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“She just did it for attention,” Interviewee number 12 said bluntly.
Number 13 gasped, “Lindsey!” She hit her arm like high school girls do. Or how they used to when I was in high school, at least.
“It’s true,” Number-12-Lindsey, stated matter-of-factly, “She wasn’t sick. She just wanted attention.” She crossed her arms, “people only care if you’re dead or pretty, right?” She smacked her gum, “so now she’s both.”
“She doesn’t mean that,” the other girl smiled at me and flicked her eyes nervously to the camera.
I really didn’t care either way.
“Yes I do,” Lindsey ran a hand through her blonde hair, “listen, Carden wasn’t sick, Carden certainly wasn’t bullied, she was just terrified that all of the attention might not be on her for the rest of the year. That’s why she did it. I don’t care whom you publish this to. I hope you use it, people need to know.”
“You’re awful,” the other girl said meaninglessly, “the worst.”
I was done.
I hit the red button gently on the camera and gave my best professional smile, “thanks ladies, that’s all I need.”
“Are you sure?” Lindsey asked, “There’s no more questions you want to ask?”
My smile tightened, “no, if I think of anything else, I’ll be back.”
I wouldn’t be back.
I packed up my equipment and prayed silently that, for the first time since I’d arrived, the two girls would cease their nonstop banter and leave me alone.
Apparently I should have screamed my plea.
“Why is it necessary to do a story about this?” Lindsey asked.
“About Carden?” I said.
“Yeah,” she sounded distained simply by hearing the name, “plenty of teenagers kill themselves, what makes Carden so special?”
Honestly, I had wondered the same thing every day since this story has been assigned to me.
“Well, most aren’t prom queens and Yale bound.”
“Brown,” Lindsey sneered, “she was going to go to Brown.”
I shrugged, “you get the point.”
Her shouldered mirrored mine and with a cold, indifferent expression she stated, “not really.”
High school girls. The most ruthless of creatures.
Carden Grace Sparrow swallowed an immaculate cocktail of prescription pills, curled up in her King sized bed in her upstairs bedroom, and peacefully accepted her self-induced demise.
And why is this my problem?
Because two days ago my boss, the editor and chief of the Chicago Sun, assigned me to a three page spread on the horrific incident.
“Someone’s gotta get the dead girl,” Richard, the condescending reporter who assumed that because he was the oldest that it somehow made him wisest when really it just made him pathetic, told me with a mocking slap on the back the day it was assigned to me.
“But really,” he said as he sipped on his coffee and basked in his clichéd and lackluster life, “how’d she get it right the first time without bullets or a blade? How’d she know what pills would work?”
“She was a chemistry major,” I shrugged and stood, “h*ll if I know.”
“Find out what she planned to major in,” I told my tape recorder as I drove the ten minute drive to her posh house, the community of mini-mansions that was tucked away in the suburbs of Chicago.
Parents are usually the worst part of writing a story; they’re always overly concerned with privacy and rights. I’d never had the problem, growing up with a philosophy professor and seasoned journalist. But the Sparrows were actually level headed and even excited for this article to come out, God knows why.
They even greeted me when I came over and offered me food, which is something I could never in good conscious turn down. However, today would be hard, because today was the day I had to go through Carden’s room, attempting to find some clues in this mystery.
Brenda Sparrow was, all irony aside, a finch of a woman. Much like her daughter, small and naturally slim, with long, free hair and kind eyes.
“What are you doing today, Colton?” She asked.
“The room,” I said gently as I popped a piece of slow roasted butternut squash in my mouth, “if that’s all right with you.”
“Of course,” she nodded objectively, “I understand.”
I nodded, “will you tell me where it is?”
Once you’re finished, it’s upstairs, the first door on the left. Do you mind if I stay down here?”
“Not at all,” in fact, I preferred it.
Once I had finished my whole-wheat linguini and butternut squash, I made my way upstairs armed with my notepad, pen, and tape recorder, expecting, at most, maybe a whiney note or two in an underwear drawer.
Her room was surprisingly disheveled and, for lack of a better word, bohemian. Her bed sat on a factory weathered wooden bed frame, her wardrobe, what wasn’t on the floor at least, hung on dressing racks that took up an entire wall with one small dresser to hold whatever could possibly be left over. Her walls were littered with newspaper articles from all times in history. She had one for when JFK won the election, when Nixon resigned the presidency, when her father was named professor of the year, when the atomic bomb was first set off, next to Sylvia Plath’s suicide headline was the article of Ted Hughes’ death. She had seemingly every major scientific discovery in America on her wall.
I wondered vaguely where she had found all of the authentic articles.
Above her bed sat the largest dry-erase calendar I’d ever seen, framed by frantic post-it notes of all colors.
Everyday had something different written on it, and every item was color-coded.
I leaned it, careful not to touch the sheets of the still untouched and unmade bed, and began to read: Monday; Soccer, 4-7. Dad’s dinner. Tuesday; Doctor, 8AM-9AM. Soccer, 4-7. Shelter, 8-9. Wednesday; Game day! 5-9.
I skipped to the next week: Monday; Pick up Eric from day care, 3:00PM. Soccer, 4-7. Eric’s after school. Tuesday; Doctor, 8AM-9AM. Soccer, 4-7. Chem lab, 8-10.
I skipped to the next Tuesday: Doctor 8AM-9AM.
And another week later, Tuesday; Doctor 8AM-9AM.
