I can’t say I actually ever spoke to Lucy. I used to see her in the hallways, walking as close to the bank of lockers as she could. Her head was always down, as if she was trying to bury it in the pile of books she carried in her arms. She held her books like a shield, a barrier, protecting her from the army of jostling students going to and from class. I can’t even recall if she had friends, or if in fact anyone spoke to her. She was one of those kids in our school, that everyone knew but no one knew.
She had pale skin, and uncontrollable hair, which she tried to style, and walked with a slight limp. Those are the only things I remember about her.
I think it must have been in 7th grade. I vaguely remember the country being in turmoil at the time. The air was heavily polluted, people talked about acid rain destroying the land and the buildings. There were lines of cars at the gas stations, the subject of Watergate and the possible impeachment of President Nixon was on everyone’s mind. I must have not been so news savvy, because all I really worried about was riding my bike, baby-sitting and sleepovers with my best friend.
The day it happened, I remember that day distinctly. It was a late spring day, and the trees, having suffered another long, arduous Midwestern winter were adorning their once barren branches with the bright, shiny chartreuse leaves of spring. It was a spring day that one only sees in the Midwest. Voluminous clouds scattered against the background of brilliantly blue skies, and everything looked sharp and fresh.
We were in English class. My English teacher had notoriously bad breath. She wore her signature perfume – Tabu, and the mixture of her halitosis and perfume was inescapably nauseating. We were reading Beowulf, the Old English version. My English teacher was standing by the large leaded pane windows – which I think must have been at least 20 feet high, unsuccessfully attempting to make the poem more interesting, by expounding on the exciting adventures of the main character. We were all turned in our chairs, listening to her, grateful that she was far enough we couldn’t smell the toxic fumes emitting from her mouth – when it happened.
We all saw it. A body flew past the window, plummeting to the ground below. We all knew who it was. It was Lucy. She had somehow thrown herself out of the gothic windows from the fourth floor, the floor above us. We were all stunned. The expressions on our faces must have alerted the teacher that something had happened, because she quickly turned her face to the windows, pressing her forehead against the diamond shaped panes, and looked down. Her hands quickly went up to her mouth and she screamed. As if this was our cue, we ran to the windows as well, and down below us, was Lucy, arms flung back, in a precarious position with her spine twisted. She had landed on a bush, hyperextending her spine, splayed out. She was looking up at us, as our faces were pressed to the windows. She had a look of defiance on her face, as if to say, “Do you notice me now?”
That image of Lucy, tangled in the shrubbery three stories below has plagued me for over four decades now. I still wonder why she did it, but deep in my heart, I know why she did what she did. She was surrounded by spoiled, self-interested peers from wealthy families that cared only about getting pizza at the Medici on the weekend, going to Aspen to ski during the winter, and shopping for clothes downtown at the Watertower. And they all thought they were so cool, and so did I. I wasn’t a cool kid, but I was happy, and I thought, outgoing. But it wasn’t until I left that environment, the sheltered environment of the exclusive private school in Chicago, that I realized how socially inept most of the students at that school really were.
I wonder if Lucy had hung on, endured the loneliness and social isolation she experienced at our school, made it out into the real world, would she have survived. I don’t know if she did. I don’t know what happened to her. I tried to find a photo of her in our 8th Grade yearbook last night, but could not. I hope she is okay, and I just want her to know I am sorry.