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Photo: self-portrait in high school

All names have been changed

When I was sixteen I baptised my friend Wendy. Jessica Falco had committed suicide over Christmas break and Wendy had started seeing things. This would be the year 2006. 

In life Jessica Falco had been thick-bodied and sad. She wore clothes that made her look and feel like a wallet—false suspenders and studded straps and big black pockets. She had black hair in the shadow-puppet shapes of aughts updos. In the summer before high school I went around with her and her boyfriend and Ashley Scicli and Ashley’s boyfriend. We walked through town and we crossed the tracks and crossed the tracks back. I look at myself crossing the tracks in my pink polo and my long pearls: I look at myself because later that day I got an email that said “I saw you crossing the tracks with some kids from the other school”. It was from a friend I was trying to duck. I pictured myself as she must have seen me from the passenger side of a car. I didn’t reply to say that it was Ashley and Jessica she had seen me with, girls she knew as well as I did.

On the day that I was wearing my pink polo we went to the roof of the parking garage to walk around some more. Jessica got up on the little concrete wall at the edge of the roof and said to her boyfriend “If I jumped, would you jump too?” She was facing him. She had her silly hands open. Like most of the girls our teachers considered dangerous, Jessica had dim eyes that lifted and closed like a Betsey Clark baby. She had a shy boyish way. The idea was that she was a thug or something. I think of Kathleen Myers whose twin I had classes with. The twin was your typical Illinois prig, wearing the Illinois expression, which is a sneery quick blink as if she was trying to see something she didn’t like through smoke. Kathleen on the other hand was gentle. She had a lip ring. (Now, it is true that at some point she stabbed her twin in the leg with a pair of scissors, like Boo Radley—but you couldn’t have blamed her.) She grazed over the sidewalk toward me after school one day. She said to me that she had been suspended because a teacher thought she was masturbating at lunch. She was wearing big plaid sleep pants. “I had my hands in my pockets,” she said. She was trying to impress me a little bit and she was also ashamed.

I was irritated by Jessica Falco’s dramatic pose. Her boyfriend said yes he would jump too. The hair on his head was like a chicken on her breast as he hugged her. Maybe I told them to get down and maybe I didn’t. I don’t like heights.

Jessica hanged herself over Christmas break and Wendy started seeing things. She would open the door to her bedroom and a shadow would race out of sight like the aliens in Signs. One time there was a dark figure sitting on her bed with its knees drawn up to its chest. I remember picturing this. We were walking in a circle around the track during gym. We were outside, so I guess that means it was spring. Wendy was asking me what she should do about it. I enjoyed being treated like an expert. I said I thought I should baptize her. At my house Wendy sat in the white chair in my computer room and I stood over her with a Duralex Picardie tumbler full of water. I insisted that this would get rid of the shadow people. She agreed as if I was trying to trick her. As I baptized her she looked to the side and tucked her mouth into her cheeks like a child with a secret.

For a few years after, whenever I went into the city I would compulsively check the crowds for Jessica. We weren’t especially close. She was Ashley Scicli’s friend and that’s why I walked around with her. I don’t think we ever got together again after that summer. Sometimes these days I google her and I read her obituary and I read her name in the RIP section beneath the Grin N Barrett column of the bulletin at Mary Queen.

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