"She was my friend.

She was all of our friend.

At least, I think she was. But I never thought something like this could happen to me. To a friend of mine. This is the kind of thing that happens to other people.

This is the kind of thing you hear about in the paper and think, 'Wow, that's horrible and I feel so bad for those people. Good thing it'll never happen to me.'

But then it does, and I realize how right she was.

She always said that to me. When we were going around asking, 'So did you hear about that building going up in flames? About that tornado? About that flood? About all those people losing their lives? Their families must be devastated,' she would always say, 'But it won't happen to you, right?'

She was being sarcastic.

I never really realized it.

'No, I don't think so.'

I really didn't.

I never did.

I still don't.

That will never happen to me.

Except that it already has…and still. That will never, ever happen to me.

Never.

Because tomorrow, when I get to the hall and see her standing there with one of the others, she'll be telling them something. Or they'll be asking her to give them the answers, and then she will. And I'll tsk and cluck my tongue.

But then I'll remember that she isn't really there.

She was never really there, at all. Not really.

She was always a step removed.

She would never talk about it, I noticed. She never came up to me, or anyone, and just started talking. I sometimes wondered why. I thought she was being antisocial. She was like that; she wore all red and black and white and sometimes she had chains around her neck.

Someone, sometimes, tried to ask her. She always said the same thing.

'Yes, I'm fine. And you?'

It was like a failsafe. It worked for everything and everyone believed it.

But they didn't. Not really.

They all knew—we all knew that it was a lie. Deep down, sometimes, we knew it was a lie. We knew everything wasn't all right. We knew everything wasn't fine.

But she had her answer for everything, and we had ours.

'You should really talk to someone if you have problems with something. You know, I'm always here for you.'

We should have amended that a little.

'When it's convenient for me. When nothing else is going on. When nothing is more fun to talk about with someone else. When I don't have any problems that are easier to fix.'

But there were always problems that were easier to fix. There was always Amy being nervous about asking Michael out, there was always Laci being afraid she failed her last math test, there was always Charlie thinking his parents would kill him if they heard about his latest drug bust.

We saw something we could do, and we never went for anything else.

She probably knew it, too. She knew we wouldn't help. We were just that way; but to her, everyone was selfish. It was only natural to assume.

We should have helped the poor little girl in the corner. We should have asked and then listened to the answer, I mean really listened. We shouldn't have been satisfied with a 'Yes, I'm fine.' But we went about it all wrong.

We told her to approach us.

That wasn't something she could do, was it?

No. Not really.

She didn't trust us because we gave her no reason to. We had all grown up in swank places with rich people around every corner, with plenty of people just like us to be our best friends. We didn't know that people like her existed. We didn't know people like her existed even when we met her.

She was an illusion. She was a friend waiting to be unearthed, but she was shy and we needed to bring her out of her shell.

Except we went about it all the wrong way.

We said 'Come to me and I will help you.'

But she was a shy friend waiting to be unearthed.

We never said 'I will come to you and I will listen.'

Maybe we should have.

But it's a little late for that now.

Her world was crashing to pieces all around her. She never let anyone in, though. We couldn't help her.

That's what we all tell ourselves. That's how we blunt the pain. It's not my fault.

But we could have helped her. If only we'd let ourselves in, if only we'd let her let us in. We could have done…something.

But it's a little late for that now.

There were things she carried around that she never told us about. Things that we never asked about. Things I don't know that even she remembered anymore. Things she couldn't tell us about for some reason or another.

We tried to pile our weights on her when she wouldn't speak. She wouldn't speak. We could use her, we could speak for her, to her, and she would absorb it all.

'And you?

'How are you?'

That was the failsafe. Her answer for everything.

Yet none of us could see through it.

We all claim to be smart, to be wise, to be experienced and knowledgeable. But none of us could see this failsafe waiting to be set off.

It exploded in our faces, and we are left holding the pieces of rubble, pieces of what might have been if only we had done something. If only we had said 'I will come to you.'

We never said, 'So what was your childhood like?'

She would say simple things. She would say she had gone to school in a rural district and had few friends. She would say people turned their backs on her. But she never really answered the question.

Because the question was never really asked.

What we hear was always chipped into conversations she wasn't really part of.

She would speak, and then she would disappear.

And that was just fine.

And now she's spoken louder than any of us could ever imagine, and once again, she's disappeared.

Except this time…

It's not just fine.

It's not fine at all.

And I can't help but wonder…

What did she know that we didn't?

What could we have asked that we didn't?

What should we have done that we didn't?

Because this is not fine at all.

She won't chip in and disappear today.

She won't chip in tomorrow.

She'll never disappear again."

There was no casket to lower slowly into the grave. There was no pretty bouquet of roses to signify a tragedy or a loss.

She had never told any of them how she wanted to die, or how she wanted to be remembered. She had never said she would want to be remembered at all, come to think of it.

But lingering in each of their hearts was a single question.

What should we have done that we didn't?

That we didn't…

And now, she would never disappear, again.

Never ever.

Again.