Amanda turned to face me slowly, deliberately. Her mouth was pressed into a thin line, her blue eyes slitted; she came closer, closer, until she was standing right in front of me, her gun aimed once more at my face. I saw nothing but her and her gun; everything else was blocked from my narrowed vision. I heard a strange pounding in my ears; it took me a moment to realize it was my heartbeat.
"You have more balls than I thought, Rhys," Amanda almost breathed, and her face was close to mine that I could almost smell the scent of her. "Show them off too much, and I'll make sure you have nothing left to show."
She backed up from me a little, began to resume her pacing, her monologue- only this time it was directed at me.
"You think you're so smart, Rhys, so fucking wise and perfect, sitting there judging me- what do you know? I didn't see you saving anyone- I didn't see you offering yourself up as a sacrifice! I bet the first thing that went through your head with all the others was, glad that wasn't me!" she sneered, her voice rising.
She was right, but I said nothing- what could I say? What wouldn't be even more foolish than what I'd already done- more suicidally dangerous?
"You don't know shit, Rhys Tiernan. About me, about life, about anything! You really think you now me, don't' you? You think you know who I am? You don't know the first thing about me or my life!" she snarled. She sped up in her pacing, spitting the words out now in an angry fervor, waving her gun for emphasis at certain points. We all sat there, frozen to our seats, our eyes on Amanda's rapidly moving lips, her hand on the gun. One twitch of her trigger finger, and one of us might be the next to die.
"Tell me, Rhys, why is it that a person can sit half a foot away from you all year, and still not know shit about you? Better yet, why is it that they are arrogant enough to believe they do- that close proximity means understanding?" she yelled, circling back around to stand before me again. "Tell me, because I don't effing understand, Rhys!"
Yet again, I completely stunned myself by speaking out again, words coming from me before I could even formulate them in my mind. Even as I said them, there was no fear in me, only sudden and surprisingly detached anger. I was not angry at Amanda so much as the situation- including myself, as little sense as that made.
"I can't, Amanda," I said, and my voice was almost as loud and aggressive as hers. "I don't know. I don't get it either- I don't get anything. You're right, I don't know you- I don't know you, so I don't know why the hell you would do this to us. Tell me- make me understand you! Why would you do this, why would you hurt people, kill people, when none of them ever did anything to hurt you?"
I heard Adrianna beside Kendall and Della, who was still burying her face in Kendall's chest, still shaking, but not as badly as before. Adrianna was hissing at me, "Shut up, just shut up before she blows your head off!" I couldn't deny her logic- but Amanda didn't. She just stared at me with her eyes widening, her mouth open, as if she were truly shocked. But then she began to laugh. The sound was loud, cruel, but somehow terribly sad to listen to. I can't explain it, but her laugh made me stare at her in mute surprise at what confusion I felt toward her.
"The hell you didn't," Amanda finally managed to say, and her laughter cut off abruptly. Her eyes narrowed once again, and she looked me in the eye, true disbelief on her face obvious. "Oh jesus, Rhys… you honestly believe that, don't you?"
She looked around the room, at the others' pale, silent faces, the eyes that skittered away from hers quickly.
"All of you believe that," she muttered, shaking her head. "All of you honestly think that's true, that none of you did anything to hurt me…"
Again, something made me speak up, challenge her- someone very unlike me. Or at least the me I had been fifteen minutes ago when Amanda had first pulled out her gun.
"Look, Amanda- talk to us. Let us help, if we can. You're obviously troubled about something…"
(Was this me talking like a shrink to a girl my own age, a girl threatening me with a gun? Was this me, thinking I stood a chance of convincing her?)
"Maybe there's something we can do to help, Amanda. Is there anything you want us to do for you? You don't want to do this… maybe we can help. Just give us a chance."
Amanda just looked at me, shaking her head rapidly. I noticed for the first time that the hand holding the gun was shaking. Was she weakening, losing her will- or was it merely growing heavy in her hand? Wasn't anyone coming to help us- it had been at least fifteen minutes since the first shot was fired!
"I've already given you chances," she said, and her voice was almost a whisper. "I've given you so many chances."
"Give us one more," I whispered back, making my voice- the voice of the person temporarily possessing my voice- intense. "Talk to me, Amanda. Let me try. You don't have to do this."
"You made me do this, you know," she whispered, and then more loudly, "You think you didn't make me do this? All of you, shut up, just shut up, Rhys!"
