No. I hung up the office phone in disbelief. He had made a mistake, gotten the details confused once again. I pushed aside a file folder, envelopes, and committee report and unearthed the morning paper laying on my desk. I flipped to the page he indicated, breathless with anticipation. There it was in black and white. Crumpled metal, shattered glass, and the names. Her name. He had gotten the story right for once.
I reread the blurb over and over, hoping it would say someone different each time. I stared and breathed. Tears were on a five minute delay. No, not her, I repeated to myself. A drop of moisture slipped down my cheek, followed by another on the other side. Soon my eyes spilled down my face in a torrent and my chest heaved for air.
"What's wrong?" my supervisor asked as she entered the room.
I couldn't say it. If I said it, then it would be real and I was sure I was going to wake up at any second. I handed her the paper. Her eyes scanned the page until the reason for my sorrow registered.
"You know them?"
Not them. Her. I know her. Knew her. At one time I knew her like I knew myself. She was the new girl in my fourth grade class. Light brown waves, jumbled teeth, narrow nose, non existent lips. I liked her immediately, at least I wanted to. She had no history with us. There was no puking on the school bus incident that trailed her from first grade. No accidental bathroom break on the swings at recess the previous year. She could be whoever she wanted, create a brand new identity. Through her, I hoped I could as well.
By the fifth grade we were in seperable.
"You two are no longer allowed to sit near each other," our teacher would say after hearing too many whispers in the back of the classroom.
She was the recipient of the first note I ever passed.
"The gym teacher is a bitch! I bet she's a lesbo," I wrote. My parents were called for that one.
In the 8th grade she joined the Aqua Net addict and me when we tied a rope around the neck of a stuffed cat, dragged it through our junior high's halls and called it Pussy on a Rope.
"Would you like to pet my pussy," we asked the Technology teacher. My parents were once again summoned.
She flew under the radar, her mischief never detected. I admired and envied that about her.
In high school our assigned lockers put too much distance between us. We drifted silently into separate circles. I didn't notice when she no longer made my Best Friends list. We still spoke at lunch and shook it at school dances, but there were no more phone calls and plans to hang out at the mall. Graduation day was the last time we spoke. Reading the newspaper brought her to mind for the first time since the ceremony.
My supervisor wrapped her arms around me. I sobbed, but my shoulders were rigid.
"Do you want to go home?"
I shook my head no. It was a lie. I wanted to call my high school friends and cry into the phone while buried beneath my covers. But I couldn't ask for that. I didn't have the right. I knew her, but I didn't know her anymore. It would be fake to grieve for someone who had been lost to me for years.
"You're a mess. Call for a ride home," she insisted.
I had no energy to protest again. I dialed my father's work number.
"Can you come get me?" I sniffed.
Guilt consumed me. She was gone and I was getting a day off from work. I cried while I waited for Daddy and I cried some more as we rode home.
"Ah shah," he comforted in his native language. The words brought on a new onslaught.
I went back to work 48 hours later.
"I'm sorry for your loss," a coworker said.
What did I lose? I kept asking myself. That evening I walked through my elementary school while my younger brother sang in the 6th grade chorus recital. I passed her locker, then mine.
"Liz, wait up!" I could hear her voice echoing in the empty corridor. I heard laughter and rumors and everything we shared outside the classroom.
Over the next few days I spoke with many of my old classmates. She wasn't the first one we lost. I knew the other two as well. I even had a short lived crush on one of them in junior high. But this loss was different. When she died, possibilities died with her. There would be no chance meeting at the mall, no playing catch up at the 10 year reunion, no rediscovery of the friendship that faded. I felt bad when I found out about the deaths of the ones before her. But with her it was deeper. Her, I missed.
She was buried a couple days before her 2oth birthday. In the six years that have passed, I have thought about her so many times. I think about her on Flatty Girl's birthday, because it was her birthday too. I think about her when I'm driving. And I think about her when I see her in the face of a stranger. And for the split second that I want to run and say hi, I forget that she's gone and I'll never say anything to her again.