|There are some people that the Gods leave pretty much alone, and there are others to whom fate throws all sorts of interesting, horrible or wonderful experiences. I happened to be one of those boring people, the kind that slips between the fingers of fate; nothing ever happens to me.
It was the last year of Junior High. Growing up in a small neighborhood, I had known everyone in my school for years, but it wasn’t until ninth grade that I became friends with Tiffany. She was my friend when the popular kids considered me too weird to be of any social value, but she didn’t care. She was strong-willed and spirited, especially in band. We both played flute, and shared everything: sheet music, storage space, even First Chair! We even used to share Smartee candy when the Band Instructor wasn’t looking—it was our little secret. We were so unalike; where she was outgoing, I was introverted; she dated older guys when I still though boys were icky, and she was the only girl I’d EVER known that had taken any sort of drug, even if it was just that one time. She always said, “I’ll try anything once.”
In April of my junior year of high school, she did.
As is often the case in high school, we lost touch. Going to a school of 200 students to a school of nearly 2000 was a huge change, and a lot of us seemed to get lost in the crowd. Tiffany made friends quickly, of course (she always did), while I fell into a completely different social circle. I hung out with the Gothy kids. We played Dungeons and Dragons during lunch, and went to Ren-fairs on the weekends. Consequently, I didn’t often think of her, and I saw her even less. But one cold day in late February, she spotted me in the lunch line.
“How’s it going, Jamie! I haven’t seen you in ages!”
“I’m good, how are you?”
Honestly, I was more interested in getting my lunch than chatting with her, and as a general rule, my “kind” weren’t seen with her kind. We finished a polite but hurried conversation: my fries were getting cold. I went back to my clique—I didn’t notice where she went to.
A month later, she shot herself in the head while on the phone with a friend. She died en route to the hospital.
I was the last to find out. I had somehow missed the announcement, or my teacher was supposed to read it and she didn’t… everyone knew before I did. In fact, that morning, I was riding high on victory, as I’d received a special honor in front of the whole school (the only one from my social circle to be recognized for anything publicly) and I was feeling pretty good after the assembly. But I had art next, and the usually chatty room was deadly quiet.
“Somebody die or something?”
“Didn’t you hear? It was Tiffany…oh god! You knew her didn’t you??”
I cried hysterically for hours. I was a complete mess. I was excused from class to go blubber someplace away from the other children, but the administration would not allow me to go home, because I did not have a note from my mother.
The funeral was a bitter, Catholic ordeal. They made it clear that Catholics don’t believe you go anywhere good if you take your own life, and her parents looked more embarrassed about the whole thing than sad. The priest shouted Hellfire and sin, since we were all sitting there. Seemed like half our Junior High class was there: she had more friends than she knew. When mini-mass was over, we all went to the churchyard and watched her ashes get put into a little vault. Everyone else had flowers, but all I had in my pocket was some used Kleenex and a package of Smartees. I gave those to her instead.
Then the guilt set in. Oh, the guilt! For months and months, I believed it was my fault, because I didn’t take an active interest in her that one day, because I didn’t see it coming, because she wasn’t properly laid to rest, because, because, because….
It’s a wonder anyone stayed my friend. I was a wreck. I wore lots of black, though no one really noticed because I sorta did that anyway. I quit doing the things I loved; life to me was bitter and short. These days, they call this “depression,” but at this time, people around me didn’t seem to be familiar with the term, and nothing was done for my grief. I didn’t know how to make it go away.
In high school, I was seen as someone who was good at helping other people. I had weird intuitions about people and their problems, so they sent me to classes to help me learn more. This class was intended to allow you to better help your friends handle problems, and they had a real grief counselor there to chat with us. He told us all the basic stuff that everyone knows: the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) but I listened with interest. After the class, I approached the instructor.
“I have a friend who can’t seem to get over the grief of a dead friend…” I told him my story, using the high denial technique of the third person.
“Well,” he said, “Tell your friend to….” He launched into a rehashing of exactly what he’d just said.
But then I ceased listening to him, because Tiffany was standing right in front of me. She was strong and healthy, but not the way I remembered her. She looked older, wiser, kinder…
She put her hand on my shoulder and spoke to me candidly, like she always had when we were young. “Jamie, this was my decision, and nothing you could have done would have stopped me. Don’t cry for me. Look at yourself! You’re a mess!” I apologized to her for not being there when she needed me, and I told her how much I loved her and what she would be missing out on.
“Thanks for the Candy.” She said, then she laughed, turned around and was gone.
To this day, sometimes when it’s really crowded in a building or on the street, I swear I see just the back of her head, or hear her voice behind me, or a voice calling her name. Whenever Fate hits me with death or trauma (which it has a few more times now) she’s there in the shadows, or in the back of my mind saying “We’ll get through this.” Even after all these years, I can still count on her.