Hannah's Song

Hannah Erwin was a girl that lived on my block for eight years. I was perhaps sixteen months younger than she, not to mention a boy, but we quickly became the best of friends. She was tall and lean, with wild red curls and a smattering of freckles across her nose. She had black-rimmed glasses and yellow-and-blue braces. Her ears had seven piercings in total, and she had bright eyes and thick red eyebrows. There was a lot happening on her face, which made her so interesting to watch.
When Hannah talked to me, she made me feel like I was the only person in the world. She would stare at me with her intense eyes and her hands were always busy- either grabbing my arm or waving animatedly. She told me many stories of fantasy and reality, so many that I asked her to write them down for me. Well, Hannah never did anything halfway. She typed me up a sixty page book and drew pictures to go along with her variety of stories; some were Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales, some were memories of her past, some were of distant lands, and others were just her prattling on about something. She bound it up all nice with red ribbons and gave it to me for my eighth birthday.
Hannah was great at a billion things, it seemed. She could French braid and kick a hacky-sack back and forth between her feet. She could dribble a basketball like nobody's business. She made perfect snowmen and knew how to help me with my homework. She used to sing softly to me and rub my stomach when I had a bellyache. She always knew exactly what I was thinking or wanted or needed without me ever having to say it, but she never rubbed it in my face.
I had a sister, Jeanette, who was a completely ninny. She was four years older than me and was going through a "difficult" stage that seemed to last for years. One day she came home, saying she was going to die because my mother had volunteered to be a chaperone for her upcoming spring formal dance. You should have seen it; she was carrying on like they told her she had to move to Brazil or something. My mother couldn't deal with her and my father wasn't home, so she carried on like that until Hannah just up and grabbed her by the wrist. She dragged Jeanette into her bedroom and shut the door, and thirty minutes later Jeanette popped out, happy as a clam in water. Hannah just had a way with people.
Hannah was a model student and was in the National Honor Society. She loved school and always made top grades. Her true gift, though, was her singing. She could sing like a harp, the high notes lilting into your ear as sweet as maple syrup or minty grass. Her clear, beautiful voice could stop a man in his tracks, and that it did.
Carson Winters was a football player and the son of a well-to-do politician. Yes, Carson was a real Bright Young Thing around town. I didn't know him very well; he played football for the team my sister cheered for and sat two pews in front of us at Mass. Jeanette had a silly little crush on him for about three months when she was in tenth grade. He seemed nice enough and always had a large group of friends around him. Carson Winters fell hard for Hannah Erwin.
Hannah was a jeweled soul, constantly the energy in a room and the source of entertainment. She was always out in the field playing catch with me or hanging by the pond, or else in my house baking cookies or something with my mother and sister. My mother took a real liking to her, calling her Hannie and sometimes hugging her like she was her own daughter. Hannah's mom died giving birth to her, and her dad was nice but a bit of a workaholic, so Hannah must have enjoyed the rare affection.
Like I said, Carson Winters fell hard for Hannah. He was in the grade above her and claimed to be just "dating around", but when he heard her sing her solo in the Christmas concert he decided that they were meant for each other. He was in tenth grade; she was in ninth.
Things were fine at first. Hannah came around just as often to bake cookies or play catch, but Carson was all she could talk about. How they went to the movies or out for pizza, how he took her to the dance, how she was lusting after him. It didn't bother me too much because at that point she was still the Hannah that I knew and loved like a sister. Heck, I loved her more than my own whiny sister.
Christmas melted into spring, and I saw Hannah after school but not much on the weekends anymore.
"Carson likes me to spend the weekends only with him," she said. She told me how he took her to the mall and bought her things. One day, she showed me amethyst ring he bought her for their sixth-month anniversary.
"It's a promise ring," she told me, beaming.
"Promising what?" I asked. It just looked a shiny purple stone to me.
"That we'll always be together," she cooed. She never took that ring off so far as I saw, because she said Carson liked her to wear it all the time.
As the weather turned to muggy New England heat and school wrapped up, I saw Hannah less and less. She seemed just as happy and content as ever, only not as enthusiastic. Being a thirteen-year-old boy, I scarcely noticed and hardly thought anything of it. "Girls are just weird", I thought, citing Jeanette as a source to this truth. She came over less than once a week, and when she did come over, she was quieter. She wore baggy T- shirts and capris, instead of her usual summertime uniform of a tankini top and shorts. She still smiled and laughed and baked and played catch, though. I was growing into my own interests, such as girls and guitars, and didn't pay a whole lot of attention, I'm ashamed to say.
