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I walked into my room and looked around one last time. Everything was in place.
My room was spotless, my clothes washed and put away. The floor was clean, free of the usual clutter of books and movies.
The note was written, and laying on my nicely made bed. It carried every answer and no answer at all, as to my motive behind this terrible thing I was about to do. But it was reassuring, I hoped. I wanted my family to know that it wasn’t them who had driven me to this.
I had emptied my locker and car two days ago, so my parents wouldn’t have to. I wanted to make this as easy as I could on them. I even considered the date, not too close to any major holiday or event. I didn’t want a happy occasion associated with my death.
I walked into my attic, through the door that was attached to my closet. The door creaked as I pushed it open and I froze, afraid that my mother’s acute hearing would wake her up and she’d sense that something was off. But after a minute I relaxed. The attic was perfect. It had plenty of rafters to hang the rope on, far enough away from the rest of the house so I wouldn’t be interrupted. I needed this to go exactly as planned.
I dragged my desk chair behind me, pushed it quietly under the rope that I had fastened onto the top most rafter the night before. I took a deep breath and stepped up. The noose slipped loosely over my head, and I tightened the knot until it was snug.
I waited for a moment, to feel some apprehension, some doubt, or fear. Except I felt nothing but calm. It flowed through my body in overwhelming waves and in that moment I knew that I was making the right choice. I was sure that I wouldn’t regret this in the afterlife, if there was such a thing.
After taking a final look around, I closed my eyes and stepped off.
I sighed and put down the plate of toast onto the kitchen table, then walked to fridge to take out the butter and jelly. Strawberry, not grape, I reminded myself. Georgia hated grape jelly.
The loud footsteps upstairs told me that Christopher was on his way down. He came into the kitchen, dark hair still wet and plastered down onto his forehead. I smiled and gestured toward the food on the table, and he sat down and started to eat.
Where was Georgia? I thought. If the two of them didn’t hurry they’d be late, even later because of that ridiculous car that Anthony was making Georgia drive now. It had to be at least thirty years old, with a loud engine and no air conditioning to speak of. She had ranted about it the last night, saying its top speed had to be only twenty-five. Maybe at dinner tonight I could convince him to get her something new, as a graduation gift. I’m sure she’d like that.
“Mom?” Christopher said suddenly, bringing me away from my thought process. “School starts in fifteen minutes.” I looked at the clock, then back to him. He had already finished eating and had retrieved his backpack from the front hall. Where was she?
“Go and see what your sister is doing then,” I said, standing up and putting his plate in the sink. “Her food is cold.”
He sighed and turned around, heading towards the stairs. I heard him climb them slowly and pause when he reached the top. I went back to cleaning up the kitchen, and started thinking about dinner. Maybe spaghetti, or we’d just order pizza. I could just ask the kids when they came down, maybe call Anthony at work to see what he wanted.
Overhead, Chris’s footsteps seemed to be getting faster, and louder as he was pacing around upstairs. I wondered briefly what could be taking so long, then went back to what I was doing.
My computer was just powering up when I heard a startled yell, followed by several loud crashes that seemed to shake the ceiling. I walked quickly upstairs, ready to yell at Georgia for scaring her brother. She was always doing this sort of thing, never acting seriously for even a second.
I followed the open doors into Georgia’s unusually clean room and finally to the attic. It was there that I saw the cause of the crashing sounds; several storage bins had toppled over, their contents spilled across the attic floor.
Then just beyond that, in the corner, I saw Christopher on his knees, leaning over something. He was rocking back and forth, and I saw his shoulders shaking, as if he were crying.
“What’s going-,” I started, and stopped short when I saw who Chris was leaning over.
Georgia’s face was pale, with a slightly bluish tint. Her head lolled, too loosely, on Chris’s lap as he rocked her back and forth, a last ditch effort to wake up his big sister. She was still wearing the clothes she had on for school the day before, and her eyes were closed. The expression on her face was so peaceful, that if I hadn’t already noticed the noose hanging from the topmost rafter, I’d have sworn she was sleeping.
