Kristen lived only one floor below me in our apartment complex, and she was my constant playmate when I was young. Even once I entered high school, she was still my best friend, and we did everything together.
The night the fire alarms woke me up, however, I must admit that I didn't even pause to think of Kristen. After all, smoke filled our rooms, and in my anxiety to get down the fire escape quickly and to ensure that Mom was awake and on her way to the safety of the outside air. Kristen might as well have been in another world down there on the sixth floor.
Then, we got to the ground, and I saw all our neighbors crowded around; I saw Mr. Holland, and remembered all his cats. I hoped that his cats had made it out of the fire all right. And the old lady across the hall, Mrs. Duncan, was crying. That's really the thing that made me realize the enormity of the apartment complex burning down- that Mrs. Duncan was crying.
I remember watching as the shiny fire trucks arrived, and wondering if anyone had been hurt. They started spraying water on the building, and I thought that all of this would have been really exciting if it hadn't been my home that was on fire.
My mom looked like she was about ready to cry, too, and I needed someone my own age to talk to, so I pushed my way through the crowds to look for Kristen. I didn't find her right away, but that didn't worry me, since a lot of people had crowded around the building to watch the blaze.
What really worried me was when I found Kristen's mom and dad, and her brother Jeremy. They all looked dirty and depressed, but I assumed that was just because of the fire, and asked, "Where's Kristen?"
Her mom looked like she was ready to cry, and her dad said, "We'd hoped she got out early and was with you."
It was a feeble hope, to say the least. Kristen would never have taken off without letting her family know she was all right. The fact of the matter was that Kristen was still in the building, and although the firefighters worked for hours to douse the building, no amount of water could bring her back to life.
I don't think I ever stopped crying for a full week. My mom and I moved in to my dad's house, and they pretended to like each other, at least while I was around. They both also desperately tried to get me to eat, but I just couldn't work up an appetite.
The night after the fire, the news channel ran a nice memorial, showing clips of Kristen at concerts and plays and playing basketball, while the voice-over described her accomplishments in school and her plans for the next year at college. I cried through the whole thing.
At school, everyone in my class contributed two dollars, and used the money to buy a flower arrangement for Kristen's grave.
I didn't have a black dress for the funeral- my only black dress had burnt with the rest of our apartment. It seemed sacrilegious to me that I should wear my lime green sundress or a pant suit, so my mom took me shopping and I bought an ill-fitting but very formal dress at the mall. I cried while I tried it on, and the woman who waited on me seemed too nervous to ask what was wrong.
When the day of the funeral came, I tried not to cry. I wanted to be strong for Kristen's family, but as soon as the first chord of "Amazing Grace" began to play, my tears began to freely flow down my cheeks.
Jeremy was probably the only person in the church who cried more than me. I will never cease to be amazed at the way Kristen's parents kept their composure, but Jeremy cried so hard his tears puddled at his feet in the church, and when he walked, a thin salty stream followed him.
After the funeral, Jeremy and his family went back to his grandmother's house, where he shut himself in his room and cried for so long that his tears filled the basement and spilled out into the yard. In a week, a moat stood around his house.
Worst of all, though, that night, the leading story on the news was about some man who had made a billion dollars on the Internet, and at school, all my teachers got right back down to their lessons.
The flowers in the church from Kristen's funeral all melted, and some uncaring soul threw them away and replaced them with carnations.
I hated losing Kristen to death, and even more, I hated that the world kept on turning without her.