Vassar Student Review

Vassar Student Review

Cléa

By Jeanne Malle

The trip from 115 Bergen to 98th and Park is long. With bags, longer. Lola and I decided to get away for the weekend. It was the morning of a hot July day in New York. The 25th, to be exact. I felt it would be a day where you fear holding a tote bag because it might leave a sweat stain under your arm. We decided to walk across town from the west side when the crosstown did not arrive fast enough. We held a brisk pace, focused on getting to the car and forgetting the 45 minutes wasted on waiting and sitting and carrying and thinking of sweating.

I saw Rose’s text on my screen as I crossed the street between Amsterdam and Columbus. My mother is always telling me to put my phone away when I have things to carry. “It’s impractical and nonsensical,” she says. “You have pockets, you know.” But I don’t listen. And I’m able to see a text right as it comes in.

I hate that I knew. I knew when I saw Rose’s contact that something had happened. Why, I’m still unsure of. Probably because of the phone call during which Sophie told me she has depression, and has not been happy in months, and she’s sorry. Or the call in which Molly could not do anything but cry and all I could do was say “breath” and try to guide her to the hospital. Rose was reaching out for a reason. And it wasn’t that she wanted to catch up after two years.

She was direct. She was not alright but she remained composed, for me. “Cléa passed away yesterday,” she wrote. “She killed herself in her grandparents house. I don’t have much information yet, but I wanted you to hear from me.” I don’t remember what I replied. I read it out loud and Lola squeezed my arm. She said we could stay in New York. She said “I’m so sorry,” and “call your parents if that will feel good.”

I texted my family. I wanted to share it with them, for someone else to know. What does someone do with that information? My parents both called me. They asked questions. “Is she alive?” No, she isn’t. I texted Emma, who knew. I texted Paula and Maria, who didn’t.

“Jeanne, I can’t,” answered Emma.

“Me neither.”

“Do you want to call, or be alone a bit?” Shaky voice on the phone. My most optimistic childhood friend, unable to bear this.

I didn’t cry. I went on with my day. I told Lola we would still go. I would drive. I talked to three more people. Talking was all I did. I forgot and then remembered, over and over.

I had not heard her voice since her mother’s funeral, almost four years ago. “Grief happens in different ways and surprises you,” Lola told me, probably concerned by my lack of emotion. I hadn’t held Cléa in my arms since she saw me outside that church, the Church of Notre Dame, right by the park on Morningside Drive and 114th. Since she saw me for the first time in three years and fell into my arms.

She sent me a message on June 29th. Nearly a month before July 25th. And I didn’t answer. I don’t recall why.

That image of her in my arms played in my mind whenever I remembered. But no tears. I had a good night with Lola. We ate outside at the big wooden table and saw the sun set — a beautiful, pink, layered sky, reflecting off the dark blue ocean. We ate Marcella Hazan’s pasta with tomato sauce and a salad. We served the pasta in bowls, not plates, because that’s how  Lola likes it. She borrowed my favorite fleece, a beige one with light purple lining and pockets. Her rosy pink cheeks, flushed from her recent shower, matched the sky. And I forgot.

 

The next day, I was back in New York and alone in my family’s apartment on 98th street. I waited for my sister to return from the office, just two blocks away at Mount Sinai.

I paused my TV and opened my computer to have my weekly Zoom therapy session. I told her what I had learned in the last 24 hours. Through the screen, she asked me how I felt and I cried. Why then, I don’t know. But I cried and could not stop. After the session, I went into my bedroom and found a shelf-full of things I had forgotten existed — mostly notebooks from middle school. I scavenged, not sure what I was looking for.

I found the notebook Cléa, Rose and I made. It had an elaborately decorated front cover but nothing else. We had the tendency to start projects and not follow through. Her mother had bought us supplies at the Bordeaux train station when I came to visit them in the Cap Ferret. I did not find my favorite creation, titled “The Book” (after the one in The Devil Wears Prada), which had started one of the fights that led to our falling out. I only found one photo. One of her and Rose in front of a gray fire extinguisher door. She is doing the peace sign with her hand and Rose sticks out her tongue. They both wear gray sweaters over white button down shirts. Rose’s sweater has darker gray stars on a light gray background, and Cléa’s sleeves are darker than the light gray body of her sweater. How to find originality in the Lycée Français dress code: an invaluable activity for any student there. The two pose, sitting and looking up at me holding my yellow Polaroid camera. My newest and favorite item at the time. The bottom of the photo reads:

BFFs Rose + Cléa.

Taken the 13/03/14

I stared at it, tears in my eyes. I put it in my wallet, tucked behind my Metro Card, my Vassar ID, my Crafted Kup punch card, and my insurance card.

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