Stupid Georgia, I thought as I made my way back upstairs. She’s so annoying sometimes, making me late for school and pestering me.
I paused when I reached the top landing, looking around for an open door or light to tell me what was taking Georgia so long to get ready. The bathroom door was still slightly open from when I had left, the light turned off.
I walked to Georgia’s closed bedroom door and knocked loudly. It was quiet, no sounds of footsteps coming to yell at me. I knocked again, and finally opened the door myself. I stepped in and looked around, annoyed.
Her room was oddly clean and organized. No clothes mountains next to her bed, no cracked CD cases underfoot. Her bed was made, sheets tucked tightly under her stupid, giant purple pillows. The whole scene reminded me of a hotel room, clean and sufficient, but not a lasting home.
I walked back out, getting nervous. Though I knew better, I made my way into the bathroom, turning on the light as I entered. I checked behind the shower curtain stupidly, as if she were crouching there, waiting to scare me.
My stomach was in knots now, as I quickly looked in our parents’ room and office. She was nowhere to be seen. I paced back into the hallway and stopped, looking around. I stared at the baby pictures of Georgia and I that lined the walls, back when things were different between us, when we weren’t always at odds with each other. When I’d look forward to movie nights and decorating for Christmas…
Christmas decorations! I suddenly remembered the attic leading off of Georgia’s room. I rushed back there, not bothering to knock on the door as I pushed it open and walked into the attic. It was dark and stifling hot, and I reached up to pull the cord to turn on the overhead light.
It flickered on and my eyes adjusted to the stacks of storage bins that lined the narrow path leading further into the attic. I walked forward, and when a giant Christmas wreath moved out of my line of vision, I saw Georgia.
Her back was facing me, her head resting on her shoulder. I noticed her desk chair off to the side, overturned. I took another step forward, ready to yell at her for making us late, again, when I noticed several things all at once.
The first was that Georgia’s feet weren’t on the ground. They swayed about six inches from the thin plywood that made up the attic floor. The second thing I noticed was the awkward angle of her head, and then, above that, the thick rope that fit around her neck like jewelry.
All I felt at first was anger. What a stupid prank, I thought to myself as I grabbed her arm and turned her towards me. This wasn’t even close to funny.
Once Georgia was facing me though, the anger dissipated. Her face was blue, and oddly stiff. It carried an expression of extreme calm, something I had never noticed in her features before. Realization hit right after that, and I yelled out in surprise and staggered backwards, knocking over a few storage bins. I heard their contents spill and break across the floor, and my head started to pound.
I took Georgia down from the rafter, holding her close as I fell to my knees. Guilt coursed through my body as I held onto her, rocking her back and forth and pleading for her to wake up. I wanted her to open her eyes and smile, assuring me that this was just one of her stupid jokes. I wanted to apologize for being such a jerk these past few years, to tell her how much I still loved and admired her.
But her eyes didn’t open.
I don’t know how long I was there before I faintly heard someone walk in behind me. From the sound of the sob that erupted in that cramped attic space, I guessed it was Mom. But at that moment the only thing I noticed was Georgia, and the fact that my big sister, my role model, my friend, was gone.
The door to my office clicked behind me and I sighed with relief. Another successful school day. No fights, no irritated students, no illegal activity of any kind. It was one day closer to my retirement.
I tucked my laptop under my arm and started down the hall towards the main office, waving to co-workers as I passed their open doors. The end of the year was always a struggle on administration, who had to deal with restless kids and enforce that ridiculous dress code in the nice weather.
As I walked past the front desk I noticed a distraught-looking man sitting in the waiting area. His eyes were red and swollen, hair disheveled. But he looked vaguely familiar, probably a father of a student who was prominent within the school. I smiled and nodded as I started to walk by him, until he stood up and touched my arm.
“Mr. Pitzer,” he said in a shaky voice. “I’d like to speak with you for a moment, if that’s okay.” He looked at me directly, and it was then I saw the feature in his face that made him so familiar.
