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Looking back on my first day as a junior in high school, I remember a lot: the heady smell of new paint, the loud squeaking of both old and new sneakers, and the rendezvous of old friends from junior high and possibly even elementary school. The air was heavy with excitement at meeting with friends while somehow managing to have the feeling of being pulled into a jail cell for yet another year of classes and homework.
Yet, these traits can also be used to describe the feel of entering junior high for the first time, or for any new school year, really. No, these phrases don’t catch the atmosphere at all. With only a word and two names in mind, I can explain exactly how it felt entering the bustling halls of my high school for the first time:
Jackie Christiansen, Rachel Houston and the most important part of all: loss.
I had never expected—no, never planned—on going into high school without my two best friends by my side. I had never even considered the possibility that I wouldn’t have Jackie and Rachel with me when the big moment finally came.
Our background considered, I don’t really see how I could have thought that way, either. The three of us had met in elementary school in 4th grade and had been together ever since. We, of course, had a few fights, but never anything major enough to split us apart. We were always able to pick up our pieces and move on with our friendship fully intact, even though we were completely different from one another.
Jackie had always been the rough and tough of the three of us. She was the best at competitive sports and had played on the baseball and basketball teams and had, as expected of me, been one of the best players on the teams. Always the hard core one, she had always pushed us to follow through on whatever we started. Yet, she was always the most reasonable and knew what would be smart and what would not (i.e.—dying my black hair blonde as a joke or going to some wild party). Responsibility aside, she had a killer sense of humor.
Rachel was the graceful one opposed to Jackie’s and my clunky tomboy behavior. She was a beautiful ballet dancer with long ginger hair, blue eyes and an artists’ hand. Give her an object of any size, shape or category and she could present you with a painting that was as good as any Van Gogh. She was the more quiet out of us, but once in a while you could get her to sing karaoke for you—another one of her amazing talents.
As for me, I had been the skater girl of the group. I liked to sing like Rachel, but knew that I was nowhere near her aptitude in that area. I was a big track and field runner on the school team and had won first place in sprinting in the district championship. I was comfortable as a loner, but could also be found in the middle of a group and chatting like there was no tomorrow. I was usually the one coming up with insanely fun yet questionable ways to waste our time.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out how the three of us became such close friends. As it was, though, we found each other crashing at one another’s houses each weekend and exchanging problems—whether it be boy related or school related. In any event, those memories of junior high and late elementary school are my fondest memories.
It happened at a party. We rarely went to them, knowing that usually they would be wild and crazy, and we preferred to not get a visit from the cops for noise complaints. All we really needed was us, so it was rare that we ever had a vague interest in going.
But I had heard about the party and, knowing that my crush would be there, had begged Rachel and Jackie (mostly Jackie) into going. We dressed up, went to the house, and things went pretty well for a while.
That is…until a boy—a loner from school—showed up with a gun.
It happened so fast it’s a blur in my mind. All I really recall is loud gunfire suddenly ripping through the room, screams piercing my ears, bottles shattering and chairs banging to the floor in random succession, and unimaginable terror ripping through my body.
It seemed to be over in the blink of an eye. One minute blasts of sound are chopping through the air, the next it was dead silent. For a few moments, nobody so much as breathed. Finally, though, we cautiously emerged to find blood spattering the floor, five injured and eleven dead, including the shooter.
Nobody could say anything in their shock. Tears quietly began to spill and drip to mix with the blood as we slowly comprehended what had occurred.
Jackie had been among the dead victims.
The funeral and viewing had been surreal to me. Rachel hadn’t spoken to me in either, and in school I was like a ghost to her. She didn’t even look at me. After a couple of weeks, I knew that she blamed me for Jackie’s death.
After the initial shock, I nearly agreed with her. If only I hadn’t asked to go to the party, if only I hadn’t cared about that guy, if only I had changed my mind. If only, if only, if only…
I tried to speak to Rachel about it, but she never responded. If I was lucky, I would get the smallest of nods from her, but that was rare. Most of the time she got up and left or walked away to talk to someone else.
With all the little fights we had had along with Jackie, this had not been the same. I had known right from the start of Rachel’s behavior that this fight had no hope of being resolved, and our friendship would never be repaired. The incident had been too traumatizing, and in Rachel’s eyes, it was completely my fault. After all, I was the one who had wanted to go to the party.
The worst part of the ordeal was that we still had each other, but never tried to comfort each other in Jackie’s loss. We could have steadied each other and cried over her grave together, but we never did. Instead, we let our friendship fall apart like glass shattering into a million fragile pieces.
Starting 10th grade was the most difficult thing to do in my years as a teenager. Just in the time when I needed them most, my two best friends had abandoned me. One was off to a place where I couldn’t follow, and the other was so close I could have touched her. It tore at me like an animal cutting its teeth on my heart, and I nearly caved to my depression in the first couple weeks.
Somehow, I found the strength I needed to survive the school year. I made new friends and succeeded once again at academics and track and field and had fun every once in a while.
I nearly hated myself for it.
But like all tragic deaths of someone close to your heart, the pain slowly ebbed. It faded away with each passing month that I made a visit to Jackie’s grave, and soon nothing was left but memories.
I never got my two friends back, but in the end, I was okay. An ache in my heart still remains and will forever be there, but I have turned out fine. High school and college are now past, and now I have the present with my new family. Sometimes, I almost never have time to think about my past.
When I do find myself reminiscing, though, I enjoy it. Although it reopens the sore ache in my heart, the memories make me smile. Sometimes I want to go back and relive each moment with my two best friends. Just for now, I’m fine with the memories that shaped my soul and will forever be in my heart.