Wednesday, April 28, 2010

And this is what I remember.

I had a strange thought the other night, during that space between sleep and awake.  I remembered sitting in my mom's blue four door Honda Accord on a hot, hot summer afternoon.  We were outside of the middle school I would attend many years later (and that I did attend many years ago).  Camp had just ended, and my friend Ashley and her brother were coming to my house to go swimming.

I had left an Oriole's keychain inside.  It was round and filled with water and beads.  Orange.  I don't know where I got it or why it was special, but Ashley's brother ran back in to get it.

Home.  Ashley's mother brought Hawaiian Punch.  It was the first and only time I have ever had Hawaiian Punch.  It was yellow and in a small can.  I wanted it because it was yellow and in a small can.

Our mothers talked.  We swam.  They were good friends.  We were good friends.
I was four.

And then another memory.  We celebrated Ashley's 4th birthday in our preschool with cupcakes and princess crowns.  I went to her house afterwards.  Her mother asked if I would rather have the pink crown instead of the orange.  I said I would.  Ashley was upset.  The pink crown was hers.  I'm not sure if I left with the pink crown or the orange crown.  I have felt guilty about that for twenty years.

This must have happened around that same time: we were sliding down the huge, curving staircase in her front foyer on carpet squares.  She lived in a big, beautiful mansion.  Our mothers were outside talking.  Afterwards, she showed me a small decoration from her birthday cake: a bunch of red, blue, and yellow balloons.  She said they were edible.  I told her I didn't believe her.  She bit one of the plastic balloons.

Another time.  I couldn't snap; she could.  She tried to teach me.  I went home and practiced, standing beside the pine near the pool.  It was fall.  My father had set up the scarecrow while I was gone.

I had found a duck egg in West Virginia sitting near the road.  I was worried it would get smashed, so we took it home and tried to make it hatch.  It never did.  When Ashley came over, I took it out to the playground to show her.  She dropped it.  I was devastated.  I learned that you must guard the things most important to you.

After preschool, we went to different schools and stopped hanging out.  In eighth grade, redistricting placed us in the same school.  We had math together.  She was tall and curvy, wore tank tops and eye liner.  I was shy and quiet, a horse lover wearing a sports bra.  We may have talked, once, but that was it.

I was in ninth grade when she was murdered.  She was 14.

I am 24.

It happened ten years after we were friends.  It happened ten years ago.  I can't believe it was ten years ago.  I can't believe it has been twenty years since we were friends.  

My only other memories of her are her funeral and her viewing.  She would be 24 now.  

Loss is difficult.  We carry those people we lose with us forever.  Do the memories somehow become stronger?  And what triggers them?  As I was laying in bed the other night, flooded by these memories and tears, I tried to locate the beginning.  I couldn't.  There was a moment, as my body began to fall asleep, where an orange Oriole's keychain came to mind, and everything else followed like dominos.

I knew what triggered memories of Laura: memories of Ashley.  Laura was my neighbor, known to me always (and forever) by her first and last name.  She lived a short walk away through the woods.  She had two brothers and a dog.  She touched her eyeball with her finger and told me my eyes were purple.  Her house was the first place I ever saw video games.  We collected caterpillars together, and waited impatiently for them to turn into butterflies.

A few years after her family moved, my family went to visit.  They had a big house with a dog or two and a beautiful cat.  One of her brothers had snakes and fish and frogs in huge tanks in his room.  I remember feeling grown up and shy.  I was probably in fourth grade.  We ate Cheetos right out of the pantry, an exotic food that was banned at my house.  We played checkers on a fancy checkers table and talked about boys we had crushes on.

I never saw her again.  My dad stopped by to visit her dad one winter morning, with my sister and I in tow.  Laura wasn't there, so we sat on the couch talking to her mom.  I was in eighth grade; Laura was in ninth.  I looked at her pictures on the mantle: tall, pretty, a cheerleader.  I was relieved and sad she wasn't home.  Relieved because I felt like such a kid compared to the pictures I saw of her, sad because I wanted to be her friend again - I wanted to be the cheerleader with pretty long brown hair and white teeth like she was.

She died in November 2007.  I found out the day after her funeral.  I am still shocked she is gone.  Her death was an accident - entirely preventable.  One step different and she'd still be here.  I have seen her parents a few times.  I never know what to say, and I always wonder if they are looking at me, thinking about Laura.  I send them a Christmas card every year.  I never know what to say.

These memories, and many more unfortunately, kept me up most of Monday night and have been running through my mind since.  I have a lot of trouble coping with loss.  The memories are difficult - even the good ones - because I know how the story ends.  It is so hard to separate.  But I don't want to remember anyone for how or when they died.  I want to remember their life.  I just wish it wasn't over.

Writing is cathartic.  These memories have been weighing on me; it helps to write them down.  I know we don't want to read about loss, but I want them to be remembered - I want to remember them.  I am sure I have lost so many memories already.

This is what I remember.
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