I wasn’t her best friend.
That’s why it’s taken me four months to sit down and write about her, about her life and her death.
Mostly, I’ve been afraid of my words being seen as somehow exploitative, that maybe those who knew both of us back then would think I was trying to make more of our friendship than what was there.
I was afraid of that, even if only in thought, and so I gathered it all in a neatly tied bundle and placed it in a dusty corner, the one where I routinely put all of the things I refuse to delve too deeply into.
So I’ve spent four months ignoring. Four months catching memories that unexpectedly planted themselves in my mind, images of days I thought were long since forgotten. Memories consisting of long-held conversations in a paint-stained art room; of dashing across main roads where cars sped quickly by, dangerously close to the curbs we leaped off of.
Memories, especially, of a sunny afternoon spinning cartwheels on a grassy front lawn.
Eventually the memories turned into dreams, ones that came on sudden and were over just as quickly, and a thought occurred to me. A thought that told the part I had tried to force dormant didn’t need to remain that way forever.
That maybe I could write without taking anything away.
I was not her best friend, but I was a friend.
She was my first in a new town and that was the sunny day with the cartwheels. The grassy lawn was hers, in front of the brown two-story where she lived, a house that will always conjure pictures of her each time I am forced to pass it.
I have pictures in my mind held in snapshots, ones of dirty blond hair, straight and flung back with the force of hurdling herself forward, hands splayed and arms wide. Waiting for the force of gravity to do its job just so she could counteract it. A child’s game, because we were children with only the present to focus on; so young, barely containing a past, not even thinking to ponder the future.
I was not the main focus of her life, was not a major player, but rather a supporting character passing through. I entered and lingered for a while, eventually exiting stage right in due time.
In this life we always think there’s more time. We recall memories of those who were once apart of our every day movements and imagine we’ll one day get around to casting out that olive branch. That eventually there will be coffee and hands wrapped around steaming mugs, that there will be laughing at the way we used to act and who we used to be, the things we used to worry about and how seriously we took ourselves “back then”. There will be communication and eye contact and proximity.
There will be the face of that slightly freckled, blue-eyed girl hidden inside of an older, somewhat changed version of herself.
Except in this case, there isn’t.
In this case there cannot be.
In this case, in this moment, there is only a what-if. A past tense to describe a girl so inexplicably engrained somewhere in the back of my mind. Words she spoke in shared conversation that now seem like wisdoms encrypted in code.
There are things I wish I had said and times I wished I had reached out, if only for my own selfish wish to see her one last time. To tell her that she was a comforting picture in what was probably the most difficult period of my life. To tell her that she mattered and that just because she was out of sight did not in any way mean she was out of mind.
Those dreams, they came unexpectedly and without warning, so vivid that I woke up afraid. But I shouldn’t have been. Because in my dreams she told me that I was doing good. That I was sending something positive into the world. They were dreams in which she was trying to send me clues; I didn’t understand any of it, but it at least felt like something. A reaching out, an olive branch: the one I didn’t send out in time.
Because there’s never enough time.
I feel selfish sometimes, that I am the one with life coursing through. The fact that the roles could easily have been reversed, in some alternate and not-so-distant reality, is not lost on me.
I don’t in any way own her memory. She is not mine to claim or memorialize; but I will anyway, if only for the fact that she mattered to me and to so many others who maybe mattered more to her.
So I’m not claiming her life, but rather claiming the impact she had on mine. Claiming the memories that exist in my own mind, the ones that I do own at least half of.
The other half is still out there too, somewhere, because fact tells us that energy can never truly be destroyed. I hold half of those days and she holds the other.
So in that way, half of that sunny day making cartwheels in the grass is out there in the universe, traveling. And it’s in that way that I’m choosing to remember her.
Not as the girl who did not get to continue, but as the one who got the chance to live in so many moments.