You could tell that she was . . . different, to say the least.
She sat in the same seat at the same cafeteria table every day. She hauled around the same purple, glittery backpack every year. She attended school every day, not even skipping due to the common cold or the frustrating allergies that claimed everyone else.
Then one day, her chair in the cafeteria sat empty. Her shimmering backpack didn’t weave in and out of students in the hallway.
It was the same the next day, and the day after that, and even the day after that, until Friday rolled around, when the seat and hallways blatantly stated her absence.
I would like to say that I did nothing but play a few games of basketball and sleep the following weekend, but I can’t. Because every waking moment was spent speculating as to why this one monotonous girl would mess up her routine for not just a day, but a week.
It was a while before I found out why.
Monday brought about her return, but something seemed off about her. She still sat in the same seat, carried the same backpack, and didn’t skip a day of school after her disappearance. But something in her countenance wasn’t right.
I had seen her around enough to know straw-blonde hair fell in curls down her back. Blue eyes peered out occasionally from over the top of a thick book, retreating behind the pages again whenever someone glanced her way. On Monday, however, bags framed those blue orbs, and a hairband bound those glossy curls.
Most chilling of all, however, was the sight of her head on the table, cushioned by her arms. She wasn’t reading, wasn’t eating, and wasn’t doing any of the things she usually did.
She sat as still as a statue. Even when the bell rang for sixth period and most students filed out of the cafeteria, she still sat there. A minute before the next bell remained before she finally heaved herself out of the seat and dragged herself to class.
This was the same procedure for the next few weeks. And then: she was gone.
If I hadn’t been in the office to answer a few questions for the principal regarding an incident in my third period class, I wouldn’t have overheard the front-desk secretaries discussing the reasons as to why a certain girl had missed a week of school a while ago and then checked out yesterday.
Her father had died.
Her father—who raised her by himself and whom she loved very dearly—passed away in an accident. A drunk driver careened into the sidewalk, they said. Her dad lost the battle against the front hood of the car.
Following the accident, her grandmother came to her house to take care of things: arranging funeral details, comforting a grieving teenager, and figuring out what the next steps were regarding this said teenager. It was decided she would remain a few more weeks in the home she had known her whole life before she relocated to her grandmother’s house two hours away.
It’s been two years since I’ve seen her. I’ve graduated from high school, and am now pursuing a business degree at one of the most prestigious universities in the state.
And even though homework, a job, and various clubs take up most of my time, I find myself laying in the cool covers of my bed at night, my mind eventually wandering back to her—
—wondering whatever happened to the girl of routines.