What if she wasn’t the person that needed to be saved, but it was actually me who was saved by her? It’s a question I ask myself every time I think about my senior year.
Life is unexpected. It is full of surprises. That is why I did not expect to start the first day of school late, but it happened. My alarm hadn’t worked, so I had to rush to get to school. By the time I made it, everyone had already left their homerooms and were heading to their first period class. My homeroom teacher must have marked me absent, I thought to myself. I decided to first go there before heading off to class. I hurried to my homeroom, and when I arrived there, the most unusual girl caught my attention. She was standing in front of Ms. Lee’s desk. She seemed to be 16, but by the way she dressed people would have thought she was 11. From the way she stood up straight it was noticeable she was confident and full of personality, but lacked the obnoxious ego. I chuckled to myself; I still couldn’t get over her childish, porcelain doll like outfit that reminded me of an anime character.
That’s when she noticed me. Ms. Lee and her looked towards my direction and that’s when I realized I had been standing at the doorway all this time staring at her. She smiled at me. Her smile was different from most people I had met in my life. It was genuine and I liked it. Ms. Lee looked at me and asked, “Is there anything I can help you with, Nathaniel?” I turned my attention to Ms. Lee and responded, “I just came to inform you that I was late to school, but that I’m here now.” I mentally slapped myself for stating the obvious since Ms. Lee could obviously see that I was standing in front of her. Ms. Lee nodded and said, “Alright.” I was about to leave when she called out my name and said, “Nathaniel, can you do me a favor and help out our new student, Iris, get to her next class?” So that was her name, Iris. It was simple, but it fit her pretty well. Now that I looked at her more closely she looked delicate as a flower and her eyes were the color of irises. Of course I accepted the offer. There was something intriguing about her and I wanted to find out what it was.
Iris and I left the room and began walking to her next class. I asked her to show me her schedule. I took notice that we seemed to have a very similar schedule. Up to now it seemed as if luck was again in my side after the incident in the morning. I suppose I was nervous or too distracted by her that I had forgotten to introduce myself to her because before I knew it she was the one speaking. She asked, “Are you always this quiet, or do you already think I’m not good enough to have a conversation with?” The way she spoke sounded pure and honest, but now I was confused if was she hurt or being sarcastic. I stopped walking and looked her straight in the eyes trying to decide what she had meant by that. That’s when a smile turned up on her face. She laughed, “I’m kidding. Did you take it seriously? I’m sorry if you did. I expected you to have a better sense of humor.” Now I took this to my advantage and made a sad face as if I was actually hurt by her words. She looked at me sympathetically and said, “I’m truly sorry, I didn’t mean it.” I looked at her laughing and said, “My acting skills are very impressive. Don’t you agree, too?” This got her to laugh and we both just laughed for a while. When we finally calmed down, I told her, “My name is Nathaniel, Nathan is preferable. You probably already knew that, but a formal introduction is always better than none.” She was going to say something, but I cut her off and said, “I wish we could continue speaking but it seems as if we have already arrived to our first period class.”
First period flew by fast and we both walked together to our next classes. We had quick conversations in between periods. I learned that she had moved to the town because her dad had received a new job offer and she lived a block away from me. Before I knew it, lunchtime had arrived. We walked to the cafeteria. By this time of the day, everyone was speaking about her. Girls were making mean comments about her outfit. They were saying stuff, like “I think my 11 year old sister has that exact outfit.” Boys were laughing at her and teasing her, but she did not seem to mind. Her upbeat personality never vanished and she acted as if nothing had happened.
