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  • It was a cold, gray Monday morning during the winter of my freshman year of high school. I was standing in front of my paint-scratched metal locker before homeroom, disoriented by the random cacophony of nearby lockers opening and closing around me. The high school looked the same as last week, the floors maybe a bit shinier after a weekend wax, but it suddenly felt like no place I had ever been, as if it were an exact replica of itself, and I was the only one who knew it would never be the same place again.

    I hugged my books against my chest and began walking through the cinderblock hallways to homeroom. Pairs of eyes watched me from every direction. I was no longer just another freshman, Jimmy's little sister, or the girl from French class. I was now the girl whose dad just died.

    I sleepwalked through my first three classes, arriving to 4th hour biology in a daze. In fifty-five minutes, I could surround myself in the safe cocoon of friends in the cafeteria but first I had to endure Amanda, who was waiting inside the classroom with a stupid grin on her face.

    Shit, shit, shit, I thought to myself, my grief temporarily sidelined by adolescent annoyance and dread.

    Amanda was neither my friend nor foe; She was my lab partner. And though we didn’t hang out outside of class, I confided in her when my dad got sick. My best friends knew, of course, but disclosing this news to anyone else was a distinct no-no in my family. The health of a family member was considered personal information, and personal information was considered private. As in, not to be shared. With anyone. Ever.

    It was the week prior, on another Monday morning. We were chatting before class. I don't know why I told her. Maybe she seemed like a sympathetic ear.

    “How was your weekend?” She asked noncommittally.

    “Okay, I guess? My dad’s in the hospital...”

    “Wow, um, is he okay?” she asked tentatively.

    “Yeah, of course," I back-pedaled. "He just has to have a tumor taken out of his kidney, especially since he only has one.”

    “He only has one kidney?”

    “Well, yeah. He has, like, Diabetes and had to have his other one removed when I was four or something...”

    “Oh no! And now he has a tumor in the other one?”

    Her paranoid reply struck a nerve. “It's not cancer or anything...I mean, probably.”

    “Yeah, I'm sure it's nothing.” she agreed

    That was it, until now: five days after his surgery, four days after his death, and two days after his funeral, during which I had had to endure stupid comments from friends, neighbors and strangers but here, now? Having to face Amanda’s pity was quite possibly more than I could handle. I finally understood why my family didn’t share personal information. Then again, what could possibly be harder than what I had faced over the last several days?

    I walked into the formaldehyde-scented classroom, ready for anything she had to say about his death. Instead, she asked about his health.

    “How’s your dad?!” Amanda asked me, completely, utterly, and wholly oblivious to the stupidity of her inquiry. My psyche shut down. Kaput. Slam. Check and checkmate.

    I dropped my books with a heavy thud on the black-topped lab table and slumped into the plastic-molded seat next to her. I fixed my eyes on the dusty chalkboard at the front of the room so I wouldn't have to look at her. I so wished at that moment that I could be Drew Barrymore in “Firestarter.” How could she not know, my 14-year old brain seethed in self-involved, indignant disbelief.

    “He’s DEAD!” I finally spat at her, still staring straight ahead. I didn't dare look, but hoped it felt like a slap across the face. How dare she.

    Mercifully, our teacher called me up to his desk at precisely that moment, sparing both Amanda and I from the resulting awkwardness. By the time I returned to my desk, Mr. Hamilton had started his lecture and the moment was gone. I requested a new seat, and I don’t recall sharing another class with Amanda for the rest of my high school years.

    It's been twenty-five years since my dad died, and this incident remains vivid in my mind’s eye. I used to be ashamed and embarrassed by it, my reaction seeming beyond juvenile. Did I really think my life would be any different had Amanda never asked me that question? After all, my dad would still be dead.

    As I get older, it becomes clearer. Maybe the reason I couldn't forgive Amanda is because she became the first person to make me say the two words I hadn’t yet said, aloud or otherwise:

    He’s dead.

    Once I said them, I couldn't ever take them back.
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