Addressing Why I Didn’t Do My Homework and Other Things

But no one stopped me, so I watched all night. I watched her go from my size, to model-size, to skelequeen, which is, if you haven’t guessed, short for skeleton queen. I’m talking about Remi Shepard. The vlogger. She was anorexic. Was because she died of bradycardia, which the internet says is a slow heart, a heart that can’t get blood moving fast enough. Anyway, now I know why Remi’s fingertips were blue when she gave webcam high fives. Because she was losing circulation in her hands.

She died while I was at school today—third period if I’m doing the math right, but I’m bad at math, so who knows. I found out around 3:15, which is when the bell rings and when I checked Twitter. And then I decided to dedicate tonight to watching her. She must have posted thousands of hours of makeup tutorials and clothing hauls and comic book reviews, but I couldn’t pay attention to any of that stuff.

I watched her hipbones grow instead.

By the end, they were shaped like little porcelain plates. Flat enough to balance a teacup on. Someone actually asked her to do that during her last livestream. And she did it, and I typed in the stream that she should join the circus, and she hearted my comment. I’ve searched for that comment with that little tiny heart next to it for a few hours now, and while doing this, it occurred to me: I had watched her die.

Hours after she had hearted my comment, she died, and that means I was one of the last people to see her alive. One of 50,000 people, according to the view tracker, but it was different with me because I had followed her for years. I knew her in a way these other newcomers didn’t. Those stupid rubberneckers who had just followed a link from a news article or gossip blog. She had hearted my comment. It might have been the last comment she hearted ever. And I loved her. I hearted every photo she posted for years.

So why didn’t I do my math homework? Because I couldn’t concentrate.

This one time, I went out for breakfast with my grandma. She ordered scrambled eggs, and I notice there was this little black hair sticking out of the eggs. My grandma told the waitress and she got a new plate of eggs for free, but I kept thinking there was hair in everything. And whenever I took a bite of my pancakes, I could swear it felt like I was swallowing dried up, strawy hair. And then I started thinking about how weird it was to eat an egg in the first place. It wasn’t the same as eating a chicken. But it wasn’t the same as not not eating a chicken. And then I thought, maybe that hair had come from some other dead animal back in the kitchen (even though I knew it probably fell of the waitress’s head since she wasn’t wearing a hat or anything) and how weird it was that an egg was wearing someone else’s fur. I just couldn’t stop thinking.

And that’s what my brain did after Remi died. I wanted to do my math homework, but Remi was only a year older than me, and she also lives somewhere in New York, so it’s perfectly possible that she had the same textbook edition and did the exact same math problem at some point. I started to think of everything like that. My brain was like a washing machine. My thoughts were moving in a circle. And then I was folding them like laundry, trying to make Remi small enough to put away. But I couldn’t put her away.

I was mourning. And I needed to mourn. That’s healthy. Mr. Yana says that all the time in health class. So I let myself watch Remi all night. I made it a memorial service. You wouldn’t suspend someone for going to their grandma’s wake, would you?

But I am sorry for yelling at Mrs. Wilder. And even if I hadn’t been forced to write this apology letter, I would have apologized to her anyway. Because she’s a great math teacher and has given me extra credit assignments every time I’ve failed a test. She deserves an apology. Mrs. Wilder, I’m sorry I yelled at you, and you weren’t even being that annoying, but I was so tired from being up all night and you might have only said, “Where’s your math homework?” twice, but I heard it like a million times. And I just couldn’t handle it.

This is how great of a teacher Mrs. Wilder is: Even after I yelled at her and told her to shut up in front of everyone, she only said, “Sam, you seem tired. Why don’t you go to the nurse for a nap?” Pretty impressive. Most teachers would worry this move would compromise their authority, but not Mrs. Wilder. So, I’m sorry Mrs. Wilder. I’m sorry a thousand times.

And I know what you’re thinking. I took a nap in the nurses’ office. I’m having a hard time concentrating on this letter. I’m irritable, tired, disoriented. All signs of anorexia, right? I’m sure you’ve all googled Remi and the anorexia MedNow page by now and have all concluded that Mr. Yana was right, she is a bad influence.

You’re all wrong.

And Mr. Yana, you’re the most wrong. Which is why I did what I did. And for those of you who don’t know what I did (because I’m sure you’re going to pass this around in the teacher’s lounge so you can gawk at how messed up us teenagers are), let me explain.

The morning after my Remi Shepard memorial service, I went into health class and Mr. Yana is passing out this clickbait article about her. They don’t even use her name. They only called her Skelequeen. And everyone is flipping through the pages, looking at her pictures, and making noises like they’re barfing.

And Mr. Yana just lets them. Despite his class being a health class. Despite Mr. Yana knowing anorexia is a disease, he lets them make fun of her. Would he have allowed that if the article was about cancer? I don’t think so.

And then he goes on and on about how she was a bad influence and how she ruined countless lives. How she was basically a murderer. How she shouldn’t have been allowed on the internet. How everyone who watched her must have been sick or stupid.

And I say, “She just died yesterday. This feels disrespectful.” I raised my hand and everything. I was respectful.

And he gives some answer about her being a public figure, so people can say whatever they want about her.

And I say, “She’s not a figurine. She’s a teenage girl who died of a disease.”

And by now Mr. Yana has guessed that I am a fan and he goes on about how unproductive teenage role models are and how harmful internet culture is. And how dangerous the internet is.

And I say, “She wasn’t trying to be a role model. She was just a teenager online. Like everyone in this room. She just happened to become famous.”

And then he said she only became famous because she was sick. He said she knew people were watching her, waiting to see how bad she’d get, waiting for her to die. She knew she got more views as a sick person. She knew she got more money as a sick person. She knew she didn’t have to be interesting or smart as long as she kept getting sicker.

And I lost it. I stood up and I threw my textbook at him. And yeah, that was wrong. But I missed. And even if I had hit him, it’s the tiniest textbook ever, like less than 150 pages. He would have been fine. So, no, I won’t apologize to Mr. Yana. Because if he had said those things about any other disease, you’d all be on my side. I’m not sorry Mr. Yana.

But I am sorry.

I’m mostly sorry that no one stopped her. Not the hearts. Not the comments. Not the 50,000 people online. Not her parents. Not her friends. Not my math teacher. Not my health teacher. Not her math teacher or her health teacher. And not me. I’m sorry I dipped my fingers in blue ink, so they looked like yours. I’m sorry I told you your hips were beautiful. I’m sorry I skipped lunch for a whole week last December. I’m sorry I hearted your photos. Remi, I’m sorry I couldn’t have given you a real heart that moved fast enough. I’m sorry I couldn’t fold you small enough. I’m sorry I didn’t stop watching you. I’m sorry I kept watching. I’m sorry that the smaller you got, the bigger your audience became. I’m sorry I let you think it had to be that way.

But I wasn’t watching for that. I promise. I wanted to watch you get better. I wanted it so badly. Because you would have been just as beautiful and just as funny and just as smart. And I was so sure that one day I’d log in and you’d be my size again and that I would prove I was one of your biggest fans by not clicking away, and by watching you anyway.

I’m sorry no one stopped you.

Nicole Hebdon’s fiction has been published in the Kenyon Review, the New Haven Review, The Southampton Review, New Ohio Review, and The Antigonish Review among other places. She holds an MFA from Stony Brook. She is writing a horror novel about sisterhood.