I feel the need, this month, to discuss someone immensely important in my life. She left me more than eleven years ago, but I believe she is one of the most influential forces in who I have become.
I was only 13 when we met, she 15. I was in awe of my older friend. She and her two brothers moved into the house across from mine. Just another family in the string of military families who would inhabit that home while the owners were stationed in Africa. I didn't know. Had no way of knowing, what it would mean to have her as a friend.
I rode the bus to the high school in the mornings, even though I was still a lowly middle schooler. Ana showed me the ropes, let me hang out with her friends. Made me feel part of them. Special. I loved it. We talked about movies, music, television, friends, boys. Had sleep overs. I went to church a few times with her family. She gave me my first alcoholic drink, nevermind that I was only 14 at the time. She told funny stories and loved her brothers. She did everything passionately.
The day she died is still so vivid for me. A game of street hockey. A bicycle. A boy telling me once, my brother telling me again, my mother telling me a third time. Collapsing to the floor. My father telling my mother to take me into another room for fear of watching the emotional wreck I had become. Ana's father hugging me and telling me to never let it get that far, never that bad. Seeing her brothers cry. Not knowing what to say. Tears coming. The funeral a few days later. A skirt with a missing scarf. Screaming on the inside. So many kids missing a friend. My mother holding my hand. My parents afraid to leave me alone. Sitting on the staircase talking to the only person who understood how I felt. Only wanting to talk to Ana again. See her smile, laugh one more time.
I wrote to her. For two years. I put my thoughts and emotions on paper. It was my catharsis, my way of healing. I wrote her letters, poems. Copied song lyrics. Whatever it took. In the last entry, I realized I was officially older than she was when she died. More mature than she would ever have the chance to be. With each milestone I cross, I do so with the knowledge she never did. No driver's license, no senior prom, no high school graduation. No college memories. Adult friendships. College diploma. Marriage. Buying a home. Having children. She never did.
Close to a decade after her death, I found out she overdosed on muscle relaxers. Too many for her heart to handle. I still want to know what was going through her head. What she was thinking. What could have been that bad? Suicide never makes sense. It's sharper, it stings more to the people left behind. Why did she go? I forgave her many years ago, but it was not easy. I forgave her for myself, but not for her family. I see them from time to time. Talk to her brothers. The pain is still visible in her parents' faces. I remind them of her. The good and the bad.
For years, just the thought of Ana would send me into a sobbing puddle. Never knowing when or why it would hit, but there she was. Or wasn't. The pain grew duller with time. Less sharp, more like a missed friend visiting when it comes. I miss her, still. I think I always will. The life she should have led, the person she should have grown to be. I don't know that we would be good friends today, lives have a way of changing us and pulling us apart. I hope we would. She'll always be with me and live on through me.
I dreamt of her often after her death and still do on occasion. It helps. Getting those last conversations. The "I love yous" and "I miss yous," even if it only a dream. It helps. Even if I always wake up in tears.
Happy Birthday, Ana. You would have been 28 today. In my heart, in my mind, you'll always be 16. Forever young, they say. I hope God is treating you well. I still imagine you dancing in the wildflowers and waving hello. Maybe there is a bunny rabbit running along side you.