Within my twenty-one years as a high school principal, I had seen this face three times before, once on a mother, twice on a father. It was the expression one acquires after an extreme loss, a mixture of shock, guilt and sadness. This man was here to tell that his child had died.
“Of course,” I said to him, turning back around and walking into my office. I took my seat behind the desk and motioned for him to take the chair across from me. He did, slowly, and took a shaky breath. “What can I do for you?”
The man cleared his throat and looked down on his lap, where I noticed that he was holding a silver bracelet in his hand. This looked familiar, too. It was one of those link bracelets, with a heart on the end. I had bought my daughter a similar one for her eighteenth birthday several years ago.
“My name,” he started, clearing his throat again. “is Anthony Cooper. My children go to your school. Georgia’s a senior and Christopher is a sophomore. And I just wanted to tell you that Georgia p-passed away this morning.” He seemed to crumble into himself then, shaking and sobbing. I handed him a box of tissues, and moved around to sit in the neighboring chair.
“I j-just thought that y-you would need t-to know,” he continued, clutching the link bracelet tightly in his hand, as if it were the only thing holding him to the earth. I figured it must have been Georgia’s. He seemed, at that moment, extremely fragile, as if even the slightest push or breeze would completely destroy him. A knot formed in my stomach as I pulled a notepad towards me, and began making a list of who I had to contact and what sort of paperwork I had to fill out.
I looked back up at Mr. Cooper, who was staring at the picture of my daughter and me on my desk. It was us on her wedding day, big smiles stretched across our faces. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, fully aware of the fact that he would never be given this opportunity, to walk his daughter down the aisle, to give her away to the man that would now take on the responsibility of caring and providing for her. Georgia Cooper would always be a teenager, full of potential and with a bright yet utterly unreachable future ahead of her.
“Thanks for your help, Mrs. M!”
I waved as the last student left the classroom and shut the door behind them. I yawned and walked back to my desk, pushing chairs back to their rightful spots as I went.
These after-school sessions weren’t helping in the way that I had hoped. The kids were struggling with the Civil War concepts, and nothing I did seemed to be helping much. I wondered if perhaps this should be my last year, that maybe I was losing my touch. My chair wobbled dangerously as I sat down, and I laughed. Everything was falling apart here.
My computer made a happy ding! as I shook the mouse to wake it up. I had received seventeen emails in the hour I had been helping students. I decided to fill out retirement paperwork later that night.
I filtered through the messages, most of them not concerning me. The last was from Mr. Pitzer, the subject line reading: URGENT. I clicked it open and read the two simple sentences printed there:
Senior Georgia Cooper passed away last night from self-inflicted means. Please offer any support to faculty and/or students who may require it.
The tears started the second I read Georgia’s name. I had her for Honors History, second period. But she had been here today, hadn’t she?
I thought for a moment, running through my hectic day. I had been teaching about the Great Depression in that class today. Georgia sat in the front row, right next to Cathy Walsh. She had been here, I could swear to it. I thought harder, back to my second period lesson.
I had asked a question, waiting for a student to attempt to answer it. No one had volunteered, so I called on Cathy. While she was stuttering for a response, I remembered noticing her pink, polka-dotted backpack in the seat next to her.
I lowered my head onto my desk and let out the sob that had been building in my chest. I worried for a second that one of my neighboring coworkers would hear me, then I decided it didn’t matter. Nothing did really, except for the paralyzing thought that shot into my mind at the words, “self-inflicted means.”
If I, a teacher, someone who was responsible for her students’ accountability and success, hadn’t noticed Georgia Cooper’s absence today, I wondered who else hadn’t either.
My printer spit out the last sheet of my English paper, and I put it on top of the others. Relieved that I was finally finished, I grabbed my phone and fell onto my bed, ready to relax before going to sleep.
I had received two text messages, one from my friend Sarah, the other from my boyfriend Paul. I opened and answered his first, and moved on to read Sarah’s.