She was breathing loudly now, raspily, her hand shaking, chest heaving… her face shivered, and I suspected suddenly that she was close to tears. What was going on in her head, I wondered- what could she be thinking- what had she thought that first moment that she stood up with her gun?
"Amanda-" I tried again.
"No!" she shrieked, and then, softer, her voice breaking, "No, Rhys, stop it, shut up. You can't do anything, you can't help me. No one can fucking help me now."
I opened my mouth, began to form her name on my lips, form the words I was convinced would save her… would save us…
But her name died on my lips, so bitter I could almost taste it, almost gagged… for before I could say another word, the gun in Amanda's hand as pointed at her own head. One slight pressure at the trigger, and I could say nothing. Her name held my voice captive.
It's been almost a month now, and the school has re opened for a week now. Still, there are several of us who were there that day, there with Amanda and her gun, who have yet to set foot in that classroom- or even the school. Several have transferred or simply not returned- and others, thought they have returned, still carry the emotional scars. Actually, I'm positive we all do.
I am one of the few who has returned, though I can't say that sitting in that classroom, even with the blood and other bodily fluids scrubbed away, doesn't make my stomach twist and my heart pound. I sit it out more to prove something to myself than because I think I'm over it.
None of us are over it- even years from now, when it's not so fresh, so constantly a part of our lives, that day will still linger in the back of our minds, still have impacted a part of who we are. I don't think any of us will be fully able to trust our impressions of another person and their capabilities… and for now, I am unable to look at small blonde girls, including my own cousins, without obsessively wondering what they're thinking, whether they might be more than they appear.
The school has remodeled that classroom, opened up counseling for grieving students, had memorials for Mrs. Lerner, Calder, Fletcher, Gail, and David, had talks about school violence and safety, signs of depression. Most of us are seeing therapists now but still, none of this seems to do really much but to numb emotions. It doesn't take away the repetitive thoughts that continue to circle in my mind…
The police had arrived less than three minutes after Amanda shot herself… some say that the timing didn't matter, as long as the results of her death were the same, but I do not feel this way. I think the timing mattered- not with the police, for I doubt they could have done anything but agitate her further, but with me. It was me who could have done something- me who screwed his timing…
When Amanda first got out her gun, I froze, said and did nothing for far too long. Had I spoken sooner, taken control, maybe no one would be dead today. If I had not waited so long, everything might have been okay. Even if I had said nothing, not spoken until I did with Amanda, if I had said the right things, I may have at least been able to save her. No matter what anyone tells me, I will not be able to forgive myself for that.
Almost a month later, and still no one knows for sure why Amanda did what she did. The police searched her room and found no violent videos or music, no angry diaries or suicide notes, no shrines from Marilyn Manson or homemade bombs or dead kittens. In fact, according to rumor, if it can be trusted, the only evidence they found at all of Amanda's dark side were self-inflicted scratches on her breasts and thighs.
There was no evidence of abuse in her home, or neglect- her parents seemed perfectly ordinary, grief-stricken and bewildered, as was to be expected. But then, Amanda herself had seemed normal, perfectly sweet and happy; she had never seemed disturbed to me, or even unhappy. I guess that's why I no longer trust what people show of themselves anymore, for you can never really know for sure that it's the truth.
I don't think we'll ever know why Amanda did what she did, how long her emotions built up inside her, festering… it chills me to think how long I might have sat next to her and not known the darkness behind her cheery smile. It chills me, and somehow depresses me…
It still bothers me, every time I remember the way her face looked as I fumbled for the right words… the way she seemed to break apart…. But most of all, her final words.
"You can't do it, you can't help me. No one can help me…"
What if she had been right- what if we had hurt her, though not in the way she implied? What if we had hurt her by ignoring her when she was drowning- by not noticing distress signals she might have subtly been giving off?
What if every day, she had tried to give us signs, ways to let us know that she hurt, that something was wrong deep inside her? What if she had given me signs- me specifically? What if she had, consciously or not, directly appealed to me for help? And why wouldn't she- I had, as she'd repeated, sat beside her all year.
What if I had been so self-absorbed and blind, so uncaring, that I did not notice Amanda's attempts to ask for my help?
I cannot remember what the last thing was that Amanda said before she drew her gun- nor can I remember if I said anything to her that day. Somehow I feel that this is vitally important…
What if her last words had been to me? What if they were a last effort to get help, to get my attention? What if I had completely ignored it- or completely misread her?
What if all the deaths that day had hinged on whether I really listened to Amanda- and what if I had failed them, failed her?