Dead Reckoning

By Caitlin Smith


A bit of sad news today. High school sophomore Hailey Weiss passed away yesterday after sustaining serious head trauma in a car accident. Her family will be holding a memorial service this Saturday, and they invite the student body to come pay their respects. The counselors’ offices will be open all week for anyone who wishes to talk. 

A crackle of static on the intercom signaled the end of the morning announcements. For once, my usually loud and lively art class was completely silent. Everyone kept glancing over to the empty chair at the front table. The chair that used to be hers.

My art teacher gave us a free day, sensing that none of us were really in the mood to work. Without any work to occupy my mind, I had the space to try and process what I had just heard.

I wasn’t particularly close to Hailey Weiss. By the time I moved here, it was the middle of seventh grade, and everyone had already known each other since kindergarten so it was difficult to fit into the social hierarchy. Hailey wasn’t particularly popular or even that noteworthy of a person. She had been in a few of my classes throughout the past couple of years, and she always kind of faded into the background. She made decent grades, but not good enough to be singled out by teachers and administrators.

I tried to recall any substantial information about her as a person. I knew she had an older brother- he was a few years older than her, and I believe he’s in college right now- and a cat that she told me about once, and whose name I forgot. She’d been taking art classes since middle school, though I didn’t know if she enjoyed it or not. Her work had always been of a slightly above average quality, but not high enough to be considered “good”.

I wondered what her life was like. What was her ambition? Where did she want to go to college? What was her family like? Did she have any favorite things? So many questions I never knew I had, unanswered forever.

I kept glancing over to the empty chair. She sat two rows in front of me and slightly to the right, just at the edge of my peripheral vision. Not seeing her there at the edge of my line of sight felt… wrong. The entire room looked weird without her sitting there, idly drawing in her sketchpad. I was always aware of it, but I never knew what it was she was drawing.

I guess now I’ll never know.

The school bell rang, pulling me out of my thoughts. I walked to my next class. Alright. I had allowed myself to process and reflect on Hailey’s death. I should have been able to continue my day as normal, albeit slightly depressed. Right?

As I progressed through the day, I kept noticing the little places where Hailey wasn’t. She wasn’t at her locker after Third Period, fumbling with her heavy history textbook. She wasn’t eating lunch on the bench next to the cafeteria exit. She wasn’t at her desk in Geometry, taking down notes in alternating colored pens.

There was no reason for me to be noticing all these things. I barely knew Hailey, had probably only spoken to her once or twice. But now that she had disappeared from the background of my life I couldn’t help but notice the lack of her presence. Like one tile taken out of a massive mosaic- it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference but it can throw off the entire image.

As I left school that day, I was scrolling through my camera roll, deleting unnecessary photos to save storage space. I stopped on a photo I had taken a few weeks ago. It had been an incredibly misty day and several layers of fog had come rolling into the courtyard area, turning everyone in the yard into hazy shadows. In the back right corner of the photo, was the silhouette of a girl sitting on the bench near the cafeteria exit, hunched over a sketchbook. I smiled softly and put my phone in my pocket. Even though Hailey Weiss was dead, she would live on, as part of the background of my life, and undoubtedly the lives of others as well.


Art by Denise Alvarado