When Kelsey Kay Vanderson killed herself, I knew it was my fault.
I was sitting in second hour like it was any normal day, only it wasn’t, because Kelsey’s desk beside me was unoccupied, and when Mr. Palmer went up to the front of the room to begin class, he had a really hard time forming words.
Out the window, the sprawling streets of New York City stretched on into forever. The clock on the wall read nine-seventeen. Mr. Palmer seldom started class late, lest he interrupt the strict policies of Whitman’s Academy of Art. Private schools were always so doused in grandeur; it almost made me sick. Only, the school and the city and the very way of life was the only thing I’d ever known, and I very much doubted such things could be escaped. There were just some things that were a part of you, woven into the very threads that made you who you were. New York City was all I had, whether or not I wanted it.
The classroom was growing more and more anxious. Murmurs and whispers were being exchanged as people became restless. And then, at long last, Mr. Palmer spoke.
“Um, good morning,” he said stiffly. Sign number three that something was off. I’d spent an hour in this room every day for the last four years, and I’d never heard Mr. Palmer sound so frazzled. It just wasn’t in his nature. Some people were in constant disorder, and some people had a wonderful way of breezing through their day. Mr. Palmer had always tended to lean towards the latter.
“Um, there seems to have been… or what I mean to say is…”
By some miracle, he was saved from his loss of words by the piercing beep of the P.A. system. A mere moment later, Dr. Levin’s soothing voice filled the halls of WAoA. Principal, psychologist, and sculptor, no one knew how to handle a hundred elite, misunderstood, talented teenagers like Dr. Levin. She was the model of what we all aspired to be upon graduation from WAoA. So far, I wasn’t too sure I was off to a great start.
“Good morning, students.” She addressed the student body as a whole, symbolizing that within the walls of Whitman’s, we were all equal. Not that there was a huge problem when there were only fifty kids in each grade. Close knit communities had their perks, I’d realized, but it also meant that there was no possible way to keep a secret.
“Tragedy is often a great source of inspiration,” She went on. Even her voice was wavering. Sign four. “But sometimes we as humans do not realize quite the impact that tragedy has on the world around it. Last night, Whitman’s Academy experienced a tragedy of its own. Our very own student, on her way to becoming an esteemed artist, made the unchangeable decision to take her life.”
I swear that the entire universe had frozen in time. Nobody moved, nobody breathed. Whitman’s, New York, the whole goddamn world was still. Silence reverberated throughout the room, seeping into my body. It coursed in my veins. My vision was flickering, clear then red then black then clear again.
“Kelsey Kay Vanderson will be as much a part of the Whitman Academy student body now as she was when she was with us.” Dr. Levin was still talking, but I found it impossible to listen to her anymore. I could only lay my head down upon the desk and close my eyes.
Behind closed lids, I could see Kelsey. Blonde hair pushed roughly back from her face, cheeks always a little too rosy. Smile that could light up a room no matter what. Kelsey had been the type of person who could always make everyone else happy, who could always brighten someone’s life even when she couldn’t brighten her own.
I could see her eyes wide with terror and excitement, or closed in concentration as she tried to decipher some poet just because she ‘wanted to understand the world a little better’.
“It’s not called tragedy for nothing,” she’d told me one day in English. It had been during our freshman year, while reading Romeo and Juliet. For reasons I could not understand, all the girls thought it was the sappiest story ever written. I didn’t find it poetic in the least.
“Shakespeare didn’t have to be so dramatic, though,” I argued. “With the killings and all.”
Kelsey was shaking her head before I’d even finished speaking. “The point of suicide is to be as tragic as possible,” she explained. “Otherwise, it’s just like any other death. And nobody really mourns the dead anymore.”
Well, now Kelsey was among the dead. She had joined their endless ranks, and she would be trapped there for all eternity. I felt a rush of sorrow and then a rush of anger. And then there was nothing.