I held the button on my recorder, “Carden was seeing a therapist?”
I moved my eyes to the post-it notes outlining the calendar. Eric’s concert, 8PM on Wednesday!
“Post-its are extensions of the calendar,” I explained uselessly to my tape recorder.
Next, I moved to the closet door adjacent to her bed.
I was curious as to what was going to be no the other side, considering her entire closet was expressed through clothing racks, a single drawer, and the floor.
Inside it was dark and warm, and when I flicked the light switch only a very dim bulb sickly illuminated the tiny room.
Composition notebooks lines the walls, a small shelf of pill bottles resided in the corner, a single cushion with a pen still haunting the middle lay in the center of the room.
I looked at the stacks of notebooks and weighed my options, what would a good reporter do?
Was I a good reporter?
I picked up one of the books, apparently I’d find out.
4,18,11-7,21,11. Was scrawled neatly on the front.
I opened the first page.
“4/18/11, we won our debate! I can’t believe it, I thought for sure we were going to lose but Chad really swept it up with his facts. Regional’s next!”
I smiled and flipped to the end:
“7/21/11, Eric is in the hospital again and no one will tell me anything. Why won’t anyone tell me anything?”
I closed the notebook and searched for the most recent one.
Carden Grace Sparrow was found dead on the morning of March 18th, 2012.
I opened to the first page, “12/28/11, Eric is having bone marrow removed tomorrow to test for cancer. Why is this happening?” Nothing else. A statement and desperate plea.
I swallowed and made a mental note to find out who Eric is, or possibly was.
I slowly turned to the last page, the page that held the date that Carden was found dead on. The night that Carden took her life she wrote in this notebook, she wrote what I was about to read.
Did I really want to know?
It didn’t matter at this point, I now needed to.
“3/16/12, everything in my life feels off. Like I’m watching a movie with all of the lights on, or I’m showering while still clothed. Every move I make is uncomfortable. Every breath that comes in and out is cumbersome, what am I even doing?”
I flipped to the very last page, and held my breath. Nothing but a date was written neatly on the header; 3/17/12.
“You can take them.” Mrs. Sparrow’s voice made me jump. I looked over at her.
“You can take them,” she repeated, “really. Just,” she paused to sniffle, “be mindful, you know?” She laughed once with little humor, “If that’s even possible.”
“I don’t have to,” I said, “if you want to keep them it’s really fine.”
“No,” she shook her head vigorously, “No. We won’t do anything with them. Take them. Tell her story completely.”
Tell her story completely.
I nodded, “I will.”
She nodded back, “I’ll let you get back to it,” she looked around the closet, “I just come in here sometimes, she spent all of her time in here,” she paused, “It even smells like her.” She whispered.
I nodded. Emotions made me uncomfortable.
“Sorry, sorry,” she shook her head, turned, and walked away.
I waited until I was positive she was gone and moved toward the pill shelf.
The shelf wasn’t spectacularly large; it was about a foot and a half tall, a foot across and dark metal. It was barely noticeable tucked way in this mysterious room.
It appeared to be Carden’s personal pharmacy. There were at least a dozen of pill bottles lined lovingly in neat rows, every pill was tinted a different color by the orange bottle; every pill was different.
I picked up one bottle and attempted to read the title, when that failed I scribbled it recklessly into my notebook. I then picked up another bottle and repeated. When I had finished, I had 15 pill names scrawled across a blank sheet of paper like wounded soldiers.
15 different pills.
Something about this hollowed out closet with relentless accounts of Carden’s downward spiral and the personal pharmacy that acted as the potential catalyst made me sweat and shiver at the time same time.
I needed to get out.
I moved the journals out quickly and softly shut the door, edging my way to the lonesome drawer in each of anything that might help explain Carden’s broken psyche.
As reluctant as I was to pick through a dead high schooler’s underwear drawer, I figured if anything was going to be hidden, it would be there, right?
I lightly waded through the colorful assortment of textures and varying degrees of material amount for anything that might help, but three condoms, ten dollars, and one picture later, I had nothing.
The next three drawers were the just as useless, leaving me empty handed and pessimistic.
I sighed and looked around the barren room, the bookshelf had novels that no normal human being would ever have a natural inclination to pick up and delve into.
Unless, of course, you’re Carden Grace Sparrow.
That left the bathroom.
The bathroom that connected to Carden’s room was half the size of my apartment and spotless. Lush and white, it looked so out of place in this nightmare.
Make up and hair devices that would probably be the end of me if I ever attempted to use lined the counter and cluttered the sink.
I skimmed over each product, with different names, sizes, colors, and consistencies, all coming together for the collective good of hiding the mess that was Carden Grace Sparrow.
As a habit of morality while doing something that felt otherwise immoral, I glanced over my shoulder before the first drawer open slowly.
More makeup, a box of tampons, hair ties…nothing of importance.
I moved to the next drawer.
At first it seemed like nothing more than even more hair ties and combs, more nonsense.
That’s when I saw it.
Wrapped safely in an old headband and tucked away carefully. I took the fabric in my hand and slowly unraveled it; one, two, three, four times until lying on my hand, separated only by a thin piece of material once used to hold back Carden’s hair, was a razorblade.
Red still tinted the metal.
My stomach dropped an inch or two and for a moment I forgot how to swallow.
A razorblade with blood still on it.
Tell her story completely. Brenda’s words echoed in my head.
I was in deeper than I had originally planned.