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She Was The One Who Left
It was 2 months before I moved across the country, 2 measly months before I was forced to say goodbye and start all over, yet again. This time, however, I would experience more change then I was expecting to handle.
My father told us that he had gotten the position in Nevada. We would move out there after school was finished. I decided right then to cease speaking to him for good. I never pulled through with my promise of course. I mean he was uprooting me from my safety zone, but he was still my father. He was just doing what he thought was best. I could see that, even through the red haze that seemed to cloud my vision whenever I happened to catch sight of him.
Fast forward to two days before I got on a plane to Vegas. I’m sitting with one of my best friends, Missy, and our other friend, Alana. We are just hanging out in front of the computer, enjoying our last day together for a very long time. I suddenly get a call from my second best friend, Laura. When I answer with a, “Hey baby, what’s up?” the only reply I can make out is crying on the other end. Immediately I switch into good-best-friend mode. I assumed at the time that she was upset about something her dad did. She and her mother had been going through a particularly nasty custody battle with him, and I was often the one to wipe away her tears. I never expected to be hit with such a big boulder as the one that flew at me from the phone the minute Laura spoke.
I said, “Laura, honey, what’s going on? Are you okay?”
Laura answered in a small, shaky voice, “Amy, it’s Erica. She died.”
I thought I’d heard wrong. I know that’s kind of a cliché, but I seriously could not believe that what I’d heard was right. I had that feeling you get while playing Telephone. You know, the one where you think, No way, that’s too weird, she must have said something else, only, when you say “Operator,” and the person next to you whispers in your ear again, you hear the exact same thing and you still can’t quite believe it? Well that is exactly how I felt. So it’s only natural that I said,
Then once more, that boulder smashed into me with all of it’s force.
“Erica was in a car crash. She didn’t survive.”
I sat down, stunned, not sure what to say. This was something I’d never had to deal with before. Sure, I’d lost some pets, my grandpa had died when I was a baby, and I’d been to funerals of distant relatives before. But never before in my life had I heard that someone who I loved and respected had died. I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t move. All I could think was, Erica is dead. Erica is dead. Erica is dead.
In my social network of friends, I was generally known to be a good listener. The one who would stop drama, either before it started or when it started to get out of hand. I would talk people down, explain the other person’s point of view, gently point out places where someone was at least partially at fault. I had a strategy for every snag in a relationship, a way to bandage everyone and anyone’s hurt, a joke to ease the tension in any situation, but that afternoon, when I was told that one of my oldest friends would never return, I was totally and completely at a loss for what to do.
Missy and Alana had been joking and playing around on the computer as I received the news and told Laura that I had to go. When they realized that I had hung up, they asked me what Laura had wanted. I told them in a flat voice,
“Erica is dead.”
Immediately they jumped up and exclaimed, “What?!”
I repeated what Laura had been able to tell me. Erica had been in a car crash and had died almost instantly. She didn’t know anything else because she had heard from another friend of ours, Emily, who heard from a friend at the Police Department. Missy and Alana immediately came over to hug me. They were a grade below Laura, Erica, and I, so they had never met her.
At the moment, I was completely calm. Like I said, I couldn’t quite believe what Laura had told me was true. I mean, Erica couldn’t be dead - could she? She was Erica, always so sweet to everyone, never a bad thing to say, the one girl who had invited me to her birthday party when I was the new girl. She was my close friend and to think of it, I had just talked to her on AIM that morning. She was going to take the Earth Science Regents Exam with me the next day. She was going to visit me in Vegas. Eventually she would grow up, go to college, get married, have kids, and she would die an old, wrinkly lady. That’s how it was supposed to go. That’s how I had expected it to go…
I stopped thinking. I switched into supportive-friend-mode. I called Shekinah first because they had been good friends also. When she answered I made sure my tone was gentle, calm when I spoke.
“Shekinah? I need to tell you something. It’s really bad. It’s about Erica.”
I could hear that her voice was somewhat guarded but otherwise nonchalant.
“She died in a car crash, Shekinah. She’s gone. I don’t know any details because Emily heard it early, but I know that she’s gone…”
There was silence for about 2 seconds. Then, “My Erica?”
When she said that, I winced. I knew this would be tough. “Yeah, Shekinah. She’s gone. I’m so sorry.”
She repeated, “My Erica? Erica S.? My Erica?”
I knew how she felt. I said gently, “Yes, honey. Erica S.”
Suddenly she said, “Have you called Rachael yet? Did you tell anyone else?”
I was glad to hear that she had accepted it, so I told her, “No, you were to first one I called. Try Rach, I’ll try Alexa and Danielle.”
We hung up and immediately I looked for Alexa in my phone book. I went through every person in my phone book and decided on who would be the most effected. Each call was short, each call more painful then the last. I stopped at 5 calls after Shekinah. I knew that by calling even 6 people, I had started the phone chain that would spread throughout the teen population of my small town like wildfire.
I got up from the chair I had been sitting on, Missy and Alana sitting on opposite armrests, and told them that I should go home and tell my parents. I hugged Missy goodbye, knowing it would be the last time I would see my friend for quite a while. That’s when a single, horrible thought hit me, just as hard as the boulder that pummeled me just 20 minutes earlier.
If what happened to Erica happened to Missy, this would be the last time I would see my friend, ever.
With that single, heart-wrenching thought, I realized very suddenly that Erica was gone. Forever. All eternity. I would never see her again. She wouldn’t be at the Earth Science Regent’s Exam tomorrow. She wouldn’t visit me in Vegas. She wouldn’t grow up, go to college, get married, have kids, and she would not die an old, wrinkly lady. Maybe that was how it was supposed to go, but that is not how it will go. She is GONE.
The rest of the day was a nightmare. The thing I remember hating the most was the pity. It was crippling. It made me want to cry harder and longer and I had already cried to the point where my eyes were dry and sore. That night, for the first time in about 2 years, I didn’t say my prayers to God before I went to bed. The next couple of days I was not pleasant to be around. I snapped at people for the smallest things. I spoke only when spoken to and even then I always grumbled.
In a way, I was sulking. I know, it’s stupid, right? Sulking rarely gets you anywhere, and it most certainly won’t bring back a dead friend. I couldn’t help it, though. I guess you could say that I was retaliating against this tragedy in the only way I could think of.
The day after it happened, I went in for my Earth Science Regents Exam. You know, the one Erica wouldn’t be at? I stood in a circle of Erica’s closest friends, feeling comfortable for the first time since the call from Laura. These were the people that understood what was happening. These were the people that would never pity me for what happened, only share with me a mutual sadness.
Comforted by the light arm that my friend Brooke had draped over my shoulders, I talked quietly to my friends that were the isolated group in the middle of every 8th grade Earth Science class in my middle school. We alone were the untouchable. The pitied. The ones who had lost a member of their pack. Where before, this would have made me uncomfortable, made me want to blend back into the crowd, be one of a whole, in this situation, it was strangely comforting. It made me feel like I would never be alone. It showed me that even though Erica may be dead, I was not the only one shouldering this pain, and as long as these people were still around, Erica was never really gone. She would always be there to remind me of things I may forget. That sometimes the new girl needs to be asked to join a group. That sometimes kindness is the best way to make yourself known. That it’s better to be remembered by a small group of really great friends who loved you, rather then many people who remembered you only for your cruelty.
The first anniversary of Erica’s death occurred on June 19, 2009. She was remembered and honored by people, I am proud to say, across the country (I now live in Nevada). Her singularly good personality will not be forgotten.