Eighth grade started for me, and tenth grade for her, in the last scorching days of August. This was my power year, the year I ruled the school along with the rest of the graduating class at my K-8 school. Hannah came over two or three times a month at best, often looking tired and unkempt. Though she still spoke of Carson often, it was as if she wore quoting him, not praising him. "Carson thought this" or "Carson said that". I knew her grades were down a little and I also discovered that she'd quit chorus upon Carson's request. He wanted her to be a cheerleader for his football team.
Hannah came over and showed me her red and white cheerleading uniform one day a few weeks before Halloween. She looked thin and gaunt in it. She no longer stood tall and confidently, and her once-bouncy red hair was tied in a scraggly knot at the nape of her neck. She looked so phony in that cheerleading uniform, as if she was trying to look happy and excited with her fake, half-hearted smile. Worst of all, the spirited look had deflated out of her eyes. I wanted to hug her, but it would have felt far too awkward.
There was a cold snap in the air again, and each morning there laid a dewy frost on the lawn. I started playing basketball and going out with a girl named Kelly. My life was climaxing to it's highest point yet; each day was a new chance to hang out with my friends, mess around at the basketball courts, and spend time with Kelly. Little did I know that Hannah's life was headed in the opposite direction. Though she and her father had gone to Carson's house for Thanksgiving, she came over the day after to share a meal of turkey leftovers with us. Waxy circles hung under her eyes, and she seemed to want to fold within herself, crossing her limbs and hunching her back. She didn't stay for very long, and I thought about her after she left, wondering if she was all right.
Right out of nowhere, Christmas appeared. I hadn't seen Hannah since Thanksgiving, but she popped up on our doorstep around noon on Christmas day. She stayed just long enough to give us each a gift wrapped in gold paper. There were books for my parents, makeup for Jeanette, and an engraved Swiss Army Knife for me. It said: For Chris, Love Always Hannah. My mother handed her her own present, which was lying idly by the corner of our tree, unsure if it's recipient would even come to open it. Inside was a gold chain with a tiny diamond on the end. It hadn't cost a fortune, but was indeed a nice gift. Hannah's eyes swelled a little as she thanked my mother graciously, fastening it onto her neck. She surprised me by kissing me softly on the cheek before she went. As she left, stepping into the cold, her breath was visible. I saw her tuck her new necklace into her sweater when she thought no one was watching.
We got the news on the first day of the new year. The call came at around ten AM from Hannah's father. My mother sucked in her breath and let out a tiny whimper when she heard it, like a dog who'd just been struck. She cradled her face and wept bitterly as she handed the phone to my father. What a way to ring in the new year.
She'd been in the passenger's seat of Carson's old pickup when it happened. Carson was angry with her as she made him leave a New Year's party before he had wanted, because she was worried about her father being alone on a holiday. They were driving home around 1:00 AM in the pitch black when Carson's truck swerved on a patch of ice. He quickly lost control of the vehicle, which swung to the right and hit a tree. Hannah was killed instantly.
Carson escaped with thirteen stitches in his skull after four days in the hospital. The police had found many yellowing bruises all over Hannah's body, bruises not fresh enough to have been caused by the accident. They took Carson in for questioning, and after some convincing, he confessed to the entire thing: he had been drinking heavily at the party. He beat Hannah often when she broke the rules he made for her: rules about what she could and could not do or wear, and who she could or could not spend time with. He was responsible for her slow demise and her death. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to repeated battery and assault, harassment, and first- degree manslaughter, which resulted in a twenty-five year prison sentence.
The funeral was on January 5th. It was small and sad and quiet. Hannah's father and my mother said a few words about her. She was buried next to her mother with a black gravestone to mark the spot where the shattered remains of her once vivacious body lay.
I took it really hard, though I made an effort not to show it. Dad didn't know her that well, and Mom and Jeanette cried their eyes out. I mostly just lay on my bed, staring at my ceiling, tossing a ball up and down. I thought about what I could have done, how my life would never be the same without her, and how much I hated Carson. He deserved the death penalty for slowly and painfully slaying something so pure.
All I have left of Hannah is in a Nike shoebox in my closet. In it are the storybook she wrote for me, a lock of her hair from when my mother cut it in the kitchen, a few birthday and Christmas cards, the pocketknife, and her obituary from the newspaper. It's been three years since she died, and though the pain has dulled, the grief is still there. The memories of her deep eyes and beautiful laugh ring in my head, and I can still hear the sound of her angelic voice singing softly to me.