When Leah's Hair Was Golden

When Leah's hair was golden, we were best friends.

Back then, back when her hair was the color of fresh marigolds, our friendship was golden too. We walked to school together in elementary school, and rode the bus together in middle school. We painted our toenails together and caught fireflies in marmalade jars and whispered to eachother what boys we liked.

Not everything was happiness and sunshine, of course. We had fights, many fights. But we were always friends again in the end. We were nearly inseperable. We were best friends.

Now don't get me wrong:we weren't obsessed with eachother. We had other friends, lots of them. We weren't super popular, and we weren't losers either. We were somewhere in between. And we were happy that way.

Then we hit high school. Or rather, high school hit us.

Leah and I had no classes together. At first, we were content just to hang out outside of school, at our houses or at the park. But soon, Leah began to drift. She wouldn't talk to me, and turned into a very moody person. She was so different from the happy, energetic Leah I had thought I knew.

I tried to talk to her. I knew something must be wrong, and had to find out what. But Leah would never talk to me anymore. Soon I found out (through a friend of a friend of Leah's cousin) that her parents were divorcing.

I did my best to comfort Leah, and yet she only blocked me out.That hurt me more than anything else. I had never had that problem before with Leah; with anyone, actually. It was a sharp slap in the face every time she ignored the things I said to her, or didn't return the frantic phone calls that I left her. I was young, and didn't have a clue how to deal with the situation. How do you comfort someone who doesn't even look at you?

I'm not proud of what I did next. I abandoned Leah. I stopped trying to talk to her. Rather than smiling when I saw her, I would cast my eyes downward and keep walking, as though she was a complete and total stranger. My process of thought was: "Well, if she won't acknowledge that I exist, how am I supposed to comfort her?" I knew it was wrong. That was the time when Leah needed me most, and I wasn't there for her.

Leah's transformation was swift and surprising. It took place over winter break. She came back to school with her pretty blonde hair (that I had always secretly envied) dyed a deep black. She dressed darkly: blood red, dark purple, midnight black. Her eyes were ringed in eyeliner that would put any raccoon to shame. My former best friend looked like she had been bitten by a vampire.

This sudden change made me shy away from Leah even more. She got more piercings than I could count on both hands: nose, eyebrow, and a whole row of earrings going down her ears, starting at the cartilage. Quiet, sullen in class, arms crossed. Normal kids avoided her. So did I.

Leah hung out with druggies, burnouts, emos. I don't blame her for that: maybe she felt like they were the only people who understood her. Maybe they were.

Leah now smelled of smoke on the rare occasions that I would pass her on the sidewalk. Rumors were she had a tatoo, and spent her nights drinking alcohol and smoking her mother's cigarettes. Rumors that I hoped weren't true.

By senior year, I knew the words I should have said to Leah when I found out about her parents: "I'm so sorry. I'm here for you. Do you need to talk?" But there was nothing I could do. The words would only have been effective if said four years ago, when the pain was at its worst.

Thinking of Leah how she had been and how she was now confused me. I wondered how this transformation had happened so fast. People change, I reminded myself, they drift apart.

Although Leah rarely studied or did her homework, she somehow managed to graduate. She had constant bags under tired, tired eyes. She was so...different. It continued to astound me. Where was the little girl who had cried about the monster in the closet? Was she hiding? Or was she gone forever, killed by this scary, haunted-looking girl?

I left for college the next fall. Leah stayed home, didn't attend college. The only news I got of her was from friends who lived at home during college:

She bought a motorcycle.

She was dating a bartender from the city.

She was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

She was released from prison on her father's bail.

Meanwhile, at college, I was meeting new people, new friends. They were funny, honest loyal, all that Leah had once been for me. One time I thought about calling her, but never did.

When I came back home for spring break, I found out Leah had died two days earlier.

No, no, no. No! NO!

My mind and body were completely numb. I was in shock.

I attended the funeral. My movements were robotic, not controlled by my mind, but by my automatic reflex. I couldn't think, couldn't breathe, couldn't move. I was afraid I would faint.

I felt extreme pain, an ache starting in my chest and spreading to envelope my entire body.

Leah lay in the casket, so still and peaceful. Some sensible person had gotten the black dye out of her hair.

Motorcycle accident...never had a chance...possibly drunk...possibly suicide....

The whispers that crossed the room like paper airplanes informed me what supposedly happened.

I looked at Leah, an action that was painful in itself. Her face was waxy, like she was a doll rather than a person. Her hair was faded, darker from all the years of being dyed black, but golden nonetheless. All that time, the gold had been underneath the black, the same way a scared little girl had hidden beneath Leah's masked exterior. Hiding away her small, innocent personality so that the cruelty of the world couldn;t hurt her golden self.

It was then that the pain really set in: Leah was dead. Tears ran down my face, making tracks of makeup.

I was silent in the car, brooding over what I didn't understand. Death this young was something I read about in books, but never in a million years had dreamed could happen to someone I knew.

"We're her for you." Mom said quietly. In stinging realization, I understood that those are the words I should have said to Leah, just five years before.

I am older now, and I suppose I am also much wiser, through experience if nothing else.

The way I remember Leah at her best, she had hair the color of sunshine, and a personality to match. She was a careless little girl, giggling when a boy talked to her and unable to sleep without the assuring comfort of her favorite stuffed animal.

That little girl had always been in there somewhere, someplace Leah had never wanted to show. She had been afraid that if she let her timid, true self shine through, it would only be hurt again, the way it had by her parents' divorce.

In that same way, Leah had covered up her beautiful marigold-colored hair. She had closed up her true self with a hard shell, not to be penetrated by any emotion.

I constantly wish that I could gp back to childhood. Without divroce, liquor, cigarettes, and motorcycles. Maybe then I could have said the right thing to Leah, to be prevent it all from happening. It is a yearning, a desire to turn back time to when the days were innocent and filled with laughter. Back to when Leah's hair was golden.

Because when Leah's hair was golden, things were perfect.

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