I brought her to the table where my friends were. I had not seen them for most of the summer since each of us had gone off to summer programs for the colleges we were dreaming of being admitted by or like in my case the college my parents dreamed for me. There were exchanges of hugs, high-fives, and greetings when we were all finally reconnected. I sat down and I saw that all of them were looking at someone behind me. I had forgotten to introduce Iris to my friends. She probably thought that I was an impolite person. Thus, I got up as fast as I could and offered her my sit and grabbed another one for me. Then I introduced her, “Guys, this is Iris. She is a new student, so let’s make her feel welcomed.” Everyone at the table greeted her. Some said, “Hi,” while others just waved. What a great welcome that was, I thought to myself. I knew they were judging her. Moments like this made me wonder why I even hung out with these people, but then again they were the only people I had known for most of my life and who else could I hung out with if I decided to walk away from them?
It was a chilly cold autumn morning, but not as cold as it had been for the last couple of weeks. It was the last day to send in my college applications. I was feeling the pressure and burden of my parents’ desire to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, most commonly known as M.I.T, since they had both graduated from there. However, I dreamed of attending N.Y.U because of their incredible literary and writing department. I turned on my laptop and I waited for creativity to flow onto the blank screen in front of me. An hour had passed by, I still had not written my essay for the application and it was almost midday. I looked out my window and saw that the sun was brightly hovering over my house. It seemed like a nice day to go out for a walk, so I grabbed my jacket and left my house hoping to get an idea for my essay.
I ended up walking up to the library. It was one of my favorite places in this small community. I had spent several hours of my life at the library since reading was one of my passions, as well as writing. They were the few activities that could help me escape the society I lived in and express myself with confidence. I decided to go inside and read some stories before heading home.
When I entered the library, I saw her. Iris was sitting at a table with a stack of books. There was always something unique about her appearance, this time it was her hairstyle. She was wearing her hair in pigtails wrapped around in pink ribbons. I went up to the table she was sitting at and grabbed a seat across from her. She didn’t look up. She must have been so fascinated in the book she was reading because when I called out her named, she got startled. Now I had her attention. “Hey Iris, what are you reading?” I said. She responded, “Oh hey Nathan, I was reading, Looking for Alaska. You should read it someday. It’s really good.” “I probably will,” I said while grabbing the book from her and giving it a glance. “But first I should finish my essay for college,” I informed her. She looked at me as if she was trying to read my mind and said, “You don’t seem so enthusiastic about that. College is a rite of passage. The application process is not easy, but you would probably be proud of the outcome knowing that you tried your best.” That was the problem, I thought, how could I be proud and happy about being accepted into college when my parents did not want me going to any other college besides M.I.T. I guessed she noticed my troubles since the next thing she said was “Would you like some advice on something?” I said sure, having no idea of what possible advice she was thinking about. She said, “Whatever you are planning on doing, follow your dreams and don’t let anyone else influence the goals you’ve made for your life.” At that instant, I felt that I could confide my troubles and my goals in life with her and that was exactly what I did that day. We spent the rest of the afternoon talking about each other’s future dreams. She was able to get me to open up with her and I did the same for her. I learned that she wasn’t sure of where to go after high school finished, but she wanted to have an impact on the world by helping countries that deal with poverty or by even helping someone with their problems. I walked with her up to her house and when I was about to leave, I noticed that she was running back to me. She stopped me from continuing on my way and said, “Stop hesitating, go ahead and apply for N.Y.U because they would be glad to accept you.” It was a small piece of advice, but it gave me reassurance that I had someone who believed in me, so that night I did exactly what she said and applied not only to M.I.T, but also to N.Y.U.
After that day with Iris, I began to spend more time with her. At school we became inseparable especially since we shared the same schedule. Even after school we spend time together. We would go to the library and read for most of the afternoon. This went on for weeks until that day came. The day my friends approached me and asked me why was I friends with someone like Iris. At first I was dumbfounded and confused. Wasn’t it obvious that I was her friend because I enjoyed her company? But I later found out that that was not the answer they were looking for. They wanted to know why was I friends with someone who they and everyone else at school considered “weird.” In my opinion she was not weird, she was just different and it was a good thing. Whenever I talked with her, I felt as if I wasn’t the only one who had different ideas and expectations. Nevertheless, as always my friends had a point on something, she was affecting my “popularity.” Yes, that made me seem selfish and conceited but I did care about what other people thought of me. I guess that’s another side effect of the society I live in. Lately, most people looked at me when I passed by and whispered stuff. At first I thought it was nothing, but now it was happening more constantly. It reminded me of the first day of school when I heard the mean comments being made by the girls in my grade about Iris. It made me feel bad for her and now for myself, who was going through a similar situation. That entire day I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of how someone’s opinion about me could negatively affect me. I decided that maybe it was for the best to stop my friendship with Iris from growing any further.