Georgia hung herself. She’s gone, Ellie. Call me.
I stared at the phone screen for a long time, unable to comprehend what I was reading. Georgia couldn’t be gone; I had just talked to her last night. She’d texted me, saying what a good friend I had always been, and we had talked about prom and graduation for a while. She had seemed so excited to pick up her dress next weekend. And she had been at school today, right? I couldn’t seem to remember.
Her first text had seemed random to me at the time, but I had just thought she was getting weepy on me because we were graduating so soon and going off to different colleges.
Shock coursed through me as I realized something. What if that had been her saying good-bye, and I hadn’t even realized it? I dialed her number and waited. Her voicemail picked up immediately, and my stomach dropped. Her phone was off.
Panic filled my body as I called Sarah. The phone rang and rang, until I finally gave up with an angry scream.
A loud trilling filled the house, someone was calling the landline. I heard my mom pick up downstairs and I jumped up, and sprinted down to the living room, wishing and hoping not to see what I knew would be there.
My mom was on the couch, the cordless phone still in her hand. She was staring at it in disbelief, and didn’t seem to notice me as I sat down next to her. I tapped her arm and she looked up at me slowly, sadness filling her features as she met my gaze.
I knew then that it was true. Georgia, my best friend since the third grade, was gone. I would never laugh with her again until tears streamed down my face. I would never again roll my eyes as she told me one of her endless corny jokes. I looked down at my hands, noticing the ring on my right middle finger. Georgia had one just like it; they were supposed to symbolize never-ending friendship. I guess that was all for nothing. And just like that, I was pissed.
I pulled the ring off my finger and threw it across the room, screaming and crying as I did so. My mom tried to grab my arm, but I pulled it away and turned, heading for the front door.
How dare she leave me like this, I thought to myself and wiping my eyes. All those promises we made to each other, she was lying that whole time. She’s so selfish, leaving me here all alone while she got away, scot-free. I walked out the door and headed down the driveway, not sure of where I was headed.
I knew was that I needed to get away. Georgia had left me with broken promises, a broken spirit. I needed someone to talk to about this.
I walked a few more minutes, then stopped short, the tears making it difficult to see anything. I fell to my knees then, realizing the one person I wanted to talk to the most would never be able to listen to me again.
A test fell onto my desk, a bright red D in the right corner. I sighed and glanced up, where my teacher was looking down at me, shaking his head. I took the test and pushed it to the bottom of my backpack, then laid my head down on the desk. It was going to be one of those days.
There was a burst of static overhead, signaling the start of the morning announcements. I heard the office aides skim over details about senior dues, prom tickets and caps and gowns. Thank God, I thought to myself, I was almost out of this place.
I heard Mr. Pitzer’s voice replace the aide’s, and I began to listen, hoping for some good news at last.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is with deepest regret and sorrow that I inform you of the passing of one of our own, senior Georgia Cooper. Georgia was a well-liked student here at Kennedy, and an active part of student government and captain of the varsity soccer team. Counselors are available at all hours of the school day in the lecture halls for the needs of the students and faculty. Please keep the Cooper family in your thoughts and prayers during this extremely difficult time. Thank you.”
The news silenced the morning chatter in the class. People were looking around at each other with wide eyes, unable to believe what they had just heard. A girl in the back corner was silently crying, and the teacher walked over to her, murmuring quietly.
Whispers flicked past me, and I caught pieces of what my classmates were saying. The word “suicide” caught my attention, and that’s when I lost it.
My hands began shaking as I thought of Georgia hurting herself. She was so beautiful and talented, such an amazing soccer player. I had known her for the majority of my life, and she had never been anything but kind and friendly to me, despite my low social status. I had had a crush on her for years now, and I was building up the courage to ask her to prom. But I waited too long.
The guilt overwhelmed me as I wished I hadn’t been so afraid, so insecure to talk to this perfect girl. Maybe if I had shown her at least one person had cared, I could have saved her.