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Holding on to What I Haven’t Got

Holding on to What I Haven’t Got

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. 

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2016 in Depression, Life in General

 

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Between grief and nothing, I’ll take grief

“Fly free and happy, beyond birthdays and across forever, and we’ll meet now and then when we wish, in the midst of the one celebration that never can end.”

— “There’s No Such Place As Far Away”, Richard Bach

Today should have been my friend Jenny’s 38th birthday. It should have been, but it wasn’t. Instead it was the day I realized she will be 37 forever because we lost her last week. I say “lost” because people understand what that means, but it’s not the right word. She’s not lost, I know where she is. There are a lot of different ways to say it, but none of them are enough.

For over a week I have been writing, reading, re-writing, and re-reading this post. Those of you who didn’t know Jenny might feel sympathy for my pain, but you might not really feel the depth of it. I can’t say that nothing was left unsaid between us. There could never have been enough time to say it all.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2014 in Life in General

 

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Jennifer

Today you would have been 27; but you will never be older than 22. As the years have gone by, the memories have faded little by little.

Someday I may forget that you were the first of Ian’s little sisters to call me your sister. I’d never had a sister before; I was surprised and delighted to be welcomed so quickly into your heart. Someday I may forget how happy you were when we asked you to play the flute at our wedding. I may forget how you always insisted my son would be born with blue eyes but with a brown spot in one eye, just like yours, and how disappointed you were that his eyes were just plain blue. I may forget how persistently you told me that Stephen had to be born on your birthday (and how you teased that you would never forgive me for waiting until the 29th to go into labor).

I may not always remember the sad things either. Perhaps someday I will forget how much my heart ached when I saw how you suffered in your relationships, and how you gave your heart to men who did not deserve you. Perhaps someday I will forget how disappointed I was every time I saw you light a cigarette. But I will always remember the intense pain, the shock, and the despair I felt when we received the phone call we could never have expected: that you had been in a car accident and had not survived.

I may forget the details but I will never forget you, my first little sister. I love you, and even if I don’t think of you every day, I always feel the absence of you in our lives.

 

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2011 in Family Life

 

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