Let’s just say that after the conversation with my friends, I began ignoring Iris. At first she used to approach me, but I would giver her minimum attention from my part. After a while, I couldn’t stand the sight of seeing her. I thought, “How could someone be so confident about herself if she is criticized for everything she does?” From then on, I didn’t feel sorry for her anymore since she had chosen to be the way she was and it was her fault, her own mistake.
I guess she didn’t get the point that I didn’t want to be her friend anymore. My friends mentioned to me that I had to take charge of the situation or else she would never leave me alone. During lunch when she decided to sit at my table, my friends glanced at me. I wasn’t sure if I should talk to Iris about the situation in front of everyone at the table or talk to her in private. I decided not to be completely inconsiderate and went along with my second idea. “Iris, may we have a talk?” I asked her. I told her to follow me outside to the courtyard. Once we were there, I told her everything I had been holding back for a week, “This might sound mean, but I don’t want to be your friend anymore. I bet you’re confused as to why, especially since everything was going pretty well, but I’ve realized that you are ruining my reputation. I know that makes me seem stuck-up, but look at it this way, now you can make new friends that are actually more like you.” When I was done, she didn’t start crying or screaming at me. There was no sense of pain in her face either. She just gave me a deep stare as to make sure that it was actually I, Nathan, who had said all of that. I immediately began to regret everything I had said at that moment. I had sounded meaner than I expected. However, all I got from her in the most sincerest voice was, “Nathan, I’m sorry for getting in the way of your dreams.”
The days had become shorter and they had become colder, but I still had not apologized to Iris. It seemed as if my pride and selfish ego was battling with my conscious over the decision of saying sorry to her. Everyday as I made my way to school, I wasn’t only sinking in the 12-foot snow, but I was also drowning in my own troubles. I managed to make the situation even worse by taking part of the constant teasing towards Iris that occurred at school. I would just go along with the crowd and laugh at the comments made about her. This continued on for most of the school year.
As the April showers arrived, so did the final college acceptance letters. Eagerly I waited for the letter from N.Y.U. I still had not told my parents that I applied to there, but then again I hadn’t told anyone. I was afraid of being rejected by N.Y.U. What if my college essay wasn’t good enough? Did that mean I shouldn’t be a writer? These questions were racing through my mind while I waited for their response. However, the day finally arrived when I opened the mailbox and saw the letter I was waiting for. The moment I had it in my hands, I did not hesitate to open it. I ripped the envelope open and took out the letter. I began to read it and the words that stuck out were, “Congratulations, on your acceptance.” I couldn’t stop smiling. Nonetheless, there was a slight problem; I had been accepted to M.I.T two days ago. My parents were overwhelmed with the news and had began calling relatives and telling them about my acceptance, but now that I had been accepted by N.Y.U, I wasn’t sure how to tell my parents about it. Would they support my decision or not? I wasn’t ready to find out the answer, so I decided to let it go for now. Anyway, I still had until the end of April to decide. However, by that time I still had not informed them about the news and made the decision on my own to accept N.Y.U.
I wanted to share the exciting news about going to NYU with Iris. After all, she had encouraged me to apply to there, but we were still not on speaking terms at least from my part. That’s when I realized that I did miss her. I missed speaking to her. I missed our times at the library. I missed having her by my side. I missed having someone I could count on.
