Letters About Literature National Winners 2013
National Honorable Mention, Level 3: Claire Fieldman
Dear Jay Asher,
I drag myself out of the car, trudging down the wooden stairs with the early spring breeze on my back and the salty smell of chlorine in the air. All I can think is I really don’t want to go to practice today. I’m dreading that miserable hour pounding laps in the icy pool and wishing that somehow I could be as good as the select few. But then I see her coming toward me, her infectious energy and million dollar smile making it hard for me to stay in a bad mood. She gives me a warm hug, asks me about my day, and wishes me good luck at practice. It might just seem like polite small talk, but I can tell she really cares, and that’s all it takes to turn my mood around. Her name is Alliy Bayliss and she is—no, she was—like a big sister to me. But now, just like Hannah Baker, she’s gone. And what I wouldn’t give to hear her thirteen reasons why.
I remember being in denial for a few days after I heard she was missing. She had gone somewhere with a friend, I told myself. She needed some time alone. It was all a big misunderstanding. Soon, though, indications started turning up that proved this was really happening. The note. The BART ticket. The bike chained to the bike rack on this side of the Golden Gate Bridge. The people talking about her in the past tense. And slowly, as the weeks went by with no trace of Alliy, it began to sink in. She was … dead. There, I said it. And I was left, just like Clay Jensen, wishing. Wishing I had said things. Wishing I had done things. Wishing, as Clay punched the fence in agony, that I could punch every single person in the face who made her feel like her life wasn’t worth living.
I was haunted by Clay’s thoughts about how Hannah seemed like the nicest and most carefree person during the time he knew her. Every time he questioned how he couldn’t have noticed her depression, I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach because I know that exact feeling. Alliy was that one person I could always count on for a smile or a joke, and it never seemed like she was in a bad mood. So how could I have ever suspected she was in a place so dark that she didn’t think her life was worth the fight? Or were there signs? Was I just too busy with my life to notice? I remember wishing I could go back and pay more attention to all the things she said and her facial expressions. Maybe then I could have seen it. That’s exactly what Clay regretted not doing, too, since he could never work up the courage to get to know Hannah better at the movie theater. If we had taken a moment or two out of our routines, our everyday lives, who knows what we would have found?
There were so many people in Alliy and Hannah’s lives who were part of those everyday routines, but in the end it came down to those select, vicious few who threw Alliy and Hannah’s lives so astonishingly off course that Alliy and Hannah would never get back on track. Just like Clay, I wondered what would have happened if those select few hadn’t taken part in the bullying and harassment. What if Alex hadn’t made the Best and Worst list? What if Jessica hadn’t (literally and figuratively) slapped Hannah in the face? And what if the bullies and insecurities hadn’t mangled and tangled Alliy up until she felt hopeless? Those rude and exclusive girls on the swim team could have welcomed her into their group instead of shunning her. Even better, the kids at school should never have taunted her about skipping a grade because she was so much smarter than them. I’ve never understood how these twisted people could get so much pleasure out of another’s pain. I guess many humans are so competitive that they’ll resort to anything to feel superior, but they could have kept Alliy and Hannah alive. Maybe the snowball of misery would have kept on rolling. But somehow both Clay and I convinced ourselves that we, of all people, could have helped stop it. He could have stayed that night at the party. And I could have made more time so that I could have been a bigger part of Alliy’s life those last months, or told her how much she meant to me. Maybe I could have made her see how empty so many of our lives were going to be without her. In reality, though, I’ve learned that preventing suicide is more than just an easy fix because of only one thing being wrong. As Hannah once said, everything affects everything.
I wish Alliy could have seen how the other people in her life changed because of her hopeless decision. Now, of course, those heartless bullies didn’t have anyone to tease anymore, but her leaving us was so much more than that. I wonder if she could have anticipated the hole she left in her swim team, her family, her friends. Or the shift in my memories of her from days spent falling all over the place ice skating and loudly singing karaoke like we were Beyoncé to helplessly sobbing at her funeral. Or those tragically beautiful speeches by friends and family alike that made tears trickle down the faces of every person in the crowded church. Similarly, if Hannah could have watched Clay cry in Tony’s car or seen the people who had received the tapes throw rocks at Tyler’s window, maybe she would have held on. I wish everyone in a position like Alliy and Hannah’s could know how many people’s lives would never be the same because of one major decision.
I used to think suicide was just giving up because one or two things in someone’s life were going wrong. But your book, Mr. Asher, showed me just how dark a place someone truly can be in. Taking one’s own life really can seem appealing. Before reading this novel, I could never believe that so many awful and unjust things could happen to an undeserving person. I also didn’t understand how these seemingly unrelated events could connect to each other and tear down a person’s self-esteem until nothing was left. Now, however, I have new empathy for the sadness and depression that can build up behind a forced smile. And whenever I think nothing in my life is going right, I realize it’s nothing compared to what other people are fighting every day. So, thank you so much, Mr. Asher, for helping me begin to come to terms with the pain Alliy felt that ultimately led to her death. Now I really know what she, like Hannah Baker, must have gone through. In these amazing girls’ short lives, they faced twisted reputations, terrible rumors, and total wrongdoings, and that’s not even all of their thirteen reasons why.