VANESSA WEISS, CLASSMATE:
It's amazing how much dying can do for a girl's popularity.
I mean, I'm sitting here in the funeral parlor watching Erin McCall and my other classmates standing around Raquel Falcone's dad, each one of them acting like Raquel's best friend. I don't know if Erin's just doing her usual center-of-attention thing, or if she's actually trying to make Mr. Falcone feel better. That's what you do for a dead person's family--tell them she'll be missed even if you never once had a nice word for her or about her.
I know what I'm talking about: I was there in homeroom when Mrs. Bellanca broke the news. She told us all to sit down, and I have to believe that was at least partly so she could see where the empty desk was--I don't think she was exactly sure which one to connect Raquel's name to. Certain kids have a tendency to be invisible.
"I'm afraid I have some bad news for you," Mrs. Bellanca said.
Her plan to prepare us did the opposite. I couldn't have been the only one who suspected that another standardized test was about to be announced. Or an assembly, because the administration had decided that the first springlike day of the year was a good time to talk to us about the evils of drugs, alcohol, bullying, or sex. Or maybe, since it was a nice day, there was going to be a fire drill; a certain number are required each semester, but the principals in upstate New York generally try to schedule them for days without snow and ice rather than run the risk of personal-injury lawsuits.
A little chatter of speculation started as people tried to guess what the bad news could be.
Mrs. Bellanca rapped her knuckles against the desk to get our attention--one step up from middle school, where they have this little rhythmic hand-clap thing they do to get the students to quiet down.
"I'm sorry to have to tell you," Mrs. Bellanca said, "that the school has suffered a loss." Which still could have been something minor. She might have meant that one of the teachers was going on maternity leave--or one of the students. (Though usually there's no official word on those situations.) But then she finally came out and said it: "Raquel Falcone was killed in a car accident last night."
People glanced around. Even after seven months of classes together, they had to look to see who was missing, who Mrs. Bellanca meant.
I knew immediately. Not that Raquel was a particular friend of mine or anything. I sit behind her in homeroom, so I'd already noticed she wasn't there, because I could see Mrs. Bellanca without having to crane around Raquel's bulk.
My first thought, on hearing that Raquel was dead, was: Oh, crap. That makes me the class fat girl.
Which lets you know--just in case there was any doubt--exactly how nice I am.
So now, all those kids who couldn't have been bothered to talk to Raquel when she was alive are leaving flowers at the little impromptu shrine at the street corner where the car hit her. They're taking up a collection to buy a Raquel Falcone memorial park bench to put on the school's front lawn. And they've even started a letter-writing campaign to get the speed limit lowered on that stretch of Poscover Road to prevent further accidents--even though nobody's 100 percent sure what happened. Why should not knowing what happened stop anybody from commenting... or crusading?
They say she was leaving a movie, talking and laughing. Maybe Raquel stepped off the curb without watching what she was doing.
Maybe someone jostled her--which leads to two more questions: Was it accidental? Or intentional?
Or maybe Raquel knew exactly what she was doing when she stepped in front of that car. Maybe she'd had enough of being nobody's particular friend, of being "that fat girl" in ninth grade.
A fast, fatal step to popularity is a possibility to keep in mind.
But meanwhile, I'm happy to note that Lindsay Lapjani might actually look wider than I do. She says she's not fat--that it's a cultural thing. And I'm certainly not going to be insensitive enough to bad-mouth anyone's culture.