I hadn’t expected to see Iris at a trip organized by Harvey, a well-known jock from our grade, but then I reminded myself that she was carefree and did not care about what other people thought of her. I loved that about her. Then it hit me; all this time I had been jealous of her. I wanted her unbothered personality. I wished I could make decisions for myself without being influenced by everyone else.
Once we arrived to the campsite, everybody went to his or her cabin. While exploring the cabin, I found a bottle of homogenized milk in the refrigerator. It was a perfect combination of cream and milk. It reminded me of the time of when I was at my grandfather’s vacation house as a child and I drank non-homogenized milk. I had been reluctant to drink it at first but it hadn’t tasted half as bad as I had expected. Thinking back to that moment, it had actually been nice to try something different. Maybe it was time for me to try something different once again and give myself a chance to be who I really wanted to be.
I placed the milk back in the refrigerator and went outside to check out the activities that were planned for today. I saw that there was going to be a kayaking competition in 5 minutes. I decided to attend it. Most of the senior grade was already waiting for the event by the time I made it to the river. I grabbed a seat by my friends and tried to join in their conversation, but something caught my eyes. I saw that Iris was also here, but she wasn’t alone. A group of girls that were known to be nothing but trouble were surrounding her. I decided to keep my attention on them just incase if anything happened. Before I could prevent what was to happen from occurring, they had already pushed Iris into the river. I was stunned, while everyone around me was laughing at her. How was this funny? What if she can’t swim? Why isn’t anyone helping her? At that instant, I ran to the side of the river where Iris had been pushed into the lake. I dived in trying to look for her, but I couldn’t find her. I went out to grasp for some air. I noticed that some people had worried faces, while others were still laughing about the whole situation. My friends, Dylan and Jesse, had also dived in to look for her. We tried looking for her one more time, but still nothing. I began to worry. Was she really gone?
Someone had called for an ambulance and the paramedics. They told us to get out of the water before the current pulled anyone else away. We did as advised, but I felt helpless. I wasn’t ready to hear the words, “She is gone.” I was furious with everyone at this campsite. I got up and shouted to the girls who had caused this to happen. “This is all your fault! Why would any of you think that was okay to do? Are all of you out of your minds?” I told them. One of them replied, “Don’t you get it? That was the whole point of inviting her to come. No one liked her anyway.” Now it was obvious that they were insane. I retaliated, “Why would anyone of you guys consider that to be a joke? Do any of you have a sense of morality? Was it really enjoyable to see an innocent girl drown?” I broke down at that instant. I had come to the conclusion that she was gone for real.
The police arrived and informed us that they hadn’t found her so far. They believed she could have hit her head on a rock when she fell in the river and that the current had pulled her away. They also told us that they had sent a search team and informed the rescue boats to look for her. I had lost hope up to the point. It had been almost an hour since the last time I had seen her alive. I had to face the fact that she wasn’t here anymore.
Under these circumstances, I also found out that I wasn’t alone. My friends were trying to comfort me. They were trying their best, but I was done with the society I had grown up in. If they hadn’t told me to stop being her friend, maybe none of this would have happened. But it was also my fault and that hurt more than anything. I had made the decisions and this time I wasn’t going to blame anyone for my mistakes.
It’s been four years since the incident. Everyday I think about everything that happened in senior year. I learned so much from her, especially what it means to stand up for myself and for my beliefs. Due to her impact on my life, I was able to find my voice in society. That is why, after her death, the first thing I did was to tell my parents about my college decision. They weren’t pleased at first, but once they read the essay I had written for the college application, they understood why. They realized I needed to accomplish my own goals and achieve my dreams. Now that we are on the topic about the essay, I must confess that I wrote it thinking about Iris. It was an essay about a person who was true to himself. Iris was my inspiration at that moment and she has been my inspiration ever since. She is the reason I am the person who I have become today, a writer with his own hopes and dreams.