October of my sophomore year, when the leaves had just begun to fall off the trees, the Quiet Girl moved into the house next door. I remember the day perfectly. I broke my leg the day before and had just begun my two week mandatory bed rest. Her room was situated so that, from my bed, I could see from my window, and into hers.
With nothing else to occupy my time, I learned a lot about my new neighbor. From the books that piled up next to her bedside table, I learned she liked to read. From the notebooks she filled, I learned she liked to write. She had a very nice, top-of-the-line PC, but she never plugged it in. Her room was sparsely decorated, odd for a girl, although at 15, how much did I really know about girls? She spent the majority of her time in her room alone, and no one came to visit. After two weeks of watching my neighbor, I learned very little about her, and what I had learned only made me ask more questions.
Once I started school again, the only time I ever really saw her was when she was walking to school. Her backpack rested on one shoulder, her face hidden by the hood of her jacket. At school she kept to herself, and was known by others, if at all, as the Quiet Girl. I forgot her easily enough as time passed, at least until the middle of junior year, the day we received the results of the state exams we were forced to take every year. She had received the highest score in the state, only two tenths of a point shy of a hundred percent, and the newspaper had come to interview her. In the photograph the newspaper photographer snapped of her, I saw a slight change in her eyes. Those shuttered things of hers showed one brief bright spark of life frozen in the photograph in the newspaper. I was proud, which was odd because I hadn’t remembered her until just that moment and also because I had no part in her high score.
The next day, when the article came out I cut it out and put it on the fridge. My father looked at me. My younger sister teased me about my “girlfriend”. Later on, up in my room the Quiet Girl sat on her bed, holding the article in her hand, but she didn’t look very happy. She paced her room, almost panicked. In a sudden move of what could only have been anger, she picked up the bottom of the tower to her unused computer and threw it across her room. I was shocked, not only at the act, but at her strength. The door to her room jerked open and her parents stood in the entryway, their eyes asking questions. She said nothing, just handed them the article. Her mother began to cry. Her father shook his head, and left the room without saying anything. Her mother followed her, still weeping.
After her parents left, Quiet Girl grabbed a box from her closet and began emptying her drawers, throwing in sweaters, jeans, and a few of her journals from her bed-side table. Then she stopped. She turned, as if she had just noticed my presence, and stared at me. I remember how blue her eyes were. She rolled down the blinds of her window.
I don’t know how long I stood there. It was the first time we had ever made eye contact. I hoped it was the beginning of something more: a conversation, or maybe a friendship?
It was not to be. I never saw her again. Her house was sold quickly, and the rest of the world went on as if she had never even been there. I couldn’t do the same. She haunted me. I chose the farthest college that would accept me, and I left, in the hopes she wouldn’t follow me. She didn’t. Over the years, I repressed all memory of her.
The second I enter the city limits again, I remember. The moment I turn onto our street I see her, fifteen and meek, with secrets in her eyes, walking to school stiff shouldered, with her bag slung over one shoulder in a carefree manner.
And here I am now, coming back home after all these years, to mourn my parents passing, and with everything that is going on, I can’t help but mourn the Quiet Girl. I mourn the friendship lost. I mourn the way she left. But most of all, I mourn the fact that I never even knew her name.
Written by Christina Casimira
Photo by Katherine Borchers