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There was a girl in my class whom I envied greatly. She had stellar grades yet didn’t brag and she surrounded herself with people who loved her and to whom she loved dearly. Every morning she would give not just me, but everyone, a bright smile that would just make life seem better. She was the most amazing person I had ever met, and I was jealous. How can anyone be that perfect?
I remember one day my history teacher passed back an essay I had failed. As per usual, everyone shared with pride the marks they had received, with a couple exceptions. I managed to conceal my failing grade by lying about the mark I had received, but the girl saw straight through me. I didn’t even know her name, yet she had managed to notice the red mark circled on my essay without my even noticing. During lunch that same day she came up to me and offered to tutor me in history. Of course, I refused. I wasn’t going to let some random perfect, preppy girl tutor me! I doubted she needed the ego boost.
Soon after our encounter, someone started taping messages onto my locker. They started off short: “read pages 211-214 in your history textbook”. At first I wasn’t going to listen, but I needed the help and it wasn’t like it was an actual condescending tutor who was judging me as I reviewed all of the course material. Soon enough I found that reading pages 211-214 actually helped me a lot.
A couple days later I receive another, slightly longer note. "Read pages 234-242. You’ll find that every example given makes Great Britain seem like the most amazing, powerful imperialist country of the time. To do this, they belittled every other imperialist country, and casually skipped over Britain’s abuse of other countries. This makes the textbook Eurocentric, so don’t rely on it too much.”
Each note became longer on longer, suggesting books I should read and what to look out for in each one. The notes slowly turned into letters in envelopes taped to my locker, each one an essay criticizing the textbook and providing new materials I should utilise and what to focus my attention on the most. Soon my usual 75% in history (which had lowered to a 70% because of the essay) rose to an 82%. This went on for some time until I was beginning to only receive marks in the 90s, feeling disappointed with anything less than a 95%.
Even knowing what the girl was doing for me, I still didn’t bother to learn her name. It wasn’t fair that somebody was perfect, and any amount of imperfection given to her would be of some justice. This attitude changed quickly enough when I found her crying at the bottom of the staircase long after school had ended.
I wanted to walk past and just ignore the sobs. After all, I had a basketball practice to attend. Basketball practice or no, I would feel guilty if I just left her there to cry on her own. I mean, she did help me a lot in history class. And besides, knowing she could cry showed that she had this vulnerable side to her too. I just could not leave her alone that time.
When she saw me approaching, she quickly wiped her eyes and put on her best smile. It was the first time I could see the pain in her eyes while she did it. Had her smile always been like that, and I had just never gotten close enough to see it? Or is it just this one instance because she’s obviously upset over something?
“What are you doing here so late?” I sat down beside her, and looked her straight in the eye. It was the first time I had ever done that, so it was the first time I had ever noticed that her eyes have a twinge of gold mixed with the brown.
“Oh, my father is just a little late picking me up.”
“Is that so?”
She looked away; no longer capable of holding her resolve against my stare; or at least that was my theory. I suppose it could be that she’s uncomfortable lying or that she just didn’t like how my face looks.
“Does he always pick you up from school?”
“Not usually, but today was supposed to be special.”
She was silent. She was probably wondering how to respond, or maybe she was thinking about her situation and exactly why things were the way they were. The wind puffed an adequate blow, sending a chill down my spine and leaving a cold in the air around us.
“It’s the first time he’s been back in town for three years. He was supposed to pick me up so we can do something together, but I guess he forgot.”
“He could just be late.” My suggestion was feeble and made me feel stupid. “By the way, thank you for the notes you’ve been leaving on my locker. They’ve been really helpful.”
She smiled a genuine smile and looked back at me. “If you want to do something for me in return, I’d be very happy.”
“You mean owe you a favour?”
“It’s just that the next time you see someone struggling in school or otherwise, either socially, physically, or academically, I want you to think of me and help them out.”
I was about to respond when my basketball coach came running down the stairs. “Don’t just sit there, Smith! Get back in the gym and run the exercises with the others!”
“Uh – aye, aye, sir.” With that, I almost left with a bolt. Any way I looked at it, it was an odd request.
A week after our encounter, I received my last letter from the girl.
“The loneliest people are the kindest. The saddest people smile the brightest. The most damaged people are the wisest. All because they do not wish to see anyone else suffer the way they do.” On the very bottom, a message in a different writing style said, “Violet told me to tape this here in the event that something should happen to her. I don’t really understand what she means, but she sounded earnest.”
Violet; what a pretty name. I almost regretted not asking her for it myself. As for the message, I had come across it a few times online. I wondered what she meant, but I didn’t think about it too heavily.
When I entered the history class that day, Violet’s friends were all crying together. It smelt like someone had lit a candle but had snuffed it out, probably due to a complaint from a teacher or a fellow student. To my surprise, I didn’t hesitate to ask Renee, Violet’s best friend, what had happened. She burst into tears and forced somebody else to answer that hung in the air like the cold.
The whole class went silent, save the occasional sob. Eventually the history teacher, Mr. Tyson, broke the silence and so class continued on as usual. Afterwards he asked me to come back in at lunch, providing no explanation as to why. I obeyed.
“Jason, tell me. Why do bad things happen to good people?”
“I’m not a philosopher, sir.”
“That’s an excuse, Jason, not a reason.” Mr. Tyson finished whatever it was he was doing and focused his attention on me, telling me to pull up a chair. “I know that Violet was helping you in history.”
“She told you?” I nearly stood up, suddenly feeling betrayed.
“No. She told me that she was helping a friend study for history, and she wanted extra resources to help her do it. I obliged and soon found that your marks rose very quickly in a short period of time. So tell me, why do bad things happen to good people?”
“You mean Violet’s death? Everybody dies, Mr. Tyson. It’s inescapable.”
“Not everybody dies at the age of 16, Mr. Smith. Haven’t you pieced the puzzle together yet?”
I considered his words. The rumours seemed to suggest that Violet had been beaten to death, but I didn’t know by who or where it happened. Then there was the note that Violet had left me. “They do not wish to see anyone else suffer the way they do”. What was she trying to tell me?
“Bad things happen to good people because it’s the bad things that make them good. If you can overcome hardships, you may become wise. People who understand what it is to be lonely will know to always be kind to people. People who understand what it truly means to be sad, knows that the reasons to smile are greater than the reasons not to. I think that Violet knew that, and that was the reason why she did things the way she did, but she couldn’t have known that without those bad things in her life.”
Mr. Tyson returned to whatever it was that he had been doing before, but this time he seemed a little distracted. I wasn’t sure, but I think his eyes began to water.
“You may go, Jason.”
I’ve cleaned out my belongs several times since Violet’s death, but despite every spring cleaning, every yard sale, every gift-giving season that passed without money, I always kept her final note to me. It was a reminder not only to never be jealous of people who seem to have everything, but it was also a reminder of my promise to Violet and of all the good things that came into my life after she entered it.