Stars and Silence


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On that day there was silence. The kind of silence that you not only hear, but that you feel, you taste, and you see. It’s so thick that every step you take is in slow motion like you are trudging through water. And it feels like there is a golf ball lodged in your throat. Like that feeling you get when your little sister accidentally punches you. And you can taste it too. It’s bitter, it’s timid, and it’s sour. And you see the silence because you can’t see anything clearly. It’s all blurred and gray. I had never been in a middle school hallway like that before. And it was all because of four kids – our four stars.

I think about our days of silence often. I think about the faces of my classmates, numbed to the lessons that our teachers were trying to share. I think about the faces of my teachers, staring at the four empty chairs. And I think about my tears that were unable to fall. Numb.

***

One month earlier I was fresh meat to the junior high scene. Seventh grade meant no more recess and no more “playing” with friends – it’s called “hanging out.” It meant remembering a locker combination and a class schedule and that tears are for elementary students. But most importantly, it was remembering that I was at the bottom of the food chain. Again.

My week was routine. Shower and blow-dry. Hard-boiled egg, bacon, and orange juice. Coat slung on my shoulders. Walk to school and try not to slip on the ice. Enter through the back door to avoid an awkward conversation about the weather with Mr. Shaw. Go straight to class. Try to be early enough to get to my seat, but not too early that I have to talk to anybody. Pull out book to look busy. Ignore football boys talking about the biased refs from the night before. Ignore Pokémon kids flipping their cards. Ignore girls gossiping about Pokémon kids and drooling over football boys. Ignore. Ignore. Ignored. On my way home I would stop by the post office and pick up the mail. Betty always stood behind the counter. I would try to ignore her and her ever-changing acrylic nails too.

September had brought snow, and by October, the roads were tunneled with crusty snow piles painted with splatters from the crunchy gravel roads while the air smelt of cow manure and wet hay. Danae, Jordan, Clay, and Renzo left that night for a joyride in Renzo’s mom’s minivan. It was late and it was dark. No one knows exactly how it happened; maybe it was too icy or maybe they swerved when a deer ran out on the road. All we know is that it ended with four 16-year-olds upside down in a riverbed on the edge of town. They were found at 4:00 the next morning, though their bodies were unrecognizable at that point. We pray that it was quick.

That morning I woke up. Shower and blow-dry. Hard-boiled egg, bacon, and orange juice. Coat slung on my shoulders. Stop. Mom? Mom alone on the couch. “Megan,” she whispered, as her eyes brimmed with tears, “there has been an accident.”

There was nothing to ignore on the day of silence. Mr. Shaw was in his office having a meeting with the school counsellors. Most of the football boys didn’t even come. The Pokémon kids left their cards in their bags and the girls sobbed silently in their desks. Betty wasn’t there at the post office – no one was. It was closed, and so was the grocery store, and the hair salon, and the curling rink.

Not too far from the riverbed there is an old barn on the side of the highway that everyone in the surrounding communities has to drive past on their way to the grocery store. For years, the barn had served as the area message board, updated by the local high school kids on their night-time adventures with their spray cans. One wall would announce that the Richards rugby team was the provincial champions. Another would ask Sophie to the Prom. But after the day of silence, it read four names written next to four stars, and the message that they are “never forgotten.” And it stayed that way.

Danae’s star was red. She had a fiery personality and she was a killer on the volleyball court. Jordan’s star was purple. She was talkative, outgoing, and passionate. Clay’s star was yellow. He was bright and kind and funny. Renzo’s star was green. He was calm and welcoming. All different, yet all alike.

On the day of silence there was a candle-light vigil held in the football field; the football field looming with crusty snow mounds and heavy hearts. And although the air was frigid and our tears froze to our cheeks, we all went – our whole town of 2,000. There were poster boards to sign, leaving our last messages to our friends. I love you. I’m sorry. Save me a good seat up there. And then we stood in circles, each of us holding a candle provided by the post office. And as Betty handed me my candle, I saw that her star was bright pink like her acrylic nails that tap against the counter. And across from me I saw the orange star of Toby, the football team captain, warm like his personality. And next to him was the shimmer of Mr. Shaw’s silver star, compassionate but firm. And if it was me, I think they would see that my star was blue.

We stood in our circles, each of us warmed by the glow of our candles and the glow of our unity. We were silent, but we were together, like a galaxy of little twinkling stars. A galaxy that had always been there. And in that moment, the day of silence became the day of stinging peace.

The next morning, I woke up. Shower and blow-dry. Hard-boiled egg, bacon, and orange juice. Coat slung on my shoulders. Walk to school and try not to slip on the ice. Enter through the front door and smile at Mr. Shaw. Make my way to class. I didn’t read my book that day. See the football boys and the red, purple, yellow, and green stains on their hands. See the Pokémon kids and the candle wax drips on their shoes. And see the girls with tiny star barrettes in their hair. See. See. Seen. I smiled at Betty that day and she smiled back. And as I left the post office, I heard the tapping of her acrylic nails on the counter. And then I smiled.
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