Do you ever randomly think of someone you haven’t seen in ages? This happens to me a lot. All day long, various things will remind me of my friends or family members. It’s like having a memory player on shuffle in my mind all the time. Sometimes it’s people I see every day. Sometimes it’s people I haven’t seen in years.
When I was a kid, I had a friend who lived around the corner from my house. Her brothers and my brother used to get together and play games, so I would often go over and hang out with her as well. We eventually lost touch, as people often do, but I still think about her often. Not long after I joined Facebook, I tried looking her up but couldn’t find her. I assumed she didn’t have a Facebook account and gave up.
On Friday I heard a song that reminded me of this friend, and for some reason I decided to try looking her up again. I still didn’t find her, but I found something else…
A memorial page.
Here I learned that my old friend had died 10 years ago. TEN YEARS AGO. I learned that she had battled Depression. I learned that in 2006 she lost that battle and took her own life. I learned that she died on her daughter’s 11th birthday. I learned that once again Depression had stolen someone I cared about, and I didn’t even know until a decade later. I had never even known that she was suffering.
This news hit me HARD. I cried all evening. I tried to distract myself with a little DIY therapy, because I had things that needed to be done and I needed something to do. Halfway through one project all my feelings boiled over and I broke down into a sobbing mess on my kitchen floor. DIY therapy doesn’t always have the results I expect. It occurs to me that it might seem strange to be so upset about losing someone I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years, but our lack of contact did not mean that I didn’t care about her. Until I read this news, I always wondered what she might be doing and imagined she was still out there somewhere…and then suddenly I knew she wasn’t. You might wonder why I would be so sad about a death that happened a decade ago, but you have to remember for me it just happened on Friday.
Ten years worth of grief hit me all at once. I felt tremendously sad that she was gone. I was heartbroken for her daughter, who lost her mother at such a young age, and on her birthday of all days. I felt disappointed in myself because I hadn’t known for so long. I felt cheated that since I found out so late, I did not get to attend her funeral and I had no one to share my grief or my memories when I learned the news. I wondered what I had been doing when everyone else was grieving and felt guilty for any joy I might have been feeling at a time when her family was suffering. I felt conflicted because I also struggle with Depression. I know how insidiously Depression whispers its lies and how convincing it can be. I know how exhausting it is to fight against your own thoughts every single day, but I can’t even imagine the depth of her pain that would lead her to make such a choice. I felt regret that I was not a better correspondent, and didn’t try harder to stay in touch. I felt angry at the unfairness of the whole situation. All of these feelings sat heavily in my chest.
I tried to remember everything I could about her. I question the accuracy of my memories, because 30 years is a long way back, but these memories are all I have left so I just have to believe them. I resolved to write it all down so I would never forget.
I can still picture the inside of her house in my mind as if I were really there. In her kitchen, I tried a fig newton for the first time. I didn’t want to offend her so I never told her that I thought it was disgusting. I still don’t like them, but every time I see a package of fig newtons in the store, I remember her.
In her living room, we would stay up way too late watching movies that were far too scary for me. I didn’t tell her I thought they were too scary because she liked them and I didn’t want her to think I was a wimp. In that living room I saw Stand by Me for the first time. One time her parents ordered us pizza, and one of them only had mushrooms on it. I thought it was a weird thing to order on a pizza but she assured me I would love it. She was right. It’s still one of my favorite kinds of pizza.
In her room we would flip through magazines while she tried to teach me about makeup and fashion. I’m afraid that was always a lost cause. She was one of those girls I wished I could be like, before I learned how to appreciate my weirdness and love myself for who I already was. I got my ears pierced because she had her ears pierced and it was something about her which I could actually emulate successfully. In sixth grade she tried to teach me how to tight roll my jeans because that’s how the cool kids wore them, but I never could get it right so I would just put safety pins in them instead (which was really not the same, and was definitely not “cool.”) She tried to teach me how to use a curling iron. I never really got the hang of it, but I did manage burn myself more than once. She tried to teach me how to dance, which I could never get right either. Fashion and style and coolness were never going to be my things.
I remember one time we set up a tent in her back yard and camped out all night listening to cassette tapes, reading, and trying to predict our futures by playing MASH (because that is how kids entertained themselves before smartphones were a thing.) She had much nicer handwriting than I did. She dotted her “i”s with little hearts. We were pre-teen girls in the 80s so naturally Madonna, Tiffany, and Debbie Gibson were on the soundtrack of that day, among others. I still think of her whenever I hear any of those songs. Most of them are peppy and upbeat, but now I suppose they will always be tainted with sadness.
As we got older we spent less time together, though not because we didn’t like each other (at least I still liked her, but I guess I can’t really speak for her). We just weren’t interested in the same things anymore. I didn’t really fit in with her circle of friends, so eventually I found a new circle for myself. She was always nice to me and said hi when we passed in the hall, but we didn’t really see much of each other outside of school. Eventually my family moved to the other side of town, so we weren’t even neighbors anymore. At the end of ninth grade she signed my yearbook with her phone number and a note saying we should get together sometime over the summer. I don’t think we ever did. I don’t have very many pictures or keepsakes from that time anymore, so that yearbook would have been all I had left. I spent all weekend trying to locate my copy, but it was nowhere to be found. How apropos.
When my family moved to Fargo a few months into my tenth grade year, we didn’t keep in touch. I did see her once, some time after high school, when she came to Fargo for work. I can’t remember exactly when that was, or why she looked me up, but those details aren’t really important. She looked me up, which meant I was not the only person who remembered we used to be friends. It meant a lot to me that she reached out that day. We had a long conversation about what had happened in our lives during the gap years. She told me she had a daughter, and talked about how much she loved that little girl, and told me stories of funny things her daughter did. If Facebook had existed at the time I’m sure I would have sent her a friend request and we might have kept in touch. Unfortunately, Facebook did not exist so that was it. I don’t think I ever saw her again.
Now these memories only exist in my own head, and if they’re wrong, there’s no one left who can correct me. The memories feel incomplete now because the other half of them is gone forever.
It doesn’t matter that we hadn’t spoken in years. She was an important piece of my childhood. She held a place in my heart, and now there is a huge hole where she used to be. All I can do for her now is remember.
Rest in peace, my friend.