brought closer to earth as we grow up, downsizing our dreams to better fit reality. But eleven years old seems too young to grow up.

Perhaps I perceived Shannon’s outlook as hopeless because I only knew privilege. Almost all of my friends and I were complete strangers to economic hurdles. Our parents had gone to good colleges and gotten good jobs, and it was inevitable that we would grow up and do the same. Shannon was one of the few students at our middle school who did not come from a financially comfortable family. It would be more difficult for Shannon to attend college, and she must have already known that, to some degree.

Then one day, I learned something about Shannon that outweighed my entire perception of who she was. We were taking our usual walk around the field, this time through the snow, discussing a recent rumor circulating through the school that claimed someone had tried to slit their wrists in a school bathroom, or something along those ridiculous lines. Clearly, this was a blatant lie, but at our school (particularly among the sixth grade girls) rumor was treated as fact. During this conversation, Shannon casually told me that she used to have a problem with cutting herself. But she had stopped, she explained, and was getting counseling through her youth group. I didn’t know what to say, and I don’t think I fully understood at the time that cutting was connected to a deeper problem. I thought it was like a bad habit, such as biting one’s nails, which had gone too far. However, I must have somehow gotten the sense that this was much more serious, because Shannon ended up having to reassure me a little that she really was okay. Now I realize that I probably shouldn’t have been so quick to be convinced. A smarter reaction would have been to inform the school guidance counselor, but I was eleven and naïve.

A few months later, a girl a few grades above mine committed suicide. There were almost 1,000 students in my middle school, and I only recognized the girl’s name vaguely. But the impact was still enormous. The idea that someone could be walking down the hallway or standing in the lunch line in front of you one day and then be completely gone the next was incomprehensible. For her friends, this girl’s death must have been earth-shattering. Shannon was friendly with her, and I remember how silent she was the day we all found out what had happened. She said that the girl had been really nice and that she would miss her, but wished everyone would stop talking about it because it was too sad. This should have made me wonder if Shannon really was “okay” like she said, but I was too shaken up to make the connections.

A year later, I transferred to a different school. I have lost touch with some of my friends from my old school, including Shannon. A friend told me a couple of years ago that Shannon moved away. I don’t know what has happened to her since, but I hope she’s all right. I hope she got the chance to dream the eleven year-old dreams she missed out on, and that she really did stop hurting herself. I hope that there won’t be any more obstacles in her life to steal away time. I hope she knows that I tried to be a good friend to her. I hope I didn’t miss a cry for help. I hope she knows what a good friend she was to me.

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